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Lip vs Finger

 

 

OK, what is this? A mark made by a lip or a mark made by a finger in a latex glove?

The defence said it is a lip print. This would support the drinking glass theory. The state argued that it is a print made by a curved index finger in a latex type glove. This would confirm the testimonies of the duster and lifter (that it came from a DVD cover).

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On the lip print page we looked at some issues surrounding the premise of it being a lip print, and we asked questions about the slope of the print, the fact that it is incomplete, quite flat and that it has no creases.

We also looked at the texture of a wet latex print on plastic.

Now, let us go back to the criminal case. During the case defence expert Pat Wertheim was asked by the prosecution if he would be willing to concede that the mark could possibly have been made by a finger in a glove. He said it may look like a finger, but that the mark would be too small for a finger. Thus, a finger would be too long for the mark, he said.

Let us jump back to the crime scene. On 17 March 2005 three police officers returned to Inge's flat. Constable Elton Swartz and Inspectors Mariaan Booysens and Heinrich Coetzee. Their job was to find and collect fingerprint evidence. There was a DVD cover on the coffee table, which Inge rented at 15:07 on  the 16th (the day of the murder). Booysens would dust the objects in the living room and hand them to Swartz who was standing behind and working on the kitchen counter, and who then lifted the prints from the objects which Booysens handed to him. Apart from their testimonies in this regard, it is important to know that nobody disputes the fact that a lift was taken from a DVD cover. The defence simply says that a lift was taken from a DVD cover but that this lift was then thrown away and replaced by a  lift from a drinking glass.

So what we do know, is that Mariaan Booysens handled the DVD cover - she dusted it and handed it to Swartz to take lifts from. The DVD would have been one of these objects.

If the mark was made by a finger then it could only be hers? Or maybe Swartz'. Right? But Wertheim said the mark is too small for a finger.

Why then not measure Booysens' and Swartz's index fingers? See if they fit.

In 8 years since the murder neither the defence nor the prosecution (or police) ventured to measure the persons' fingers who we all know for a fact handled the object from which the police said Folien 1 was lifted.

So we did. We went to Mariaan Booysens and measured her finger and photographed it.

This is how her right index finger matches the print which the defence experts said was a lip print, and which we always believed was Booysens' finger. (Photos are on respective scales. One must still account for the glove, but we are rather interested in the length of both the print and the finger. One should also consider that the silhouette of the finger is not indicative of what areas of it would touch the surface. A finger’s silhouette will be slightly bigger than the print thereof.)

This shows us that not only was the mark made by a finger, but by the finger of the person who said she handled the cover - and who we know had to handle the cover at some stage during the morning of the 17th. The finger of Mariaan Booysens.

Could it be just any finger? It is most certainly not impossible to find a finger of similar length, but in reasonable terms we found it to have a unique length and thus a unique fit. We tested the fingers of many women of the same height (or shorter) and without exception their fingers were too long for the mark. We also tested Constable Elton Swartz' finger. He is a short man. His finger was way too long. See his finger on the mark below.

It may not even be that important whose finger it is, as long as it is a finger it will point to an object other than a glass. But it is clear that Mariaan Booysens' finger made this mark.

Now, what does this tell us (apart from the fact that the print is not a lip print)?

It tells us that the print was made on a flat surface. The whole inside of finger (the first and second phalanxes) will not make contact with the surface of a round glass if it was picked up like this. The first phalanx of the inside of the finger will not touch the glass (see below). The print would have been much shorter - the second phalanx will mostly touch.

It tells us that a thin object was held. One does not grip a thick object like this. Clipping a thin object like this (see below) is very common practice by investigators - you have to hold the object somehow. (It may not be best practice, but it happens.)

When we look at the texture of the print, as we saw on the lip print page, then we have an object with something like plastic over.

So now we have a thin, flat object with something like plastic over.

Something like a DVD cover perhaps?

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Is it simply a coincidence that a finger fits the mark? Or can’t one just put any finger on any typical lip print? Well, the print as a lip print fails on so many levels already. The slope, the fact that it is incomplete, the speckled texture, the absence of crease. Considered as a finger’s print, it explains the slope and the fact that it stops in mid air. The latex would explain the speckled texture. But if we leave all of this aside, the shape/length relationship is very telling. In this specific instance, the finger of the person who handled the cover clearly fits the mark in a length/shape respect. A lip print is much more U shaped and curves back to the rim, even if it does not necessarily touch the rim. There is at least a tendency back towards the rim. Also, most fingers would be too long for a lip print. One can also see the finger’s fit in the protruding nail and the length of the first phalanx. The general shape also fits with reasonable and natural handling consideration when a slightly and naturally curved finger clips a thin object. This could be considered to be a unique match to the finger of the person who for a fact handled the DVD cover.

Now we really need to ask why the police's testimony that the lift was taken from a DVD cover should be questioned at all.

There could be no more doubt. The semi-elliptic mark on Folien 1 is not a lip print. This serves as further confirmation that Swartz did not make a mistake. There should be no reason to doubt that Folien 1 was lifted from the DVD cover as Elton Swartz and Mariaan Booysens testified under oath.

Where would you put your money: on a lip or the finger of Mariaan Booysens? (Images scaled)

If there is any more doubt, then we suggest we get Fred van der Vyver's known lip print, which was never asked for or offered, and test it on the disputed print.

Read full report (it also touches on intent issues)

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