For three decades, the key to identifying a pedestrian struck and killed near an interstate exit ramp sat at investigators’ fingertips. They just didn’t realize it.

The man was walking on Interstate 65 in central Kentucky in 1984 when he was struck by a semitruck. With no identification, the only clues he left were a couple of tattoos, a pack of cigarettes and his fingerprints.

The prints yielded no matches. John Doe’s body remained unidentified thirty years later, when the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System asked state police to review cold cases.

Forensic analyst Keith Dollinger went through John Doe’s file and noticed something odd about the ridges and patterns of the fingerprints.

“It looked to me like right hand prints were on the left hand card because of the way the ridges went through,” he said.

He was right: Investigators had transposed the prints. The right hand was on a card labeled “left” and vice versa.

“Once he figured that that out, it kind of snowballed from there,” Kentucky State Police Lt. Brian Sumner said.

Now, the man has a name: Roy Andrew Langley, who sometimes went by the alias “Red Anderson.” He spent his life in and out of police custody and was 34 when he died by the side of the road in Elizabethtown.

A preliminary identification was made in May, and this week, the Hardin County Coroner’s Office tracked down Langley’s sister in Houston for confirmation. Attempts by The Associated Press to reach Debra Langley Hamidian were unsuccessful.

Transposing fingerprints isn’t an everyday mistake, but it’s not uncommon, said Todd Matthews, director of case management and communications for the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System.

“There have been other times where prints were flipped,” Matthews said, although he didn’t have statistics on the frequency.

In fact, the officer who made the catch in Langley’s case said he’s caught himself making the same mistake.

“It’s something that happens every so often,” said Dollinger, a forensic specialist analyst with state police’s Automated Fingerprint Identification System. “It’s just something you have to be careful about.”

After discovering the error, Dollinger, who has 20 years of experience, resubmitted the prints through the state and national identification systems and turned up Langley’s name.

“It was kind of a quiet satisfaction,” Dollinger said. “It was a good thing because we know who the fellow is. The family can get some closure.”

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