While many of his high school classmates worked afterschool and weekend jobs as car hops and bag boys, Arthur “Milo” Bohanan was hired by the Sevier County Sheriff’s Office shortly after his 18th birthday to work as a fingerprint technician. The self-taught Bohanan was occasionally called from his high school class by the sheriff when he needed Bohanan’s expertise.
“When the principal called my name on the intercom and asked me to come to the office with my bag, I knew what was going on,” laughed Bohanan. “By that time everyone knew what was going on. If school was still in session when I was finished with what the sheriff needed me for they would take me back to school. If it was later in the evening they would take me home.
Bohanan’s fascination with fingerprinting began when he was in the eighth grade in the early 1960s. He had read a book about the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the emerging science of fingerprinting which was still in its infancy at the time. Bohanan soon began reading every “True Detective” magazine he could get his hands on. Then one afternoon in 1962, he saw an ad for a home study course on fingerprinting. While many of his friends were playing sports or engaging in other youth activities, Bohanan was busy studying fingerprinting and laying the foundation for what was to become his life’s work.
When the sheriff learned Bohanan had studied fingerprinting he offered the teen a job. The nearest fingerprint analyst was in Knoxville and the sheriff wanted to have one on his staff. Bohanan went to work taking photos of fingerprints and honing his skills. His expertise was put to the test after a break-in at the local drive-in theater. The drive-in was located where the Cracker Barrel is currently located. The sheriff suspected two boys from Townsend but had no concrete proof. Bohanan was able to lift some prints and make a comparison and concluded the sheriff was correct in his suspicions. The two Townsend youths were the guilty parties. Still not convinced of Bohanan’s skill level, the sheriff asked the fingerprinting analyst in Knoxville to look at the prints as well. His conclusion was that Bohanan had read the prints correctly and the two youths were indeed the guilty parties. It was the first of hundreds of cases Bohanan’s expertise helped resolve.
It was in the late 1980s that Bohanan’s expertise in the field of forensics led to the invention that proved useful in aiding in solving numerous murders. In the late ‘80s several prostitutes were found murdered in Knoxville. Bohanan realized that if investigators could extract fingerprints from the bodies of the victims they could solve crimes.
He began researching methods for lifting prints from the corpses. In 1989, he was granted research status from UT Hospital which was unheard of for non-medical personnel. In 1993, Bohanan made a breakthrough.
“I tried everything,” said Bohanan. “The Japanese and the Canadians had done research with no success. I tried to modify what they did.”
What Bohanan discovered was a method for vaporizing Super Glue which would react to the amino acids in the body. Bohanan created a device known as a cyanoacrylates blowing contraption (CBC). The device has a small hotplate. A small plate filled with Super Glue sits on the hot plate. The hotplate is heated to 400 degrees until it vaporizes. The vapors are blown onto the surface of the skin through a hose with the aid of a small fan. The vaporized Super Glue adheres to the print that is invisible to the naked eye. Once the vapors are on the skin, a powder is applied which reveals the print.
To determine where to find a print on the body, Bohanan studies the death scene and deduces where he will likely find prints. For example, a woman who was murdered and dragged into a field where she was left would likely have prints on her wrist or her ankles where the killer would have grasped the body. The vapors are applied to that area and the prints are lifted. Bohanan admits that sometimes finding prints is like looking for a needle in a haystack.
Bohanan’s research has led to other advances in forensic technology. Bohanan was the first to discover why young children leave no fingerprints and older children do. The answer was simple. Prepubescent children don’t have oily skin. Their finger prints are water based and evaporate. Children past puberty have oil based fingerprints and they almost never evaporate.
Bohanan has lifted prints that were as much as 100-years-old. He lifted a finger print on a document that was signed by an American Indian who claimed to have been the illegitimate son of Thomas Jefferson.
Over the years Bohanan has compiled an impressive resume, such as being certified as a FEMA Mass Fatality Course Instructor, earning a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from East Tennessee State University, creating the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force in Knoxville and working as an online undercover officer luring suspected pedophiles to a public meeting where they could be arrested.
Bohanan was inducted into the International Hall of Fame in Atlanta which is sponsored by the Inventors Clubs of America. He completed research at the University of Tennessee’s Body Farm and has earned a doctorate degree for his pioneering work with children’s fingerprints. He is a founding father of the National Forensic Academy at UT and a past president of Safe Harbor Child Advocacy Center. He currently serves as a lay minister and trustee at McCampbell Chapel United Methodist Church. Bohanan was featured in Patricia Cornwell’s best seller “The Body Farm” as Dr. Thomas Katz and all of the Jefferson Bass “Body Farm” series as his own character. The books were written by Dr. William Bass.
Bohanan’s proficiency has influenced numerous agencies across the nation to seek out his counsel at times of national crisis. When terrorists attacked the World Trade Center, Bohanan was asked to travel to New York where he spent eight weeks identifying the dead. His dedication to his work proved costly for Bohanan.
As a result of his exposure to mercury vapor, asbestos, melted aluminum and other materials, Bohanan now suffers from several respiratory ailments, including restricted airways disease, coronary obstructive pulmonary disease and sleep apnea.
“The bodies we identified were just fragments of bodies,” said Bohanan. “We found an eyebrow of one person and parts of other bodies from many victims. I have no idea how many I identified but there were thousands that were never identified. The day of the attacks there were 3,000 people killed. Since then there have been 10,000 responders that have died as a result of their exposure. But, you never hear about those people.”
In 1999, Bohanan was dispatched to South Carolina after Hurricane Floyd battered the coast. Hundreds of caskets washed up in the cemetery and Bohanan’s job was to identify the dead and return them to their proper graves.
A series of four hurricanes slammed the Florida coast in 2004. Bohanan went to the area to assist in forensics. When the storm changed course, Bohanan and company were evacuated northward. While making the flight from the tempest his plane was struck by lightning. It was a close call but the pilot managed to maintain control of the craft. When Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, Bohanan was brought in to assist in forensic operations. Numerous caskets washed up from the cemetery. Bohanan reburied numerous caskets. Soon afterwards, Hurricane Rita hit the coast again and washed up the casket of one of the women that had washed up during Katrina.
Bohanan recalls another incident when the contrary hand of fate spared a woman only to have her meet her demise a year later under tragic circumstances. When Korean 801 crashed in Guam in 1997, Bohanan assisted in identifying the victims. A Knoxville woman survived the crash suffering minor injuries. She returned home and one year later she was murdered in Knoxville.
Among the most famous cases Bohanan’s invention was used in was the Megan Kanka murder. The victim was murdered by a pedophile that lived in the vicinity of her home. The successful prosecution led to the passage of Megan’s Law in which pedophiles must be registered with the state and residents have a right to know if sex offenders are living in their neighborhood.
The CBC was instrumental in solving a murder case of a young girl in Loudon County. The child had been abducted and sexually assaulted near a lake and her body dumped nearby. The murderer had held the child captive in the trunk of the car before he ended her life.
“When we opened the truck and I looked inside, I felt a cold chill,” said Bohanan. “I could feel her terror. It was so cold and chilly. It was more than a physical reaction. It was something more, almost like she was there.”
Bohanan’s CBC is being utilized by law enforcement agencies around the world. The FBI purchased 100 units. The devices are being used by many law enforcement agencies, including Scotland Yard, Canada and Malaysia. Collectively, he has sold 300 units worldwide. The product, built in Alcoa, sells for $1,600 each. While Bohanan never made a fortune off the device, his greatest satisfaction comes from having been instrumental in helping solve countless crimes.
“I have been very fortunate in my life,” said Bohanan. “I believe in God and country and if people will focus on that everything else will fall into place.”