The International Association for Identification (IAI) is an organization that certifies forensic artists and other crime scene and forensics experts. The IAI defines forensic art as “the artistic technique used in the identification, apprehension or conviction of a wanted person. This person may not necessarily be a criminal, but could be a missing person or an unidentified deceased person. These forensic images can be admissible in a court of law”. Forensic art can include sketching, sculpting, using digital software and other techniques to create images of suspects, to identify deceased bodies, to enhance images to show age progression of a missing person or fugitive and more.
CJSI was recently fortunate enough to chat with two forensic artists! One, (Lois Gibson) focuses on composite art to help catch suspects. The other has devoted his life to helping track down missing persons and helping identify John and Jane Does so they are never forgotten . One of the ways he does this is through Project EDAN (a group of forensic artists who volunteer their time to help investigators and medical examiners with cases of “unidentified decedents”) which he founded and directs. His name is Todd Matthews.
CJSI: What inspired you to start Project EDAN?
TM: Naturally the Tent Girl case inspired me a great degree [see below]. But there was a local (Tennessee) case I encountered as a volunteer with The Doe Network [a volunteer-based organization that helps law enforcement with investigations pertaining to missing persons and unidentified victims]. It was local to me and I asked the investigator why there was no reconstruction. He said due to a lack of funding. So I asked if I could find a volunteer, would it help. I literally got a head in a duffle bag!
[To view the forensic art renditions of this first Project EDAN case, visit: http://www.angelfire.com/tn3/campbell_doe/]
CJSI: Tell us about your Project EDAN team.
TM: Over20 past and present artists offer their time. I mostly just identify the need and coordinate the assignments, approvals and publication. All of them freely give a service that otherwise is easily sold if there’s funding available. Instead of waiting for money to be available, they just give. Since 1999 we have assisted with well over 100 investigations.
CJSI: Do you run Project EDAN full time?
TM: Both The Doe Network and Project EDAN are sideline projects that never really get enough of my time. I feel bad that I am there when I need to be there as opposed to when they need me. But my current day job is quite demanding. I’m the Quality Assurance / Communications Manager for the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUS), funded by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and operated by the University North Texas Health Science Center. I work from my home office in Livingston, Tennessee.
CJSI: How did you start working for NamUS?
TM: In 2007 I was asked by NIJ to sit on the NamUs Advisory Board. I performed the beta trial for the launch of the missing persons’ portion of their database [where today anybody from family to investigators can visit and enter information]. I then became a Regional System Administrator until 2011 when I came into my current role.
CJSI: Do you do any forensic art with Project EDAN?
TM: I’m not an official artist, but I do have an artistic talent and perform projects – I mostly clean up imagery. It was pretty much pick up a pencil and start. I do hope that in my older years I can formalize training. I would like to volunteer my own time after my retirement.
When Matthews talks about the Tent Girl case, he is humbly referring to his non-stop work to identify the body of a woman found dead near Georgetown, Kentucky in 1968 (two years before Mathews was born). Due to his unrelenting efforts, her identity (Barbara Ann Hackman-Taylor) was revealed in 1998. A book called The Skeleton Crew detailing this process will be out in 2013. You can also read about Matthews’ fascinating story by visiting: http://www.angelfire.com/tn3/masterdetective2. You can also visit Todd Matthews’ blog at: http://toddmatthews.
Stay tuned for the next blog in our Forensic Art Series – an interview with Lois Gibson, named the most successful forensic artist in the world according to the Guinness Book of World Records!