Latent Hit of the Year, 2014
The FBI Latent Hit of the Year is awarded annually to an outstanding latent examiner or officer who solved a major violent crime by using the FBI’s NGI database. The 2014 award recipient is Trooper Christopher Dolan of the Massachusetts State Police, whose work helped close a 1983 Massachusetts cold case
Narrator: The FBI Latent Hit of the Year is awarded annually to an outstanding latent examiner or officer who solved a major violent crime by using the FBI’s NGI database. The award recipient is Trooper Christopher Dolan of the Massachusetts State Police.
The 1983 Massachusetts cold case murder. On August 22, 1983, one man was killed and another was badly beaten in a hotel room at the Town Line Motor Inn located in Malden, Massachusetts. Rodney Wyman, 29, of Simsbury, Connecticut and a roommate had traveled from Connecticut to Malden, Massachusetts earlier that summer to install windows at a construction site. Massachusetts State Police Trooper Brian O'Hara of the Crime Scene Services Section initiated the investigation by processing the crime scene.
Brian O'Hara: I was home. I actually lived in Malden, Massachusetts where this murder occurred and I was on call. I received a call from the state police detectives assigned to the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office.
It was a hot night, it was 98 degrees or thereabouts, and they had worked all day. They had their door open...their front door open and the TV was on and they bought some food and were sitting on the edge of their beds eating their dinners when Rodney heard a noise coming from the back room. He got up, went to that door, and immediately was shot and stumbled back into the room, and ended up stumbling outside the front door. The suspect came in and beat up the second victim in the case who was then an eyewitness. They left him alone as the motel workers arrived and came to the scene, so they went back out the window.
By the time I got to the Town Line Motel, which was located on Route 99 in Malden, the body had been removed. I met a Detective John Rivers who was one of the Malden detectives. He told me that one of the witnesses—one of the clerks at the motel—had responded to the room because of an alarm [signifying] that the TV was trying to be removed. When he arrived there, he saw the perpetrator trying to lift the TV and so I later processed the whole room, took a number of items back to my lab to process, but using fingerprint powders I dusted tables, furniture, walls, windows. I also turned the TV upside down and processed that with white powder and I could see that there were fingerprint marks on the bottom. I photographed them and then later lifted them.
I also went out to the window where the suspect had climbed out. Now the window in the backroom had a ten foot drop, so they had to pull themselves up to get in and then jump down. So I went out and I tried to get foot tracks leading from the scene, but there are some—I'm hopeful—because there are some prints still on the window.
Lt. Robin Fabry: When I received a call on this Malden case from 1983, it was rather interesting...27 years old...you don't often see that many cold cases that old that are still active. So with that in mind, I pulled the case file. The case file was actually a large banker box full of a multitude of papers and faxes and just all kinds of latent prints that just had to be reorganized, so it was a bit overwhelming.
I began organizing—took me quite some time—got it together and then I thought about who would be a couple of good troopers to assist me with working on this case. Based on the volume of latent prints—there were approximately 19 latent prints in this case—and I knew right away that I was going to ask Trooper Chris Dolan. I've known Chris for many years and I know his work performance is stellar, his dedication is unquestionable, and I made a call right out to him and his sergeant as well—which was Sergeant Kerry Gilpin—at the time. We had a long conversation and we decided that the three of us as a team would work together.
Trooper Christopher Dolan: And so when Robin came out with the case, basically she said, Chris, here’s the case that we talked about on the phone. I'd like you to go through and I'd like you to look at all of the latent fingerprints. That night, Detective Lieutenant Fabry and Kerry Gilpin went through the whole case file. They painstakingly went through all of the photographs, all of the old lifters, all of the evidence, and they managed it and organized it in a way that it was a lot easier for me to be able to go through it.
So as soon as they organized the case, they gave the case to me and asked me to enter in and to compare...first of all to compare the latent fingerprints from the crime scene to approximately 80-90 suspect cards and victim elimination cards from the case. After going through those 90 cards, the next step was to enter the prints into the AFIS system. We had no matches to any suspects after going through all of those cards, so the next step was to enter it into the Massachusetts State Police automated fingerprint identification system. I entered what prints I could through the system and we didn't get any matches. After that, the next step was to enter it into the IAFIS system and i took one of the best prints from the case—which was on the bottom of the television set, according to Brian O'Hara’s notes from back in 1983—and I took that print and I entered it into the FBI IAFIS system and got a match. And we got a match to a guy named Shawn Marsh.
The next step was then to compare the rest of the latent fingerprints to Shawn Marsh in particular. After we did that, we got three other matches to Shawn Marsh, most of them from the bottom of the TV stand. Then we contacted Lieutenant Al Hunt from the Middlesex State Police Detective Unit. We let him know that it was Shawn Marsh...that these were the fingerprint matches that we have from the bottom of the TV inside the hotel room. They found out that he was located in Holyoke. They went out, they picked him up, and they arrested him.
And after they picked him up, Trooper Regina Cameron—also from the State Police Crime Scene Services Section—went out and got major case prints of Shawn Marsh that we could compare to any of the palm prints that we had from the scene. And what was great was one of the palm prints from the scene was located at the exit point, according to eyewitness testimony, that the suspect jumped out the window back in 1983 right after the shooting took place. So we took Marsh’s palm prints and I compared Marsh’s palm prints to the palm print on that window frame on the inside of the hotel room and it matched him as well.
Fabry: You know, I think, for me personally the most interesting aspect of this case is when Chris walked in and gave us that identification. Our first thought was like why didn't we get a hit before? You know, we sit around looking at prints and we often say, you don't commit this type of crime and then go back to leading the perfect life. Somewhere over 27 years, you would think this person had gotten arrested or fingerprinted, because if you're doing this level of crime at some point you're going to continue to do it and maybe you'll grow out of it in 27 years but why didn't we get a hit? That baffled us.
When Chris came over and we had this card, we looked and he said it was an IAFIS hit. However, we ran him in a database, and he was in our database. So the $50,000 question, why didn't we get a fingerprint hit on our initial searches? And once we started diving a little deeper into looking at the year—this crime happened in 1983—our AFIS database didn't come online until 1986, so we had a three year window where there was no search conducted. There was no technology for it. In 1986, it was put into the system, no hit. It’s been put in another time by Brian O'Hara, again no hit.
Now, here we are in 2012, we get a hit. What happened? Well, as we started talking to Captain Ribeiro--who’s in charge of our identifications section, our AFIS section—it all came into play. Well, 1986—due to [the fact that] database storage was a hot commodity, it was quite expensive—at the time, our state system only put in eight fingers. The theory behind that is that your pinkies—the least used finger—for every ten cards you put in you got a whole other card of storage space. Probability wise, probably a smart move at the time. However, when Chris gets a hit, what’s he get a hit to? He gets a hit to the pinkie. Well, it’s not in our database because we didn't put the pinkies in. So here we went to the IAFIS—which is why everybody should search IAFIS because you never know—well, the FBI, they put all ten fingers in so that explained why we didn't get a hit. So for me—I think for all of us as latent analysts—that’s kind of a quirky cool thing that no one ever thinks of and it kind of highlights the uniqueness of this case from a fingerprint perspective and that’s something I think was important to mention in this case.
O'Hara: One of the most incredible things is I went to...when he admitted guilt in court and I met the family...it was 30 years later and the impact of what Chris has done in helping solve that. I mean, the family hugged me. The the district attorney—Alicia Willis—did an unbelievable job. I mean, she had to read a statement that made everybody cry in the courtroom, so the impact of this—for the family—is just tremendous. They were so thankful.
Dolan: There’s nothing better than being able to solve a case like this case from back in 1983. I mean, you're talking 27 years that this case has gone unsolved. Twenty-seven years that the wife has to go without knowing who killed her husband, that the kids have to go without knowing who killed their father. And to be able to get a fingerprint match on a case like this, to be able to speak for the victim, there is nothing better than that. There’s absolutely nothing better than that in the entire universe, as far as I'm concerned.
Narrator: Tap into the power of NGI. To learn more about using IAFIS latent services, go to www.fbi.gov. To submit submit for the Latent Hit of the Year Award, send an e-mail to email@example.com.
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