- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Ernie Jones and Darrell Linville are two ordinary guys who have had extraordinary careers.
Jones and Linville retired last month from the Charles County Sheriff’s Office after lengthy careers as latent fingerprint experts.
Jones, 70, analyzed evidence after the assassination attempt on Alabama Gov. George Wallace in Laurel in 1972, and assessed crime scenes of Washington, D.C., and Prince William County’s “Freeway Phantom” in 1971.
Linville, 74, examined fingerprints for the Watergate scandal and the conspiracy investigation of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis.
“The Watergate case, I just happened to be working I guess the right shift when all of it broke and they brought [the suspects] in,” said Linville, who has been married for almost 51 years and has two sons. He said that each of the suspects had three lawyers and gave several different names when they were brought in for questioning.
While Linville did not testify in court for the Watergate scandal, he did make identifications of fingerprints from the crime scene.
“I know they touched [surfaces at the scene], but what it had to do with the break-in, I really don’t know,” Linville said. He had no idea the case would become so historical. He was just doing his job.
According to Linville and Jones, a fingerprint expert’s job is not to pass judgment or have an opinion about a case or investigation. Fingerprints they examine match fingerprints in the database or they do not match.
“Fingerprints are not incriminating unless you’re a criminal,” Linville said.
When Wallace was shot, Jones was at the campaign rally as part of the detail to provide protection. He helped secure the scene after “another routine case.”
“Every case, big or small, is handled the same way. The basics are still the same, no matter what you do,” said Jones, who has been married for 37 years and has four children.
Jones and Linville grew up in small towns and began working for the Federal Bureau of Investigation right out of high school.
Linville was born in Boone County, W.Va., 20 miles from the state capital of Charleston. He said he was determined not to end up working in the coal mines.
He worked for the FBI for 12 years, where he began learning about fingerprint identification. He then worked for the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police for 25 years, followed by a few years with the city of Alexandria Police Department. He worked for the Charles County Sheriff’s Office for 10 years.
Jones is from Chincoteague, Va. He worked for the FBI as a fingerprint technician for more than four years before becoming a sworn officer for the Prince George’s Police Department for three years, then joined the Criminal Investigation Division for 17 years.
He is retiring from Charles County Sheriff’s Office after more than 26 years. He also has served as an investigator in the medical examiner’s office.
The addition of fingerprint computers in 1983 only slightly changed the way Jones and Linville did their jobs, they said. The computers helped them keep a record of fingerprints and narrow the search for compatible prints, but could never replace a fingerprint expert identifying whether prints in a database match prints at a crime scene.
“The computer doesn’t know a thing about fingerprints. It only knows what information we put into it,” Jones said.
Linville said that even if he or Jones are 100 percent certain of the identification of fingerprints, they always get the other person to check the ID.
In the last year, fingerprinting technology has grown so that all fingerprints are taken electronically. Ink and paper fingerprints are no longer accepted, Jones said.
Both men attempted to retire three years ago but were urged to stay longer.
“There comes a time when you say it’s time to leave while you still can, while you can leave on your own two feet,” said Linville, who plans to fish and visit the Grand Canyon.
Jones said he has enjoyed his time with Charles County Sheriff’s Office and wanted to retire on a good note. He plans to travel.
“Our top priority is stay alive,” said Jones of retirement. “At our age, staying alive is good. Anything we accomplish past that point is just extra stuff we’ve done.”