New FBI fingerprint project nabbed killer-turned-poet

An FBI computer cleanup project launched in January led to the capture of the "poet killer" in Chicago, officials said Thursday.

The FBI realizes criminals' fingerprints are often entered into its national database under aliases. So this year, the FBI started comparing the millions of prints in the database to isolate those listed under fake names.

On Feb. 16, the fingerprints for Norman Porter Jr. -- a murderer who escaped from a Massachusetts prison 20 years ago -- matched the fingerprints of "Jacob Jameson," arrested in 1993 in Chicago for failing to pay a roofer.

Porter was known in Chicago under his alias of Jameson, as a fan of writer Nelson Algren and as a respected anti-war poet who recently was named's poet of the month.

On Feb. 23, the FBI contacted Massachusetts police about the fingerprint match.

Investigators tracked Porter to the Far West Side, and he was arrested Tuesday as he walked into his church, Third Unitarian.

In 1993, the FBI's fingerprint identification system would have been unable to link Porter's fingerprints from his 1961 Massachusetts murder case to his arrest in Chicago, FBI spokesman Paul Bresson said.

After he was arrested here in 1993, the Chicago Police checked his ink-and-paper fingerprint card for matches and found none. Then, the card was sent to the Illinois State Police, which did a regional check but discovered no other crimes. Finally, the card was sent to the FBI where it was stored in a Clarksburg, W.Va., facility.

It would have been nearly impossible to compare the 1993 card manually with the millions of others at the facility, Bresson said.

Process took nine minutes

In 1999, the FBI launched its $640 million Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System after it reduced millions of paper fingerprint cards to digital images that were loaded into a database.

Now it takes minutes for a police department to transmit a digital fingerprint image to the FBI's West Virginia facility and get a match with a print in the AFIS database. Indeed, it took only nine minutes Tuesday for that to happen with Porter, Bresson said.

"If we had this technology in 1993, even with an alias, in all likelihood we could have detected this person," he said.

There are 45 million "individuals" in the fingerprint database.

Says he signed autographs

"We are consolidating our records to make sure one fingerprint is associated with one subject," Bresson said. "There could be 10 fingerprint cards with different aliases for the same person. We know that happens. We're cleaning out the database to make sure we have one person per image."

Bresson said he did not know whether other fugitives had been nabbed because of the cleanup project.

Porter, 65, pleaded not guilty Thursday in Norfolk, Mass., Superior Court to a charge of escape from a penal institution. He was ordered held without bail. Porter appeared subdued, said his attorney, Thomas Herman. "The reality is sinking in," he said.

Porter mentioned his Chicago friends. "He is concerned he let them down," said Herman, who plans to get a physical exam for Porter. Friends here said Porter had throat cancer, but he has denied it.

Porter also told his attorney that when police searched his apartment, they found copies of his poetry books and he agreed to autograph them.

March 25, 2005
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