Wednesday, August 18, 2010
Robin Burcell, Author & Forensic Artist - Write Now! Vignette
Burcell, who was there to talk about Forensic Art 101, began by showing us her two books featuring a forensic artist, Face of a Killer, and Bone Chamber. Then, she gave us a little background. Burcell was the first female officer for her department in Lodi, California. So, in her first series, she saw that San Francisco had no women in homicide. She thought she was creating the first for San Francisco, not realizing Laurie King beat her to the punch. But, she tired of that series. When, she researched, she was only able to go 60 miles to San Francisco. She wanted to write a series that would allow her to travel for research.
Robin thought if she created an FBI agent as a character, she could travel to foreign countries, and use the travel for tax write-offs. It's only on TV, though, that the FBI agents have private, glass-enclosed offices, and fly on private planes. But, she decided she wanted to use her forensic art background for books, and base some of the stories on actual cases. Her character, Sydney Fitzpatrick, would do some cases for the FBI, and some local cases.
Burcell started doing forensic art in 1986 or 87. She was a police officer, and had done cartoons at the office, and her boss mentioned there was training available by the FBI at Quantico for a forensics artist. It takes artists 2 1/2 to 3 hours per drawing. They're asking a victim to relive the crime as the artist takes them back through the crime. Face of a Killer is about that process. Before departments had forensic artists, they would use an IdentiKit. Cops called it the Mr. Potato Head Case, because they would add or subtract features.
Robin said artistic ability runs in her family. Her grandmother was an artist; her mother was an artist; and, now, she is.
According to Burcell, the drawings are not used for identification purposes. They are used for elimination purposes. They can't say, this is the man in the drawing. But, if the drawing shows a thin face with a mustache, that eliminates men with full faces, and, possibly, men without facial hair. She showed us some of her drawings, while discussing the cases that were involved.
In answer to questions, Robin said it is difficult to ask victims questions, and talk them through the drawings. It's emotionally draining for the artist. Hypnosis is not used, and it's not allowed in court. She said she was also the department's fingerprint expert since it was a small department. She also told us a lot of police work is serendipity. She had done a sketch based on a victim's description. And a cop walked back into the jail, and said, there's a guy back there that looks like your sketch. At the time, when fingerprints were taken, they only took the thumb and three fingers, not taking the pinky. But, the perpetrator in this particular case had left the fingerprint of a pinky. So, Burcell went back into the jail, took the guy's fingerprints, and the pinky prints matched. He was found because a cop walked back there, and thought the guy looked familiar.