The eyes don’t have it – 10 things to look for in a person’s hands – part 1

It has been said that the eyes are the windows to the soul, yet it is my frank experience that the hands impart a far greater and broader range of data. Of course there is much that one can deduce from an individual’s eyes. Their mood, ethnicity, intention to deceive, diseases of the biliary or nervous system, and habitual opioid use. However from the hands one can also infer home environment, occupation, childhood experiences, institutionalisation, hobbies, mental state, financial solvency, marital status and a host of disease processes.

Knuckles 3

1. General appearance

 Size and shape of the hands will give an indication of age or gender, as will the amount of hair and the sheen of the skin. Are there the standard number of fingers? You may be surprised at how often this is not the case, though I have personally never met anyone with more than seven digits on any one hand.

The nails may be pampered and manicured. Broken nails, often accompanied by small haemorrhages at the nail bed are indicative of repeated minor trauma, such as one may experience through manual work. Bitten and chewed nails and finger ends indicate a nervous or restless disposition (despite Rupert’s assertion that in his case they indicate a quick wit and massive intellect).


picture courtesy of

2. Staining and discolouration

The commonest of course is nicotine staining, though there may be oil, powder residues, dyes or ink on the fingers, which may be occupationally accumulated or through habit. For example blue staining at the finger ends may indicate employment in a firework factory, an interest in zinc etching, or a predilection for manually asphyxiating smurfs.

3. Injuries

The presence of small injuries, broken nails and minor cuts and abrasions are indicative of manual work. Mild deformities and knuckle swelling may be the result of arthritis or poor pugilistic technique (the typical example being a fracture of the 4th or 5th metatarsal, (boxer’s fracture), most commonly in the dominant hand). The presence of linear abrasions or incisions on the wrist indicate a recent history of self harming. This is typically a recurrent activity, and these injuries will appear to be in different stages of healing and, if the cut has been deep enough, accompanied by scars.

In the assault victim the hands and arms may display evidence of defensive injuries, which can be severe if the victim has been assaulted with a bladed or heavy instrument. The same is true for victims of animal attacks. Abrasions of the wrist can be indicative of having been bound, chained or handcuffed, something which seems to happen to Rupert with alarming regularity.

4. Tattoos

Tattoos are becoming increasingly popular and can tell one much about the social status and forensic history of an individual, no more so than on the hands. The four adjacent knuckles of each hand can provide a most convenient forum for an individual to express themselves. Paired words such as, love/hate, kill/cure, his/hers can beautifully encapsulate the dichotomy of human existence, almost a miniature haiku (one of Rupert’s passions) in themselves.

Cautionary tale 1 – My friend and old Etonian, Wendall McKendal of the Met often speaks of serial felon Mad Colin McStewart, who famously had the pinkie of his left hand bitten off in a vicious altercation and to this very day sports the legend, “LOVE HAT” across his knuckles. On his release from Wormwood Scrubs a few years ago, he decided to renounce his wicked ways, and now runs a very respectable millinery shop in Wandsworth.

Cautionary tale 2 – The greeny/blue hue of a self assembly jailhouse tattoo only became familiar to me after I had left Eton, but Rupert informs me that they were most popular at Scruff’s Hill grammar, recalling vividly a young gentleman who inadvertently applied the letters upside down, and had to spend the remainder of his tenure pretending that he had chosen to tattoo himself in Hebrew.

5. Nail changes

Nails can be bitten, broken, filed, painted, split, pitted, spoon shaped or discoloured. In addition, there are a whole host of medical conditions that show their effects in the nails, including psoriasis, anaemia and lycanthropy.

werewolf hands

Click here for PART TWO.
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4 Responses to The eyes don’t have it – 10 things to look for in a person’s hands – part 1

  1. Pingback: The eyes don’t have it – 10 things to look for in a person’s hands – part 2 | Paranorensics - where forensics goes bump in the night

  2. lybbs says:

    Dr Harker, why do fingernails split and peel?


    • In my experience as a forensic pathologist, it would usually suggest that you have been lying at the bottom of a canal for several days.
      It does not have to be a canal; any large body of water would do it. I hope that helps.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: More thank you’s and a big favour to ask. | Paranorensics – where forensics goes bump in the night

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