Tyre Talk Column: How tyre experts help to solve murders

Ray Pantling, owner of Tyres Direct in Bletchley, explains how the police use tyre experts like himself to analyse tread patterns from crime scenes.

Did you know that tyres can help to solve murders? But how?

Back in the 1990s two detectives visited Tyres Direct and asked me to view some photographs of tyre tracks in the mud to see if I could tell them what the tread pattern was.

The tread pattern had been recovered from a crime scene at Woburn Woods and was from the tyres on a suspect’s vehicle.

We had a discussion here among the guys working and we were pretty much convinced between the four of us that it was a specific well-known brand – three said it was the pattern of that tyre, which was worn on slightly one edge.

We showed the detectives various tyres to eliminate each brand one-by-one and we got it down to two possible tyres in the end.

One of them was the tyre I had mentioned immediately, and I had been convinced my gut reaction was correct right from the start.

It was only when police started throwing questions at me as to whether there is anything similar out there and I said yes, there is this one too, which was a cheaper alternative of the same tyre.

The detectives thanked us for our information but we never heard back from them whether they solved the
crime.

In fact, tyre impressions can be as individual as fingerprints. Specific wear patterns as well as stones and other debris in the tread can distinguish one tyre from another, even if they are the same brand, size and type.

In the USA, forensic tyre sleuth Pete McDonald, a Firestone employee who is their tyre design engineer, helps police all over the U.S solve crimes by analysing photographs of tyre impressions.

By analysing the tread pattern, including pitch sequence and width, Pete can determine the type, size and brand of the tyre that made the impression, as well as the vehicle that was likely to be fitted with the tyre.

One particular case involved tyre tracks that were found next to a prostitute who had been killed. Police sent photographs to Pete, and he was able to determine the brand and size of the tyre and the likely vehicle.

Police then took that information to local tyre dealerships and checked purchase records. They discovered that the woman who purchased the tyre lived with a man who had recently served time in prison
for violent crime.

The tyre impression led police right to the door of the murderer. That’s not the end of the story.

The police asked the tyre dealer who sold the tyre for help in gathering evidence and, together, they created a cunning plan.

The dealer called the suspect and told him his tyres had been recalled for a possible flaw in the production process of the tyres. The dealership promised four new tyres in exchange for the old ones.

The man rushed in to the tyre shop and happily accepted his new set of tyres. The old tyres were sent to
Pete for further analysis. The tyre impression, combined with other evidence, convinced a jury to convict
the man and send him back to prison.

This feature was published in the July 2020 issue of Celebrate:MK lifestyle magazine. Read the full magazine above or by clicking on this link.

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