What is This? A French Fry?
Written by John Louis Larsen   


As a bullet penetrates a car seat, recliner, or sofa, the foam padding is compressed and punched out, creating the shape and appearance of a French fry. When the bullet first makes contact with the foam, it burns the foam slightly, creating a darkened area at one end of the “French fry”.

IT IS A PHYSICAL CLUE that could help crime-scene technicians and investigators locate and track bullets that have passed through soft surfaces at a shooting scene: And it can be called a “French fry”.

In the above photo, the foam plug (the so-called “French fry”) is located on the back seat near the seatbelt on the driver’s side. In the close-up photo, notice the shape and coloring on one end of the French fry. When the bullet first makes contact with the foam, it burns the foam slightly, creating a darkened area at one end. Here’s another detail: If you look closely, you can see the fabric tear made by the bullet on the back of the driver’s headrest.

In the shooting incident recorded with the above photo, investigators found a double French fry on the floor of the back seat. That double French fry—shown in the close-up photo to the left—corresponded with the bullet-hole entries in the headrest.

Over the last 25 years of working in the field, I have observed that when a bullet perforates a material such as the headrest of a car seat or some piece of heavy, upholstered furniture (such as a sofa or recliner) the bullet passing through the soft material will punch out a section of foam that can look a lot like a French fry. I first heard these little pieces of foam rubber nicknamed French fries by Sergeant Arthur Borcher of the Oak Park (Illinois) Police Department.

While conducting a bullet trajectory reconstruction (BTR) class for the Suburban Law Enforcement Academy, College of DuPage, in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, and while working crime scenes where bullets had perforated soft furniture, I have observed the French-fry effect numerous times. A close-up of the “fry” shows that the left end appears to be burned. This darkened end is where the bullet made the initial contact. As the bullet penetrates the seat, the foam padding is compressed and punched out of the seat, creating the “fry” shape.

In the case of a shooting inside a vehicle, these fry-like foam plugs can be used as good indicators for two things. First, they can help determine how many rounds may have struck an object. And second, they can also cause the investigator to take a second look at the scene to make sure that his interpretation of the event is accurate.

These “French fries” do not travel far from their source and are usually observed within a foot or two of the host object.

In some instances, the fabric will close as the bullet passes through and, on first glance, no bullet hole exit will be observed. If a “French fry” is observed in an area where there appears to be no corresponding bullet-hole exit, it would be wise for the investigator to take a closer look at the back of objects for tears or other damage caused by perforation.

These “French fries” are not evidence to be collected or recorded, but are rather physical clues to indicate that a violent physical action has taken place in the surrounding area. When a “French fry” is observed at a shooting scene, it is incumbent upon the technician or investigator to take a moment to evaluate the shooting environment to make sure all bullet strikes have been successfully noted and documented.

About the Author

John Louis Larsen served as a Special Agent with the FBI for 22 years and was one of the founders of the FBI’s Evidence Response Team (ERT) program. His last duty assignment was to the FBI’s Chicago Division as Senior ERT Leader. Larsen currently is president of Larsen Forensics, Inc. in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. As part of this consultant service, he has worked as an anti-terrorism advisor for the U.S. Department of State, and helped the Chicago Police Department and the West Suburban Violent Crimes Task Force develop their own ERTs. Larsen is also Senior Forensics Consultant with Quest Consultants International, Ltd. and was a sworn officer with the Office of the Special Prosecutor of Cook County (Illinois); and is a training instructor for Sirchie Laboratories, Inc. in the use of the Reflective Ultraviolet Imaging System (RUVIS). He can be reached by phone at:

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"What is This? Is it a French fry...? Or an indicator of bullet perforation?" written by John Louis Larsen
November-December 2009 (Volume 7, Number 6)
Evidence Technology Magazine
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