Human remains found in a pit off I-93 near Salem, NH, more than 50 years ago have finally been identified thanks to a criminalist who manually plotted a fingerprint. First came failed attempts to identify the remains—buried in 1969 and then exhumed in 2012—through DNA and fingerprinting. Though Timothy Jackson of the New Hampshire State Police Forensic Laboratory had obtained what he thought was a single usable fingerprint, there was no match in various databases. He eventually realized that was because the finger was so deteriorated that it was missing the epidermis, or topmost layer of skin. The remaining dermal layer showed two rows of ridges "that ultimately grow out to one" on the epidermis, Jackson tells the New York Times. So to get a usable print, he opted to "plot the individual characteristics, or the minutiae, myself."
That prompted a possible match within the FBI database. Jackson and two other examiners agreed they had the left middle finger of one Winston Richard Morris, who was shot at least six times in the head about three months after his May 1969 release from Vermont State Prison, per the Union Leader. Also known as "Skip," the 30-year-old had visited Boston and Glastonbury, Conn., before the last sighting of him in Burlington, Vt., on July 25—13 days before the remains were found. Senior Assistant Attorney General Susan Morrell describes Jackson's work, prompting an active homicide investigation, as "pretty remarkable," per the Times. But a modest Jackson, who spent 10 years as a fingerprint examiner at the Army crime lab, credits new technology and "old school" police work. "[It's] very easy for me because I'm old school," says Jackson, who will retire in July. (Read more cold cases stories.)