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A police car parked outside San Martin Park in Mendoza, Argentina. Photo: Alexis Lloret/Getty Images

Argentina gave the world an important tool to solve crimes: A system that would allow investigators to use fingerprints to crack a case.

Why it matters: Argentine police official Juan Vucetich, expanding on British research, created the first fingerprint identification system in 1892, and in doing so introduced the role of biometric data in crime-solving. More than a hundred years later, fingerprints remain a powerful addition to the forensic toolbox.

  • The first known use of fingerprints as a means of identification was in ancient China, primarily in place of a signature for legal documents and transactions, per the National Institute of Justice (NIJ).
  • Vucetich was the first to record the fingerprints of arrested suspects and later devised the prints into a classification system.

Details: In the small town of Necochea, Argentina, police officers stumbled upon the bodies of two children, both under the age of 7. They had been stabbed to death, and their mother insisted the culprit was a rejected suitor.

  • The suspect maintained his innocence — even while subjected to torture and other aggressive investigative tactics, per the NIJ.
  • When a bloody fingerprint was found on the door of the crime scene, officers sought Vucetich's assistance, and he presented the officers with his fingerprint classification system.
  • After comparing the print with that of the witness and the suspect, the true murderer was revealed: the mother.
  • This murder case is considered the first homicide solved by fingerprint evidence, demonstrating the value of Vucetich's system. Before long, the practice spread rapidly throughout the world.

Flashback: Before Vucetich developed his fingerprint identification system, the only available identification method was Bertillonage, which involved recording highly detailed body measurements and what has come to be known as the mug shot.

Fast forward: Fingerprints are still some of the most commonly collected evidence at a crime scene, according to an NIJ report.

  • Cases with biological evidence, such as fingerprints or DNA, are more likely to end in arrest than cases without, per the report.
  • In 2018, a single fingerprint led San Diego police to identify and arrest a man for the murder of a woman more than 30 years earlier. The case had gone cold.

What they're saying: "Study, research, and experimentation have led to and supported fingerprints as a means of individualization and a forensic tool of incalculable value," an NIJ report read.

  • Even in the era of DNA evidence, detective John Tefft told the New York Times, "fingerprints are still remarkable."

Get more news that matters about Latinos in the hemisphere, delivered right to your inbox on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Sign up for the Axios Latino newsletter.

Go deeper

Some unknowns killed in Latin American conflicts identified

Over 600 crosses rise over Darwin Cemetery, in the Malvinas or Falkland Islands. Most belong to unidentified soldiers. Photo: Martín Bernetti/AFP via Getty Images

Latin Americans lying beneath unmarked tombstones and in mass graves across the region are recovering their names, decades after the conflicts that took their lives.

Driving the news: Last week six Argentine soldiers who died during the 1982 Falklands War were ID'd through forensic anthropology and genetic testing, as part of an international project supported by the Red Cross.

60 mins ago - Technology

Scoop: Facebook exec warns of "more bad headlines"

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

In a post to staffers Saturday obtained by Axios, Facebook VP of global affairs Nick Clegg warned the company that worse coverage could be on the way: “We need to steel ourselves for more bad headlines in the coming days, I’m afraid.”

Catch up quick: Roughly two dozen news outlets had agreed to hold stories based on leaked materials from Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen for Monday publication — but the embargo fell apart Friday night as participating newsrooms posted a batch of articles ahead of the weekend.

"Atmospheric river" to whiplash Northern California from drought to flood

A map depicting 24-hour preciptation forecast (inches) ending Monday at 5a.m. local time. Photo: NOAA

A series of powerful "atmospheric river" storms are set dump historic amounts of rainfall across parts of drought-stricken California and the Pacific Northwest from this weekend, forecasters warn.

Why it matters: A strong atmospheric river, packing large amounts of moisture, is predicted to whiplash Northern California from drought to flood.