Other Facets of the Forensic Art Field

Three Dimensional Reconstruction

In cases of severely decomposed or completely skeletonized remains, a facial reconstruction on the skull is an option to assist with identification of unknown remains. Reconstruction is very often a last resort in the identification process and is usually sought after procedural processes, such as a thorough check of national missing persons records, a check of fingerprints if available through national databases, and a comparison of dental records, to name a few. The process begins with the collection of available scene information regarding descriptive specifics such as clothing size, clothing style, and accessories like jewelry, all of which lend themselves to the individuality of the subject. The next step is to get an anthropological analysis of the skull. The outcome of the analysis will be a scientific determination of gender, race, and an approximate age range. This evaluation by a Forensic Anthropologist can be done with just a skull, but a much larger amount of information can be gleaned from the entire skeleton if it’s available. After obtaining all available scene and anthropological information, the physical facial reconstruction can begin.

There are several processes available to achieve a reconstructed face. The most commonly used method is the tissue depth or American method, pioneered here in the United States by Ms. Betty Pat Gatliff of SKULLpture Lab, in Norman, Oklahoma. Ms. Gatliff’s contribution to the development of this system is so significant that it is recognized internationally and commonly referred to as the “Gatliff” method. The system is based on the “Rhine / Moore” tissue depth tables that require the placement of tissue depth markers on 21 different anthropological landmarks on the facial plane of the skull.(Figure 2) Clay is then filled in using a multitude of specific facial feature measurements to reach, in most cases, a close approximation of the facial features of the person in life. The likeness of a facial reconstruction, if done correctly, is almost assured due to the simple fact that one’s skull dictates an individual’s facial proportions in life. Factors affecting subtle changes in one’s facial features, such as increased weight or hair color and length, are why scene information is critical to the successful outcome of the reconstruction. Other methods, such as the anatomical method, require the placement of known facial muscles, one at a time. The combination method is a combination of the tissue depth method and the anatomical method. Upon completion of the facial reconstruction, the requesting investigator prepares fliers and possibly some news coverage in an effort to get the reconstruction identified. Figure 3 shows an example of a facial reconstruction done on a human skull. The skull was found on a make shift altar in a house that entertained the carrying out of Satanic rituals.

Two Dimensional Reconstruction

The process of reconstructing a face can also be completed through the use of two dimensional or hand drawn techniques. (Figure 4) This process utilizes life size scale images of the skull at a specific angle with all the same tissue depth markers as the three dimensional reconstruction. A hand drawn reconstruction is then completed of the face both in frontal and profile angles. This process was pioneered by Ms. Karen Taylor while a forensic artist at the Texas Department of Public Safety. Ms. Taylor has literally “written the book” on forensic art. In 2001, Ms. Taylor through CRC Press, published Forensic Art and Illustration. Her book is considered the definitive resource on the topic of forensic art and is commonly referred to as the forensic artist’s bible.

Post Mortem Imaging

In cases where a decedent is discovered and has features that are mostly recognizable, less drastic measures are available. Most news media will not publish or broadcast a picture of a decedent on a morgue table. A sketch, from morgue or crime scene images, can be completed for media broadcast with hopes of stimulating a response from a family member or friend who may have recognized the person and knows that they are missing. A more likely scenario, with the availability of Adobe Photoshop software, is the enhancement of the same morgue or scene shots to make the presentation of the decedent with their natural features, but with skin color enhancements and removal of the obvious signs of death, such as injuries and background.

Age Progression

Age progression is most prominent on ADVO Cards that are distributed all over the country for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in Alexandria, Virginia. The images are generally of children but age progression can also prove to be an effective tool in the fugitive recovery process. With some general knowledge of a subject’s desired living environment, personal hygiene habits, and how parents and siblings have aged, a relatively accurate approximation of a person’s appearance can be made. (Figure 5) In this facet of forensic art, individual recognition is a priority, thus great strides have been made to employ a system that most effectively utilizes the actual features of the sought individual.

Demonstrative Evidence

Demonstrative evidence is art that is used in courtroom presentations to give a verbal reference a visual impact.(Figure 6) A demonstrative display can range from the mounting of an enlarged photograph to a very complicated, built to scale diorama