Digital Fingerprint Scan

True Crime Stories – Unknown

On a chilly October day in 1970, a rabbit hunter stumbled upon a decomposing body in the woods near Chester, NY. 

After the autopsy, it was confirmed that victim was female. Her body had been in the woods for several months after what appeared to be a violent, execution-style death. Her hands had been bound behind her back, her head covered with a towel, and she had been shot to death.

No identification was found with the victim and her body was too badly decomposed to take a photo that would be recognizable.

Because the body had fallen backward onto her bound hands, the hands were somewhat protected from the elements. Frederick Zugibe was the medical examiner at the time and, using a new technique that he developed, he was able to produce usable prints from a thumb and two fingers. (Zugibe went on to be a prominent forensics expert for whom the Rockland County Medical Examiner's Office is now named after.)

Investigators reviewed missing persons reports and were exhaustive in their efforts to identity the victim, but she remained a Jane Doe. That November, she was buried in a potter’s field in Middletown, NY­—Plot Number: 537, Name: Unknown.

Jane Doe’s prints were filed away. Years went by and she remained unidentified, as did her killer.

Around 1989, the state of New York began using a digital fingerprint database. At this time, and over the next 25 years, no matches were returned on Jane Doe’s fingerprints.

It was not until 2015, when her prints were run through a state-wide ABIS (automated biometric identification system) that there was a match.

Her fingerprints matched those from some arrest records in Harlem in the 1960s. It appeared to be a female who had been arrested; however, each arrest report had a different name. In one report, a “Fannie Hill” was charged with possessing a firearm. In another report, a “Shirlene Dixon” had been caught with narcotics and was riding in a stolen car. An expanded search uncovered a criminal proceeding from 1967 in Atlantic County, New Jersey where “Evelyn Moore” was being charged with embezzlement and selling narcotics. There was a photo attached to one of the arrest records that resembled a man that investigators thought could have been misfiled.

Who was this Jane Doe who was shot dead and left in the woods in 1970? To find the answer, investigators would need to dig deeper. The arrest records, linked by the woman’s fingerprints, provided enough information to begin a new phase of the investigation.

Tune in next month for the conclusion of this story.

Stacy currently provides technical writing services for the Extended Access Technologies business area of HID Global, focusing on biometric hardware and software. She has been writing for technology companies for over 20 years and has a passion for presenting complex information and ideas in a way that is easy for broad audiences to consume. Stacy joined HID in 2017, where she has focused exclusively on biometrics.