How The FBI Crime Lab Gets Crime Clues From Skulls


Lisa Bailey, an FBI forensic artist or “visual information specialist,” specializes in skulls at the FBI Crime Lab in Quantico, Va. National Public Radio reports that Bailey does visual reconstructions, creating drawings or three-dimensional representations of people based on their skull remains. Facial reconstruction is part science, part art. And FBI experts will tell you that the trick is getting that balance just right.

When people like Bailey, or her boss, Eugene O’Donnell, get a skull, they start by talking to an anthropologist, who provides clues about ancestry. “They usually can tell shovel-shaped teeth and that might indicate an American Indian,” O’Donnell says. “I take all that information and any evidence found, like hair, and try to adapt that into a drawing.” The FBI uses a laser to scan actual skull remains and build a replica of them. Bailey aims the laser gun at a skull perched on a wooden stand. A red laser beam appears on the skull. As she runs the laser over the skull, its outline begins to appear in luminous green on the computer monitor. Once the scan is complete – it takes about an hour – Bailey sends it to a machine that builds a 3-D full scale model out of resin.


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