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New RECOVER Fingerprint Technology Used to Solve 1983 Cold Case

by Casey J. Bastian

Forensic technologies are constantly being innovated in an ongoing effort to correctly solve crimes and create a better justice system. Identifying the correct suspect is vital to administering true justice. The sole detective in the recently created Delray Beach Police Department’s (“DBPD”) Cold Case Unit (“CCU”) in Florida believes that a new finger print technology has solved a murder that was committed 38 years ago.

Carla Lowe was 21-years-old when she was found lying in the road, brutally beaten and run over, on November 13, 1983. Lowe was reportedly waiting to board an Amtrak train. Ralph Williams has always been a suspect despite having zero connection to Lowe. Detectives have long believed that Williams caused the blunt-force trauma that killed Lowe, but the case could not proceed due to insufficient evidence.

CCU Detective Todd Clancy was able to arrest Williams this past December because of the Foster + Freeman RECOVER latent fingerprint technology. Williams was identified after an item in evidence storage that was originally found at the 1983 crime scene revealed his fingerprints. Which item that was remains undisclosed, and Clancy would not elaborate. “Their new technology [was] able to retrieve the fingerprint when we weren’t able to retrieve it in traditional ways,” Clancy did say.

A UK-based company, Foster + Freeman characterized the RECOVER technology as a “chemical vapor fuming process to develop fingerprints on a range of difficult surfaces, including those that have been exposed to extreme heat, such as bullet casings, and items that have been washed in an attempt to prevent identification.” This technology was first discovered at Loughborough University around 10 years ago.

Retired detective Mark Woods was assigned to the case back in 1983 and hadn’t been able to arrest Williams. Woods complimented Clancy on his recent efforts by saying, “I can’t tell you the efforts [he] went through and his skills and knowledge with new technology … going through every piece of evidence to see if there was some other test they could run.” The Lowe case was the first case reexamined by the CCU, which was just created in January 2021.

Clancy started on the Lowe case in February, and Williams was arrested less than 10 months later. Clancy said it is unclear which case will be next for the CCU. After reviewing other open cases, Clancy said they will be prioritized based on “solvability factor.”

“This is the exact reason why the cold case position was initiated earlier this year. To help bring some level of closure to the families who have lost any hope of justice for their losses,” said DBPD Chief Javaro Sims.    


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