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What Are Altered Fingerprints?

Skin grafted onto a finger to alter the print

Fingerprints have always been the most reliable form of identification. Fingerprints are both unique and permanent. They are formed during fetal growth and, aside from getting bigger as the person grows, the fingerprint patterns remained unchanged (barring injury) until death. For over a century law enforcement have been using fingerprints to identify criminals from the latent impressions they have left behind at crime scenes. Of course, the simplest way for criminals to avoid leaving identifiable fingerprints is by wearing gloves. But some criminals have taken an extreme measure by physically deforming their prints.

Some criminals have actually deformed their fingerprints by surgery, burning, or the application of acid in an attempt to destroy the papillary ridges so law enforcement can not identify the criminal by their fingerprints. Some criminals have even attempted to chew off their patterns while in custody. One of the most notable criminals to attempt this is the infamous American bank robber John Dillinger who used acid in 1934. Since that time other criminals have gone to great lengths to alter their fingerprints. Some have even used plastic surgeons.

In the end, these efforts are usually insufficient. Obviously this damage is, in and of itself, unique. How the burns or cuttings transect the friction ridge skin is as unique as the natural ending ridges and bifurcations examiners typically rely on to make identifications. As you might imagine, this behavior is rare so finding a suspect with altered fingerprints is highly suggestive that they are involved in criminal activity.

Surgically altered fingerprints by skin grafting

In your novel you might consider having a character engage in such behavior in an effort to avoid detection. If nothing else it may provide extra hurdles for your protagonist to overcome. In fact, finding such fingerprints at a crime scene might lead your protagonist to search out local plastic surgeons or chemical supply houses for your suspect.


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