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Forensic Art

Mon, 04/25/2011 - 9:05pm
Diana Trepkov

A reconstruction of an unidentified girl found in Tempe, Arizona.The case of an unidentified girl illustrates forensic reconstruction techniques.

A young woman’s body was found nine years ago in Tempe, Arizona, and to this day no one has come forward to identify her. She was discovered on the morning of April 2, 2002. Who is she?

With approximately 40,000 to 60,000 unidentified remains and approximately 109,000 missing persons throughout the nation, it is difficult to answer this question.We now have many different resources that can be utilized to help solve missing persons cases. Forensic art is one of them.

Circumstances
This unidentified Jane Doe died of a drug overdose not long after hitching a ride near 32nd Street and Greenway Road in Phoenix. Her death was caused by cocaine intoxication, and it was ruled neither a homicide nor an accident. The driver of the vehicle who picked her up hitchhiking said that she spoke to him in Spanish. She told him that her mother had kicked her out of their home due to drugs. He dropped her off and the paramedics found her dead body lying on the ground the next day. Her DNA has been entered into the CODIS national database and a copy of her dental x-rays are presently on file.

The unidentified Jane Doe is of Latino, Native American, or biracial descent. She was approximately five feet tall, 125 pounds, with brown eyes, and straight dark hair that fell inches past her shoulders. She was found wearing a bright red halter top, blue jeans with distinctive hollow silver medallions on them, and blue underwear (an item that can be a great identifier). There was an elastic hair tie around her wrist, and she wore faded purple nail polish.

There was one black shoe left by her body. Her shoe was a size 6.5 with a 3-inch wedge heel. The detectives did not note the brand of shoe. If they had, it might have been possible to determine the manufacturer, what locations their shoes were sold, and possibly the location from which that shoe was purchased. This could have provided a clue to where our Jane Doe lived.

The medical examiner estimated her age to be approximately 15–19 years. Medical examiners typically consider a broad age range when estimating the age of any unidentified John or Jane Doe. This victim was estimated to have been approximately 17 years old at the time of her death.

Scars and moles are important identifiers on any unidentified This young woman had a scar on her left shoulder and another on the back of her left hand. The scar on her hand is in a distinct “L” shape.

Tips for Forensic Artists

When Do You Call a Forensic Artist?
If investigators feel like they are at a dead end and cannot identify the victim but there is a significant amount of trauma to the face, or in the case of a drowning when the victim isn’t presentable to the public, a forensic artist can give them something to work with. Depending on the stage of decomposition the remains are in, a forensic artist can also recommend the best procedure: a sketch versus a facial reconstruction.

A forensic artist is usually called in to create composite sketches in connection with bank robberies, attempted abductions, and rapes. Any time a witness has seen the suspect and can describe the face to a forensic artist so that a composite sketch can be produced for use in soliciting help from the public in identifying them.

Postmortem reconstructions can serve a similar purpose. Once the postmortem reconstruction of an unidentified person is complete, it is compared to images in missing persons databases. The image can be compared to those of persons who have been missing within the appropriate time frame which narrows the field of the investigation dramatically.

Forensic Postmortem Reconstruction
Postmortem drawings are typically used in connection with drownings, homicides, suicides, drug overdoses, hit and run fatalities, and blunt trauma fatalities. A postmortem drawing is used when the unidentified deceased person is in good enough condition for a forensic artist to produce an accurate drawing. The drawings are shown to the public in lieu of morgue or crime scene photographs to provide the deceased with some dignity and to protect the public from disturbing images.

In postmortem reconstructions I like using all available photographs. I first examine each facial feature, their proportions, and the measurements of the head. The hope as a forensic artist is that something in the reconstruction will trigger recognition in family members or friends and will result in a successful identification.

I drew this Jane Doe 3 years ago. I used a lead pencil on acid free paper and sprayed the final drawing with a workable fixative. Working in a well-lit room or by a window with natural lighting is best. I used a straight on, oblique view similar to her position in the original crime scene photographs I worked from.

For the postmortem reconstruction, I considered the young woman’s nationality and measured her facial features. Studying her Hispanic and Indian facial features really helped me complete this postmortem reconstruction.

Placement of the eyes is crucial in any forensic facial reconstruction. I try to pay attention to the eyeball and visually place it in the center of the orbit. I use a Combo circle template that features 45 circles from 1⁄16" to 21⁄4" for the eyeball and iris. Drawing in a perfect circle for the eye helps bring any face back to life. I try to keep the spirit of the missing person alive in all of my age progressions through the eyes. I believe once the eyes are correct in any facial reconstruction, then the rest of face falls nicely into place. Drawing the eyes open make the images more lifelike.

I tried to keep the young woman’s smooth, soft skin visible in the drawing. I pay attention to the hair, mouth, nose, eyebrows, face shape, and neck. I drew her hair in a neater style than it was in when she was found deceased on the ground.When there is a solid color in the morgue photograph, I always utilize that. Since she was wearing a red top, I added bright red to the image.

Newspaper clipping in attempt to identify this Jane Doe found in Tempe, Arizona.

Most crime scene and morgue photographs are taken of the unknown person lying down, distorting the features. Adjusting for the effects of gravity on the deceased also plays a major part in postmortem reconstructions. The goal is to make the victims recognizable by those who knew them in life. Once the postmortem drawing is complete, we can only hope that someone will recognize her and her clothing.

Conclusion
Forensic art is not just about art, but about what really goes on behind the face of any unidentified person. Learning about the science, the facial features, the muscles, the proportions, different races, interviewing skills, composite drawings, skull reconstructions, how gravity affects a deceased person, and other details are all important. Forensic reconstructions have rapidly become an essential investigative tool for medical examiners, law enforcement officials, private investigators, and the families of missing persons.

This unidentified teenage girl is at the Maricopa County Medical Examiner’s office. Her case number is 02-1368, and she is listed under the Unidentified Persons Bureau link at www.maricopa.gov/medex. The Tempe Police Department are involved with this case. Anyone with any information about the case can call #480-WITNESS.

Diana Trepkov is currently serving on the Forensic Art Subcommittee Board for the International Association for Identification, having completed her 126th law enforcement cold case, which was for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Her book, “Faceless, Voiceless: From Search to Closure, A Forensic Artist's Inspirational Approach to the Missing and Unidentified” will be available soon. She can be reached at 647-519-9660, www.forensicsbydiana.com, or dianatrepkov@rogers.com.

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