The Unexplained: A Strange Case of Mistaken Identity
April 17, 2021
Was William West a shapeshifter? Could he go through walls and float through the air and appear elsewhere when it was convenient?
If today’s science of DNA had existed near the Turn of the Century, these two totally different people would have been discovered to be identical twins, no doubt—or at least siblings. Perhaps they were twins separated at birth—or very early. It is still an unexplained mystery.
I am writing about William West and Will West. They both arrived at Leavenworth Penitentiary in the early 1900s to be incarcerated for crimes.
Will West had not committed a very serious crime. He went to Leavenworth to make amends. After a short while, it became obvious to others—prisoners and staff—that he possessed paranormal powers. He could actually be in two places at once.
There was a William West who looked exactly like him in another part of the prison. Those in the general area were getting the heebie jeebies. Was William West something like a shape-shifter that we talk about today? Could he go through walls and float through the air and appear elsewhere when it was convenient?
The recently interned Will West seemed to be trading places with William West, a convicted murderer. William West, the murderer had come to Leavenworth two years prior and was entered into the system there. At the time he entered, they did a procedure on him known as a Bertillon’s Measurement. This was long before the days of fingerprinting, and Bertillon’s Measurements were one of the few forms of identification of individuals in use.
Bertillon Measurements are precise measurements, specifically of the facial features, accompanied by a photo, i.e., what we know as a mugshot. This William West’s Bertillon Measurements were thus archived and he was given a copy of the prison rules to serve his term.
The person who developed the Bertillon System of identification was Alphonse Bertillon, a French criminologist and handwriting expert.
In 1887, the US Prison Systems adopted his method to document inmates. The method was excellent for its purpose for over twenty years—when the unthinkable happened. Two men who had the same name and looked pretty much exactly the same wound up in the same prison at the same time.
The confused clerk that booked the more recent and lesser offender cracked, “What have you done now, Will West?”
This is the first time I have entered Leavenworth,” was his reply.
The clerk was used to hearing such denials of guilt from the inmates, but he sat bolt upright when he realized he had another—and two-year-old—file in front of him. He compared the photo and facial chart to the new admission in front of him. He was flabbergasted. They seemed to be the same person.
About the same time, Bertillon was perfecting a method of fingerprinting and wished to expand the method for identification purposes. Leavenworth and other prisons began to put his fingerprinting methods into practice. Before long, fingerprint analysis was used by law enforcement the world over.
The strange case of Will West and William West is exactly what caused the Federal Bureau of Prison Systems to implement Bertillon’s Fingerprint Analysis in 1903.
Sara Marie Hogg is the author of Gris Gris, a tale of voodoo and murder in New Orleans. Please click HERE to find the book on Amazon.