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From Elvis to Liberace, first lady of fingerprints made an impression

The King’s hands were small and soft and irresistible, but it was the impressions left by the hands of the unknown dead that June Fry will remember most.

Everyone who comes to Las Vegas wants to make his mark. Over the past 37 years, Fry and her loyal staff have filed those imprints.

At 65, June Fry isn’t the queen of the Vegas palm readers. She is the first lady of fingerprints at the Metropolitan Police Department.

Her official title these days is Convicted Person Registration supervisor, and she’s retiring after playing one of the most important and underappreciated roles on the department over the last four decades. She holds the lowest badge number at Metro, No. 461.

Her efforts have not only helped catch crooks and clear citizens wrongly accused, but for many years she worked closely with the Clark County coroner’s office and assisted in the identification of dozens of John Doe bodies.

Many graves are properly marked because Fry did her job well. Families have been given some solace because of her efforts.

On rare occasion, she has been introduced to anguished family members who thanked her through their tears.

But most people she meets want to know what it was like to meet Elvis when he came in to be fingerprinted for his sheriff’s work card before taking the stage at the International, now the Las Vegas Hilton. That was back when he was all swivel hips and sexy sneer. Although I’m not sure he needed assistance, Fry smiles as she recalls how she helped wash the ink from Presley’s hands.

“Elvis was such a dreamboat,” the fiery-haired Fry says, grinning. “I still have a hound dog he gave me at his show. He was one of those charismatic people that even guys are drawn to. The day he came in to get fingerprinted, I cleaned his hands with Boraxo soap.

“It took me about an hour.”

Elvis was so smitten with his experience that he treated the ladies of the fingerprint section to tickets to his show. But the King wasn’t the only star on Fry’s hit parade.

There was Lee Liberace, the larger-than-life Vegas performer who in real life was just 5-foot-8. And there were Rat Pack pillars Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr.

There was the “Man in Black,” Johnny Cash, and “Johnny B. Goode,” Chuck Berry. And the Statler Brothers. And the Carpenters. And more one-hit wonders from the ’60s and ’70s than you can cram onto a Time Life Legends collection.

Then there was the time Johnny Weissmuller swung by to be fingerprinted. The movie star worked and lived in Las Vegas in the 1970s. Fry couldn’t resist asking the all-time greatest “Tarzan” if he really could yodel the way he did in all his movies.

“He did, and it was so loud the bailiffs came running with their hands on their guns,” she says. “It was so funny.”

Not that Metro’s fingerprint bureau is a laugh riot — far from it. In recent years, Fry has supervised the department’s Convicted Person Registration program, which puts her staff in contact with most of the felons and sex offenders in Clark County. They are regularly printed, photographed and, in the case of the sex offenders, swabbed for DNA processing.

Rather than looking down on them, Fry reminds a skeptic that society is a more peaceful place because so many of those felons follow the rules.

“They may be scuzzies,” she says, “but at least they’re trying.”

In a valley that finds police personnel spread thinly, the fingerprint bureau performs important work.

You might think meeting the least of society would make Fry hardened and cynical, but she has managed to maintain her sense of humor along with a loyal staff. Although her 37 years and 5 months is a standing department record, colleague Debbie Martinez has been with her 29 years, Shirley Torrey 20 years, and Carol Santoro 17 years. Elizabeth Montoya and Terri Ficek have 17 years of combined department experience, but they’re practically rookies in Fry’s fingerprint family.

Technology has advanced in 37 years. Where card files once ruled, computers now glow. But the human touch remains the key to good police work.

Metro’s first lady of fingerprints can retire knowing she has indeed made a unique impression.

John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call 383-0295.

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