Black History Fun Fact Friday – Twins or Nay?

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I’m not so sure we should call this a fun “Fact” Friday. It’s more like a Black History Fun Mystery Friday. Who wants to play? Get your magnifying glasses out, you’re gonna need them!

What if you were arrested and brought into jail, but upon entering were told that you’d already been there? In fact, you were arrested before. “No I wasn’t”, you’d most likely say. The clerk will proceed to show you pictures of yourself. “Wow”, you think. “That’s my picture but I’ve never seen it before”.

Will West
Mug Shot of Will West

That is what happened to Will West and William West. I admit this story is still controversial. Were they twins or not? I cannot say for sure myself. As a twin, naturally this story fascinates me. Was it a trick? Was it real? Did something supernatural take place? Maybe one man went back in time? Whatever happened, we have a real doppelganger situation on our hands (What’s a doppelganger? I take it you don’t watch Flash the TV show. A doppelganger is the version of you that exists in another timeline). I’m not joking. I think there really was something supernatural going on.

According to the story, Will West (or Will Tell, certain sources give different last names. Most of them use West so I will in this article) was arrested in 1903 and sent to the Leavenworth Penitentiary in Kansas. Back then they used a facial recognition system called The Bertillon System. The Bertillon System is a system developed by Alphonse Bertillon, a French criminologist who first developed the system of physical measurements of body parts, especially components of the head and face, to produce a detailed description of an individual. Invented in 1879, the system became known as the Bertillon system and gained acceptance as a reliable method of criminal investigation, though there were complaints that the system was flawed. The West case proved that it was in 1903 when two unrelated black men would inadvertently inspire the use of a different system, or at least that’s what is documented.

Will walked into Leavenworth in 1903 and caused the Clerk to double check his records. He was adamant that he’d seen this man before. In fact, not only did he see him before but it was two long years ago. Yes, he is sure of it. He had already arrested the man standing in front of him and his name was William West.

Using the Bertillon System would not help in this case, as the men had the same measurements and were identical in appearance. Let us imagine what the conversation was like. The clerk, whose name was McClaughty, pulls out Williams records, flips through them and looks up at Will. His mouth is twisted, his brow carving deep lines in his head. He looks away, staring at the files in front of him and then back up at Will.

“So, what you’re saying is that this ain’t you?”

The man turns the files around to show a photo of what looks to be the man in front of him.

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Mug shot of William

Will’s eyes buck but he shakes his head.

“No. I mean, that’s my picture but I don’t know where you got it from. I have never been here before.”

The Clerk did more searching and discovered that a William West was arrested two years ago for murder and that Will was a different person altogether. The incident caused the move from The Bertillon System to that of fingerprinting in criminal cases. Or at least the start of its use in the U.S. Fingerprinting had been used before in other parts of the world. According to Google: “The English first began using fingerprints in July of 1858, when Sir William James Herschel, Chief Magistrate of the Hooghly district in Jungipoor, India, first used fingerprints on native contracts. (By the way, Twins have different fingerprints)

Here’s a side by side of Will and William:

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Some sources say that the men really were Twins. If this is true, why would Will lie about it? I mean, he was being arrested. What would be the motive behind the twin’s actions? Did they commit a crime together and one just got caught later?

If you scroll up to the first photo of Will and then back to the profile of William, their heads are shaped differently. William’s lump is more pronounced and there’s more of a curve. William’s profile also shows that his cheeks are slightly more sunken in, which isn’t so in the first image. This would indeed show flaws in the Bertillon System, which gave the men the same measurements (but you can look at the back of their heads and see they are shaped differently). William is also wearing more of a frown than Will is. According to the story, William was arrested for murder two years earlier. By the look on his face, he appears to have been incarcerated longer. I won’t say that he did it because we are talking about 1903 here (a time where black men were often accused of murder they did not commit), but he does look to be more agitated than Will.

Will’s image is also lighter and that’s either a mole or ink above his lips and under the nose. Either way it’s not in William’s photo. Neither is what looks to be a scar on William’s head present in Will’s picture. There’s enough evidence physically to see these may in fact be two different people. One thing’s for sure, these men look too much alike not to be twins, but who knows? Maybe Will is from a different timeline altogether or the men really were not related. After all, truth is stranger than fiction.


Here’s a throwback for fun by the way. This is Tracey and me turning ten. I can’t use a recent picture because then it’ll be obvious. I have locs and she doesn’t.

Can you solve the mystery? Where’s EC? (Lol hee hee)

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Photo Source: Copyright©Yecheilyah Ysrayl. May, 1997
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