OSBI forensic artist has sketchy way to catch criminals
Harry Pratt, 70, is a forensic artist for the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation who has provided drawings for the Ted Bundy and the BTK cases as well as countless others in 45 years of law enforcement.
There were those who referred to actor Lon Chaney Sr. as the “The Man of a Thousand Faces.”
looks across his desk at some before and after photos and says “I've probably done a thousand soft tissue reconstruction drawings.”
The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation forensic artist has been putting a face on crime for decades. When you add on the suspect drawings, skull reconstructions, age progressions and other techniques this 70-year-old Cheyenne-Arapaho tribal member is a man of far more than a thousand faces.
Some are still on sketch pads in his office. But just about all of them are in his heart.
Take for example, the case of the abduction of a child in California. Law enforcement agencies across the nation come to Pratt for assistance.
On the West Coast, a boy was taken at age 6 and 10 years had passed, when Pratt got the call from California law enforcement. He was asked to do an age progression, showing what the child might look like at age 16. His drawing was sent nationally to school systems.
A teacher in Texas thought it looked like one of her students.
“They went out and interviewed the boy and interviewed the guy that said he was the guardian,” Pratt said. “It turned out to be the little boy that was missing from California.”
In another case, a boy was taken in Florida at only 21 months old. Pratt aged him to 9 years old. The child was found in Canada.
Pratt worked his first case while still a member of the Midwest City Police Department in the mid-1960s. This November will mark 40 years he's been with OSBI. For a longtime forensic art was part of what he did. Since 1992, it's been his focus.
Nationally his work has included a suspect age-progression drawing in the BTK killer case in Kansas and reconstruction of unidentified victims in the case of serial killer Ted Bundy.
But he's just as proud of his work in helping located the missing children as he is of high profile cases.
“Those are very rewarding,” he said of the cases involving the children. “I think about those and I often wonder about ‘What happened to those kids, what are they doing now?'
“I probably wouldn't still be in this business if I didn't have job satisfaction.”
Making a connection
Taped to a wall just above Pratt's sketch table is a printout with two words “Follow Through.”
“I think that a lot of people think that they're positive identification and they're not,” Pratt said. “The drawings are look-alikes, in the ballpark, similar. A lot of witness are confused and are a little apprehensive, because they think they have to do a portrait and that's not the case.”
Think about it, he said. You might not have seen a guy since high school and he's bald and has put on 40 pounds. The man walks by you, and he catches your eye because he looks like someone you knew. He's not an exact likeness, but you make the connection.
That's why Pratt extensively interviews alleged victims. Alleged? Sometimes the story is fabricated and that comes out.
But many times a crime occurred and Pratt is able to sift through dozens of facts to find the one he needs.
He once asked a young woman who had been abducted if the man was right or left handed.
“When you ask if he was right-handed or left-handed, it makes you think,” he said. “And when you start thinking about it, then you'll see jewelry, or a missing finger.”
That's what he found when he followed through. He asked her if the man had any amputations. She had been forced to ride in the floorboard. It was then that she saw his hands on the steering wheel.
She told Pratt, “You know what? Part of his little finger was missing.”
“Follow through until you don't have any more questions,” he said. “In every case there's something that is going to be important whether it's a scar, or a mole or jewelry, or some unusual characteristic that stands out.”
Pratt won't stop when a victim says “He had brown hair.” Was it light or dark brown? He won't stop at “He was a big man.” Was he powerful big or was he pear-shaped? Don't say slender. In Pratt's mind that could fall into at least three categories: wiry, bony, skinny.
Why does this matter for a sketch? One, Pratt wants to understand all he can about the person, drug use, scars and more. Second, he shares his interviews with investigators.
“I want to stimulate recall,” he said.
‘Breaking into a sweat'
The thermostat has nothing to do with it.
From time to time Pratt will be sitting at his sketch table and he'll start to sweat.
“The emotion runs really high on certain things,” he said. “I've done a drawing and I know that ‘Man I'm about to get there,' or I think ‘Man I've got this guy.'
“And I'll actually break into a sweat.”
He knows that feeling. And he knows the feeling of a hug from the mother of a missing child and the feeling of the handshake of an investigator who used his drawing to help solve a case.
“You know you want to pump your fist in the air and still try to be professional and calm,” Pratt said, “but I can get really emotional about these cases.
“I've been in law enforcement for more than 45 years. Today was just like my first day on the street. I'm excited.”
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