Pointing Fingernails at the Crime Scene

Fingernails Can Reveal A Lot

Human fingernails are identified as potential sources for forensic DNA testing. In particular authorities use fingernail clippings of victims as a source for finding DNA originating from the offender. The DNA from the offender could be bodily fluids or scratched epithelial cells. Especially in violent crimes where there is an act of struggle, aggression or defense such as where sexual abuse is suspected, the victim’s fingernail debris can be very helpful in providing evidence of guilt or innocence of the suspected offender.


Bodily materials that contain DNA evidence include blood, saliva, perspiration, hair, teeth, mucus, fingernails and semen. Really only a small amount of cells are needed to provide DNA evidence. Whether its clothing, weapons, a cup the offender touched or put his/her mouth on, tissue where the offender wiped his/her nose or some other object the offender touched or released bodily fluids on, DNA can be found almost everywhere. DNA profiling or the technique of discovering DNA evidence at a crime scene is nothing new, but the biggest concern is making sure you protect the integrity of the evidence. There are many ways in which the evidence could get contaminated.


There have been countless cases where fingernail DNA has helped to identify an offender. For example, in 1985 a woman’s body was found in a dumpster in Santa Clara County. Between then and now the investigation led to no significant leads to the offender. However, with new technology the local crime laboratory was able to develop the DNA profile from the victim’s fingernails in 2010. The DNA matched an already convicted offender who was not previously linked to the victim. This led to his arrest.


Another case was solved after over thirty years from nail clipping DNA. An eighty-year old woman was strangled and beaten to death in her apartment in 1976. A grandmother and church goer, her family could not think of anyone who would want to hurt her. But when DNA from the victim’s fingernail clippings was recovered in the lab, it was a DNA match for a convicted robber who was released the same day as the murder and happened to live close to her. The offender had since died while he was again placed in prison for a different murder a few years later. What was found was that when the grandmother was attacked, she put up a fight and the scrapings under her right fingernail that were obtained in the autopsy were kept in a paper bag for over thirty years in a police property evidence warehouse. Fortunately, the scrapings were well preserved as they remained dry. When it was resubmitted in 2007 with new technology in place, they found the match in 2008.


These are just a couple of cases in which fingernail DNA has helped to solve a case. And as you can see, if evidence is preserved correctly, even after decades after a crime, they can continue to be solved as long as technology gets better. It wasn’t until the early 2000’s when DNA could be identified in the lab. Since then technology has improved significantly.


DNA evidence whether it comes from fingernail clippings, blood, hair, or any other bodily material has become a very important means of solving crimes. Ensuring its reliability is critical and as new technology continues to evolve, DNA profiling will continue to be more and more important for identifying offenders. Who knew how truly significant your nails could be?


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