[FOUNTAIN]Follow the trail of footprintsFade in to a rice paddy in Hwaseong county, Gyeonggi province. Behind the noisy pack of people clustered in the paddy, a glimpse of a woman’s corpse can be seen. Policemen are running back and forth and an inspector slips and falls to the ground. Any footsteps left behind by the murderer are erased by a farmer’s tractor tire marks. This is how the movie “Memories of a Murder,” which recently opened, treats the unresolved serial killings that happened in Hwaseong about a decade ago. By showing the incompetence of the crime scene managers, the film suggests that the search for the killer will not be an easy one.
Examining footprints, collecting fingerprints, drawing up a schematic of the scene and collecting evidence from the corpse are the first stages of an investigation of a murder case. Criminals can use gloves or put fingernail polish on their fingers to avoid leaving fingerprints, but it is hard to erase footprints. Investigators, by analyzing footprints, can gauge the weight, height and even the psychology of the criminal. In Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Five Orange Pips,” Sherlock Holmes nails down the criminal’s appearance as well as his occupation by closely studying the size, the stride and the shape of the footprint.
There are two aspects to a footprint; one visible to the naked eye and a latent footprint. Let’s say an intruder trespasses in someone’s house, crossing through the lawn with shoes on and roaming about the living room shoeless. In the garden, there will be a visible shoemark. On the living room floor, dust from the socks will leave latent footsteps, which will yield a footprint when a light is shined on it. If a criminal cleans up bloody footsteps, a latent footstep can be found using special chemicals. In the recent bloody killing of an owner of a night club, the suspect was caught because of his footprints. Police found a small bloody footprint, and after an extensive search, found that the criminal had a small foot because of polio.
Snakes, who have a keen sense of smell, eat up to 100 rats a year by following the smell of the rat’s footprints. Footprints have been the downfall of politicians and senior government officials. Footprints of corruption committed during their tenure are revealed after they leave office. Legislators like Kim Bang-rim and Sonn Se-il and government officials like Lee Nam-ki hid their footprints for a while, but there are people working to track their footprint trails.
by Lee Kyu-youn
The writer is a deputy crime news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
More in Columns
A cautionary tale
A government in disarray
China’s thin skin
The Korean War from China’s view
Who’s laughing now?