Ear Identification

Presented at the conference for Shoeprint and Toolmark Examiners Noordwijkerhout, 24 April 1997.

The subject of my presentation for this conference is ear research / ear identification. It concerns not only the research into the adversity of ears but also the finding of earprints especially in relation to committed penal acts. My further reasoning will be separated into four parts.

1. A piece of history according to ear research and what is known about that subject in literature.

2. The history of ear research in the Netherlands in which I will indicate the present state of affairs.

3. International developments (as far as I’m concerned).

4. The criminological value of earprints in the future, especially my views on the internationalization of earprint research, standard norms and co-operation.

At first a piece of history. In the 18th century already Lavater (who lived from 1741 till 1801) made reports about the individual design of the ear. A century later, concrete proposals for the application of this knowledge were developed in criminology abroad. In spite of the photographic equipment of the police forces these findings were not followed through, whilst the application of subject photography and the taking of fingerprints, as well as the registration of body sizes became standard procedure at the criminal record offices. One person especially made a noise in this field the Frenchman Bertillon. His “portrait parle” contained three photographs of a suspect in which the photograph “en profile” were appropriate for giving a clear uniform description of the ear.

The Prague doctor Imhofer also made remarkable recommendations in this field in 1906. He described the characteristic forms of the ear fully. His descriptions were a good directive for the use of earprints as a means of identification. He ascertained that the characteristic features of the human ear remain unchanged during the whole of our life.

In the United States of America Alfred Iannarelli has researched all aspects of the ear for more than 40 years. He also designed a useful classification system. His collective work “Ear Identification” is in my opinion a standard work in this domain. Iannarelli researched the stages of the existence of the ear and he ascertained that the development of the ear begins shortly after conception. Some parts of the ear are already recognizable by the 38th day after conception, yet the ear is not in the right place. The correct place will be reached at about the 56th day. At that moment the helix, anti-helix, the concha and the lobule amongst others are recognizable  After the 70th day the speed at which the ear develops is increased but important changes in the form of the ear cease to occur. Iannarelli ascertained that after the fourth month the mutual proportions of the ear do not change further. However, he discovered that although there are no further alteration in the mutual proportions of the ear, the ear continues to increase in size. He also researched the growth differences between races (whites, blacks and asiatics) and ascertained that growth differences of the ears existed between the races.

Research under auspices of the Karl Marx University of Leipzig concerned the size and the form of the ear. They definitely found a difference in the size of the ears between men and women, but it was ascertained that these differences are not useful for the identification process. Research was also carried out on the existence of certain aspects of ears in reference to form. The before mentioned Imhofer also pointed out that the ears -with exception to the cartilage free earlobe – after the softer parts will be affected by decomposition. He also did research into the hereditary factors. Ancestry reports in forensic medical science in Western Germany have taken the characteristic features of the ear into account since the nineteen twenties. Scientific researchers of this aspect -amongst others professor Lange of the Goethe University in Franfurt am Main – show that in the concha region of the ear similarities in form exist between parents and their children.

In 1965 Hirchi (Bern-Switzerland) carried out a useful test in connection with a burglary in which an earprint of the criminal led to convincing argumentation. He compared the photographs of the auricle of 40 persons with the prints of these ears and discovered characteristic dissimilarities of form. Hirchi cites in his explanation over the method followed and the consulted literature amongst other things the following passages.

1. From the pen of Mr. A.A. Reiss, University of Lausanne, in his book “Portrait parle” (method Alphonse Bertillon): “The ear has the most characteristic feature elements of the human body thanks to the variation in height and depth of the form. It has such a great quantity of different forms that it is almost impossible to find two persons with parts that are absolutely identical. Besides that the form of the ear does not change from birth until death”.

2. From Prof.Dr.A.Niceforo, lecturer at the University of Napels and Brussels in the magazine “Die Kriminalpolizei und ihre Hilfswissenschaften”: “For description purposes the ear is the most important part, because this organ offers the most, and has the most essential variations. The ear is, for each human being, so different that the precise description, with all its characteristic features would already be enough to ascertain the identification”.

3. Dr. Edmond Locard in his book “L’identification des recidivistes”: “This organ, that is a part of the face which in present day is the least looked at, can be considered as one of the most important for police science because it contains the most characteristic feature parts. The ear has a double character, on the one side qua sizes and forms it is unchangeable from birth till death, and on the other appears to be so varied that it is almost impossible to find two identical ears”.

In Western Germany earprints were at first described as large marks and were not recognized as earprints. However they helped on a number of occasions with the identification of the offender. Besides these cases, in the last few years there have been articles written in forensic magazines about individual cases in which earprints were found at crime scenes. In most cases these articles did not describe the recognized procedure to an identification and it is not known if the identification was taken into evidence by the court of the country concerned, or if a conviction was obtained on these grounds.