Case Study: 30-Year-Old Cold Case Fingerprints Come to Light

Latent fingerprints are left with trace sweats and oils from unique patterns, providing the first great forensic human identifier about a century ago.

One of the few problems, however: the fingermarks can dehydrate over long periods of time. Cold cases may thus be a challenge.

But a team at the Sûreté du Québec police force in Canada has put together a methodology involving fuming, dyes and lasers which produced a clear fingerprint on a challenging plastic bag surface from a double-homicide scene from the 1980s, as they report in the journal Forensic Science International.

“The current case presents a uniqueness due to the age of the revealed fingermark, and the paired success of cyanoacrylate fuming,” writes the Canadian team. “It would thus be of great interest of future cold case analysis using this technique to identify the factors having made this revelation possible.”

The plastic bag was found at the crime scene, and had been preserved in a paper evidence bag for decades.

Since the plastic bag is non-porous, it also further fostered the dehydration process in the roughly 30 years it was left untreated in storage. Its lack of texture also “eased the deposition process.”

The Sûreté forensic experts decided to try fuming with superglue: namely E-Z Bond Instant Glue (Thin), with cyanoacrylate.

Hanging the bag in a sealed cabinet, a small amount of the glue was poured into an aluminum cup, which was then placed near a heater set to 80 degrees Celsius. A 1500 mL beaker with near-boiling water was set at the bottom of the cabinet—and a tube emitting air was placed into the water to bubble it.

For 12 minutes, the process continually attached cyanoacrylate vapors to the residues on the bag within the enclosed space.

Then came the staining.

The solution of Rhodamine 6G and methanol was mixed with a magnetic stirrer until completely dissolved, creating a bright orange mix.

Under a fume hood, the solution was sprayed over of the superglue patterns, and the excess was flushed away with pure methanol.

The treatment process thus rehydrated the marks left from the fingerprint decades before, and locked them in permanent patterns, the experts write.

The evidence was then left to dry in the fume hood, according to the paper.

Once dry, an Arrowhead 532 nm laser was used to examine the patterns. Through orange-stained goggles, pictures are taken with a Nikon D7000 camera mounted with an orange-curved barrier filter.

A good fingerprint was thus produced for the first time from the two homicides.

No suspect has yet matched the fingerprint from the double-murder scene, the team reports. However, the cold-case technique could crack open it and other cases in the near future, they report.

“It also reiterates the importance opening cold cases in order to treat and reassess their exhibits,” they write. “Despite the age of a fingermark, cyanoacrylate combined with rhodamine 6G and visualized with a laser can provide new evidence … This opens the possibility of making an identification and ultimately change the course of the investigation.”

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Albuquerque Fingerprint Backlog Increases to 6,000 Cases

“Three Albuquerque Police Department forensic scientists have a daunting task – closely examine and match thousands of collected fingerprints to suspects in order to help solve crimes.

At the Albuquerque Metropolitan Forensics Science Center, 6,000 latent fingerprint packets are waiting to be processed.

The backlog has increased 20-fold since 2014, according to APD data. In 2014, there were five forensic scientists and approximately 300 backlogged cases. Back then, prints took one to two months to process.

Now, latent fingerprints can wait anywhere from one week to 16 months to be processed depending on the Bernalillo County Case Management Order.

The CMO was created to clear up the Bernalillo County District Court case backlog and to prevent pretrial detainees from waiting in jail for months for their cases to be tried.

Instead, Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez has said that the CMO has unintentionally put an undue burden on the public because defendants – sometimes repeat offenders – are often released with no bond before their trial.

Though the Albuquerque City Council approved funding to train and employ civilians to be property crime scene specialists in order to help police, the rate at which the civilian specialists have been collecting prints and dropping them off at the metro lab is greatly outpacing its ability to process them.

“We’ve increased our staff to get reports done and collect the evidence, but we haven’t been as proactive in increasing the lab staff to do the backend work,” APD Commander Jeff McDonald said.

‘I GUESS THEY DON’T CATCH ANYBODY’

Criminals have targeted Aragon’s Lawn and Wood Center in northeast Albuquerque more than 30 times over the past decade, according to the owners. It’s gotten to the point where Owner Richard Aragon has slept at his business armed.

The marine veteran was a sniper in the Vietnam War.

“They’re all fully loaded,” Aragon said.

That isn’t the extent of the precautions he has taken. The lawnmower business is surrounded by motion detector lighting, surveillance cameras and concertina wire.

“We can catch them with the infrared (cameras) and we can get good images at night. Some of the pictures that we’ve taken with our surveillance show us the same guy,” he said.

Aragon and his wife, Kathy, are just two of the thousands of property crime victims in the city waiting for justice.

“Nothing that we know of, or at least they don’t tell us anything and I guess they don’t catch anybody,” Kathy Aragon said.

McDonald has a message for the Aragons and others in their situation.

“Be patient. We’re trying,” he said. “We’re trying to get everybody’s cases solved.”

McDonald said there are currently plans to hire two more forensic scientists. Two retired in 2015, but were never replaced.

Still, the hiring process could take anywhere from two to four months. If the applicant is a recent college graduate with limited experience, he or she will have to be trained for a year.

“I joined the police department to help people,” McDonald said. “(It’s) just not at the fastest rate I’d like.”

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Here are the airports expected to have the worst Thanksgiving travel delays

“With more Americans hitting the road — and the skies — for the Thanksgiving holiday, travelers stuck at airports can expect longer lines and bigger headaches.

The busiest airport is expected to be Chicago O’Hare International Airport, followed by Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and Los Angeles International Airport, according to an analysis by the travel site Orbitz.com.

Airport officials expect 2.3 million travelers to fly through LAX during the holiday week, an 8% increase from the record set in 2015.

But the busiest airports don’t always cause the worst headaches.”

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Plastic banknotes: new fingerprint technique means criminals can’t avoid capture

“The UK has just introduced plastic banknotes, almost 30 years after they were used for the first time in Australia. The polymer notes are designed to last longer and be harder to forge. But the new notes, which will replace the old cotton paper ones entirely by 2020, come with a challenge for police detectives and forensic scientists.

The existing techniques for obtaining fingerprints from paper notes won’t necessarily work for the new plastic money. However, our team at the chemistry department of Loughborough University has developed a potential solution.

The use of fingerprints in forensic science may date back to the 19th century, but in the UK alone it still plays a key role in bringing charges in some 27,000 crimes a year, according to Home Office data we obtained. But new materials can pose significant challenges for fingerprinting. We’re forever trying to make things biodegradable, or handling devices that simply didn’t exist a decade or two ago.

The issue is that the new notes have been fashioned from “biaxially oriented” polypropylene, a type of plastic that has been strengthened by stretching it in two directions. They are also, as with all notes, deliberately fiddly in design. Illustrations and security features such as foil and transparent sections make it harder to develop a perfect print.

The key is to try to find a method that will make the design of the note invisible and just highlight the print. Conventional techniques, such as exposing the fingerprint to cyanoacrylate (“superglue”) fumes that stick to the moisture in the ridges of the print and turn them white, can struggle in such circumstances. The developed print simply appears white and so is harder to see against the background, and it leaves an indelible mark or stain that means the note can’t be returned to circulation.”

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Heartbeats may be the keys of the future

Biometric identifiers, in one form or another, have been a part of the security industry for some time. While most biometric access control solutions use a fingerprint or an iris scan to identify an individual, Toronto-based Bionym is taking a unique approach to the market with a newly launched solution called the Nymi. Unlike other biometric devices that make the user submit to a physical read of their finger or eye, the Nymi is a wearable authentication device that uses a person’s heartbeat to verify their identity.

According to Karl Martin, co-founder and CEO of Bionym, the idea of using someone’s heartbeat as a way to uniquely identify them goes back nearly 40 years. Over the past 10 years, however, he said that research groups around the world have been working to develop automated robot systems that could use electrocardiograms (ECGs) as a biometric. Researchers at the University of Toronto, including Bionym co-founder and CTO Foteini Agrafioti, recently made a breakthrough by finding an automated way of extracting features that relate to the shape of a heart wave that are unique to each person, explained Martin.

“It was a very robust method that could work in the real world. A lot of the other research in the area, they used methods that involved finding very specific points on the wave and looking at relative measures between those points. It’s very unreliable,” said Martin “The method at the University of Toronto looked at the overall shape and was not as sensitive to things like noise, which you see in real life. By looking at the overall shape and unique algorithms to extract those features, it was found that you could have a relatively reliable way to recognize people using a real world ECG signal.”

Martin, who along with Agrafioti worked on biometric, security and cryptography technologies as doctoral students at the University of Toronto, said they founded Bionym as a way to commercialize their work.

“We decided there was an opportunity to make a more complete solution with our technology,” he said. “We looked at what was happening with wearable technology and we realized that’s what we had with biometric recognition using the heart. It married very well with wearable technology and we could essentially create this new kind of product that was an authenticator that you wear rather than something embedded in a mobile phone, tablet or computer.”

Although other promising biometric technologies and companies have made a splash in the security industry only to flame out a short time later, Martin believes that the approach his company is taking sets it apart from others.

“We’re really driven by our vision, which is to enable a really seamless user experience in a way that is still very secure. So many of the security products and the biometric technologies out there – it’s almost kind of like a solution looking for a problem,” said Martin. “Somebody comes up with a new method and says, ‘oh, we can use it like this,’ but the question is what really new are you enabling? In many cases, you’re talking about access control – whether it’s physical or logical access control. Fingerprint is still sort of the most common because it’s robust, people know it, they understand it, but the other technologies haven’t really brought anything new to the table. What we’re doing with this technology and bringing something new to the table is it’s not so much in the core technology itself using the ECG, it’s the marriage of that technology in a wearable form factor.”

Because the Nymi is wearable, Martin said that identity can be communicated wirelessly in a simpler, more convenient way than what’s previously been available.

“The person only has to do something when they put the device on, so they put it on, they become authenticated and then they can essentially forget about it,” he added. “We’ve had a somewhat consumer focus because we are very focused on a convenient user experience, but we found that we actually were able to achieve almost that Holy Grail, which is convenience plus security.”

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