It's only the third time it’s even been even tried: a last-ditch effort to bring dignity and closure to people whose lives have ended violently as well as their families.
With all other leads exhausted, forensic anthropologists and artists meeting at the University of South Florida this week hoped to give more than a dozen cold case victims what may be their last chance at being identified.
Art and science are coming together to solve mysteries that could not previously be unraveled.
During an unveiling of 14 clay busts at Tampa’s History Center Friday, Sharon Scott broke down in tears after seeing one of the sculptures.
Tampa police are now investigating whether the body of a woman found in 1985 at a Tampa dumpsite is Scott's long lost sister. Brenda Williams.
“It's possible. I don't know if it's probable,” said Tampa police investigator Scott Bullard. “The time difference there is seven years between the disappearance and the time that this person was found.”
The clay sculptures were all created this week at USF by some of the world's top forensic artists. The images, they hope, will generate new leads in cases that have long gone cold here and elsewhere.
Erin Kimmerle, a USF anthropologist, leads the program.
“Many of these victims were buried in John Doe graves and little has been done for them since,” said Kimmerle. “People whose lives have been cut short often very violently.”
Of the 20 cold cases reviewed by the team this year, 12 are from Florida, including three in Tampa.
“It's really their last chance to get identified., so we just want to get them there,” said Paloma Galzi, the forensic artist who happened to sculpt the bust cited by Scott.
The Tampa Police Department itself has about 380 open cases dating back to the 1940s.
The other sculptures include victims from Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Missouri and Tennessee. For each of them, thousands of others remain unsculpted. Unidentified.
“Award these individuals the dignity of their identity,” said Mark Ober, Hillsborough County’s State Attorney.
The 14 victims’ likenesses were reconstructed using a 3D printout of their actual skulls and scientific markers.
It may be their final chance since all other scientific and investigative leads have dried up.
A name for them. Answers for their families. Justice for criminals not yet prosecuted.
Investigators learning the new techniques hope they will enable them to eventually take many more cases from cold to closure.
Tampa police say they took a DNA sample from Sharon Scott Friday to see whether the woman depicted in the sculpture is, or is not, her missing sister.
The results of the test, say investigators, will take a month or two.
For a fascinating look at all the sculptures and the stories behind them, please click here.
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