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Friday, December 5, 2008

Update on Roscoe Pitts!

My apologies if you find the removal of fingerprints boring, but the reference department has been positively aflutter over the additional details regarding Roscoe Pitts and the kooky removal of his fingerprints.

First off, a super-creepy photo of Mr. Pitts (real name: Robert Philipps) and his icky chest incisions:

Ewwww. Kudos to Elisabeth for scouring nearly every reference book in our collection on crime, criminals, and the like!

The descriptions of how the chest skin was grafted onto his fingertips after the prints were sliced off just weren't cutting it (haha, get it? CUTTING IT); I needed to know in detail how this happened. I won't tell you how much time Elisabeth and I devoted to talking about this over the past few days.

I came across a website writte by Jim Fisher, a professor in the Department of Political Science and Criminal Justice at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, that explains it better:

Using a knife, the doctor peeled the skin from Philipps’ right fingers then taped his hand to skin that had been pulled away from his chest. Three weeks later, when the chest skin had grown onto his fingers, the hand was separated from his chest. The technique worked, on the tips of Philipps’ fingers were patches of smooth, pink skin. The doctor repeated the process on his patient’s left hand. Philipps endured six weeks of boredom and pain but when it was over he was delighted with the results.

Follow the link for more info on Roscoe/Robert.

Nash, Jay Robert. Encyclopedia of World Crime: Criminal Justice, Criminology, and Law Enforcement. Volume III: K-R. CrimeBooks, Inc, 1990. 2457.


  1. This is truly, truly messed up! Ugh.

    I may have missed it during the orginial post, but when did this nefarious criminal operate? And why did a doctor assist him in his plot? This is all so weird...I can't believe I've never heard of Roscoe Pitts before.

  2. According to The Encyclopedia of World Crime: Criminal Justice, Criminology, and Law Enforcement. Volume III: K-R, Robert J. Philipps, AKA Robert Pitts and Roscoe Pitts, was active between 1932 to 1941. He dropped out of sight in March of 1941 but was arrested on Halloween of the same year because he didn't have a draft card. He wouldn't explain why he didn't have fingerprints. (Tracy and I don't understand this because we came up with at least 5 reasons why it would feasible to have no fingerprints in about 10 seconds!)

    The doctor who performed the surgery was Dr. Leopold William August Brandenburg. He had been arrested but never convicted on charges of abortion and robbery. (Fine, upstanding member of the profession, eh?)

    Pitts/Philipps was tried and convicted for robbery. Brandenburg was tried and convicted for aiding and abetting a criminal.

    Moral to this story? Leave your fingers alone people!

  3. Did he get the nickname Pitts before or after the doctor grafted from under his arms? :) Yuck!

  4. Wouldn't it have been cool if the doctor accidentally got a piece of skin that had a hair follicle in it and he had one fingertip that grew hair? Talk about a unique fingerprint.


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