New FBI fingerprint algorithm solving cold cases
31 October 2017 16:29 GMT

Using a new computer algorithm, an FBI unit has taken another look at fingerprints from about 1,500 bodies found years or even decades ago.

Since launching a new effort in February, the FBI and local medical examiner offices have identified 204 bodies found between 1975 and the late 1990s, reported The Associated Press.

The FBI unit ran fingerprints from about 1,500 bodies through a new computer algorithm that could make matches from low-quality prints or even a single finger or thumb. Previously, the standard algorithm typically needed quality prints from all 10 fingers to make a match.

"We were hoping to identify a few cases, maybe five or 10," said Bryan Johnson, a manager in the FBI's Latent Fingerprint Support Unit who proposed the effort. "We're really proud that we found another way of doing this."

The cases stretch across the country, with the largest number in Arizona, California, New York, Florida and Texas.

The unit is now urging local authorities to search through other old case files and send in smudged or partial prints that couldn't previously be matched.

The FBI's newfound ability was key to the Des Moines case because by the time Downey's body was found in February 1984, it had been buried under snow and dirt for months and was severely decomposed. Authorities sought the public's help in identifying the body, including publishing drawings of distinctive tattoos in the local newspaper, but no one came forward.