Soles, shoe prints and forensic evidence, part 1

I knew the country was mesmerized by a murder trial when I heard the case being discussed while at my hairdresser’s. Recently in New Zealand, there has been great public interest in a murder trial. On 8th July 2010, a 31-year-old farmer Scott Guy was shot and killed in the driveway of his farm. His brother-in-law Ewen Macdonald was charged with his murder, but on the 3rd of July 2012, he was found to be not guilty.

The trial was largely based on circumstantial evidence. I was fascinated by the evidence presented in court, especially of shoe imprints found by the body, allegedly made by the killer. The shoe had a distinctive wavy pattern on the sole and police spent months trying to find out what shoe had made the shoe print. Police trawled through tens of thousands of entries in an Australian footwear database, FBI database and also a Canadian database to match the shoe print with the shoe. I was amazed that such footwear databases even exist. I thought this was the stuff of fiction and TV crime shows like CSI. I also couldn’t believe that it was actually someone’s job to spend hours going through databases to find a shoe print match.

Another aspect of the shoe print evidence that interested me was the method used to determine the killer’s shoe size. The prosecution said that the shoe prints were made by a size 9 Pro Line dive boot, and the accused owned a pair of those boots. I know that determining shoe size is difficult, and instead of measuring the length of the shoe imprint, the defence counted the rows of wave patterns on the sole to determine that it was made by a larger shoe, bigger than a size 9.

When you think of all the millions of different shoes that exist in the world, I question the accuracy of matching a shoe from shoe prints alone. My recent LA Gear sneakers have quite a distinctive design on its sole and yet the soles of my LA Gear sneakers were an exact match to a pair of Chinese AIR skate shoes that I also own. (Not Nike Air, not Airwalk, not Dr. Martens Air Wair – just Air). I couldn’t believe it when I first saw it and I carefully checked each sole imprint, and they were both a complete match. I actually suspect possible intellectual property infringement on the part of the Chinese label, maybe using a sole design from LA Gear. What other explanation could there be?

The soles of my LA Gear sneakers were an exact match to a Chinese brand of skate shoes called Air

Shoe designers need to realize that the soles, or what’s under a shoe, is just as important as what’s on top. For instance, red soles are the signature of Christian Louboutin shoes, and Caterpillar boots have the brand CAT on the soles. My Camper shoes have a very distinctive sole and also have the brand name on the soles.

Camper shoes with distinctive sole pattern and brand name on the soles.

I have a pair of Candy shoes with flying butterflies on the soles. Wearing that pair of shoes always makes me feel happy because I know I have butterflies on the soles of my feet.

Close up of flying butterflies on the soles of my Candy shoes.

Shoe prints leave an impression when people walk in sand, mud or when it’s wet. Unique shoe prints can be just as identifiable and distinctive as a brand or logo.

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