A couple of days ago i was asked to attend a morgue and have a look at a body that was submerged in water for a long time.
As you can imagine a body left submerged for a while is not going to be in the best condition. The body can be bloated and slippery. Imagine having a soak in the bath, then imaging what you would look like if you had a two week long bath. You would look like an accent slimmer prune.
The unfortunate issue the investigating team had was they didn’t know who the victim was. Its not the best start to an investigation as there isn’t any direction of which to go. This is the point at which they called me to see if i could help with retrieving the fingerprints. At the moment the hand was curled shut which would result in the pathologist having to snap the fingers to gain access.
Before the chance of any damage occurring, i was to try and obtain a workable set of prints. Its a relatively easy job but quite a bit of patience is needed.
The first process is to simply take a series of photographs. This is done so that there is something to work with if the next techniques don’t work. Unfortunately the fingers were to curled up to actually get a usable image. The pathologist was asked to break the fingers so that i could continue. They are only broken not cut off so don’t think I’m now standing with lose digits. Were not barbaric.
A small ring light was placed over each digit and photos taken. That was the easiest part.
The next technique was to use some shiny black photographic paper. Great care has to be taken as the skin slips and is easy to dislodge from the actual finger. Its simple to do at home, press a greasy finger onto something dark and shiny or glass. The paper has to be handled with great care and placed into an autoclave so that all cells attached are effectively sterilised to make things safe. A couple of fingers did have some damage caused during this process., not too bad but not really what i wanted to happen.
The next technique is to inject the finger tips with a saline solution. Its not the most enjoyable experience you will encounter. Who does like putting needles into human flesh whether they are alive or dead. Saying that It is quite amazing to watch the fingers slowly plump out as the solution is injected into the fingertip. Care has to be taken, as you can imagine too much solution will make the tips just pop like an over filled ballon. I don’t really want burst finger tip all over my face, so take care. Once each finger is plumped out to a perceived limit they are rephotographed and re printed.
The last and least liked technique is to actually slowly peel away the finger tip and add it to your finger. This is obviously done last as its a destructive technique but unfortunately needed. In this case its wasn’t as hard as you’d iamgine due to the length of time the body had been in the water. After each layer of skin has been peeled away it is placed onto my hand. No, its not placed directly onto my skin, i wear a glove which then has the skin laid onto it. This didn’t work for every finger but was certainly worth the effort as some worked perfectly.
The whole process is slow going but worth while as it can help to ascertain who the body is. The body was quite decomposed so i couldn’t really tell if the body had been subject to murderous abuse. The visible damage could have been caused by the water current bashing the body into submerged items.
I’m glad to say the images i obtained did intact identify the body.