Members of the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigations cold case fingerprints unit are willing to lend a hand to any law enforcement agencies that need help with old cases.
Since the group’s formation in October, members have searched and logged 288 cases. A total of 17 hits have been returned on fingerprint matches thus far.
One arrest from those hits has been confirmed, and it didn’t even come from Oklahoma.
That arrest came from a 1997 Wisconsin cold case. James P. Eaton, 36, of Palatine, Ill., was arrested in connection with the killing of a 14-year old runaway. Amber Creek was found in a marsh near Burlington, Wis., by hunters two weeks after her disappearance.
Creek had been beaten, sexually assaulted and suffocated with a plastic bag. Fingerprints from that bag were traced to Eaton. His DNA was collected and matched by investigators and Eaton was arrested. He remains in the Racine, Wis., County jail in lieu of $1 million bail.
Last May, the FBI updated its main fingerprint database. The OSBI is the only Oklahoma law enforcement agency that can access the database.
“We’re trying to reach out to agencies to let them know what we’re doing,” said Meghan Jones, the unit’s technical manager.
“I'm having these girls go back and take all these prints that are still in their system and re-running them,” Jones said.
How it works
There are three major types of fingerprints, Jones said.
The first are patent, or prints which are visible because they have been left in a substance like blood, Jones said.
Latent fingerprints are those which are not visible to the naked eye, and have been left by oil from the fingers on a surface.
Then there are known fingerprints, which is when ink is purposefully applied and a print taken from an original source.
Unlike DNA matching, which is considered a match when 16 points on it line up, fingerprint matches require a close examination of the whole print, Jones said.
Once the hit has been made by the computer system, someone must go back through and manually confirm that the print is identical.