Although the Bureau was created by legislative act in 1937, the first agent did not report for work until April 1, 1938. Following is a recollection of the Bureau's early days by the late Arthur L. Hutchins, the first GBI agent.
The operation of the State Bureau of Identification and Investigation began April 1, 1938. I was the first investigation agent and the state did not have money to buy a car for me, so I used my personal car and was paid mileage.
The only equipment available at that time was a fingerprint kit with latent print powder and camel hair brushes. These were used to powder latent fingerprints with a contrasting color of powder to make the print visible. The prints could be photographed with a fingerprint camera. Usually lifting tape was used and the print was placed on a white card with proper identification so the card and other identifying data could be used in court at a later date.
Many times footprints and tire tracks were left at a crime scene. It was necessary to make plaster of paris casts showing the prints with identifying characteristics and many times with positive identifying marks. A small bread pan and trowel were used for mixing the powder with water for pouring a cast. In some instances, tool marks could also be cast.
There were small magnifying glasses within the Bureau to enlarge a fingerprint for classification purposes. There was a machine called a comparator, on which a fingerprint card from the file and the print of a suspect found at a crime scene could be compared. This machine would ascertain if they had the same or similar characteristics.
One of the first duties of a GBI agent was to contact the law enforcement agencies throughout the state and teach at least one person within the agency how to fingerprint people. We furnished the fingerprint cards, card holders, ink and glass slab with roller that was necessary for making fingerprints. Agencies were required to make two copies, one for the GBl and one for the FBI. The effectiveness of the fingerprint program in the field of law enforcement had to be instilled in each local agency. Most officers were enthusiastic over having this new aid in crime detection made available to them.
They were also taught when at a crime scene it was necessary to do a complete "crime scene search," as there was no crime lab to call upon for help. It would be necessary to ascertain the "entrance" and "exit" to a crime scene. Why it "happened this way" and could not have happened "another way." Determine what had not been moved and "what had been moved or was out of place." Was the person who committed the crime "left handed or right handed."
The first major case I was called to investigate occurred in Cobb County. It was a double murder of a man and wife. In less than three days the identity of those involved was known, but it was two years before it was possible to bring the case into court and get a conviction. Counties had no money provided for their officers to go into other counties to investigate cases that occurred in their home county. Several trips were made out of state. This type of investigation could never have been done by the county officers.
Without the cooperation and assistance of Governor Ed Rivers, the case could not have been brought into court. It was necessary to get executive orders to move prisoners from certain prison camps so they could be interviewed, as two of the people involved were in prison at the time of the murder. All four people who took part in the murder were given life sentences.