THE "ART" OF
There's More to the FBI Lab Than Science
years ago in April, just hours after the Oklahoma City bombing, an
FBI Lab forensic
artist made a sketch of a suspect based on eyewitnesses accounts at a
Junction City, Kansas truck rental shop. At the time, we didn't have
a name—just a face. We began showing the drawing (see left) around
town. Employees at a local motel recognized him immediately—and
identified him as Timothy McVeigh. It was a major break in the case,
and later, it kept police from releasing McVeigh from an Oklahoma jail,
where he was being held on unrelated charges.
A picture is truly
worth a thousand words. That's why for years our Lab has staffed a team
of visual information specialists with backgrounds ranging from fine
arts to mechanical engineering—professionals who not only create
composite sketches but also crime scene reconstructions, animated and
interactive 2D and 3D digital models, diagrams, maps, charts, and other
visual aids to help solve cases and win convictions.
The team makes up
our Investigative and Prosecutive Graphic Unit, or IPGU,
and here are just a few of the talents they bring to protecting the nation:
Age Progression and Photo Retouching: taking dated
pictures of suspects and victims and “aging” them
to show what the people might look like today—adding
beards, mustaches, different hair styles, etc., to match
possible lifestyle changes.
Consider the fugitive wanted
for murder, captured just
hours after IPGU’s age-enhanced image was broadcast
on national TV.
Facial Reconstruction: using skeletal remains and
other information to piece together the living face. For
helped identify a young suicide
much needed closure to the family—by recreating an
almost exact likeness of his face from his badly decomposed
3-D animated digital diagrams, charts that show links between
suspects, evidence, and crime scenes, etc., for courtroom
was IPGU that digitally surveyed the 16 D.C.-area sniper
crime scenes and created the timeline—dates, weapon descriptions,
victim photos—for the trial of John Allen Muhammad.
Imaging and Modeling: creating
3-D models, virtual
fly-thrus (like walking through a scene via a computer),
and computer animations that map out debris
fields, measure bomb craters, and show bullet trajectories.
is IPGU? Incredibly. Team members get hundreds of calls a
year and travel all over the world—even conducting interviews
in remote areas using state-of-the-art video teleconferencing.
Says Unit Chief Richard
Berry, “It’s fascinating work. We're always learning and
using new techniques and technologies; as a result, we’re always
involved in major investigative efforts. The satisfaction is when our
work is instrumental in helping to solve a case and bring a criminal
to justice or bring closure to a victim’s family.”
and Prosecutive Graphics Unit website | FBI