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84 Years Ago Today, the FBI’s Crime Lab Opened in DC

Inside the 1930 FBI Crime Lab in Washington, DC. All photos courtesy of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

From fingerprinting and ballistics to handwriting analysis and moulage, the FBI’s Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory is known for assisting the bureau’s agents in solving high-profile cases.

Established by original FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, the Criminology Laboratory, as it was known then, was first housed in a single room of the Old Southern Railway Building at 13th St. and Pennsylvania Ave., Northwest. The lab’s work started in September 1932, but opened officially on November 24 of that year. Its first year of work included 963 examinations, including those that led to the capture of Bruno Richard Hauptmann for the kidnapping of the infant son of the aviator Charles Lindbergh.

Charles Lindbergh, Jr. was kidnapped from the Lindbergh family home in Hopewell, New Jersey on March 1, 1932. Leaving behind a handwritten ransom note and ladder, the kidnapper ultimately killed the infant, whose body was found on May 12,.

Equipped with only an ultraviolet light machine, microscope, moulage kit, wiretapping kit, and general office supplies; the lab had only one full-time employee, Special Agent Charles Appel. Using the limited resources, Appel analyzed the handwriting of the 13 ransom notes received by the Lindbergh’s with samples from 300 suspects. While the process took many months, Appel was eventually able to identify Hauptmann as the culprit.

The lab, which now includes about 500 bureau employees, moved to its current location in Quantico in 2003..

Check out these photos of the lab then and now:

Special Agent Charles Appel, founder of FBI Crime Lab in 1932.
Special Agent Charles Appel, founder of FBI Crime Lab in 1932.
Old Southern Railway Building where the first FBI Crime Lab was held.
Old Southern Railway Building where the first FBI Crime Lab was held.
Ransom note left by kidnapper Bruno Richard Hauptmann demanding $50,000 for the return of Charles A, Lindbergh Jr.
Ransom note left by kidnapper Bruno Richard Hauptmann demanding $50,000 for the return of Charles A, Lindbergh Jr.
Analysis of Bruno Hauptmann’s handwriting by FBI crime lab.
Analysis of Bruno Hauptmann’s handwriting by FBI crime lab.
FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover showing actress Shirley Temple a microscope in the FBI's crime lab in 1938.
FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover showing actress Shirley Temple a microscope in the FBI’s crime lab in 1938.

 

FBI's Crime Lab during the 1940's.
FBI’s Crime Lab during the 1940’s.

 

FBI's Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory in Quantico, VA.
FBI’s Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory in Quantico, VA.
Lab technician works with trace evidence in a specimen dish.
Lab technician works with trace evidence in a specimen dish.

 

Forensic artists at the FBI Laboratory in Quantico, Virginia utilize models of skulls to create facial approximation of unidentified individuals.
Forensic artists at the FBI Laboratory in Quantico, Virginia utilize models of skulls to create facial approximation of unidentified individuals.

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Editorial Fellow

Sydney is an editorial fellow at Washingtonian Magazine, where she writes about history, news, food, and events. A recent graduate of the College of William & Mary, she is interested in writing and videography. You can follow her on Twitter @sydneykmahan