A body of a woman was found out in the desert
near Las Vegas, Nevada. The body was badly decomposed and some of the only clues
present in helping to identify the body were general physical description and a
rose tattoo. After some skin restoration using tissue builder, a single inked
thumbprint of value was obtained from the body.
Detectives and the coroner's office investigators came up with a number of
possible individuals from listings of missing persons all over the West. From
time to time, they obtained sets of fingerprints and brought them to Las Vegas
Metro's Fingerprint (ten-print) section for preliminary comparisons in an
attempt to identify the dead woman. All of these attempts proved negative.
Then LVMPD detectives developed a lead on a possible missing person out of
California, near Santa Rosa, that matched the physical description and the
tattoo. The California Sheriff's Office faxed a copy of her fingerprint card to
the LVMPD detective on this case. He took the fax and the fingerprint from the
body to a personal friend and helpful employee with about 25 years of ten-print
experience who, although not involved in comparisons within the 10-print
section, had been helping the coroner's office make identifications for many
years. This employee, a LEST (Law Enforcement Support Technician) Supervisor,
who works in the Convicted Person Registration section, made a comparison of the
fax with the autopsy print and decided that they were the same person. This set
in motion a bizarre set of circumstances that resulted in a woman planning the
funeral of a daughter that was later discovered alive.
When the mother of the missing Santa Rosa subject was notified of the death of
her daughter she at first protested but eventually accepted that her daughter
was dead and set about making funeral plans. Then when a routine computer entry
regarding the death of the woman was made a red flag appeared. The missing
person entry was marked as "found." Apparently a Santa Rosa police
officer had recently (after the discovery of the body) stopped the missing woman
and a report was made of the stop. Naturally, this developed many questions as
to the identity of the dead body.
After receiving this information, the LVMPD homicide detective obtained a mailed
copy of the set of fingerprints from California and took them back to the
Technician who had made the original identification for a re-examination of the
prints. She declared that the ten-prints and the autopsy print did NOT match.
Noticing the reluctance on the face of the detective, she advised him to also
take the prints to the LVMPD Forensic Laboratory, specifically the Latent Print
Unit. After a comparison, the LVMPD Latent Print Examiner confirmed for the
detective that the same individual did not make indeed the prints.
The detective then had to notify the family that the body was not that of their
daughter. This notification was made very close to the day of the funeral.
Subsequently, the daughter was located in a homeless shelter in Santa Rosa,
California, very much alive. Naturally, the local California newspapers picked
up the story:
Upon analysis, some of the extenuating circumstances that came into play in this
case are: the use of faxed known prints, a poor quality autopsy print, only one
autopsy fingerprint available, the physical similarities of the woman to that of
the dead body, similarities of the fingerprints themselves, the methods of
making victim eliminations and the form of notification for fingerprint