A Haunting, 30-Year-Old Latent Fingerprint Still Unidentified by Tom Dillard in Unsolved Murder of 7-Year-Old Alexander Harris

Latent fingerprints: they hide in plain site. Latent prints are prints that are not visible to the naked eye, but which do exist at the scene of a crime. They often have to be “lifted” in some way by special tape of some sort after being “dusted” with magnesium powder. There are other ways of getting the prints as well — super glue, for example or using other chemicals like iodine or silver nitrate.

There was not much physical evidence at the scene of the 1987 homicide of 7-year-old Alexander Harris at Whiskey Pete’s Casino in Primm, Nevada, near the border with California. There were foreign body hairs — hairs that were not Alexander’s, and which were not identified as belonging to anyone. There also was a latent fingerprint found on the glasses of the victim, which appeared to have been placed next to his body, according to the autopsy report. And we have just one question for lead homicide investigator Thomas Dillard: Whose was it?

Almost 30 years after the discovery of the body, this question still is unanswered.

Maybe we don’t know all the work that was done in trying to find the owner of that print. Maybe the most extensive search for an ID for that print was made in the history of identifying fingerprints using the best technology that was available in 1987. But it doesn’t appear as if much of an effort was made to identify whose print that was once it was eliminated as being Alexander’s and once it was eliminated as belonging to any of the suspects under consideration of the crime. It was proved to not belong to the man who went to trial as Alexander’s murderer, Howard Lee Haupt.

Don’t you think, Detective Dillard, that that fingerprint could possibly identify Alexander’s killer? And wouldn’t you have exhausted every conceivable avenue available to find out whose print that was? After all, a 7-year-old boy was murdered. Most of us would do whatever it took to find the owner of that print. 

Alexander, 7, was found a month after he was abducted, lying dead under a trailer that was on the grounds of the casino at the time. He was wearing the same clothes he had on at the time he went missing, the Friday after Thanksgiving in 1987. The Clark County medical examiner, which had jurisdiction in the case, found no evidence that Alexander was sexually assaulted. He found no evidence of any violent physical trauma.

If it wasn’t Haupt’s, or any of the other early suspects, if it wasn’t Alexander’s, then whose was it? Was it his mother’s or grandparents? Was it possibly the murderer’s? If the print was not able to be identified in 1987, has it ever been run through a modern database? From what we can tell, it hasn’t. A 7-year-old boy is dead and the killer has not been found. It has been almost 30 years. How is it possible that such an egregious crime has been left untouched for so long? The crime is not even listed on Metro PD’s website of unsolved homicides from the 1980s. Why not? Does Dillard and Metro think they solved the crime and they were just  unable to convict the real killer, who they believe to be Haupt?

I would think of all the unsolved murders, solving that of an innocent 7-year-old boy would be at the top of the list. Dillard is no longer with the Las Vegas Metro Police Department. He’s now a private investigator in Las Vegas. And Alexander Harris’s case appears to have been closed for decades. Why? Isn’t Dillard haunted by his inability to solve this crime? I would be. And I wouldn’t rest until I found out the truth about what happened. Wouldn’t that be an interesting story to write Detective Dillard? Former Metro detective solves homicide case that eluded him 30 years ago?

If not Dillard, surely there must be someone who is interested in putting this puzzle together and solving it once and for all.

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