Forensic technology used to deliver justice in 38-year-old murder case
9 Dec 2021
A unique fingerprint visualisation system has been making news in the US this week after being used by cold-case detectives in Delray Beach, Florida, to solve a 38-year-old murder case. The new system uses an innovative chemical fuming process to detect fingerprint ridge details even when all physical traces have been removed.
Murdered seemingly without reason, the tragic case of Carla Lowe remained unsolved for close to 40 years with detectives unable to move the case forward due to a lack of evidence.
However, all that changed when a key piece of evidence, held in storage since 1983, was re-examined using RECOVER, a new fingerprint visualisation instrument developed by Evesham-based foster+freeman.
Innovative chemical fuming process
Jointly developed by foster+freeman, the MoD Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), the Home Office Centre for Applied Science and Technology (CAST), and Loughborough University, RECOVER:LFT is a cutting-edge technique that uses an innovative chemical fuming process to develop fingerprints on a range of difficult surfaces including those that have been exposed to extreme heat (discharged bullet casings for example) and items that have been washed ‘clean’ in an attempt to prevent identification.
Unlike existing fingerprint development techniques that require a physical trace (sweat or skin oils) to be present to detect a fingermark, RECOVER enables forensic experts to reveal fingerprint ridge details even when all physical traces have been removed. Using the new instrument, forensic experts were able to reveal a previously unseen fingermark that linked long-term suspect Ralph Williams to the scene and enabled detectives to make an arrest.
The Lowe case is the first to be tackled by the Delray Beach Cold Case Unit after it was created in January of this year.
“This is the exact reason why the cold case position was initiated earlier this year,” said Delray Beach Police Chief Javaro Sims. “To help bring some level of closure to the families who have lost any hope of justice for their losses.”
Speaking about the case, foster+freeman’s Dr Roberto King commented, ”As scientists, we strive to develop ideas, concepts and understandings that can hopefully improve the world around us. Forensic Science utilises some of these incredible techniques and applies them in different ways, to achieve a common goal... justice!”