Breaking NEWz you can UzE...
compiled by Jon Stimac
Judge Delays Murder Trial –
NORTH COUNTY TIMES, CA - July 13, 2007
...Judge ordered prosecutors to check fingerprints taken from a
suitcase in databases...
Suspect Captured in Double Homicide Case
2007 ...fingerprints positively identified the suspect as
the man wanted in the killings...
Could Thumbprint Have Helped Woman Fight Fraud? –
2007 ..."Operation Thumbprint," a program in
which customers would place a fingerprint on their checks before local
stores would accept them...
Specialist Debunks 'CSI' Rumors
DAILY SUNDIAL, CA
- July 6, 2007
...crime scene investigator and fingerprint specialist discussed the
grisly but fascinating details of her career...
Recent CLPEX Posting Activity
containing new posts
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UPDATES ON CLPEX.com
Updated the Detail Archives.
We concluded the series on the latent print
process, conclusions and errors. I will try to have this series
combined into a single paper and posted on the site within the next week.
I'll include the link in next week's Detail.
We look at an article that
was recently published in the current edition of FBI Forensic Science
Communications, but was originally published in the Journal of Forensic
Identification. It involves the re-hydration of deteriorated skin for
obtaining better quality impressions.
*Note* Graphic images below
The Boiling Technique: A Method
for Obtaining Quality Postmortem Impressions from Deteriorating Friction
Aaron J. Uhle
Major Incident Program Manager
Latent Print Support Unit
Richard L. Leas
Latent Fingerprint Examiner
Oak Ridge Associated Universities
Oak Ridge, Tennessee
Forensic Science Communications July 2007 – Volume 9 – Number 3
This paper was originally published in the May/June 2007 issue of the
Journal of Forensic Identification. It is reprinted here with the permission
of the editor. The paper was modified only to fit the format and style of
Forensic Science Communications. Individuals wishing to cite the paper
should refer to and cite the original:
Uhle, A. J. and Leas, R. L. The boiling technique: A method for obtaining
quality postmortem impressions from deteriorating friction ridge skin,
Journal of Forensic Identification (2007) 57:358–369.
When friction ridge skin is compromised by various destructive influences,
it often breaks down into flaccid skin with no discernible friction ridge
detail. The boiling technique is a specialized procedure that uses boiling
water to recondition friction ridge skin. This reconditioning process
rehydrates the skin, enhancing and exposing friction ridge detail. As a
result, quality impressions, even from the most distressed bodies, can be
recorded and compared to a known antemortem standard or searched through an
automated fingerprint or palm-print system to verify or establish identity.
Obtaining friction ridge impressions from deceased individuals can be
challenging, even for the most skilled forensic examiner. Recovered bodies
and remains often exhibit damaged friction ridge skin due to various
environmental influences resulting from the deadly event. These influences
Fauna (animals or insects).
Water (maceration) (Figure 1).
Weather (cold, heat, or humidity) (Miller 1995).
Figure 1: Water-damaged body with macerated hands
When recording friction ridge prints from deceased persons, the examiner
must (1) inspect and clean the friction ridge skin to determine whether and
what type of damage has occurred, (2) use proper techniques to recondition
the friction ridge skin when necessary, and (3) attempt to obtain
identifiable postmortem impressions.
This report introduces the boiling technique as a means of reconditioning
friction ridge skin to obtain quality postmortem prints. The technique works
best on damaged friction ridge skin resulting from advanced decomposition
and maceration. This damage involves the degeneration of the skin, resulting
in the destruction or disintegration of the epidermal (outer) skin, leaving
exposed dermal (inner) skin with little or no visible friction ridge detail.
Although the boiling technique has been used on epidermal skin, it is most
effective in reconditioning the dermal skin, allowing the examiner to
utilize friction ridge detail present on the dermis to record identifiable
Equipment and Materials
The following items are needed to perform the boiling technique:
Adhesive lifters (Handiprint*)
Black fingerprint powder
Electric hot pot
Fingerprint brush (short-bristled)
Standard fingerprint cards
Transparent fingerprint cards**
Towels Lab coats
Latex or nitrile gloves
*For information, go to http://www.kinderprint.com.
**Transparent ten-print cards can be made by photocopying a standard
ten-print card onto a transparency.
Universal safety precautions must be followed when handling all human
remains. The following steps detailing the boiling technique should be used
to recondition friction ridge skin:
Step 1: Visually examine the friction ridge skin on the hands to determine
whether and what type of damage may be present (Figure 2). If excessive
contamination (dirt, oils, etc.) is present on the skin, remove any loose
contaminant from the hands using a sponge and warm, soapy water (Figure 3).
Minor contamination adhering to the hand that cannot be dislodged will be
removed later in the procedure. When cleaning the hands, ensure that there
is no further damage to the skin, keeping the friction ridge skin intact as
much as possible. Decaying and macerated hands often will show no visible
friction ridge detail. The absence of this detail should be expected and
does not mean the hands are soiled but is often a sign that the examiner is
working with dermal skin.
Figure 2: Putrefied hand
Figure 3: Removal of contaminants with a sponge and warm, soapy water
Step 2: Fill an electric hot pot approximately half full with tap water or
with enough water to completely submerge the hand into the pot. The use of
hot pots large enough to fit a whole hand is recommended to avoid water
overflow. After filling the pot with water, plug it in and allow the water
to boil (Figure 4).
Figure 4: Electric hot pots containing boiling water
When the water starts to boil, unplug the hot pot and place the hand into
the pot of water for 5 to 10 seconds. The authors suggest placing the hand
into the boiling water for 5 seconds, then removing it to observe whether
friction ridge detail is present. If no detail is visible, place the hand
back into the water for another 5 seconds. This process should be repeated
no more than three times because prolonged exposure to intense heat will
harm the skin. The boiling water reconditions the friction ridge skin and
removes any contaminant still present after Step 1. One examiner can perform
this procedure by standing behind the head of the deceased, grasping the
individual’s wrist, and bending the arm back toward the head as demonstrated
in Figure 5. This allows the hand to be easily submerged into the pot of
boiling water even when the body exhibits rigor mortis. If the arm is not
bent as described, submerging the hand into the boiling water may require
two examiners to perform the procedure safely.
Figure 5: Placement of hand into boiling water. The arm of the body is bent
back toward the head to allow the examiner to safely perform the boiling
technique without assistance.
If the friction ridge skin on the hand contains abrasions or cuts, an
alternate form of the procedure should be used. Placing a hand with skin
lacerations into boiling water will increase the size of any cuts and may
cause further damage to the friction ridge skin, rendering it unprintable.
Instead of placing the hand into boiling water, the examiner should soak a
sponge in boiling water and squeeze the sponge so the water washes over the
friction ridge skin. This will have the same effect as placing the hand into
the pot of boiling water but will allow the examiner to have more control
over the reconditioning process.
After the skin has been exposed to boiling water, it will be taut and should
have friction ridges clearly visible on the hands. This observation
indicates that the friction ridge skin has been sufficiently reconditioned
Figure 6: Left and right hands, both exposed in the same environmental
conditions, from a body recovered after the December 2004 South Asian
tsunami. The hands prior to boiling were macerated, exhibiting wrinkles and
no visible friction ridge detail (left hand). The hands after boiling were
reconditioned, exhibiting visible friction ridge detail and no wrinkles
Step 3: Before attempting to print, dry the friction ridges by using a blow
dryer (warm setting) or by pouring isopropyl alcohol on the hands and
blotting dry with towels. The examiner may use cloth or paper towels;
however, paper towels may leave fiber traces on the hands, which may
interfere with printing results.
The preferred printing method for recording friction ridge impressions from
bodies involves the use of black fingerprint powder and adhesive lifters. To
record powder prints, use a fingerprint brush to lightly dust the fingers
(including palms when necessary) with black powder. Place each finger on a
contrasting adhesive lifter, such as Handiprint (mailing labels also can be
used), to record the impressions (Figures 7 and 8). Affix the adhesive
lifter with the recorded impression to the correct fingerprint block of a
transparent ten-print card (Figure 9). This printing method produces better
results than the standard inking procedure and allows the examiner to easily
record each finger while it is still attached to the hand.
Figure 7: Adhesive lifter wrapped around and removed from a powdered finger,
leaving a recording of the friction ridge impression on the adhesive surface
Figure 8: Fingerprint reviewed by the examiner to confirm that a clear and
complete impression was recorded that is of suitable quality for comparison
Figure 9: Adhesive lifter affixed to the correct fingerprint block of a
transparent ten-print card
The boiling technique uses boiling water to elicit thermodynamic and osmotic
responses that rehydrate the skin, raising friction ridge detail and
eliminating body fluids associated with decomposition. This reconditioning
process enhances detail present on the hands and exposes ridge detail not
visible to the naked eye, allowing the examiner to obtain quality postmortem
impressions from deteriorating friction ridge skin. Examiners should be
aware that recordings of dermal prints will appear different than epidermal
prints under a magnifier (Figure 10). This difference often involves a
slight variation in size, with the dermal recordings being smaller than the
epidermal prints. In addition, dermal ridges consist of double rows of
papillae pegs, which the examiner must follow in dermal impressions to
ascertain ridge path for comparison.
Figure 10: Recording of an epidermal and dermal fingerprint. The dermal
print (right) varies in size from the epidermal print (left). In addition,
the dermal friction ridge detail is recorded as double rows of dermal
papillae compared to epidermal friction ridge detail, which is recorded as
single ridge units.
The authors used the boiling method on hundreds of bodies recovered and
processed in the months following the South Asian tsunami (December 2004),
producing identifiable friction ridge impressions from some of the worst
conditioned bodies. Both Figures 11 and 12 are recordings of a right palm
from an unrecognizable body printed months after the tsunami. The friction
ridge skin on the hands was macerated, showing dermal skin with no visible
ridge detail. The right hand was cleaned, blotted dry with towels and
isopropyl alcohol, and then printed. The result, depicted in Figure 11, is a
smudged impression, recording virtually no friction ridge detail. Figure 12
is a recording of the same palm after using the boiling method. The right
hand was cleaned, submerged in boiling water, blotted dry with towels and
isopropyl alcohol, and then printed. This resulted in an identifiable
impression that could then be compared to a known standard or searched
through an automated fingerprint or palm-print system. The boiling technique
also was used to recondition friction ridge skin on bodies recovered weeks
after Hurricane Katrina (August 2005) in the U.S. Gulf Coast region,
resulting in friction ridge impressions that were used to determine and
confirm the identities of victims.
Figure 11: Palm print recorded without using the boiling technique
Figure 12: Same palm as in Figure 11 but recorded after using the boiling
Friction ridge impressions are instrumental in establishing the identity of
deceased individuals. The examiner must consider the condition of the body
and the fact that damage to the friction skin may prevent the effective
recording of quality prints using standard fingerprint procedures. The
boiling technique is presented as a significant advancement in the recording
of quality postmortem impressions for the identification of deceased
Aaron Uhle served as a Forensic Examiner in the FBI Laboratory’s Latent
Print Operations Unit before being promoted to Major Incident Program
Manager in the Latent Print Support Unit.
Richard Leas served as the Major Incident Program Manager in the FBI
Laboratory’s Latent Print Support Unit before retiring and joining Oak Ridge
Associated Universities as a Latent Fingerprint Examiner. He is currently
assigned to the FBI Laboratory.
This is publication number 06-10 of the Laboratory Division of the Federal
Bureau of Investigation. Names of commercial manufacturers are provided for
identification only and inclusion does not imply endorsement by the FBI.
The authors would like to recognize the members of the FBI Disaster Squad
and the Missing Persons Bureau of the New York City Police Department. Their
efforts to identify human remains from the September 11, 2001, tragedy laid
the groundwork for this report. We also thank Special Agent Kevin Hogg and
Physical Scientist Lori Higginbotham of the FBI for their assistance with
For further information, please contact:
Aaron J. Uhle
Latent Print Support Unit
2501 Investigation Parkway
Quantico, Virginia 22135
Miller, R. D. Recovery of usable fingerprint patterns from damaged
postmortem friction ridge skin, Journal of Forensic Identification (1995)
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