the thin grey line

A pic­ture is worth a thou­sand words, but for foren­sic artist Michael Streed, a thou­sand words amount to a po­ten­tially lifechang­ing pic­ture that will help stop a crim­i­nal in their tracks

Real Crime - - Contents - Words Tanita Matthews

Foren­sic artist Michael Streed ex­plains the tech­niques he uses to cre­ate an ac­cu­rate pic­ture of a wanted crim­i­nal

There is one thing many of the world’s best- known crim­i­nals have in com­mon, from the fur­rowed brow of the Zo­diac Killer, to the buzz cut hair­style of Ok­la­homa City Bomber Ti­mothy McVeigh, to the shad­owy hooded fig­ure of the so- called Un­abomber Ted Kaczyn­ski: each of them is recog­nis­able from the shaded sketches drawn by foren­sic artists like Michael Streed ev­ery year. You may have seen their com­pos­ite sketches on the evening news. You’ve prob­a­bly stud­ied their mot­tled fea­tures to see if you recog­nise them. Per­haps some­thing in the de­tails struck you as fa­mil­iar? But have you ever stopped to con­sider the process be­hind an of­ten- fun­da­men­tal piece of ev­i­dence that helps bring se­rial killers, child ab­duc­tors and bank rob­bers to jus­tice time and time again?

Speak­ing to us from his home in the US, Michael Streed, au­thor of Sketch­cop: Draw­ing A Line Against Crime, talks us through his three- and- a- half decade ca­reer sketching high- pro­file crim­i­nals, as well as his 31- year com­mit­ment to the po­lice force as an of­fi­cer in Cal­i­for­nia. He re­counts for us his con­nec­tion to the Ba­ton Rouge Killer case, the way in which tech­nol­ogy has im­proved the lives of foren­sic artists like him­self, as well as what more ad­vanced train­ing could have meant for those tasked with sketching the ac­cused in our cover fea­ture, The Golden State Killer.

Tell us a bit about how you tran­si­tioned into your ca­reer as a po­lice sketch artist.

Like most kids I doo­dled a lot and al­ways had a thing for car­toons from an early age. I thought it would be the coolest job on the planet to sit around and draw car­toons all day. My fa­ther was a po­lice of­fi­cer so I was al­ways sur­rounded by these amaz­ing peo­ple who had great sto­ries. As I reached the end of my high school ca­reer and had to pick a ‘ real job’ I thought po­lice work was some­thing to try. Back then there was the whole ref­er­ence to the ‘ starv­ing artist’ and so I went into po­lice work. It wasn’t un­til I saw a com­pos­ite sketch on the evening news that I thought, “Now there’s a way to com­bine art and my love for pub­lic safety.” I started con­tact­ing peo­ple and tak­ing train­ing classes, and it just kind of grew from there.

Tap­ping into some­one’s mem­ory, es­pe­cially after a trau­matic in­ci­dent, must be tricky. How do you pro­ceed when you’re try­ing to ex­tract in­for­ma­tion from a par­tic­u­larly trau­ma­tised wit­ness?

There isn’t a one- size- fits- all in­ter­view. We use what’s called a cog­ni­tive in­ter­view, which is ac­tu­ally driven by the eye­wit­ness and/ or vic­tim and not so much the of­fi­cer. Typ­i­cal po­lice in­ter­views are driven by the in­ves­ti­ga­tor or of­fi­cer and can be con­strued as be­ing very lead­ing – we ask di­rect ques­tions that at times can be seen as sug­ges­tive and very lim­it­ing, whereas in a cog­ni­tive in­ter­view we ask more ope­nended ques­tions. I might in­ter­view you at the scene of the crime as an of­fi­cer and ask, “Did he have blue eyes or brown eyes?” As an artist I would say, “Tell me about his eyes and be as de­scrip­tive as you can.” We can ask more di­rect ques­tions from that, but it’s to­tally driven by the eye­wit­ness – we just kind of keep them within the guide­lines and help them stay fo­cused. Some­times it’s OK to just let the per­son talk, be­cause while I’m there to pro­vide an in­ves­tiga­tive re­source to my fel­low po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tors, I’m also there to be one of the first steps in help­ing these peo­ple heal from their trauma.

Ev­ery artist has their own tech­nique, but for me, while they’re talk­ing about the trauma, I may be draw­ing the

They walk out of there feel­ing very proud and very happy that they got to pos­i­tively con­trib­ute to the solv­ing of their own case

sketch and slip­ping in ques­tions that they’ll an­swer, and I’ll draw and keep them talk­ing, and be­fore you know it, there’s a sketch that’s fin­ished. They walk out of there feel­ing very proud and very happy that they got to pos­i­tively con­trib­ute to the solv­ing of their own case.

You helped the FBI de­velop a cur­ricu­lum for their train­ing on cre­at­ing com­pos­ite sketches. What was that ex­pe­ri­ence like?

It was very in­ter­est­ing be­cause back in the early 1980s, when there was a resur­gence and an in­ter­est in train­ing artists from around the world, the FBI – be­ing the lead­ing law en­force­ment agency here in the United States – was able to se­cure the fund­ing. So now all of a sud­den they have the money for fund­ing, but the ques­tion was ‘ what do we train? How are we go­ing to train?’

So what they did was put out an ad in their in­dus­try mag­a­zine ask­ing for any­one who’s in­ter­ested in par­tic­i­pat­ing in the com­mit­tee, and I was lucky enough to be se­lected. A group of us got to­gether in the FBI academy at Quan­tico, Vir­ginia, and ham­mered out the cur­ricu­lum, and from that the course was born. I was very hum­bled to be there be­cause the smart thing they did was they took peo­ple from all ex­pe­ri­ence lev­els. So at the time I was one of the least ex­pe­ri­enced, I was just start­ing out, so you had my per­spec­tive as a new­bie and you had other peo­ple who were very well- es­tab­lished al­ready and very ex­pe­ri­enced, and had taken on some very high- pro­file cases. So it was great to be in that mix of peo­ple.

Are there any other sketches you’ve drawn that have turned out to be high- pro­file crim­i­nals, or have you ever come into close con­tact with any high- pro­file cases?

Most of the high- pro­file cases that I’ve been in­volved in have in­volved chil­dren. I had a par­tic­u­lar case where a five- yearold girl [ Sa­man­tha Run­nion] was ab­ducted off the street by a stranger, who later sex­u­ally as­saulted and mur­dered her. The only wit­ness at the time was her five- year- old play­mate. She pro­vided a sketch that was piv­otal in iden­ti­fy­ing this per­son,

be­cause within 48 hours of this sketch be­ing re­leased to the me­dia two dif­fer­ent peo­ple called and pro­vided a name. After his DNA sam­ple matched he was ar­rested, tried and given a death sen­tence.

The other case in­volved a ten- year- old boy [ An­thony Martinez] who was ab­ducted by a stranger off the street in the pres­ence of his eight and ten- year- old brother and cousin. He was also sex­u­ally as­saulted and mur­dered. That par­tic­u­lar case was very frus­trat­ing, be­cause you would ex­pect a quick iden­ti­fi­ca­tion due to the height­ened pub­lic in­ter­est [ in child ab­duc­tions], but this case went cold for eight years un­til some­one was iden­ti­fied. This par­tic­u­lar sus­pect [ Joseph Ed­ward Dun­can III] mur­dered an­other fam­ily in an­other state and then ab­ducted some chil­dren and mur­dered one of them. He was iden­ti­fied by a quick- think­ing wait­ress when he brought the vic­tim into a restau­rant. He was ar­rested and is sit­ting on death row right now.

There was a se­rial killer op­er­at­ing in the 1990s in the

Ba­ton Rouge area of Louisiana [ Der­rick Todd Lee, the ‘ Ba­ton Rouge Killer’] and he was killing col­lege co- eds in the area. What had hap­pened was he had been in­volved with at­tacks in a small town out­side of Ba­ton Rouge, and I pro­duced a com­pos­ite of the sus­pect and was able to pro­vide a larger task force with a name. Un­for­tu­nately there was some in­tera­gency ri­val­ries in­volved in that and the in­for­ma­tion wasn’t taken as se­ri­ously as it could have been. It wasn’t un­til they caught the per­son that they re­alised that the ac­tual sketch was piv­otal in the case.

It was ac­tu­ally the first case where I had used some fa­cial com­pos­ite soft­ware that was con­sid­ered to be the lat­est and great­est at the time. The TV pro­gram Amer­ica’s Most Wanted flew me from Cal­i­for­nia to Louisiana to try the soft­ware out, and so I used the soft­ware on the case and it worked for that pe­riod of time, but there were some lim­i­ta­tions to it that even­tu­ally spurred me to de­velop my own soft­ware.

Let’s talk about the Golden State Killer. He was drawn dozens of times over the years by var­i­ous sketch artists, and some of the im­ages are wildly dif­fer­ent to oth­ers. What prob­lems can mul­ti­ple wit­nesses and sketch artists pose to in­ves­ti­ga­tors?

A com­pos­ite sketch is based upon your per­cep­tion – how you wit­nessed it, how you ob­served it, how you pro­cessed it, how you retell it – and our job as sketch artists is to re­trieve the eye­wit­ness mem­ory. You have a va­ri­ety of dif­fer­ent sce­nar­ios un­der which the Golden State Killer was ob­served by a va­ri­ety of peo­ple with dif­fer­ent ed­u­ca­tion lev­els, dif­fer­ent ver­bal skills, and some­times the crimes took place in to­tal darkness or lim­ited light­ings, and so there’s just a whole bunch of dif­fer­ent sce­nar­ios.

The thing is you’re also look­ing at a va­ri­ety of artists who do those sketches un­der just some hor­rific con­di­tions. And we talk about the eye­wit­ness and the peo­ple who were vic­tims of the crime, but how about the sketch artists? What was their ex­pe­ri­ence level? Had they had proper train­ing? My ques­tion is: how could those com­pos­ite im­ages change or be more ac­cu­rate if all the sketch artists in­volved had been of­fered bet­ter train­ing at that point in time?

We do the best we can with what we’ve got, and they all did a very good job based upon the pres­sure on them by po­lice and the pub­lic, as well as work­ing with peo­ple who weren’t nec­es­sar­ily be­ing dif­fi­cult, but were in­volved in a dif­fi­cult set of cir­cum­stances that none of us could imag­ine or hope to be in­volved in. I think if you look through all of the sketches there are com­mon fa­cial fea­tures that, while they were drawn in a dif­fer­ent style, they look sim­i­lar enough that at one point I wanted to take them and syn­the­size all of those

A com­pos­ite sketch is based upon your per­cep­tion, how you wit­nessed it... how you pro­cessed it, how you retell it. our job... is to re­trieve the eye­wit­ness mem­ory

into one draw­ing based on the com­mon­al­ity in some of the more pre­dom­i­nant fa­cial fea­tures.

How has the pro­gres­sion of tech­nol­ogy in the last few decades im­pacted your ca­reer?

For me it’s the tools I use now and tools that oth­ers use. When I first started, I used a num­ber two pen­cil and a sheet of copy pa­per from the Xerox ma­chine – a cheap piece of bond pa­per and a cheap pen­cil, and that was it. Those who couldn’t draw were us­ing those flip books with cel­lo­phane sheets of ac­etate that would have noses and eyes on, and put to­gether sketches that way.

Now we’re us­ing dig­i­tal sty­luses, iPads and pen dis­plays where we draw right on screens, and so­phis­ti­cated soft­ware pro­grams that em­u­late the pen­cil and brushes you would nor­mally use. Com­pos­ite soft­ware pro­grams have al­go­rithms that help to build the faces based on the eye­wit­ness mak­ing a se­lec­tion from the com­puter.

I use the tools that best fit the case. I think it’s like any­thing else, they’re just things that help cre­ate a more ef­fi­cient work­flow to get to the even­tual end. The dig­i­tal sty­lus and soft­ware pro­grams al­low you to cre­ate a li­brary so you’re not draw­ing the same thing over and over again. These are short­cuts and tools that help you get there faster and bet­ter, but that doesn’t ad­dress the time it takes you to get the in­for­ma­tion from an eye­wit­ness. The com­pos­ite sketch soft­ware pro­gram, it opens up the op­por­tu­nity for peo­ple who can’t draw and paint to cre­ate a fa­cial com­pos­ite of sus­pects, and that’s re­ally great for po­lice de­part­ments be­cause they don’t all have some­one who can draw, but they have a 24/ 7 so­lu­tion and they can cre­ate faces at the click of the mouse. Both are lim­ited in terms of their use and suc­cess by be­ing able to ef­fec­tively com­mu­ni­cate with an eye­wit­ness and proper train­ing.

Does it ever get frus­trat­ing when your im­age is put to the pub­lic and no leads are gen­er­ated?

It’s def­i­nitely frus­trat­ing be­cause I’m ‘ in it to win it’ so to speak. I want some­one to be caught and want some jus­tice for the vic­tims, the eye­wit­nesses, these very coura­geous peo­ple who took a lot to come for­ward. So yes, it can be frus­trat­ing, but you just have to keep go­ing for­ward with the next draw­ing and the next case and hope for a bet­ter re­sult.

hael’s Tech­nol­ogy, in the span of Mic ca­reer as a f oren­sic artist hastha t pro­gressed, but Mic hael in­sists while new softw are f or dr aw­ingthe has helped, it hasn’ t re­placedand re­quire­ment f or good tr ain­ing peo­ple skills

Michael’s field of ex­per­tise has re­sulted in him w ork­ing on v ar­i­ous cases, inc lud­ing ser ial mur­der , c hild ab­duc­tion and miss­ing per sons, draw­ing a pprox­i­mately 400 sk etches in to­tal through­out his ca­reer

( right) Mic hael’s skills as a sk etch artist ha ve a t times been ex­am­ined on the stand, inc lud­ing dur ing the tr ial of con­victed rob ber Bill P oyner, who w as con­nected and la ter con victed of the kid­nap and mur­der of a cop

Charles Tay­lor ( pic­tured) and his brother Allan w ent miss­ing in 1978. Re­con­struct­ing the f ace from sk ele­tal re­mains f ound in 1993, Mic hael’s sk etch of the vic­tim pro ved in­valu­able in solv­ing their disa ppear­ance

Re­tir­ing from the po­lice f orce after 31 y ears, Mic hael f ocused his a tten­tion on con­sul­tancy for la w enf or­ce­ment a gen­cies through­out the US and opened his o wn f oren­sic artistr y busi­ness

One of the big gest cases of Mic hael’s ca­reer came when he sk etched the man who w ould ul­tima tely be iden­ti­fied as a Louisiana ser ial killer

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