Category Archives: Police Procedure

Stupid Criminals: Man Attempts to Gnaw Off His Fingerprints

Damaged Print

If you have a record or an outstanding warrant or two, you might not want the police to ID you when you’re arrested for driving a stolen vehicle. I truly hate days like that. But, what to do? Maybe just gnaw off your fingerprints and they won’t be able to determine your ID. Probably painful, and probably won’t work. It looks like Kenzo Roberts gave it a whirl (no pun intended) anyway.

And he’s not alone. Many folks have tried to alter their fingerprints with cuts, burns, scrapes, and other painful procedures. Even Public Enemy #1 John Dillinger tried. Besides having plastic surgery to alter his face, he also attempted to burn away his fingerprints with acid. That didn’t work either.

John Dillinger

John Dillinger



John Dillinger was one of America’s most notorious criminals, once named Public Enemy No. 1. In an effort to evade the cops, he underwent facial plastic surgery and tried to remove his fingerprints with acid. After his betrayal by the famous “Lady in Red,” Dillinger was shot dead outside Chicago’s Biograph Theater. Prints taken at the morgue proved that the dead man was indeed Dillinger. The acid had damaged only a portion of his finger pads, leaving enough ridge detail for matching with his prints on file with the police.

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Are the Brains of Psychopaths Different?


There has been a long running debate on whether those labeled as psychopaths, or sociopaths, have an anatomical, or perhaps a chemical, basis for their aberrant behavior. It’s actually a debate that has raged for many years. Back to the days of phrenology, and before. Phrenology was the study of the shape of the skull and its use in predicting behavior and personality. It didn’t, it couldn’t, but it was a belief that had its loyal followers.

Dr. Kent Kiehl has spent years studying the possible connection between brain anatomy and physiology and behavior. As part of his research he performed MRI brain exams on thousands of prisoners. His findings have shown that the amygdala—an area of the brain involved with emotions and decision making—-tends to be smaller in psychopaths.


Also he uncovered evidence to suggest that assessing the activity of the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), an area of the brain involved in error processing, might be useful in predicting which inmates might be prone to re-offend after prison release. Those with reduced ACC activity were twice as likely to re-offend when compared with those with high ACC activity.


This, of course, will require further study but it’s an interesting concept and could be useful. It could also lead to the creation of a real “Minority Report.” Remember that movie? A futuristic sci-fi story that dealt with the ability to predict future crime—called predictive policing. The future just might have arrived.



Wildfires and Forensic Science


Here in Southern California, we are not strangers to wild fires. Other parts of the world are similarly afflicted. Some are natural, from lightning for example, but all too often they are the result of arson.

Forensic wildfire investigators face a difficult problem when analyzing a potential arson scene since often most, if not all, of the evidence is consumed by the fire. But not always. They search for the point, or points, or origin and then apply their knowledge and skill to determine how the fire progressed. This can often lead to crucial evidence in uncovering who started the fire. And why.

Wildfire pattern


Does “Body Recognition” Compare With DNA?

Does “Body Recognition” Compare With DNA?


The forensic anatomy researchers at the University of Adelaide think this just might be the case. If so, this technique might be useful in identifying criminals and missing persons from photos and videos where facial features aren’t clearly shown.

Anthropomorphic measurements for identification aren’t new. In fact, they are over 100 years old. One of the pioneers in this endeavor was Alphonse Bertillon who devised a system hat became known as Bertillonage. It was the standard until fingerprints proved more reliable and discriminatory.

Alphonse Bertillon

Alphonse Bertillon


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Anthropometry (anthrop means “human”; metry means “to measure”) is defined as the study of human body measurements for use in anthropological classification and comparison. Simply put, it is the making of body measurements in order to compare individuals with each other.

Using anthropometry, French police officer Alphonse Bertillon (1853–1914) developed the first truly organized system for identifying individuals in 1882.

Believing that the human skeleton did not change in size from about age twenty until death and that each person’s measurements were unique, he created a system of body measurements that became known as bertillonage.

According to Bertillon, the odds of two people having the same bertillonage

measurements were 286 million to one. This belief led Bertillon to state that all people could be distinguished from one another by key measurements, such as height, seated height from head to seat, length and width of the head, right ear length, left little finger length, and width of the cheeks, among others. His greatest triumph came in February 1883, when he measured a thief named Dupont and compared his profile against his files of known criminals. He found that Dupont’s measurements matched a man named Martin. Dupont ultimately confessed that he was indeed Martin.

For many years, this system was accepted by many jurisdictions, but by the dawn of the twentieth century cracks began to appear. The measurements were inexact and subject to variation, depending upon who made them. And because the measurements in two people who were of the same size, weight, and body type varied by fractions of a centimeter, flaws quickly appeared and the system was soon discontinued. Its death knell tolled with the famous Will West case.


Though landmark in its importance, this case was an odd comical coincidence.

On May 1, 1903, Will West came to Leavenworth Penitentiary in Kansas. The records

clerk apparently thought that the man looked familiar, but the new inmate denied ever having been in the prison before. As part of his intake examination, anthropometry was performed and officials were surprised to find that Will’s measurements exactly matched those of William West, another inmate at Leavenworth. The two men even looked eerily similar as if they were twins.

They were brought together into the same room, but each stated that they were not brothers. Fingerprints were then used to distinguish between the two Wills after which Leavenworth immediately dumped anthropometry and switched to a fingerprint-based system for identifying prisoners. New York’s Sing Sing prison followed a month later.

But was the similarity between Will and William West just a bizarre coincidence?

Not really. A report in the Journal of Police Science and Administration in 1980 revealed that the two actually were identical twins. They possessed many fingerprint similarities, nearly identical ear configurations (unusual in any circumstance except with identical twins), and each of the men wrote letters to the same brother, same five sisters, and same Uncle George. So, even though the brothers denied it, it seemed that they were related after all.

In 2010 and also in 2012, I posted on Bertillon’s technique:



Join Jan Burke and me on Saturday April 11, 2015 as we welcome Lisa Mayhew, child death investigator to the show.


BIO: With both her bachelor and master degrees in Child Development, Lisa Mayhew has worked as a child development specialist in North Carolina since 1992. She has provided direct therapy services to children, as well as providing consultation and training within North Carolina and across the US in areas related to child development. She specializes in the 0-3 year population, children with special needs and interdisciplinary collaboration. She has served as the Child Death Investigator/Trainer for the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner since 2000 conducting investigations of child deaths statewide, and providing assistance in investigations to local and state agencies. In addition, Lisa operates the Child Death Investigation Training Program in conjunction with the North Carolina Justice Academy to agencies statewide involved in the investigation of child fatalities. She provides training to local and state law enforcement agencies across the US, and is the author of  Child Death Investigations: Interdisciplinary Techniques from Cradle to Court available through Carolina Academic Press. She served as a consultant in the development of the Infant/Child Death Investigation Kit with Tri Tech Forensics and is an instructor for their training institute. Her trainings are also offered through the Public Agency Training Council.



North Carolina Office of the Chief Medical Examiner

North Carolina Child Fatality Prevention Program (this page includes links to several reports)

Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina

CDC Statistics – Child Mortality

CDC 10 leading causes of death by age group (PDF files and charts)

Reuters story on UNICEF 2012 report on violence against children

PDF of study from Child Welfare Bureau of the Dept of Health and Human Services on Child Abuse Neglect and Abuse Fatalities 2012


Crime and Science Radio: Forensic Science On Trial: The Honorable Donald Shelton On Forensic Science And The Courts

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Join Jan Burke and me as we welcome Judge Donald Shelton to Crime and Science Radio as he discusses the CSI Effect and many other legal issues.

BIO: Currently the Director of the Criminal Justice Program at the University of Michigan, the Honorable Donald E Shelton served as as the Chief Judge in the 22nd Judicial Court — the Washtenaw County Trial Court, where he had been a circuit court judge from 1990 until his retirement from the bench last year. In addition to his law degree, he has advanced degrees in Criminology, Criminal Justice and Judicial Studies, and has taught at the college level since 1971. He is the author of numerous books, articles, and studies on forensic science evidence and the judicial system — as well as other topics concerning criminal justice. Two of his most recent works are Forensic Science in Court: Challenges in the Twenty-first Century and Forensic Science Evidence: Can the Law Keep Up With Science?



Links to Selected Works of Hon. Donald E. Shelton

Selected works on Research Gate

Curriculum Vitae of Hon. Donald E. Shelton

“Forensic Science Evidence and Judicial Bias in Criminal Cases” The Judges’ Journal, American Bar Association 49.3 (2010): 18-24.

“Juror Expectations for Scientific Evidence in Criminal Cases: Perceptions and Reality About the “CSI Effect” Myth” Thomas M. Cooley Law Review 27.1 (2010): 1-35.

“Criminal Justice System Sees ‘CSI Effect’,” Tell Me More, National Public Radio, August 6, 2007,

“The ‘CSI Effect’: Does It Really Exist?” National Institute of Justice Website,

“Washtenaw County Circuit Court Judge Donald Shelton will retire in September, ” The Ann Arbor News, April 08, 2014

Studying Juror Expectations for Scientific Evidence: A New Model for Looking at the CSI Myth

An Indirect-Effects Model of Mediated Adjudication: The CSI Myth, the Tech Effect, and Metropolitan Jurors’ Expectations for Scientific Evidence

Forensic Science Evidence and Judicial Bias in Criminal Cases


Crime and Science Radio: Spy vs Spy vs Spy: An Interview with the Queen of Espionage Gayle Lynds

3-14-15: Crime and Science Radio: Spy vs Spy vs Spy: An Interview with the Queen of Espionage Gayle Lynds This Saturday, 3-14-15 at 10 a.m. PDT, join DP Lyle and Jan Burke in conversation with best-selling author and Queen of Espionage Gayle Lynds and learn about the world of clandestine activity, both real and fictional.   Gayle at BEA   BIO: Gayle began her writing career as a reporter for The Arizona Republic, where her investigative reporting made such an impact that it led to changes in state legislation. Later she was an editor with rare Top Secret security clearance at a government think tank, where assorted shadowy figures passed through silently and not only ideas but people seemed to bounce off the walls. She was inspired. Soon she began writing literary short stories, which were published in literary journals, and at the same time in what some considered schizophrenic, she also wrote male pulp novels in the Nick Carter and Mack Bolan series. She is now a New York Times bestselling author of ten spy novels. Library Journal has called her the Reigning Queen of Espionage. Her latest espionage thriller is The Assassins, which you can preorder now. It will be in stores June 30th.


LINKS: Gayle Lynd’s Website:

Gayle Lynd’s Spy Files:

CIA Homepage:

CIA World Factbook:


MI6 (Secret Intelligence Service):

The Assassins-300   Last Spymaster-300             Book of Spies- 300


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