Two experts, one office, one big time-saver
June 30, 2012 9:28PM
Volunteer Latent Print Examiner Mike Murphy looks at a fingerprint on the AFIS System at the Joliet Police Department . | Joliet Police Department Photo ~ For Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 2, 2012 6:24AM
Mike Murphy still has some time before the police can expect results in a few cases from early in his career.
Before the state’s fingerprint database computerized, records were stored on cards at the Bureau of Identification. Finding Joe Somebody’s card to compare evidence to those prints wasn’t a problem, but trying to find who mystery fingerprints belonged to...
“If a detective asked me (to do that), we used to joke ‘See you in 42 years,’ ” Murphy recalled.
The Automated Fingerprint Identification System can run an unknown through the whole system in a substantially shorter time, so “Murph” has found other ways to keep busy.
Murphy grew up in Joliet and was preparing for an accounting career before getting a college job as a maintenance worker for the state police where his father was a forensic photographer.
“I was around and saw what they did. It was interesting to me and the results were useful,” he said. “It’s neat to be able to identify folks, not just criminals, but someone who’s died.”
Murphy began working evidence for the state police in 1978 and left 24 years later as assistant lab director. He spent the next decade as a fingerprint specialist for the Drug Enforcement Administration in Chicago.
“I just wanted to get back to working latent prints ... which are the impressions of ridge detail (from your fingers) left on an object,” Murphy said.
Murphy’s most satisfying case was in Grundy County where a woman had been murdered by her handyman who’d bound her with duct tape and burned her alive.
“Proving he opened a door at the house didn’t give anything to the case since that could be explained, but the police were able to recover some of the duct tape that was binding her and I was able to lift two of his prints from the adhesive side that was around her eyes.”
The fingerprints on the bank check Murphy processed this week at the Joliet Police station may belong to a bank teller, but they may crack another case. That’s the detectives job and thanks to “Murph” they can do it a lot faster.
Larry Kane has been the department’s fingerprint technician for many years, but instead of being threatened by Murphy’s presence, he sought it. When Murphy retired from the DEA in January, Kane jumped at the chance to have the expert volunteer in his workspace.
“A print has to be verified by two trained technicians,” Kane explained. “After I had a match, it had to be reviewed at the state crime lab, which can have a turnaround time of six months to a year.”
But with two experts in the same office, some prints have been processed in less than a day.
“It’s amazing how quickly we’ve been able to get results now that we can do more within the department,” Investigations Cmdr. Brian Benton said.
On May 10, Phillip J. Dockins, 19, allegedly stole jewerly from a house on Dearborn Street. Five days later he tried taking items from a car on Prairie Path Lane. Fingerprints would eventually have matched him to both crime scenes, but the work of Murphy and Kane led to a warrant and an arrest in just a matter of days.
“Murph said he volunteers because to spend 30 years becoming an expert in a field but then not use it would be a waste,” Benton said.
Chief Mike Trafton, evidence Sgt. Lindsey Heavener, Kane, and in a modest way, Murphy himself, made similar statements to the investigations commander, so I don’t know who got their fingerprints on that one originally.
But if anyone can find out...