Biometrically identifying dead bodies now a live possibility

Published 28 November 2006

Researchers at the Universities of Leicester and Hamburg use a portable fingerprint scanner to identify corpses; system seen as ideal for disaster relief efforts; dead elderly women present a technological challenge

Zombie masters take note: a new portable fingerprint biometrics technology has proven useful in identifying the dead, leading many to believe it a useful tool in disaster relief efforts. The PDA-based device, developed by researchers at the University of Leicester, the Leicester Constabulary, and the University of Hamburg, had earlier been reported as ideal for roadside fingerprinting of drunk driving suspects and other miscreants, but a recent test on a series of cadavers demonstrated a more macabre use as well. “Fingerprinting is usually undertaken by scene of crime or fingerprint officers at the mortuary and although the recovery of fingerprints is possible at the scene of death, as with mortuary recovery, to date handheld real-time on-site analysis (near-patient testing) is not available to investigators,” professor Guy Rutty of the University of Leicester explained.

Testing on the dead also revealed some unexpected complications. “Although prints were acquired in all cases we observed a number of difficulties with the use of the unit which affected its operation and print quality,” said Professor Rutty. “The quality of the prints depended on the gender and age of the individual with females worse [to record] than males; elderly female pads showed more cracking and loss of ridge details than males in the series captured.” The research has been submitted for consideration for publication to an international forensic medical journal.

-read more in this Scenta report