A doll is boring. And vaguely scarey with her fixed, blinking eyes. She just lies there. Staring.
A fingerprint. Now there is something flat interesting!
Here’s what a doll has: hair plugs.
Here’s what a fingerprint has: whorls.
Which sounds more interesting to you?
Baw had had the misfortune of contracting tuberculosis and spent many years recuperating from it and the surgeries recovery required. This process required long stints away from home and isolation from family and friends, both hard on a gregarious and affable man. To fill his time, Baw did many things. He drew. He wrote stories of his childhood. And he studied becoming an amateur detective.
He sent off for a fingerprinting kit that included dusting powder, some brushes, little white cards, and an instruction booklet, all packed in a neat little black case. He practiced around the house, dusting, transferring, studying, and comparing. Hours were spent peering through a magnifying glass at unique terrains of lines and ridges. He made notes on the little white cards of who was who, when the print had been taken, from what surface, and any distinguishing characteristics.
Years later when I came along, Baw showed me how to lift a latent from the refrigerator door, and the two of us cogitated over our findings. Together we solved such domestic atrocities as the mystery Baby Ruth and the dastardly fiend who had abducted her from the icebox. Little did we know that Baw would be able to put his skills to use to solve an actual crime.
We lived on a corner of the main intersection in Citronelle in what was commonly referred to as “The Lily House” after the family who had built it in the late 1800s. One day Mama came home after work to discover that the little black and white television that we kept in our kitchen was gone! Mama called the police, then called her daddy. When the men all arrived, an investigation of the house revealed that the only other thing missing was a pack of cigarettes and that there was no evidence of forced entry at any of the doors or windows.
As Baw and the detective walked around the house looking for where the thief had entered our home, Baw noticed that one of the old windows to the living room seemed to be up just ever so slightly. In a house as old as ours, the windows didn’t lock any more, but we never worried about it. We just kept them down…all the way down.
Out came the fingerprinting kit. After a careful dusting, some teeny tiny little fingerprints appeared on the window sill, prints too little for even a small man. The prints were, well, childlike.
The detective remembered taking a call that very morning from a man reporting that his 15-year-old son had stolen his car and was gone along with his two brothers, one of whom was only six years old. The boys and the car were nowhere to be found. The detective and Baw surmised that the two elder Pew boys, who were known to be a little wild, had boosted their baby brother through the window to get the television and the cigarettes.
The detective put the word out that if the television appeared on on his porch before the next morning the Pew boy would not be arrested and charged with driving without a license. Sure enough, when he got up the next day, the little television was sitting on his stoop, missing only the UHF antennae, which was never recovered.