Too often Fingerprinting Merit Badge gets little respect but consider this story.
In 1971, Ed R. German had completed his studies at MacArthur High School in just three years, when a crime was committed where his father worked.
An investigating FBI agent had a conversation with Mr. Wilmer German who inquired how someone like his son might get hired with the agency. “The agent told him, 'We're always looking for fingerprint clerks. They have to be 16 years old, have a high school diploma, pass a spelling test and a background check,' ” Ed German said. “My dad told him, 'Send my son an application because he took the Fingerprinting Merit Badge in Boy Scouts. He might like that.'”
Young Ed German received a job offer to work for the FBI and flew went out to Washington, D.C. by himself, with the caveat that he would have to repay the airfare to the FBI if he didn't last through his first year of employment.
“In June of 1971, I went to work for the FBI as a GS-2 fingerprint clerk, making $82 a week after taxes,” said German, now 63, a congenial, down-to-earth man who likes to compare himself to Forest Gump, the movie character who stumbled into numerous historical adventures. “My parents drove me to the airport. I cried myself to sleep in the hotel the first night. I thought: What have I got myself into?”
This was beyond the wildest dreams for a boy who had not imagined himself working in law enforcement, let alone joining the most storied agency in the nation, then still under the directorship of its legendary founder, J. Edgar Hoover.
Young Ed had excelled in math and science, sound foundations for his career, but his ambition at the time was more in the line of Christian ministry.
From his start as one of 8,000 employees sorting through fingerprint cards in the massive FBI headquarters, German went on to distinguish himself as a groundbreaking forensic scientist.
He is credited with creating new evidentiary techniques and helping to establish crime labs, including the Illinois State Police lab, the first to receive national accreditation.
He has served as chief of intelligence for U.S. Army law enforcement worldwide, worked on high-profile serial murder cases, including the Chicago area Tylenol and California Nightstalker cases, and served as senior forensic scientist for the Army in Baghdad during the Iraq War.
He has testified in more than 100 cases, including a five-day trial in which the validity of the science of fingerprint identification was being challenged. The other experts were the senior fingerprint experts for the FBI and Royal Canadian Mounted Police. He cleared a Scottish detective of a perjury charge after similar fingerprints to hers were found at a murder scene.