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Making Faces-Forensic Sculpting Using Science and Art

Updated on May 27, 2012

A photograph is taken of the unidentified skull with tissue depth markers in-place.


Finding Human Remains

How can anyone identify a dead body when there is only a head, or skeletal remains? The chances are slim without a whole team of F.B.I or law enforcement and some skilled artists.

Using Forensic sculpting along with science,he or she reconstructs faces to help give a unknown person a name. Without and identification, F.B.I. have less leads to find out what happened to this person. On the other hand, there is family and loved ones are waiting for any news about their lost loved one. Help is on the way for this John Doe or Jane Doe and to be given a name.

A forensic artist applies clay directly to a human skull,depending on race, it is a scientific study of facial tissue on thickness according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation program, this procedure makes the facial reconstruction. The artist places markers into the skull with glue,based on the race and gender of a skull.

This is called 'fleshing out' and it guides the forensic sculptor into that person's facial features. Then putting eyebrows,attaching ears and finishing details like putting in fake eyeballs,this adds or aid to the unknown human. The artist 'bonds' with the skeleton,they see dead people, literally. The sculptor works with law enforcement as a team to rely on the skin tone. Looking at old photos help, then applying cosmetics can add a human touch to the sculpture.

Frank Bender


Frank Bender at work


Walsh and Bender

Walsh is the host on the television show America's Most Wanted.
Walsh is the host on the television show America's Most Wanted. | Source

Frank Bender dies at the age of 70. He left a legacy of forensic sculpting that helped the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Being a professional photographer, Frank Bender found his calling just by chance around 1979, on a trip to the Philadelphia morgue, and the pathologist (this professional is performed request of a coroner usually during the investigation of criminal law cases) on duty showed him a body.

“She is not identified.” the pathologist told Bender.

“Well, I don’t know her name, but I can show you what she looked like.” Frank Bender said.

Two words started everything for Mr. Bender. The pathologist said, “Show me.”

It was not unusual for a skull arrive periodically in the mail sent by wishful and hopeful investigation professionals to Frank Bender. Occasionally Mr. Bender had to denude and ‘clean’ the skull. Sometimes visitors coming over to eat lunch or talk over a cup of coffee, and there would be something boiling and bubbling on the stove in great big pot. They knew what their friend did, I could just imagine them saying,” I’ll get the coffee cups, Frank…don’t tell me what’s cooking, I don’t want to know.”

In 1989, Frank made a bust of a fugitive that was on one of the biggest manhunt of his career. It was John List, a New Jersey accountant who slaughtered his mother, his three children, and his wife, then went on the run. They asked the artist to add twenty years to the formation of clay and plaster, so its not dead bodies he works with, he had to guess what List would like, would he wear glasses, would he wear long hair or grow a beard? Since he wore a suit and tie mowing the lawn, he sculpted a suit and tie on him and also put thick glasses on him. The show America’s Most Wanted aired a photo of Frank’s creation, and few days the FBI picked him up after someone seeing him on TV.


They all say that he had a sixth sense. They also say that he had a compassion for the victims not to mention that he had a keen talent artist and was able to read bones for clues. And if you ask any professional that works in law enforcement, and if they knew Frank Bender, and ask how he does what he does, they will say it was because of the intense interest in human nature.

Bender in his workshop.


He has once said,” I have no fear of dying, and adding that his late wife Jan died of cancer was waiting for him in the afterlife, "we're not flesh and bone."

Mr. Bender’s final days are being chronicled in a documentary by Karen Mintz, a filmmaker based in Lambertville, N.J. The title is taken from Mr. Bender’s own description of himself: “The Recomposer of the Decomposed.”

Facts about Forensics

To discover socioeconomic status and other important details, forensic artists consults with dentists.

Forensic artists usually use the anatomical method for reconstructing ancient faces because scientists lack data about tissue depths for ancient peoples, there is no data In contrast, most forensic sculptors working with FBI rely on the tissue-depth method.

Because of this scientific basis, the tissue-depth profiles studied by anthropologists and forensic pathologists, it can be used in court.

You can learn more about Forensic Art by visiting my Forensic Art Homepage at: or visit the Florence County Sheriff’s Office page at:


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    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 5 years ago from The Beautiful South

      This has always interested me and I had a niece get into all this in college, was so hoping she would go in this direction but to many it can be a bit much I suppose.

    • prettynutjob30 profile image

      Mary 5 years ago from From the land of Chocolate Chips,and all other things sweet.

      Great hub this kind of stuff has always fascinated me voted up and awesome.

    • Dee42 profile image

      Dee42 5 years ago from Beautiful Arkansas

      Thanks a lot, CyberShelly, it was a very 'fun'hub. Ha.

    • CyberShelley profile image

      Shelley Watson 5 years ago

      Dee42. Stunning hub, I love reading good murder mysteries and of course watch the good series too. This is fascinating, thank you.

    • Dee42 profile image

      Dee42 5 years ago from Beautiful Arkansas

      Yeah, I like O' Quincy. Ha. Somehow that show was always interesting. Thanks for the comment.

    • cloverleaffarm profile image

      Healing Herbalist 5 years ago from The Hamlet of Effingham

      Great hub. It is truly amazing how he could reconstruct a face from just a skull. Forensic science has intrigued me since watching Quincy M.E back when I was a kid. Thanks for a great hub. Voted Up +.

    • Dee42 profile image

      Dee42 5 years ago from Beautiful Arkansas

      Thank you! I have a dark side that I'm showing. Ha.

    • FalconSays profile image

      Karen S Falcon 5 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      I've always been fascinated with forensic science and most impressed with this art of facial reconstruction. Great hub.