Category Archives: Forensic Science

New Study on Survivability of DNA Evidence

A new study published by the NIJ, demonstrates positive recovery of DNA for up to 10 days following intercourse. Given various circumstances that may lead to delays in reporting or testing, it’s good to know that current testing methods may still yield results even with a substantial delay.

The study can be accessed here (in .pdf format):

Crime Scene Investigation and Fingerprinting

Interesting historic video on crime scene investigation and forensic science. I have a copy as well, that I purchased on DVD from the National Archives. The date on the original is a bit unclear, but it appears to have been made around 1960. It should be noted that some of the practices shown are no longer up to date, and that current safety precautions are not in use. It’s still interesting from a historical standpoint.

Magnetic Powder

By Pat A. Wertheim

This article originally appeared in Minutiae, the Lightning Powder Co. Newsletter, #43, July-August 1997.

Even though magnetic powder has been available since the early 1960’s, many latent print examiners and crime scene technicians are still not using it to full advantage. Magnetic powder adds a wide range of flexibility to one’s resources. In general, magnetic powder is used on non-magnetic surfaces, and regular powder on iron-based surfaces. However, regular fingerprint powder is inappropriate for some surfaces, including many plastics and textured surfaces, where magnetic powder develops latent prints very well. Textured surfaces such as vinyl imitation-leather or lightly textured automobile dashboards or door panels often respond well to magnetic powder, where regular powder would pack into the low places in the texturing and make development of a good latent impossible. In addition, using the “hot breath” technique, also known as “huffing” works better with magnetic powder than with regular powder. Continue reading

Trace Evidence: Hair

by Kathy Steck- Flynn

Edmond Locard was the founder of the Institute of Criminalistics at the University of Lyon in France. Locard believed that that when on person came in contact with another person or object a cross transfer of minute particles occurred. This theory became known as the “Locard Exchange Principle”. Locard believed that crimes could be solved by inspecting the “dust particles” carried to and from a scene. This science is known today as criminalistics and has led to the rise of the forensics laboratory (from Mount Royal College background notes FORE 4407 section 3: Unit 4) Francois Goron, head of the French Surete, seems to be one of the first modern investigators who tried to use hair to identify a killer. In his first case hairs found clutched in a dead woman’s hand could not be identified as human simply because there was no information on the subject.

The inability of the scientific community to distinguish between animal and human hair raised interest in the analysis of hair. In the years that followed researchers began to collect information about the structure of human and animal hair (Block, 1979). In 1899, several years after his original failure, in a case known as “L’affaire Gouffe” Francois Goron was able to establish that a murder victim’s hair had been dyed. Establishing this simple fact led to the identification of Gouffe’s body and subsequently to the arrest of his killers (Block 1979). Francios Goron had successfully used forensic hair examination to solve a crime. Continue reading

Interpretation, Collection and Preservation of Glass Fragments

By Kathy Steck-Flynn

A man is found dead in an abandoned house. Upon examination the medical examiner finds that the man was killed by a single gunshot to the head. Three local teens where observed near the house two days earlier. They are picked up and questioned by police. When pressured, the teens admit to having stolen one of the boys’ father’s guns. They had taken turns shooting at the windows of an abandoned house.

The teens admit that John shot the gun first, then Jay and last was Fred. At the scene the investigators find three bullet holes in a window. They analyze the angle of each bullet hole in relation to the victim and find that the bullet which passed through the far right side of the window pane is the one which fatally wounded the man. Continue reading

Ninhydrin Processing

By Pat A. Wertheim

This article originally appeared in Minutiae, the Lightning Powder Co. Newsletter, #45, November-December 1997.

Perhaps the most productive and cost-effective method of developing latent fingerprints on paper is treatment with Ninhydrin. Freshly-mixed Ninhydrin solutions are less expensive and more dependable than premixed aerosol cans or pump spray dispensers. While the premixed containers are ready for instant use when purchased, safety experts today caution against spraying and instead encourage either dipping or painting to apply the solution.

The problem with spraying Ninhydrin solutions is that, even in a fume hood, airborne particles of Ninhydrin dust can form as the carrier evaporates. These microscopic particles may not be effectively removed from the lab by the fume hood, and may find their way back into the air you breathe. Since Ninhydrin reacts with amino acids, any exposure to your body, especially to your eyes or lungs, could have serious results. This potentially dangerous exposure is minimized by dipping or painting. Continue reading

Atmospheric Superglue Method

By Pat A. Wertheim

This article originally appeared in Minutiae, the Lightning Powder Co. Newsletter, #44, Sep-Oct 1997.

Some latent print technicians believe superglue should be listed second only to powder as the most effective latent print development technique. Others believe it should come first. Either way, no one can deny that superglue fuming is the most revolutionary new method to be discovered since the invention of powder. Superglue fuming works on many surfaces where powder is ineffective, such as plastics, and has the advantage of fixing the print on the surface for later presentation in court. Continue reading

Footwear, the Missed Evidence

Dwayne S. Hilderbrand, CLPE
Lead Latent Print Examiner
Scottsdale Police Crime Lab

This article originally appeared in Minutiae, The Lightning Powder Co. Newsletter, Nov-Dec 1995, p. 2-5, 11.

“The scope of a complete examination consists of two main functions: first,
the recovery process, which includes the discovery and preservation of the
prints, and second, the identification process, which involves evaluations,
comparisons, and findings related to the recovered impression.”

(Grieve 1988).


“Wherever he steps, whatever he touches, whatever he leaves, even
unconsciously, will serve as silent witness against him. Not only his
fingerprints or his footprints, but his hair, the fibers from his clothing,
the glass he breaks, the tool mark he leaves, the paint he scratches, the
blood or semen he deposits or collects.. All of these and more bear mute
witness against him. This is evidence that does not forget. It is not confused
by the excitement of the moment. It is not absent because human witnesses
are, it is factual evidence, physical evidence cannot be wrong, it cannot
perjure itself; it cannot be wholly absent, only its interpretation can err.
Only human failure to find it, study and understand it, can diminish its

(Paul L. Kirk 1974).

On September 19, 1991, two German tourists were hiking in the mountains on the border between Austria and Italy when they spotted a body buried in the ice. The two tourists, suspecting foul play, contacted the authorities. As it was not clear at the time exactly where the body was found, police authorities from Austria and Italy responded. Following the normal procedures for the recovery of the body, they attempted to free it from the ice using jack hammers. Unfortunately, the jack hammers were damaging the body, pickaxes and ski poles were then used.

Continue reading

Fingerprinting the Dead

by Daryl W. Clemens

Plastic Tape

Plastic Tape

Obtaining fingerprints for identification is a long established law enforcement practice. When the practice started, is was most common to use printers ink applied to the fingers which were then pressed onto paper cards. Later specialized inks were employed to improve the quality of the prints obtained. While ink is still used today, many agencies are now using computer “live-scan” methods to record reference prints. Continue reading