Police Composite Drawing

When it comes to criminal composite sketches, they can be eerily accurate or just plain bad. Composite sketches are often released to the public when there are no photos or footage of the criminals on hand. These sketches are drawn up based off witness testimony and often times they aren’t the greatest masterpieces. We’ve compiled a list of some of the best and worst composite sketches we could find. He murdered his family, including his wife, mother and three children. John List managed to escaped justice for 18 years. A clay bust was created to give the public an age-enhanced likeness of John List with hopes that someone would recognize the killer after all these years. He was arrested after his neighbor saw the clay bust on America’s Most Wanted. Canadian serial killer and rapist, Paul Bernardo, looks an awful lot like the composite sketch drawn up based off the description given by one of his victims.

Even one of Bernardo’s coworkers called the police to report that he knew who belonged to haunting sketch. Bank robber, Joseph Weir (or maybe Joseph Weird would be more appropriate) has one of the most unflattering composite sketches we have ever seen. The eyes look in separate directions while the teeth look like the keys on a busted piano. Still, he was caught and sentenced to over 30 years in prison. No composite sketch can truly capture the evil in Richard Allen Davis’ eyes. Polly Klaas’ killer was eventually caught and sentenced to death for her murder, although he is still alive in a California prison.

The composite sketch looks fairly accurate considering the circumstances.

This nondescript composite sketch that was released in July 2016 didn’t look like it would bring a killer to justice, but it turns out, the suspected murderer looked an awful lot like the composite sketch. Jon David Guerrero was arrested for the murder of three homeless men in San Diego, CA. He has yet to go to trial for the crimes. Glenn Edwin Rundles was arrested for armed robbery and he could’ve gotten away with it if it weren’t for this amazing, DaVinci-like sketch.

Let’s be honest, the composite sketch released by police in Texas looks like it was drawn by a 7 year old. We also can’t help but notice that it’s missing both eyebrows and lips. In Sweden, Niklas Lindgren joked with coworkers that he looked like the composite sketch of a serial rapist police were looking for. Several tips came in after the release of the sketch, which eventually led to Lindgren’s arrest. Convicted rapist and serial killer, Rodney Alcala was brought down because of this composite sketch.

The friends of one of the victims were able to give police an accurate description of Alcala.

His parole officer recognized him, which led to his eventual arrest.

He was finally tried and convicted and sentenced to death.

It’s been difficult to track down which police department is responsible for this sketch. As a result, we are unable to determine if this Sesame Street character is still walking the streets or not. If you’ve seen this person and would like to perform a citizen’s arrest, please do so. Also, please make sure you film it and send us a copy. The unibrow could probably use some work, but this composite sketch of serial killer Ted Bundy is pretty good. His coworkers and a professor at his college recognized the sketch as Bundy, but police weren’t so sure.

It was hard to believe that a law student with no record could be responsible. As a result, Bundy kept on killing. He was eventually arrested, convicted and put to death. Believe it or not, these are the same person. This seems like a bad composite drawing, but it kind of isn’t. Joanna Hayes donned a wig and mustache before entering a Target parking lot and gunning down her daughter-in-law.

She was convicted of the murder and sentenced to life in prison.

Early on, investigators circulated a number of police sketches, hoping they would generate better leads in Jacob Wetterling's abduction. But sketches can be tricky and lead potential witnesses down the wrong path. September 20, 2016 | byJennifer Vogel and Madeleine Baran. Two weeks after Jacob Wetterling was abducted in St. Joseph in October 1989, an older man walked into the very Tom Thumb store where the 11-year-old had rented a video the night he went missing. The man acted strangely, said a clerk, as he purchased chicken noodle soup and saltine crackers. He talked about Jacob and said with a chuckle, "I don't think they're ever going to find that boy."

The clerk didn't get the man's license plate number, but she worked with police to create a composite sketch of his face. More Police Science. • Does hypnosis help solve crimes?• The truth about lie detector tests• DNA in the abductions• It's a match. That sketch became one of a number created and publicly disseminated during the Wetterling investigation. There were drawings of men suspected of related abductions or attempted abductions, of skulking men who had been seen in cars and of one man described as possessing a "piercing stare."

The police even released a Frankenstein-like combination sketch comprising features from three previous drawings.

In 2015, one of these sketches, which bore a striking resemblance to Danny Heinrich, who subsequently admitted abducting and killing Jacob, was used to support a search warrant for Heinrich's Annandale house.

But the creation of composite drawings is a misunderstood and sometimes overvalued aspect of police work, representing the tangible result of a highly abstract process. Forensic sketches are based on memory, which does not work like a video recorder and is highly fallible. In fact, mistaken eyewitness accounts were a primary factor in the hundreds of wrongful convictions that have been overturned by DNA evidence, figuring in more than 70 percent of those cases, according to the New York-based Innocence Project, a nonprofit legal organization.

Even assuming a person remembers a face accurately, the ability to relay an image in one's mind to someone holding a pad and pencil, however skilled, presents another obstacle. What might seem like a large mouth or long nose to one person might not to another. "These are not photographs," said Karen Newirth, a senior staff attorney who focuses on eyewitness identification in the Innocence Project's strategic litigation unit. "They could just be made up faces that were created through this process."

That's why sketches, while potentially useful in developing leads or pulling together a police lineup, can also be counterproductive in a criminal investigation.

Issuing a police drawing that winds up stuck to hundreds of store windows can overwhelm investigators with erroneous tips, some implicating innocent people. "The composite gets created and then it gets put out into the world with a request for help," said Newirth. "And so you've got people calling from all over saying, 'That looks like my Uncle Bobby' or 'That looks like Dave from high school,' or whomever. The possibility of an innocent person getting caught up in an investigation as a result of having the misfortune of looking like a composite, or that somebody thought he looked like a composite, is very great." "We know that composites are a problem for innocent suspects and therefore a problem for investigations," Newirth said. "There's been a significant amount of scientific research into composites, and what we know is that the act of creating a composite can essentially contaminate a witness' memory so that the witness can no longer discern, or has a very difficult time discerning, between their memory of the perpetrator and the likeness that they helped to create through the composite sketch process."

A former police officer and composite sketch artist, Renee Tremaine, who made a series of drawings for APM Reports, agreed that these sketches should not be viewed as though they are photos.

"They are not supposed to look like photographs," she said.

But if people understand and accept the proper role of composite drawings, they can be quite useful.

They bring in further leads." In a well-known case from 2007, an artist drew a portrait of a decomposed toddler, nicknamed "Baby Grace," who had been beaten and tossed into Galveston Bay. The child's grandmother recognized the image and claimed the girl, leading to charges against the child's mother and stepfather. "The drawing will rarely be that one element that solves the case," Tremaine said. "It's to jog memories, basically."

Tremaine often spends five hours or more making her sketches, which she said are not unlike caricatures. "You want to highlight somebody's most outstanding feature," she said. Tremaine will emphasize a set of big teeth, a bulbous nose, or doe-like eyes, since those are features that someone is most likely to recall. The role of these sketches is to be "helpful," said Paul Johnson, a retired forensic artist who worked for the St. Paul Police Department and the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. The police "need this stuff," he said. "They have to determine themselves how to assimilate (it)." He said composite drawings can clear suspects. "Like this suspect doesn't look anything like the sketch — not at all," Johnson said. "He's got the wrong color hair, all this kind of stuff.

And that's what it does.

More than actually having to look like somebody, it rules out people it is not." Full-time sketch artists are a dying breed, as they are being replaced by amateurs with computer programs. The most accurate drawings are still done by hand, if you ask Johnson, who made most of the sketches used in the Wetterling investigation. He did so, he said, "with a pencil, an eraser and a description. It's as simple as that. There was nothing magic about it." Yet Johnson described a process that was largely intuitive and anything but simple. He remembers working with Jared Scheierl, the 12-year-old victim of a 1989 assault by Heinrich and also 11-year-old Billy Huling, whose mother and three siblings were murdered in Stearns County in 1978.

Johnson tried to put them at ease, establish a connection. "I use the old hypnosis thing," he said. "It's not really anything hocus pocus. I would use this thing like, OK, you've got to relax. Think of the most beautiful things in your life. Think about, you know, maybe being out in a boat fishing with one of your best friends or something and you're relaxed." He said crime victims "want to be far away from that incident, as far away as they can but still have it in their mind enough to give me the information I need for a sketch." Often, he showed victims or witnesses a pile of mug shots, asking them to focus just on particular features, like eyes, noses or mouths, and find the best match.

He said he was careful not to lead them to particular descriptions.

"I would keep warning them not to be prejudiced towards the rest of the face," Johnson said.

"Mainly concentrate on the width of the nose or something like thath And that was kind of a crude way, but it worked for me." "If they gave me a good description, I guess I always had God's gift of being able to visualize something that somebody is describing to me," Johnson said. But even a high level of skill and empathy doesn't eliminate a fundamental problem with composite drawings. While memory can be accurate under difficult circumstances, Newirth said, "Eye witnesses aren't particularly reliable to start with." And they tend to fare even worse when they are far away from the crime or afraid, or when the lighting is bad or the perpetrator is wearing a disguise. In December 1989, nearly a year after Scheierl was assaulted and helped the police create a composite drawing of his attacker, he apparently worked with a different artist to create a second drawing, the one that resembles Heinrich.

Do you see something? Would you say something?

  • The sketches, ostensibly of the same person, look nothing alike. Stearns County Sheriff Charlie Grafft explained at the time that Scheierl's memory had improved as the trauma from the incident had receded, although experts say that is not typically true.
  • Dove caused quite a stir back in April when its”Real Beauty” campaign used a forensic sketch artist to show women their perceived and true selves. A new app, however, allows you to cut out the brand middleman, and see how you’re own self-conception measures up to reality.
  • Ultimate Flash Face is basically your own personal police sketching device. Created by web designer Max Ishchenko, Flash Face gives you all the tools you need to turn yourself, or someone you know, into a sketchy person.
  • Users can choose from an array of hairstyles and a matrix of other basic features, as well as play with scale and opacity.
  • The only thing you can’t do is add facial tattoos or plug earrings, but that’s where the suspension of disbelief kicks in. If nothing else, seeing how you look as a sketch should deter you from committing crimes.
  • Immediately above are sketches of Co.Create’s photo editor and myself, but have a look at some unusual renditions of familiar faces in the slides above.
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation. "The 'Art' of Solving Crimes." June 8, 2005. (May 5, 2011) http://www2.fbi.gov/page2/june05/ipgu060805.htm
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation. "Forensic Facial Imaging." (May 5, 2011) http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/lab/forensic-science-support/forensic-art
  • Frowd, C.D. et al. "An evaluation of US systems for facial composition production." Ergonomics. Vol. 50, No. 12, Dec. 2007.
  • Heafner, Horace J. "History of Forensic Art." The Police Artist & Composite Drawings. ForensicArtist.com. (May 5, 2011) http://www.forensicartist.com/history/index.htm
  • Lichtman, Flora. "Video Pick of the Week: Composite Sketch." Sept. 24, 2010. (May 5, 2011) http://www.sciencefriday.com/program/archives/201009246
  • Michigan State Police Department. "Forensic Art 101." (May 5, 2011) http://www.michigan.gov/msp/0,1607,7-123-1589_3493_22454-59999--,00.html
  • Muench, Sarah. "Police sketches aided 'Chandler Rapist' investigation." The Arizona Republic. Feb. 1, 2008. (May 5, 2011) http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/0201sketch0201.html
  • National Institute of Medicine. "Alphonse Bertillon (1853 - 1914)." Updated June 15, 2006. (May 5, 2011) http://www.nlm.nih.gov/visibleproofs/galleries/biographies/bertillon.html
  • Raeburn, Paul. "Forensic Artists Use Talent to Solve Crimes." Science Friday. NPR. Sept. 24, 2010. (May 5, 2011) http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=130104055
  • Saletan, William. "Race, Genes, and Criminal Justice." Slate. March 30, 2009. (May 5, 2011) http://www.slate.com/blogs/blogs/humannature/archive/2009/03/30/race-genes-and-criminal-justice.aspx
  • Taister, Michael A. "Forensic Art and Illustration." January 2001. (May 5, 2011) http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/lab/forensic-science-communications/fsc/jan2001/taister.htm


Police Sketches: Cheat Sheet

Stuff You Need to Know:

  • In the 1880s, French criminologist Alphonse Bertillon painstakingly recorded the physical characteristics of Parisian prisoners, an early practice that would evolve into police sketches.
  • The FBI cites an eyewitness sketch of Timothy McVeigh as a crucial piece of evidence that eventually brought the mastermind of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing to justice.
  • An eyewitness interview is the most important step in the police sketch process. Forensic artists who create police sketches may also jog interviewees' memories by showing them mug shots of previously incarcerated criminals or celebrities with similar facial features.
  • Police sketches don't have a great track record for accuracy. According to one estimate, hand-drawn composites by trained artists are roughly 9 percent accurate in terms of producing a recognizable likeness to a suspect.

Now, test your knowledge with these quizzes!

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