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How Police Sketches Help Solve Crime

A forensic artist's drawing of the Unabomber — a man hiding behind aviator glasses — is still touted as one of the most iconic portraits in forensic history.

In 1987, a woman in Utah caught a glimpse of one of the most loathed killer’s in US history: the Unabomber. The Unabomber was responsible for 23 injuries and 3 deaths between 1978 and 1995. Eight years after she claimed to have seen him, forensic sketch artist Jeanne Boylan spent six hours with her trying to retrieve her fleeting memory.

Forensic artists like Boylan perform cognitive interviews to jog a person’s memory by asking them anything from the smells and sounds they encountered at the time of the event to what they were doing just before they saw the suspect. Studies show that professional, hand-drawn sketches are often more accurate than computer generated portraits.

Today, Boylan's drawing of the man hiding behind aviator glasses is still touted as one of the most iconic portraits in forensic history.