Bank Security Dye Packs/Dye Bomb Analysis

Contributed by Larry Peterson

Bank security dye packs or “dye bombs” have been utilized by banks for many years as a deterrent for bank robberies. The dye packs are simulated stacks of currency which contain embedded electronics and chemical components which, when activated, emit a stream of red dye and tear gas designed to mark the currency, clothing and other objects in contact with the robber as well as to encourage the abandonment of the money. The dye packs are activated electronically once the robber exists the bank.

The red dye is 1-methylaminoanthraquinone or MAAQ. The tear gas is typically CS (orthochlorobenzalmalononitrile). These two components can be considered characteristic of a security dye pack when found together. The CS component however, may not be detectable depending on the history and nature of the item being tested. The MAAQ component is not normally encountered in the environment and can be considered highly indicative of originating from a bank security device when found. This dye is very difficult to remove from currency, clothing or plastic items such as car seats, motor cycle helmets or disposable gloves used to attempt the cleaning of stained money. MAAQ has been used in the past in military smoke grenades and parachute smoke trails but is not a dye in current use for this. MAAQ is used in the manufacture of red tail light lenses but will not be transferrable from the lens once the plastic is formed.

The identification of MAAQ begins with the visual identification of red stains. The stains are extracted with an organic solvent such as chloroform, acetone or methanol. The extracts are further characterized by the use of TLC, MSP, FTIR and GS-MS. FTIR and GC-MS are considered confirmatory tests for the presence of MAAQ. Tear gas components are also detectable by FTIR and GC-MS methods.

Major Case References:

No current listing of cases which have undergone a Daubert style hearing, however; reference 1 discusses Daubert issues relevant to this issue. Reference 2 lists a description of several actual cases where dye pack analysis was performed.

Additional References:

1. CReynolds, P.C., “Analysis of Bank Dye Evidence and the Challenges of Daubert Hearings”, Forensic Science communications, Jan 2008, Vol. 10, No. 1.

2. Burds, K., and Djulamerovic, “Forensic Examination of Evidence Related to Bank Robberies Involving Bank Security Red Dye Pack Deployment”, Global Forensic Science Today, Issue 8, June 2009

3. Egan, J.M., et al. “Bank Security Dye Packs: Synthesis, Isolation, and Characterization of Chlorinated Products of Bleached 1-(methylamino)anthraquinone”, J. Forensic Sci., November 2006, Vol. 51, No. 6

4. Martz, R.M., Reutter, D.J., and Lassell, L.D., “A Comparison of Ionization Techniques for Gas Chromatography/Mass Spectroscopy Analysis of Dye and Lachrymator Residues from Exploding Bank Security Devices”, J. Forensic Sci., Jan 1983, Vol. 28, No. 1