“Hey, Sarge,” said Officer Trevor “Curly” Barnes. “Would you do me a favor and see if you can get a clear set of prints from this guy? I’ve tried three times and all I get are smudges. I must be out of practice, or something.”

“You rookies are all alike,” said Sergeant Imin Charge. “Always wanting somebody to do the dirty work for you.”


Sgt. Charge dropped his fat, leaky ballpoint pen on a mound of open file folders. “But nothing,” he said. “All you “boots” want to do is bust up fights and harass the whores.”

The portly “three-striper” pushed his lopsided rolling chair away from his desk and placed a bear-paw-size hand on each knee. Then with a push and a grunt, he stood. The sounds of bone-on-bone poppings and cracklings coming from his arthritic knees were louder than the Buck Owens song—I‘ve Got a Tiger by the Tail—that spewed from the portable radio on his desk.

“Well,” said the sergeant. “Paperwork and processing evidence, including fingerprinting people, comes with the job too. You might as well get it in your head right now that police work is not all about flashy blue lights, driving fast cars, and badge bunnies. Not all ”

“I’m serious, Sarge. I can’t get a good print. I think the guy’s messing with me, or something.”

Charge sighed and rolled his deep-set eyes. Everyone in he department knew the eye roll as Charge’s trademark “I don’t want to, but will” expression.

“All right,” said Charge. “Go finish up the paperwork and I’ll take care of the prints and mugshots.” Then he pointed a meaty finger at the young officer. “But hurry up and get your ass back down to booking. I get off in thirty minutes and I’ve got plans. There’s a behind the scenes documentary on tonight about how they made the Smoky and the Bandit movies, and I don’t aim to miss it.”

“That’s right, it’s Thursday night, huh? What was it last week, The Best of Swamp People?”

“Bingo. And me and the little woman never miss. So, if you ever want to see day shift again, you’d better be back here in ten minutes to take this slimeball off my hands.”

Twenty minutes later, Sergeant Charge was on the phone with Captain Gruffntuff, the shift commander. “That’s right, Captain. The guy doesn’t have any prints. Not a single ridge or whorl. Nothing.”

A pause while Charge listened. Officer Barnes leaned toward his boss, trying to hear the other side of the conversation. The sergeant waved him away as if swatting away an annoying fly or mosquito. “No, sir. Not even a freckle.”

Another pause.

“Nope, not on either finger.” Charge leaned back in his chair. “All as smooth as a baby’s bottom. Beats everything I’ve ever seen.”

“Yes, sir. I checked his toes, too. Nothing there either. Slick as a freshly waxed floor.”

Sergeant Charge opened a pouch of Redman and dug out a golfball-size hunk of shredded black tobacco leaves.

“Nope. He’s not from around here. Says he’s from Sweden. Says his whole family’s like that. Not a one of them has any prints.”

“Says it’s a condition called adermatoglyphia.”

Charge shoved the “chew” inside of his mouth, maneuvering it with his tongue until it came to rest between his teeth and cheek.

“Looks like a hamster with a mouth full of sunflower seeds,” Barnes mumbled to himself.

“Yes, sir. Beats everything I’ve ever seen,” Sergeant Charge said into the phone’s mouthpiece. “Will do, sir.

A beat passed, then he said, “Yes, sir. I’ll stay to see it through.”

Another beat.

“Right, sir.”

Sergeant Charge placed the phone receiver back in its cradle without saying goodbye. His typical pinkish cheeks were the color of a shiny new fire truck. He sat silent for a second, thinking.

“Won’t be watching the Bandit tonight, I guess,” he said.

The man from Sweden, the prisoner, sighed, knowing it was going to be a long night. He’d been through this many times.

“Better call the little woman,” said Sergeant Imin Charge as he reached for the phone to give her the bad news. “And she ain’t going to be happy. No, sir. I’d bet a dollar to a doughnut that she’s already made a dozen or so of those little meatball sandwiches that I like so much. Probably has an ice cold can of Blue Ribbon waiting for me too.”

After a few “Sorry, dears,” Cgarge returned the receiver back to its resting spot and then turned to the prisoner who sat handcuffed to a wooden bench with the back of his head against the mint green wall. Another grease stain added to the collection, thought Charge.

“Okay,” he said to the man who’d been arrested for breaking into home of an Hazel Lucas, an elderly woman who’d whacked the intruder on the head with a rolling pin while he was climbing through a kitchen window. “Lemme see those fingers, again.”

The burglar held up his hands and said to the sergeant, “Good luck.”

Photo Credit: Nousbeck et al., The American Journal of Human Genetics (2011)

Adermatoglyphia, or “immigration delay disease” as it’s also known, is an extremely rare and unique condition found in members of only four Swiss families. What’s so unique about the condition? Well, for starters, people with adermatoglyphia produce far less hand sweat than the average person. But, perhaps the most startling characteristic is that people with adermatoglyphia do not have fingerprints.

In one instance, a female member of one of the affected families traveled to the U.S. but was delayed by border agents because they couldn’t confirm her identity. Why? No prints to compare.

The cause of adermatoglyphia has, until recently, been a mystery. Now, however, scientists have learned that the affected members of the Swiss families all had a mutation in the gene called Smarcad1. And this mutation is in a version of the gene that is only expressed in skin.

So, all you mystery writers out there…yes, there are people who do not have fingerprints.

A Tiger by the Tail

There’s still time!













13 replies
  1. Violet Carr Moore
    Violet Carr Moore says:

    Lee, I have to add my cotton-picking comments. The south isn’t the only place cotton grows in the U.S. I grew up in California, tagging along the row behind my mother until I was old enough to drag an eight-foot sack behind me, often weighing as much as I did when it was full. After that, I worked my entire career clicking keyboards on bank proof machines, full-key adding machines, typewriters, word processors, and then computers and handling tons of paper. After that, my fingerprints were faint but could be detected with the ink method. I used that reality in my crime fiction novel in progress where the murder victim can’t be identified by her lack of prints. When I applied for my real ID this year, it took three tries for my right thumb to accept on the DMV digital device. Multiple tries at the computer testing area failed to match so I had to take a paper test. That personal experience made me identify with my fictional character.

  2. Jeanne Munn Bracken
    Jeanne Munn Bracken says:

    Leann Sweeney told us a while ago that when she went to be fingerprinted, the tech moaned, saying that nurses are the worst to fingerprint. All those chemicals and all that handwashing?

  3. Marilyn Meredith
    Marilyn Meredith says:

    My mom had to be fingerprinted to stay at my home which was also a licensed care facility. Though the tech tried and tried, no fingerprints could be found. The decided she’d worn her prints right off. Since she was over 80 the licensing agency waived the regulation for her.

  4. Jonathan Quist
    Jonathan Quist says:

    Sounds like a set of Mary Kay Satin Hands should be standard equipment as part of fingerprint kits. I’m sure my wife would be happy to give a Law Enforcement discount…

  5. Elizabeth Sims
    Elizabeth Sims says:

    When applying for a handgun license a few years ago, I was told my prints weren’t legible because there were little lines criscrossing them. I’d been handling a lot of paper (similar to cotton-picking but not as hot) and was a bit dehydrated. The officer told me if I ever wanted to commit a crime I should prepare the same way. (Prints were re-taken after I’d hydrated.)

  6. Steve Perry
    Steve Perry says:

    My wife had to get clearance for a federal ID card. The agency had gone to a new and improved electronic scanning method for getting prints. They tried three times to get hers and couldn’t, had to go back to the old ink method to do it.

    Never had any trouble getting mine when I’ve gone in for handgun licenses or to buy new hardware that required prints on the application.

    Probably using purple nitriles and burning them afterward would be cheaper than surgery or acid …

  7. Toni Anderson
    Toni Anderson says:

    Wow–that is cool 🙂 My hubby burned off 6 of his fingerprints when he grabbed a bar heater as a kid. You can imagine the fun we have when he goes through customers, especially when added to the N. Ireland accent.

  8. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Hi Joe. I, too, grew up in the “cottin-pickin’ south. And I worked there for many years as a deputy sheriff, but I never experienced the situation that faced your Officer Friendly. I have, however, arrested farm workers who’d been pulling tobacco in the hot sun all day. Nothing beats handcuffing someone with that mega-sticky tobacco wax coating their hands. Not to mention the clothing that’s soaking wet from sweating for hours.

  9. Joe Prentis
    Joe Prentis says:


    I grew up in the south were everyone picked cotton. Officer Friendly came to school to give a speech about law enforcement. He had a large poster of some criminal who had used acid in an attempt to remove his fingerprints, but instead left his fingers scarred. He took some fingerprints just as a demonstration, but the underside of everyone’s fingers were slick as glass due to handling the cotton fibers. The ridges always grew back a couple of weeks after the picking season was over, but we were still laughing about his discomfort when the demonstration didn’t work as he expected.

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