I watch a lot of NCIS, where 40 minutes and one amazingly talented forensic scientist are enough to solve even the most horrific of crimes. Real life, however, takes longer and doesn’t always yield such clear-cut results.
Enter Frank Bender. He came upon his calling as a forensic artist almost accidentally, when he attended an autopsy in lieu of taking an anatomy course to help with his sculpting. In the storage room, there was a body of a woman who had not been identified – he was told, “We have no idea what she might have looked like.” Looking at her skull, however, Bender realized that he did know what she looked like. And he asked permission to sculpt a bust of her face.
Five months after he completed her bust, the woman was identified as Anna Duval, a missing persons case from Arizona.
With a successful ID came more skulls needing faces. Bender learned more about forensic reconstruction and streamlined his technique. He visited the Mütter Museum to study differences in skulls (and later exhibited some of his completed busts there – leading to the identification of yet another victim). He set up a studio for his unusual hobby. And when the Mexican government asked the U.S. for help in identifying some of the more than 400 women killed since 1993, Bender was a natural choice for the task at hand.