Death of a 16th Century Samurai
Written by Jessica Zarate and Sean McCrystal   

 

This article appears in the September-October 2021 issue of Evidence Technology Magazine.
You can view that full issue here.

THE SULLIVAN MUSEUM AND HISTORY CENTER at Norwich University, Vermont had in their collection a 16th-Century suit of armor brought to the United States from the Far East by returning servicemen. It was donated to the university in 1902.

The armor, presumed to have been worn by a samurai, consisted of a fabric gorget with metal beading (Figures 1–2), armor chest (Figures 3–5), and a leather skirt. The gorget had a noticeable defect: In the center area between the metal beading and the fabric cushion, the fabric was discolored and was wearing thin and abraded in several locations. There were visible reddish-brown stains in numerous locations on the gorget, armor, and skirt when assessed under normal lighting conditions (Figures 1–5), posing the question as to whether these stains might be blood.

The museum worked with a local detective to test the stain using phenolphthalein, but the test failed to provide a presumptive positive for blood. This result was not surprising given the phenolphthalein test reacts with the heme component in blood, which would be degraded after 100 to 500 years. Thus, Zar-Pro Fluorescent Lifters were utilized for the detection of possible blood on the armor.


Figure 1. Gorget (front-side) visualized under normal lighting.


Figure 2. Gorget (backside) visualized under normal lighting.


Figure 3. Armor chest (front-side) visualized under normal lighting.


Figure 4. Armor chest (backside) visualized under normal lighting.


Figure 5. Armor chest (opened) visualized under normal lighting.

Zar-Pro Lifters have been used to effectively lift and fluoresce aged blood impressions, even when latent or not visible under normal lighting conditions. Prior to applying the lifters, the armor was assessed using alternate lighting (505nm visualized with an orange barrier filter) to detect the possible presence of blood. Generally, blood will darken when visualized under alternate lighting, allowing for the visualization of potential blood staining on the armor. This occurrence was readily visualized when assessing the backside leather beading of the gorget (Figure 6), as the center and right side produced a fluorescent signal (Figure 7) whereas the left side darkened (Figure 8) — thus indicating the possibility of blood staining.


Figure 6. Gorget (backside) visualized under alternate lighting.


Figure 7. Gorget (backside - right) visualized under alternate lighting.


Figure 8. Gorget (backside - left) visualized under alternate lighting.

The front of the gorget was also visualized under alternate lighting (Figure 9) with the right side darkening. This is most evident on the leather knotting, again indicating the possibility of blood. There were also darkened areas indicating the possibility of blood in areas of the fabric cushion of the gorget (Figures 6–8); however, the fluorescent background signal from the stuffing in the gorget coupled with the degradation of the fabric made it more difficult to assess this area.


Figure 9. Gorget (front side) visualized under alternate lighting.

The most notable difference in detection under normal and alternate lighting was seen on the buckles of the chest armor. The leather of the buckle area appeared similar under normal lighting (Figures 3, 5, 10, and 11) but produced drastically different signals when visualized under alternate lighting (Figures 12–13), with the right side darkening under alternate lighting (Figure 12), indicating the possible presence of blood. These differences were also observed on the leather skirt, with possible blood stains darkening (Figure 14) and areas without biological materials fluorescing (Figure 15) when visualized under alternate lighting.


Figure 10. Armor chest buckle (right side) visualized under normal lighting.


Figure 11. Armor chest buckle (left side) visualized under normal lighting.


Figure 12. Armor chest buckle (right side) visualized under alternate lighting.


Figure 13. Armor chest buckle (left side) visualized under alternate lighting.


Figure 14. Skirt (possible blood stain) visualized under alternate lighting.


Figure 15. Skirt (no blood stain) visualized under alterate lighting.

Based on these designated darkened areas visualized under alternate lighting, various locations on the armor were determined to be suitable for application of the Zar-Pro Lifters. Figure 16 shows an application of the lifter to the darkened area on the fabric of the gorget. Some visible reddish blood coloration was lifted and could be visible on the lifter under normal lighting conditions (Figure 17). Consistent to the recovery of blood, the lifted proteinaceous stains fluoresced under alternate lighting (Figure 18).


Figure 16. Application of Zar-Pro Fluorescent Lifters.


Figure 17. Zar-Pro lift from gorget visualized under normal lighting.


Figure 18. Zar-Pro lift from gorget visualized under alternate lighting.

Several areas of the armor darkened, indicating the possibility of blood — such as the leather strap on the buckle (Figure 19), which was lifted and fluoresced on the Zar-Pro Lifter (Figure 20). Possible blood was also detected inside the armor (Figure 21) and proteinaceous materials were lifted and observed on the lifter even under normal lighting (Figure 22).


Figure 19. Leather strap of buckle visualized under alternate lighting.

 


Figure 20. Zar-Pro lift from leather strap of buckle visualized under alternate lighting.


Figure 21. Armor chest (opened) visualized under alternate lighting.


Figure 22. Zar-Pro lift from armor chest visualized under normal lighting.

The ability of the Zar-Pro Lifters to bond to proteinaceous materials and lift them from the armor substrates allowed for improved visualization under both normal and alternate lighting (505nm range using an orange barrier filter), providing a presumptive positive indication for the presence of blood.

Samples collected from the armor and lifters were brought back to Madonna University for subsequent analysis of the indicated blood stains. DNA extractions were performed to confirm the presence of human biological materials from both direct swabs and cuttings of the lifters, likely from blood. As a result, Zar-Pro Lifters were effectively used as a presumptive positive for blood and can be used to recover and visualize blood stains that are believed to be anywhere from 100 to 500 years old. This product can be an effective tool for recovering blood impressions in cold case homicide investigations, even when blood stains are not readily visible on an object under normal lighting conditions.


About the Authors

Jessica Zarate is an assistant professor of forensic science at Madonna University in their FEPAC accredited Forensic Science Program. She is a former police officer and inventor of the Zar-Pro Fluorescent Blood Lifters.

Sean McCrystal is a history major and graduate of Norwich University. He studied the armor as his senior project with Norwich's Sullivan Museum and History Center.

 
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