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USF cold case exhibit combines art and science to solve homicide cases

A program, which started in 2015, has helped solve nearly two dozen homicide cases.

TAMPA, Fla. — At the University of South Florida, there’s an innovative program that aims to solve cold case murders by combining art and science.

The technique is still relatively new, but it’s had impressive results. 

USF scientists and various police agencies hope maybe someone will recognize one of the people re-created by the process. All of them murdered. Cases - that had gone so cold this may be the last opportunity to solve them. 

“There’s nearly one thousand unidentified individuals in Florida. Nearly 40,000 nationwide. Many of them are homicides,” said Dr. Erin Kimmerle, a forensic anthropologist at USF.

Kimmerle leads the team that created the exhibit called “The Art of Forensics."

The display includes clay sculptures, digital composites, photos and drawings which are all based on a combination of cutting-edge technology and artistic techniques that help them recreate what they believe someone would have looked like.

Most of it is based on a skull, teeth or other bone fragments.

“And then we use the facial anatomy. The skeletal anatomy of the face,” said Kimmerle. “And when you follow that closely, I think you can capture a really good likeness of what that person looks like.”

If you're skeptical, consider this: The program, which started in 2015, has helped solve nearly two dozen homicide cases and brought more than 140 cold cases up to current investigative standards. 

“And it’s just, it’s great validation for us that our methods are working,” said Kimmerle. “Because were always also self-evaluating and looking where did we get things right, where can we improve? What works, what doesn’t? “

Each exhibit features new cases. New drawings and sculptures that investigators hope might generate new leads.  

A final chance to bring closure and dignity - long overdue. 

“That’s what it’s all about. It’s been a great feeling,” said Kimmerle. “That’s exactly what we set out to do, so, we want to see at work and hopefully continue to work for more people.”

If you’d like to see it for yourself in person, “The Art of Forensics” exhibit will be on display at the Sulphur Springs Museum and Heritage Center in Tampa through November first.

The museum is open between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays.