Tattoos can sometimes identify wearer’s crimes

Jeffrey Chapman, charged with first-degree murder in the November 2011 killing of Damon Galliart, whose body was found by in a ditch southwest of Great Bend, Kan. After his attorney claimed it would be prejudicial, Chapman will be allowed to wear a turtleneck to cover a tattoo on his neck of the word “murder” spelled backward when his trial begins in August 2014. (AP Photo/Kansas Department of Corrections)

Jeffrey Chapman, charged with first-degree murder in the November 2011 killing of Damon Galliart, whose body was found by in a ditch southwest of Great Bend, Kan. After his attorney claimed it would be prejudicial, Chapman will be allowed to wear a turtleneck to cover a tattoo on his neck of the word “murder” spelled backward when his trial begins in August 2014.
(AP Photo/Kansas Department of Corrections)

Criminal justice experts say there are many tattoos that could signify the wearers committed murders and other crimes. Here are some examples:

— TEARDROPS: Have several possible meanings, including the number of people the wearer killed or the number of stints in prison they served. A clear teardrop can mean the wearer wants revenge for the killing of a loved one.

— SPIDER WEBS, CLOCKS WITH NO HANDS: Can mean the wearer served time in prison.

— STARS: They can be innocent designs. On some prison gang members, however, they can represent the number of people the wearer killed. The number of points on a star can correspond with the number of years served in prison.

— THREE DOTS. Often inked near an eye or on a hand, it can refer to the “vida loca,” or crazy life, of a criminal.

— PENAL CODE NUMBERS: Some criminals get tattoos of the penal code numbers for the crimes they committed.

— CATS: Can refer to thieves, especially among Russian criminal groups.

— MASKS AND CLOWN FACES: These tattoos can represent a criminal’s “play now, pay later” lifestyle.

Sources:

Clairissa Breen, criminal justice professor, Cazenovia College, Cazenovia, New York; Kevin Waters, criminal justice professor, Northern Michigan University, Marquette, Michigan; Michael Phelan and Scott Hunt, University of Kentucky, 1998 article, “Prison Gang Members’ Tattoos as Identity Work: The Visual Communication of Moral Careers.”

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