Articles from The Science Of Fingerprints
Drying The Fingers
Jacket Folder File
The above techniques and procedures have been dealt with upon the
basis that the law enforcement officers would, when a corpse has been
found, attempt to secure a set of finger impressions in an effort to
identify the unknown dead. If, however, the officer feels that the job
is too difficult or is beyond his scope, consideration should be given
to cutting off the hands or fingers of the deceased and forwarding
them to the Identification Division of the FBI for processing. If this
course is decided upon, it is reiterated that local statutes governing
the cutting of the dead must be complied with and proper authorization
must be secured.
In order to facilitate the transmission of such specimens to the FBI
the following suggestions are made:
First, it is deemed most desirable, when possible, to have both of the
hands, severed at the wrist, forwarded in their entirety (fig. 407).
It is desired that the hands, rather than each separate finger, be
sent inasmuch as it eliminates the possibility of getting the fingers
mixed up or incorrectly labeled. If, however, it is not possible to
send the hands for some reason, then, of course, the fingers should be
cut off and forwarded. In cutting, the fingers should be cut off at
the palm beginning with the right thumb, then the right index, ring,
etc., just as though they were to be printed. As soon as each finger
is cut off it should be placed in an individual container, such as a
small glass jar, and immediately marked as to which particular finger
In the event that the hands or fingers of more than one dead are being
transmitted, it is absolutely necessary that not only the fingers be
properly labeled but that each body also be given an identifying
number or symbol which must be indicated on the hands or fingers cut
from that body as well, in order to avoid the embarrassing situation
of identifying the hands and not knowing from which body they were
In shipping, the hands, fingers, or skins may be placed in preserving
solutions such as 5-percent solution of formaldehyde, 5-percent
solution of alcohol, or embalming fluid. When hands or fingers are
desiccated (dried out), however, it is most desirable that they be
placed in airtight containers and sent without any preservative. If
glass containers are used, the specimens should be packed in such a
manner as to avoid breakage. Dry ice is a suitable preservative for
transmitting such specimens but it should not be used when shipping
will take more than 24 hours.
In making up a package using dry ice, the hands or fingers, properly
tagged, should be placed in cellophane or paper bags. A material such
as sawdust, shavings or similar packing which acts as an insulation is
placed around the specimens. A sufficient amount of dry ice is then
placed in the package which is then packed tight with more sawdust or
shavings. The dry ice should not be in direct contact with the
cellophane or paper bags which contain the hands or fingers.
A letter covering transmittal of the specimens should be prepared in
duplicate. It should, of course, indicate the sender. The names of any
probable victims, sex, race and approximate age of the deceased
should, if such information is available, be secured from the coroner
or medical examiner and be included in the letter. A copy of the
letter should be placed in the package. The original should be mailed
separately. Both letter and package should be addressed as follows:
FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE
WASHINGTON 25, D.C.
Attention: Identification Division--Latent Fingerprint Section.
If the package contains glass jars it should be marked Fragile to
insure careful handling in transit.
The package should be sent railway express, prepaid, or, where there
is need for speed, by air express, prepaid. When they are received by
the Identification Division, the specimens will undergo various
treatments which may necessitate further cutting, scraping, etc. In
all cases, regardless of condition, the specimens will be returned
All of the foregoing matter has dealt with instances in which it has
been assumed that all ten fingers are available, or a sufficient
number of the fingers of a deceased have been secured and impressions
suitable for searching through the fingerprint files of the FBI have
There will be cases, however, where only a few, or possibly only one,
of the fingers has sufficient ridge detail for identification. In such
instances a search through the FBI files would be impractical. This,
however, does not preclude the possibility of making a positive
identification by the use of the one finger. Though a search through
the file is not possible, a comparison can be made with the
fingerprints of individuals who it is thought the deceased may be or,
in some instances, with the fingerprints of missing persons.
In this connection, where one or only a few fingers are forwarded to
the FBI, the names of all possible victims should also be submitted.
The fingerprints of those individuals, if available, will then be
taken out of file and compared with the ridge detail on the finger of
the deceased in an endeavor to establish a positive identification.
Many such identifications have been effected.
In conjunction with the usual services afforded authorized law
enforcement agencies, the services of an FBI fingerprint expert are
also made available in those cases where expert testimony is necessary
to establish the identity of the deceased through fingerprints,
providing, of course, such an identification has been made.
Extreme caution should be exercised in the case of the chemicals
previously mentioned in this article. Acetone, alcohol, benzine, and
xylene are highly inflammable and should neither be used near open
flames nor while the operator is smoking. The fumes given off by
acetone, benzine, xylene, and formaldehyde are toxic and may cause
sickness. They should be used in a well-ventilated room only. It is
also suggested that the fingerprint examiner wear rubber gloves when
using acetone, benzine, xylene, formaldehyde, potassium hydroxide, or
sodium hydroxide. These chemicals will cause the skin to peel. Strong
concentrations may cause burns.
In conclusion, it is pointed out that the procedures and techniques
which have been described are those currently being used by the
fingerprint experts of the FBI. These methods are fast and the results
have been most satisfactory. This Bureau does not claim, however, that
satisfactory results cannot be achieved through variations thereof or
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