New Forensic Technology Examines Fingerprints Once Considered Too Old

CARLISLE, Pa. (WHTM) - New technology allows investigators to examine fingerprints that were once considered too old or compromised to analyze.

A vacuum metal deposition instrument is now in the hands of Cumberland County to better collect fingerprints and DNA. This equipment is only the second of its kind in Pennsylvania and one of 14 in the entire country.

“Gold will deposit on the substrate and then I will run zinc, and zinc doesn’t attach anywhere else except to a different metal and then it will attach to the gold that I’ve placed,” said Carol McCandless, the lead forensic investigator for Cumberland County.

The vacuum sucks all the air and water out of a chamber, then the machine coats the evidence with a very thin metal film under a high vacuum, all done in less than five minutes.

“The metallic substances don’t land on the top of the ridges of anything. It goes in between so that the top of the ridge is touched and that’s where the DNA is,” said Skip Ebert, Cumberland County District Attorney.

This machine locates fingerprints from items that were previously tough or impossible to extract before, things like paper, waxy substances, and clothing.

“What we did in this machine of the actual victim’s face being suffocated and on the opposite side of the pillowcase, the actual hands that were pushing it down on his face. You cannot beat that kind of evidence anywhere,” said Ebert.

This not only helps current and future cases.

“I have received several cold cases, one from 1983 and one from 1995,” said McCandless.

The Cumberland County Forensic Lab is expected to be fully accredited in the fall, thanks largely to this new technology, made possible through a grant from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency.

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