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Monday, June 1, 2009

The purpose of the Detail is to help keep you informed of the current state of affairs in the latent print community, to provide an avenue to circulate original fingerprint-related articles, and to announce important events as they happen in our field.
Breaking NEWz you can UzE...

by Stephanie Potter

Expert stands by fingerprint evidence at Bain trial
New Zealand Herald - New Zealand 05-27-09
A photograph of the fingerprints had shown up the ridges of the prints as white. Prosecutor Kieran Raftery put to Mr Lloyd that fingerprint ridges in blood ...

Crown adamant rifle fingerprints in blood
Otago Daily Times - Dunedin,New Zealand
By Kay Sinclair on Thu, 28 May 2009 Defence claim that David Bain's fingerprints on the rifle used to kill five of his family in 1994 were not in blood was ...

Man bound over for trial in acid-throwing death
Enid News & Eagle - Enid,OK,USA 05-29-09
An OSBI criminalist, Shana Wil-son, was called after Richardson. Wilson compared the collected latent prints to Nelson and Lyon. One of the three latent prints taken from the vase matched Nelson, she said. ...

Fingerprints gets Glenroy Clark 5 Years ...
The Guardian, Belize - Belize City,Belize 05-29-09
The fingerprint from that bottle led to the arrest of 33-year-old Glenroy Clark. Clark, a taxi driver of La Democracia, was arrested on March 28, 2008, ...

Cops: Burglar left fingerprints on cell phone
Newsday - Long Island,NY,USA 05-30-09
A latent fingerprint left on the dropped phone found later by police detectives at the store was matched to Rodney Jones, 27, and he was arrested Friday ...

Amanda Knox: Was there a plot to murder Meredith? | THE CAYLEE DAILY
Guede's role only came to light after a fingerprint on a cushion under the victim was identified as his. By then, prosecutors had already ordered the arrest of Sollecito, Knox and a Congolese bar owner, Patrick Lumumba, who employed the ...

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Updated the Detail Archives

Last week

We looked at the recent publication of a forensic odontologist getting it wrong during an external blind proficiency test in Bite Mark Identification.

This week

there have been a lot of articles in different newspapers about the cancer patient in Singapore who was detained by U.S. customs because his medication made his fingerprints unreadable.


Can You Lose Your Fingerprints?

May 29, 2009

A Singaporean cancer patient was detained by U.S. customs because his cancer treatment had made his fingerprints disappear. A forensic expert explains other ways people can lose--intentionally and unintentionally--one of their unique identifiers

By Katherine Harmon

A 62-year-old man from Singapore was traveling to the U.S. to see relatives last December and was detained after a routine fingerprint scan showed that he actually had none. So how did this happen?

The man, identified in a medical journal case report only as "Mr. S," had been on chemotherapy to keep his head and neck cancer in check. As it turns out, the drug, capecitabine (brand name, Xeloda) had given him a moderate case of something known as hand–foot syndrome (aka chemotherapy-induced acral erythema), which can cause swelling, pain and peeling on the palms and soles of the feet—and apparently, loss of fingerprints.

Mr. S's doctor, Eng-Huat Tan, a senior oncology consultant at the National Cancer Center in Singapore, described the incident in a letter published earlier this week in Annals of Oncology and recommended patients on that drug obtain letters from their doctors before traveling to the U.S.

Officials allowed Mr. S to enter the country following a few hours' detainment when they were "satisfied that he was not a security threat," Tan noted in his letter. Mr. S says he had not noticed that his fingerprints had vanished before he set out on his trip, and his doctor found informal online mentions of other chemo patients complaining of lost fingerprints.

Forensics expert Edward Richards, director of the Program in Law, Science and Public Health at Louisiana State University, explains that "other diseases, rashes and the like can cause vesicular breakdown of the skin on your fingers—just a good case of poison ivy would do it." But, he notes, "Left alone, your skin replaces at a fairly good rate, so unless you've done permanent damage to the tissue, it will regenerate."

As fingerprint scanning and other biometrics become more common (visitors seeking entry into the U.S. must have their prints scanned to ensure they do not currently hold a visa under another name), scanning technology is also advancing. But cases such as this point out that you actually need fingerprints for identification. So how effective are current scanners, and how else have people—accidentally or intentionally—altered their fingerprints?

To find out, we spoke with fingerprint expert Kasey Wertheim, president of Complete Consultants Worldwide, LLC, which provides fingerprint examination expertise to government clients and has done forensic and biometric work for the U.S. Department of Defense and Lockheed Martin.

Are all fingerprints truly unique?
Yes. It has to do with how the fingerprints form in the womb. During the first trimester, the fingerprints have already established their permanence and uniqueness.

Aside from forensics and travel, what else are fingerprint scans being used for these days?

More and more, fingerprints are being used in biometric devices to permit secure log-on, to open locks, and for access control in general. The biggest users of biometrics are corporate and private users, but fingerprints also have a long history in the forensics world for criminal identification dating back over a century.

Are current scanners pretty reliable?
The exact rate of print rejection [those that can't be read] depends on the scanner. Ultrasound devices go beyond just the outer layer and capture part of the root system. On average, the rejection rate for [scanned] fingerprints is about 1 to 2 percent.

The patient who was detained for lacking prints had hand–foot syndrome that was caused by his chemotherapy drug. What are some other ways that fingerprints can disappear?
The most prominent of those problems involve bricklayers—who wear down ridges on their prints handling heavy, rough materials frequently—or people who work with lime [calcium oxide], because it's really basic and dissolves the top layers of the skin. The fingerprints tend to grow back over time. And, surprisingly, secretaries, because they deal with paper all day. The constant handling of paper tends to wear down the ridge detail.

Also, the elasticity of skin decreases with age, so a lot of senior citizens have prints that are difficult to capture. The ridges get thicker; the height between the top of the ridge and the bottom of the furrow gets narrow, so there's less prominence. So if there's any pressure at all [on the scanner], the print just tends to smear.

How have people intentionally changed or "disappeared" their fingerprints?
There are many documented cases of intentional fingerprint mutilation, but generally those involve pretty severe damage to the skin—more specifically between the generating layer, where the template of the fingerprint survives, and the upper layer, the epidermis.

Pretty much any cut or burn that goes deeper than the outer layer of the skin can affect the fingerprint pattern in a permanent way. But even with permanent scarring, the new scar becomes a unique aspect of that person's fingerprint.

The first case of documented fingerprint mutilation was in 1934, by Theodore "Handsome Jack" Klutis, who led a gang called the College Kidnappers. When the police finally caught up with him, Klutis went for his gun and the police returned fire, killing him. When they compared his postmortem fingerprints, police found that each of his prints had been cut by a knife, resulting in semicircular scars around each fingerprint. Although it was glorified in the media, it was an amateur job; the procedure left more than enough ridge detail to identify him.


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