Belfast Telegraph

How technology caught up with a gunman 40 years on

By Deborah McAleese

Tucked away for almost 40 years in a steel-lined room at police HQ, an envelope held the key to eventually solving Alfredo Fusco’s 1973 murder.

Inside that envelope, reference FP7/4, was a white card with fingerprints belonging to Mr Fusco’s killer obtained at the time from the crime scene.

The prints of a palm, left forefinger and a left thumb, were taken from a door to a store where Mr Fusco had tried to escape. The prints were lifted on to sellotape and put onto a card.

But in 1973 fingerprint technology was much less sophisticated than today. Then it was a manual process of comparing a crime scene print with a fingerprint.

The only way investigations would have proceeded on fingerprint evidence was on the basis of comparing the prints with a suspect or suspects.

Up until 2009, when the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) reviewed the case, Clarke was never a suspect. His fingerprints were not even on file until he murdered Margaret O’Neill (58) two years after killing Mr Fusco.

When HET reopened the Fusco murder case in February 2009 they gathered all the files.

By then automatic computerised checks could be run on the prints. Almost immediately a match was thrown up and that match was of Clarke.

In August 2009 fresh fingerprints were taken from Clarke in the custody suite at Antrim police station. Fingerprint experts then compared these fresh prints with those lifted in 1973.

The similarity of the characteristics led the expert to conclude that in “no doubt these imprints were made by the defendant”. And they were the only fingerprints on the door.

That was the evidence officers needed to feel confident enough to charge him with Mr Fusco’s murder. The evidence was also significant in convincing Mr Justice McLaughlin of his guilt at a non-jury trial.

The Historical Enquiries Team has completed 1,100 cases relating to some 1,400 deaths.

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