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How hair and fibre aid in the investigation of crime.

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How hair and fibres aid in the investigation of crime Locard's exchange principle 'every contact leaves a trace'. Most of the forensic science revolves around this principle - it states that with every contact between two items, there will always be an exchange. This famous quote was used since the beginning of the twentieth century and basing on this theory, many crimes were able to be solved.1 Trace evidence, which the principle refers to, could be from crime scenes or accident scenes as a form of recoverable materials, marks or impressions. Although trace evidence on its own may sometimes not be enough to solve the crime, it could support other evidence or even pressurize a suspect to confess.2 This essay focuses on recoverable trace evidence such as hair and fibres and how they are analysed in the investigation of crimes. Textile fibres as trace evidence The term fibre is used to describe 'any solid object that is thin, flexible and elongate, having a high length to transverse cross section area ratio' .3 Fibres are the basic units in fabrics and they are classified into two classes: synthetic and natural. Natural fibres originate from plants and animals. Plant fibres used in the production of texile materials include flax (linen), ramie, sisal, jute, hemp, kapok, and coir. Animal fibers such as wool, cashmere and mohair are commonly found as well. Synthetic fabrics include nylon and polyester , which can be identified more easily as the cross section of the fibre may be manufacture specific.5 In the past, fabrics were used to be made with pure natural fibres until the manufacturers mixed and matched the natural and man made fibres to create variety of different fabrics. ...read more.


The last known victim, Nathaniel Cater, was found in the Chattahoochee River on 24 May 1981. The medical examiner determined the death as caused by 'probable asphyxia'. However, he was unable to determine exactly when and how the death occurred. The examiner stated that 'Cater had been dead just long enough for Wayne Williams to have thrown him off the bridge several days earlier.' 12 Two days before the body discovery, Police officers heard a loud splash from the river and directly above they saw Wayne Williams's car on the bridge. Williams was pulled over for questioning and gave false details about where he had been. The police officers were very suspicious of him, and when Cater's body was found- they believed Williams was connected to the case as well as 10 other murders of young males. Through the string of murders he was involved, a large amount of fibres were found on the victims. The FBI was interested in matching the evidence to Williams. A search warrant was granted for Wayne Williams' house and vehicle, it was discovered that the fibre evidence found on Cater matched the samples in Williams home (on bed sheet, carpet, blanket and a dog). Further 28 fibre types were found on 19 different items of William's residence and car. This linked him to the murder of other victims. Wayne Williams was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences for the murder of Nathaniel Cater and Jimmy Ray Payne.13 From this case, using textile fibres as evidence, the association of several murders was able to be linked together. The fibres evidence also indicated the nature of contacts between the involved people and this allowed a crime scene reconstruction. ...read more.


Forensic analysis was able to determine the structure of the fibre from the dress and use it as a control fibre. This control fibre was used when comparing fibres from the red sweatshirt. The red sweatshirt also contained a single blonde hair fibre and DNA testing proved that it was the victim's hair. However, during the trial, it was argued that there was cross-contamination when storing the evidence. The defence side stated that this was the reason for finding Sarah Payne's hair on the suspect's red sweatshirt. On the other hand, an FSS scientist told the jury that cross contamination in the manner suggested from the defence side, was very unlikely.21 In December of 2001, Roy Whiting was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment. From this case study, it can be learnt not only the value of textile and hair fibre as evidence, but also the importance of collecting and storing them in a proper manner. Cross contamination of fibres loses the credibility of the evidence- forensic scientists and crime scene officers would need to handle them with extreme care. Textile fibres and hair fibres, like most other recoverable evidence, can tell a story of what happened at a crime scene. Basing on Locard's exchange principle, the fibres have a great tendency of transferring onto another object. Due to this property that they possess, it is to the crime solver's great advantage to link suspects to a particular crime and reconstruct it. Analysis of fibres morphology indicates the origin of it and the nature of contact involved. Hair tells the sex, race and sometimes the person's identity. Using the information that these types of trace evidence provide, crimes can be successfully solved. ...read more.

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