LA VERGNE — A startlingly realistic “forensic art” sculpture of a woman’s face will be used by La Vergne police to push for clues about a body found in a remote field in 2007.
It’s the second facial reconstruction commissioned by the department in the case. Experts said the first was superb, but the latest goes even further. Computer enhancements to the clay model added skin tones, jewelry and a new hairstyle.
“It’s little things like that make it more like a photograph,” said Detective Bob Hayes. “That may be what helps identify her.”
Hayes, while a patrol officer, found the woman’s bones while searching for a missing woman whose body was later found near Clarksville. That left city police with the unidentified remains, their only such case.
Now, four years later, the case file has come back to Hayes, now a detective.
“There’s definitely a learning curve,” he said. “You pull information from pretty much any place you can.”
Authorities determined the victim to be a woman age 30 to 45, most likely about 5 feet 5 inches tall, and likely black.
Along with the skeletal remains, police found an Avon bracelet with at least eight cat photo charms, a ceramic bracelet and a gold-plated ring with blue and amber stones. A medical examiner’s report ruled the death a homicide after turning up a bullet wound and stab markings.
Hayes hopes those descriptions and the new image will draw out fresh information.
'To spark a memory'
The remains, found in a wooded area off Hollandale Road near the Lake Forest neighborhood, have traveled widely for examination.
In 2007, police worked with University of Tennessee forensic art graduate Joanna Hughes — the first person to earn that degree— to create a facial reconstruction model.
Police decided to commission a new image because of improved technology.
The FBI pointed Hayes to the state-of-the-art Louisiana State University Forensic Anthropology and Computer Enhancement Services (FACES) Laboratory, which has completed hundreds of renderings.
Imaging Specialist Eileen Barrow worked at least 50 hours on the new model, said lab Director Mary H. Manhein.
The modeling process began with careful bone and skull measurements, which were compared to known tissue depths. Small erasers were cut and filed and attached to the skull to create guides. Eye placement further defined the spacing of features. Then Barrow sculpted with clay.
Guessing weight is often the biggest challenge, Manhein said.
Afterward, Barrow scanned photographs of the sculpture into a computer to make adjustments and add coloring.
Throughout the process, Barrow explicitly avoided viewing previous renderings. But she arrived at a similar likeness.
“Sometimes these things look a lot like the people and sometimes they don’t,” Manhein said. “The whole thing is to spark a memory for someone.”