This is an excerpt from
"The Police Artist & Composite Drawings"

By Horace J. Heafner


Well over a hundred years ago, law enforcement agencies began using composite drawings to aid in an investigation where evidence was scant and the perpetrator unknown. No doubt there were many isolated instances earlier that aided criminal investigations. Major cases such as: "Jack the Ripper," "Lindbergh Kidnapping," "D.B. Cooper," the first airline hijacker, "Assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King," "Richard Speck Case," "Hillside Strangler," and the "Kidnapping of Patricia Hearst" are but a few of the national and international cases where composite drawings were used.

Man has been drawing the human face as long as history has been recorded. The face presents a set of intriguing characteristics that create a pattern of identifiable features. From this physiognomy, a person is able to recognize thousands of faces, often linking names, personality, background, etc. to them. In fact, a person is able to mentally encode a huge gallery of faces and store them for later retrieval. Since no two faces are exactly alike, the facial features (along with head shapes) lend themselves to a classification system.

In the 1880’s, Alphonse Bertillon, sometimes called the father of scientific detection, developed an identification system referred to as "Portrait Parle" or "speaking likeness." This system was a compilation of facial features taken from photographs with descriptive detail provided. Originally, Bertillon meant for the catalog to be an identification aid for the recognition of local prisoners but it later was found to be useful in obtaining descriptions of unknown suspects. Bertillon’s classification provided a basis for modern recall systems that would aid the artist in producing sketches as well as the development of composite kits, catalogs and computer systems.

A research of the FBI archives revealed an early use of the composite sketch. The sketch was done in 1920 for a bombing incident that took place at an office on Wall Street. The investigation developed a witness from a nearby blacksmith shop who had shod the horse of a stranger observed carrying a covered object in back of his wagon. An interview with the blacksmith indicated he felt capable of providing enough facial detail to have an artist prepare a drawing of the stranger. A commercial artist was hired to make a sketch that provided a sufficient likeness to develop leads with subsequent identification and arrest of the perpetrator.


Forensic Art related Historical Links

More information on Alphonse Bertillon.


Historical Forensic Artwork

Bertillon-ID-Chart.jpg (7987 bytes) Alphonse Bertillon ID Sheet
Bertillon-frontal-view.jpg (6755 bytes) Alphonse Bertillon Facial Frontal VIew
bertillon-profile-view.jpg (5049 bytes) Alphonse Bertillon Facial Profile View
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Early Postmortem Drawing

Mary Ann "Polly" Nichols postmortem examination : "Five teeth were missing, and there was a slight laceration of the tongue. There was a bruise running along the lower part of the jaw on the right side of the face. That might have been caused by a blow from a fist or pressure from a thumb. There was a circular bruise on the left side of the face which also might have been inflicted by the pressure of the fingers. On the left side of the neck, about 1 in. below the jaw, there was an incision about 4 in. in length, and ran from a point immediately below the ear. On the same side, but an inch below, and commencing about 1 in. in front of it, was a circular incision, which terminated at a point about 3 in. below the right jaw. That incision completely severed all the tissues down to the vertebrae. The large vessels of the neck on both sides were severed. The incision was about 8 in. in length. the cuts must have been caused by a long-bladed knife, moderately sharp, and used with great violence. No blood was found on the breast, either of the body or the clothes. There were no injuries about the body until just about the lower part of the abdomen. Two or three inches from the left side was a wound running in a jagged manner. The wound was a very deep one, and the tissues were cut through. There were several incisions running across the abdomen. There were three or four similar cuts running downwards, on the right side, all of which had been caused by a knife which had been used violently and downwards. the injuries were form left to right and might have been done by a left handed person. All the injuries had been caused by the same instrument."

joseph-barnett-jack-the-rip.jpg (7371 bytes)

Jack-the-Ripper Suspect Sketch:

Joseph Barnett met Mary Jane Kelly on April 8th, 1887, and the two decided soon after to room together at various locations for the next year and a half. By the time of the Ripper murders, they were living in 13 Miller's Court, Dorset Street. This is the location where Kelly's mutilated body would be found on November 9th, 1888. Barnett also fits well with the F.B.I. Psychological Profile of the Ripper

mapleton-sketch.jpg (5131 bytes)

Percy Lefroy Mapleton

This early composite drawing of Percy Lefroy Mapleton was used on a 1881 Scottland Yard wanted poster.  The Brighton Railway Murder 1881. When arrested, his victim's watch was found hidden in his shoe. Lefroy was found guilty and hanged, but not before he had confessed both to this crime and an earlier murder.

dbcooper.jpg (3976 bytes)


It was the day before Thanksgiving, Nov. 24, 1971. As Northwest Airlines Flight 305, from Portland, Ore., to Seattle, sped along the runway preparing for takeoff, the man in Seat 18C, wearing sunglasses and a dark suit, handed a flight attendant a note. It said he had a bomb and threatened to blow up the Boeing 727 unless he received $200,000 cash and four parachutes when the plane landed. The man in Seat 18C purchased his ticket under the name "Dan Cooper."

zodiac-killer-sketch.jpg (4776 bytes)

Composite of the Zodiac Killer

The Zodiac Killers spree started in 1966 and it wouldn't come to an end until around 1974. Why he stopped ? No one knows, he just did, he was never caught.

He received his name after he scribbled zodiac signs around several of his victims. The rare survivors from his attacks have described him as a heavy set man with glasses and red hair.

There are numerous theories surrounding his identity, methods, and his reasoning behind the astrological murders. His numbers vary according to sources. Some attribute only six hits to this faceless maniac. Others believe the Zodiac has slayed up to 49 individuals. Some have settled on 37 after a note he sent to a San Francisco paper on January 30, 1974 in which he wrote "Me-37 - SFPD-0."

lindbergh-sketch.jpg (4517 bytes)

Lindbergh Kidnapping

About 8:30 p.m., on March 12, after receiving an anonymous telephone call, Dr. Condon received the fifth ransom note, delivered by Joseph Perrone, a taxicab driver, who received it from an unidentified stranger. The message stated that another note would be found beneath a stone at a vacant stand, 100 feet from an outlying subway station. This note, the sixth, was found by Condon, as indicated. Following instructions therein, the doctor met an unidentified man, who called himself "John," at Woodlawn Cemetery, near 233rd Street and Jerome Avenue. They discussed payment of the ransom money. The stranger agreed to furnish a token of the child's identity. Condon was accompanied by a bodyguard, except while talking to "John." During the next few days, Dr. Condon repeated his advertisements, urging further contact and stating his willingness to pay the ransom.

Sketches of "John," who received the Lindbergh kidnap ransom money. 

You can find extensive information about forensic art in Karen Taylor's Publication "Forensic Art and Illustration."