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The Toe Tag

The UCO Forensic Science Institute has been tasked to help determine the ownership of a purse long rumored to belong to one of america’s most famous outlaws.

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Hannah Walcher examines residue on the purse using an alternate light source. - BERLIN GREEN
  • Berlin Green
  • Hannah Walcher examines residue on the purse using an alternate light source.

The University of Central Oklahoma’s Forensic Science Institute has been tasked in helping determine whether or not a purse belongs to one of America’s most infamous outlaws.

The purse was donated to the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum under the pretense that it possibly once belonged to Bonnie Parker. Together with her partner-in-crime, Clyde Barrow, the two made up the violent duo known colloquially as “Bonnie and Clyde.”

Barrow and Parker were gunned down by federal agents on May 23, 1934, after a two-year crime spree left nine law enforcement officers and four citizens slaughtered. The purse — whose donor is currently remaining anonymous — is thought not only to have belonged to Parker but also suspected to be with her when she was killed, owing largely to a bullet hole in it and her name stamped upon it.

With a combined 300+ years of forensic and law enforcement experience, UCO’s Forensic Science Institute is conducting multiple analyses on the purse, including DNA and multiple fingerprint analysis techniques.

Forensic science staff and two graduate students decided to use a specific order of operations, starting with DNA analysis. Dr. Rhonda Williams, a former DNA analyst at the OSBI with 14 years of forensic science experience before becoming full-time faculty at UCO, conducted this analysis. She swabbed the inner crevices with the hopes of obtaining a single source female profile. If Parker had indeed owned the purse, the chances of her DNA being on the inside would be more likely than on the outside. However, the DNA analysis proved to be inconclusive.

Moving on to fingerprint analysis, graduate students along with professor and fingerprint expert, Cait Porterfield are using two different methods. These analyses are conducted subsequent to DNA analysis because they require the use of ultraviolet light which can degrade any potential DNA.

A major hurdle to the fingerprint analysis is the possibility of gleaning fingerprints from multiple people who have handled the item without gloves or sterile equipment.

A closeup of the residue found on the purse. - BERLIN GREEN
  • Berlin Green
  • A closeup of the residue found on the purse.

Hannah Walcher is a first-year graduate student and three-year law enforcement veteran conducting her research on the purse using a method known as alternate light source, or ALS. Normally, when looking for latent prints, you would be using a green or orange filter, but Walcher is using a blue ultraviolet light with a yellow filter typically used to detect traces of serological evidence (blood) or other bodily fluids and secretions. Once visualized, the ALS unit has a camera that will take images of suspected items of interest.

In addition to the Parker purse, Walcher, with her research, will hopefully be able to further utilize ALS to obtain evidence that could assist in solving more domestic violence crimes.

This time, the ALS did not illuminate any fingerprints but did show an unknown residue on the purse. If this was not a historical piece, super glue fuming would be used along with fluorescent dyes or powders then viewed under ALS and lifted with microsil to better visualize any potential prints. But not this time due to concern about damaging the potential historical artifact.

Madison Roberts explains her findings using the RUVIS. - BERLIN GREEN
  • Berlin Green
  • Madison Roberts explains her findings using the RUVIS.

Madison Roberts is a second-year graduate student. She is conducting her research in using ultraviolet light and ALS to visualize fingerprints deposited in biological fluids on human skin. This is beneficial because it can be used to obtain fingerprints as well as DNA.

Madison used the RUVIS, or Reflective Ultraviolet Imaging System microscope, to visualize any potential fingerprints on the purse. RUVIS converts ultraviolet light into visible light using a filter which reveals the print. This time, the RUVIS was inconclusive for fingerprints, but another filter can be used later that would help visualize on textured surfaces such as this purse.

What happens next since DNA and fingerprint analyses are wholly unsuccessful? UCO also has a cold case class with a professor who also assists the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office in solving their cold cases. As part of her next class’s curriculum, they will be asked to request and dig through FBI and any law enforcement files and pictures to see if they can locate an image of Bonnie Parker with the suspected purse.

So the mystery, for now, still remains unsolved, but the investigation continues…

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