Nice Threads [Forensic Files] Case: Eric Hayden and Dawn Fehring

Full Summary of Nice Threads Case

Nice Threads Forensic File Case of Eric Hayden and Dawn Fehring

On Mother’s day dated May 14, 1995, a 27-year-old student, Dawn Fehring, was found dead in his rented apartment in Kirkland, Washington. The incident was reported by a neighbor. 

When police arrived, they discovered Dawn lying at the foot of her bed, having been sexually assaulted. There were three main evidences: the cigarette ashes and burn marks on the table, the freshly baked cookies, and the partial blood prints on the bed sheet.

From analyzing the evidence and post-medical reports, the police had only two theories: Theory 1: the killer is a smoker, and Theory 2: He lives nearby.

The partial blood prints were developed with amido black but no clear ridge details are observed.

Months of investigation going to be nowhere. Investigations found a dead end. Even Dawn’s mother Dotty Fehring says her daughter recently returned from Japan and she had no enemies and even hardly knew neighbors. 

Working on their theory, investigators again went to Dawn Fehring’s apartment and soon got a lead. A neighbor, Eric Hayden, rowed down the stairs from an apartment above the Dawns and started asking questions about personal safety.

On questioning Hayden, he did provide a fruitful answer. He also kept changing his answer and smoking too. Cops were certain that he was hiding something. 

Soon, Hayden becomes the prime suspect. Meanwhile, a major breakthrough was made by forensic expert Eric Bird, who was able to retrieve details from the partial blood fingerprints on the bed sheet.

Patrick Warrick– the fingerprint expert, compared the developed prints with Eric Hayden and they matched exactly.

Police arrested Eric Hayden on the charge of first-degree murder and the judge sentenced him to 26 years of imprisonment.

Who was Dawn Fehring and Her Parents?

Dawn was a talented violinist and dancer who was found dead in his rented apartment in Kirkland, Seattle, Washington. She is a private person but has no bad habits such as smoking, drinking, or using drugs. 

Dawn’s Parents

  • Dawn’s Father: Carl Fehring
  • Dawn’s Mother: Dotty Fehring

Dawn’s Studying and Activities

Dawn loves studying and was an exchange student at Paris First, where she was learning French. She also went to Vienna, Austria to learn German. Investigators found that she hardly knew anyone in Kirkland because she recently (about two weeks) returned from Japan where she was doing Christian Missionary work.

How Dawn Fering died?

Dawn suffers an injury on the back. Her mouth and neck area was wrapped in bed sheets. She was sexually abused and asphyxiated to death. Reports confirmed the same. As per the reports, Fehring was asphyxiated which is the reason why her mouth and neck area had bed sheets. 

Forensic Evidence in the Case

1.AshesCigarette ashes on the headboard rail area of the bed
2.Burn marksBurning marks from the cigarette on the bedside cabinet
3.Bedsheet around mouth and neckOne bed sheet was used to asphyxiate Dawn
4.Fist size woundFist size bruise on the back of their head indicating someone hit her from the back
5.Baked cookiesDawn was preparing cookies for her mother for the coming Mother’s day
6.Blood FingerprintsA partial handprint on the bedsheet

How did investigators know that the Killer was a Smoker? 

Cops found the ashes on the mattress and burn marks on the table but no cigarette butt. Knowing the victim herself was a non-smoker, it was only possibly made by relatives, friends, or the killer.

Dawn’s mother stated to the police that her daughter was a private person and a believer in Christianity. She added, Dawn is new in town and recently returned by doing Christian missionary work in Japan and had no friends in the town.

The investigation also found freshly baked cookies that she made for her mother on the occasion of Mother’s Day.

So, with that all in mind, the investigation came to the conclusion that the cigarette’s ashes and burn marks were left by the killer.

Two Possible scenarios of cigarette ashes and burn marks:

1. Killer Entered with Lighted Cigarette: He entered the dawn apartment with a lighted cigarette.

2. He Lighted after assaulting Dawn: He lit the cigarette when he realized what he had done and what to do next.

My Opinion: I think the second scenario is true because if he entered with a lighted cigarette the ashes should be found on his way in and even burn marks may be seen on Dawn when he sexually assaulted her. 

Why Investigators fairly certain that Dawn’s killer lives nearby?

Three main reasons:

1.  They check all the s*x offenders in the area and everyone has an alibi.
2.  Even the Green River serial killer modus operandi doesn’t match the case. Because he doesn’t kill in the home and leaves his body there.
3. The killer knew she was living alone. Because if someone follows her from the grocery store or off the street, they’re taking a huge chance by entering someone’s house without knowing who they will encounter.

Forensic Analysis Used in the Nice Thread Forensic Files Case

A. Fingerprint Development Using Amido Black

The partial blood print on the bed sheet was developed using Amido black by Daniel Holshue (a latent print examiner at King County).


  1. Areas with partial prints were cut by the forensic expert. (As per the report, five areas were cut from the bedsheet).
  2. All pieces are immersed in Amido black latent print development solution which stained the blood and proteins.
  3. Rinsed with the destaining solution to remove the excess developing solution from the background using methanol.

Note: Currently, methanol as the destaining solution is replaced with ethanol because ethanol has lower toxicity than methanol.

  1. Developed blue stained prints over the woven fabric.

After development, prints had ridge details but because of the woven fabric the prints were not clear and the examiner wasn’t able to compare them.

Later another forensic expert, Eric Bird came up with a remarkable solution that had never been used in any cases till that date.

How Eric Berg Discovered a New Method of Investigation?

When Holshue was unable to find the minimum eight identifiable points for comparison, he took the help of Eric Bird who was a digital imaging expert at the Tacoma Police Department.


  1. Take a digital image of the partially developed blood prints.
  2. Deduce an algorithm to remove the woven background.
  3. Only left with a clear palmprint image.

Holshue got more than eight matching ridge details in the finger and more than forty from the palm area. As a fingerprint expert, he concluded his finding as a positive match with Eric Hayden.

How Nice Threads Forensic File Case Discovered a New Method of Identification of Fingerprints on Clothes and Fabrics?

In the nice thread case of Forensic Files, investigators only had factual evidence that was bloody partial prints.

Even after estimating the prime suspect– Eric Hayden, investigators weren’t able to match his prints with developed fingerprints because of the interfering background of the woven surface.

Holshue took help from a digital image expert, Eric Bird at the Tacoma Police Department. 

Mr. Bird comes up with a theory that the bedsheet has a repetitive design of woven fabric that can be removed by a mathematical algorithm. 

So, he developed a specific algorithm to remove it. The following image represents the Bird theory of removing fingerprints from woven surfaces.

Eric Bird theory of removing fingerprints from woven cloth surfaces

Finally, he got a clear, woven-free palmprint. The resulting print was compared with Hayden, which matches perfectly.

In court, Mr. Bird explained to jurors and they came up with the conclusion that new technology is admissible as evidence, and Hayden was charged with assaulting and murdering Dawn Fehring.

Read More: Sharra Ferger, Gary Cochran, and Steve Cannon [Forensic Files] Sharper Image Case Study

What Made Eric Hayden the Prime Suspect in the Case?

Eric H. Hayden was a 32-year-old when arrested for assaulting and killing Dawn. He was a mill worker who was living with his girlfriend (a nurse in a nearby hospital). He was a neighbor of Dawn Fehring and was charged with her murder.

The following are the reasons that make Eric Hayden the prime suspect.

Suspicion One: Big Fat Slob

When investigators were standing outside Dawn’s apartment, a passerby started questions.

Investigators say, “Big, Fat slob” meanders down the stairs.  

Erric started questioning investigators and officials and showed concern about his personal space. 

He said to investigators, “Hey, man, do I  have to be concerned about my personal safety around here.

Suspicion Two: Living Right above the Dawn’s Apartment

He was living with his girlfriend in the same building just above the Dawn’s apartment. He also fits in the investigator’s possible description i.e. (1) the killer may know she was living alone and (2) he is from some nearby area.

Suspicion 3: Story Changes

On primary questioning, Eric claimed he hadn’t seen or met Dawn. On the second questioning, he says he saw Dawn but never had any contact with her at all. This also alarms the investigators.

Suspicion 4: Hayden’s Story Again Changed

On questioned about his whereabouts on the night of the murder, Hayden claimed he was out drinking with that night. But later he said he was drinking alone. 

Suspicion 5: He was Nervous like Dead

Eric’s hand was shaking and he was extremely nervous. Investigators now suspect that how a simple conversation made him nervous. Is he hiding something?

Suspicious 6: He was a Smoker Too

From cigarette ashes and burn marks, investigators were fairly certain that the killer might be a smoker. During questioning Hayden, he was nervous and smoking cigarettes.

As per an NHS report, most smokers claimed that smoking seems to relieve their stress and anxiety. This is due to the effect of nicotine which creates an immediate sense of relaxation. This bundled up more suspicion against Hayden.

Suspicion 7: A Neighbor Calls

One of the female neighbors told investigators that Eric was weird. She described an incident. She said that on a rainy day, he saw Eric Hayden in the parking lot. He hadn’t worn any shoes and was smoking cigarettes. His eyes were doodling on people who passed by. She added, he paid particular attention to the women

Read More: A Clean Getaway [Forensic File] Case: Paul Taylor and Kathy Woodhouse Case

How did Eric Hayden Finally Get Caught?

Because of early facts about Eric Hayden, investigators marked him the prime suspect.

From the evidence point of view, there were no biological marks for identification and the only possible clue is from the palm prints over the bed sheet.

Early, the investigation wasn’t able to remove the woven background to get clear matching prints. However, with the help of a digital forensic expert (Eric Bird), investigators get clear, matchable prints.

Finally, based on the fingerprints alone, Hayden got caught.

Conviction in Eric Hayden Case

Eric H. Hayden was charged with first-degree murder and sexual assault and was finally convicted on January 9, 1996. He was sentenced to 26 years of jail time which was set to end in 2022. He may be released now.

After the trial, Dawn’s family and friends established a $200,000 scholarship in her name for students who wish to do missionary work along with studies.

General FAQ

Why did the investigators believe there was no reason to kill?

In the initial investigation, investigators found a dead end because they haven’t found the motive of the killing. This is because there are no things stolen from her apartment, she hadn’t had any relationship and her only priority was her parents, faith, and studies.

Investigation and Forensic Examiners that helped the case

Patrick Warrick– the latent print examiner and Eric Bird the Digital Imaging Expert are the two main forensic experts that helped in solving the Dawn case and led to the arrest of Hayden.

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