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Nobody knew his name, and his fingers had no prints

Brief by Central Staff

Prisons – September 1997 – Colorado Central Magazine

Nobody knew his name, and his fingers had no prints…

At first, Custer County authorities had a real mystery on their hands.

After several cabin break-ins near Wetmore, a man was spotted hiding in a cabin on July 7, and the authorities were called.

Sheriff’s deputies arrived, as did officers from the Colorado Department of Corrections, who feared he might have escaped from the prison complex around CaƱon City.

When they got there, the man shot himself in the mouth, then fled toward Adobe Peak, where he was found in a coma. He was airlifted to Parkview Hospital in Pueblo, where he died shortly after arrival.

But at first he could not be identified, since deputies could not get fingerprints. They suspected he might be a mason or rock climber, since those pursuits can wear away one’s fingerprints.

However, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation was able to get some prints, and identified the man as Tracy Tate, 36, of Meeker. He had been a patient since 1994 at the Colorado State Mental Health Institute in Pueblo before escaping on June 24.

That mystery has been solved, but a few days later, on one of those network “magazine” programs, we learned that about one American in ten does not provide useful fingerprints.

Sometimes it’s the result of occupational abrasion, as with masons and rock climbers, or from workplace chemicals. It can be genetic — many women of Asian ancestry have such fine finger ridges that they produce only smudges.

And they all suffer in a society that is starting to demand idenfitication at every turn — for instance, California requires fingerprinting for a driver’s license, and has a tendency to reject the application if a technician can’t read the print.