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The Ultimate Disguise: Criminals Using Plastic Surgery to Evade Capture

by Marisa Amorasak

The Ultimate Disguise: Criminals Using Plastic Surgery to Evade Capture

In 1934, notorious mobster John Dillinger attempted a number of tricks avoid J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI force. After hiding out all over Chicago, he made a last-ditch effort to save his freedom by undergoing a plastic surgery makeover.

Keep in mind, this was the Great Depression. Rearranging the face via surgical tools wasn’t exactly at its most advanced state, especially in Dillinger’s case—he underwent an extensive operation to change his dimples, cleft chin, and nose in a Chicago apartment. Other criminals have gone on to follow in Dillinger’s footsteps, including Palestinian terrorist Abu Nidal and a host of South American drug lords. Although these extreme efforts showcase plastic surgery’s capability to dramatically change the appearance, they often aren’t enough to keep them from capture.

No More Fingerprints

To the career criminal, a unique set of digits is his own worst enemy. Fingerprints allow forensic investigators to immediately tie a person to a crime. A careful perpetrator will wipe surfaces clean after participating in some no-good, but it’s easy to leave prints behind as they are permanently attached to your fingertips. Beyond evidential reasons, fingerprints are also an important part of the identification process when a criminal is booked or arrested. Being printless—as unnatural as it may sound—makes it much easier to fool others of your identity.

Erasing one’s fingerprints isn’t exactly easy. According to police, the most common way for criminals to get rid of their fingerprints is to erode the tips of their fingers with acid. The procedure is generally performed by a plastic surgeon and can take many months to heal, given the frequent usage of the fingertips. Dillinger had his fingerprints removed with acid, as did many others in the mob. A more modern way to remove fingerprints from fingers is to use skin grafts from other portions of the body. Skin grafts use skin from other parts of the body to cover up otherwise unwanted skin. In the plastic surgery arena, skin grafts are most often used to cover up severe scarring from acne or other trauma. Skin grafts are usually autonomous—taken from one’s own body—but in the world of a career criminal, that may not be the case.

Fingerprint removal is becoming increasingly popular amongst illegal immigrants wishing to avoid deportation. Yissel Sosa Nunez of the Dominican Republic paid a plastic surgeon $2,000 for fingertip skin grafts. Other undocumented immigrants have used fire or acid to perform the procedure themselves.

Erasing Identifiable Features

We all have them: the tiny mole on your right cheek, a disproportionately puffy lower lip, a bump on the bridge of your nose. Changing such key features may be a smart choice for criminals on the run. Mole removal requires no downtime, and a deep chemical peel to lighten skin color can have a person back on their feet within a week. But not all criminals opt for minor adjustments. Dillinger hired the same plastic surgeon who burned off his fingertips to remove his telltale dimples and reconstruct his nose. The aforementioned Abu Nidal supposedly underwent an entire facial reconstruction in the 1980s, using facial implants, chin augmentation, rhinoplasty, and more to dramatically change his appearance. The extreme tactic seemed to have worked for Nidal, who was never caught by authorities.

In September 2012, Colombian drug lord Daniel Barrera was arrested at a payphone in Venezuela. He had been hiding out for years, posing as a farmer of another name. In addition to taking corrosive acid to his fingertips, Barrera had undergone a number of facial surgeries including a nose job, eyelid surgery, and dermal fillers.

Plastic Surgery Portal is dedicated to bringing consumers useful and interesting information regarding plastic surgery. While we hope you won’t be going under the knife to cover your identity anytime soon, we do encourage our readers to explore the cosmetic choices indicated in this article. We also offer a free directory of board-certified plastic surgeons, hand-picked for their reputation and experience. Contact us today to schedule a personal consultation!

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