Crime news infographics as old as crime

15May11

Crime is as old as time, and for as long as crimes have been committed, efforts to report and reconstruct crime were not far behind. Law enforcement needed to know how exactly a crime was carried out so suspects could be identified and tracked down, arrests made and the case prosecuted. The justice system needed to know the whole story to its smallest detail, based on evidence and testimony, so punishment can be meted out and judgment rendered. And the general public just needed to know simply because the people have the right to know.

Information graphics done the old fashion way — line drawing, transfers screens and paste-up text.

Graphic artists, armed with vivid imagination and a nose for what is news, have been put in service to reconstruct crime scenes, police chase sequences and all sorts of developments that have to do with committing an unlawful act. Some of these specialists worked for law offices, some with newspapers and news organizations whose job it was — and still is — to disseminate news that matter to the reading public.

I was among those who worked with a newspaper — The Straits Times of Singapore, in the 1980s — and, from time to time, had to produce on print a visual retelling of a crime. It involved plenty of leg work and research,and required a generous amount of gumption and spunk to get in the face of usually tight-lipped witnesses and dismissive police officers — and pry information from them.

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Singapore has historically been a very peaceful society with a very low crime rate. But still, there was the odd story of somebody losing it and running amok with a meat cleaver, or someone  trying to rob a jewelry shop in broad daylight.

Shown here are a couple of crime news graphics I did for the paper. The first one, above, is about a failed early morning burglary on a ground floor shop. When the burglar realizes he has been found out, he climbs up the roof of the building in search of an escape route. Police responded in minutes, as they usually do in Singapore, and surrounds the building. Officers climb up the building front and back, finally cornering the burglar at the rooftop before he could jump to his death.

Note the yellowish cast on these two scanned images of 24-year-old clippings from The Straits Times, Singapore's flagship English-language daily and Asia's largest newspaper.

The second example, at left, is about Ng, a troubled man, who just goes berserk inside a restaurant/coffe shop and attacks a restaurant helper with a big knife and slashes another. He dashes to a nearby bookstore and, without provocation, slashes the woman owner. He cuts her brother, too, when he tries to intervene. Ng runs up the stairs of the walk-up apartment building and terrorizes a woman resident on the sixth-floor corridor but stops short of hurting her. Aware that police are on his heel,s and realizing there was no way out, Ng climbs onto the 12th floor parapet and jumps to his death.

These graphics were done the old fashioned way — line drawing using a Rotring pen, Mecanorma and Letraset rub-on transfer screens and compu-typesetting by The Straits Times’ SII system. This was 1987 — the Mac had come out a few years earlier and the very first version of Adobe Illustrator must have been out. But it would take at least a year more before we would start doing graphics on the Mac. But when we did, there was no looking back.

Graphics by Alfred Elicierto, published in The Straits Times in 1987.
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One Response to “Crime news infographics as old as crime”

  1. Good morning, I just stopped by to visit your blog and thought I’d say I had a great visit.


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