How Police Sketches Work

© Bettmann/CORBIS

Creating composite drawings of suspected criminals from eyewitness accounts has been around since a Frenchman introduced it in the 19th century. Despite the introduction of new techniques and software it hasn't changed all that much.

Narrator: Welcome to Stuff You Should Know from Josh Clark: Chuck, Chuck, Chuck before we get started we should tell everybody we have a brand-new animated web series. It's awesome. Chuck Bryant: Yeah, they're animated shorts by this dude that was a fan, started out as a fan, Nick Shown, and said, "Hey, I'd like to do this for you." And we hired him and he's done ten episodes. Josh Clark: Dude he's amazing. Chuck Bryant: He's really very cool actually. Josh Clark: He's one of the most astute animators I've ever seen in my entire life. Like he, just little pauses and things like that, that I wouldn't have noticed we did, he totally gets and then just exaggerates through animation. It's pretty amazing stuff. Chuck Bryant: Yeah, and the reaction to these so far have been great. People seem to really like them and so we want to get the word out on the podcast. Just go to and click on the videos tab and then you're going to see one. And they're going to release one each Monday for the next ten weeks. And it's pretty awesome. I think you'll enjoy it. Josh Clark: And hopefully it'll keep going on longer than 10 weeks too if Shown's arm doesn't give out. Well thanks a lot to Nick Shown for the just amazing animated series he's delivered to us and thank you in advance for watching it at Chuck Bryant: Yeah, share it with some friends. Josh Clark: Yeah. What's your problem? Chuck Bryant: All right, ready? Josh Clark: Yeah. Hey and welcome to the podcast. I'm Josh Clark, there's Charles W, (Chuck) Bryant. He's not in the best mood today. Chuck Bryant: He just ruined my mind like - Josh Clark: You're tumpy today. Chuck Bryant: Ten seconds before we recorded. I was headed in a good direction. Josh Clark: I didn't ruin your mood. Chuck Bryant: You reminded me of some task that we have to do tomorrow. Like, why couldn't you have just waited until after we recorded to say those words? Josh Clark: just because. Chuck Bryant: All right, that's okay. Josh Clark: I like, I wanted to get it off my chest. Chuck Bryant: That's Thursday and you know what? Today is Tuesday. Josh Clark: You're going to be mad until then? Chuck Bryant: No, I'm saying I'm going to put off being mad again until Thursday. Josh Clark: Oh good. Put on a sunshine face, smiling. Chuck Bryant: I'm back, it's kind of hard in the serial killer lair but - Josh Clark: God I hate this place. I hate this place. I'm going to use every bit of power that I have, which is not much around here - Chuck Bryant: Let me know how that works out. Josh Clark: Get this changed. At the very least can we turn the overhead fluorescent lights on? Chuck Bryant: No, we don't want that on. Josh Clark: Does it not work? Chuck Bryant: No, we don't want that on. Josh Clark: Are you sure? Chuck Bryant: I mean what is, that would make it more serial killer light if there was like a buzzing fluorescent. Josh Clark: I disagree; let's see what it looks like. This is nice. All right we'll turn it off. Thanks Casey. Casey is her editor again. Oh yeah that's Chuck and I'm Josh and this is Stuff You Should Know. Chuck Bryant: That may have been our most slapdash ever intro. Josh Clark: No, prepare for that one. Chuck Bryant: Okay. Josh Clark: Are you familiar with a guy named Timothy McVeigh? Chuck Bryant: I do not know him personally but I am familiar with his work. Josh Clark: So in 1995 he rented a truck, a rental truck, packed it full of fertilizer, nitrogen-based explosives and drove it, parked it next to the Alfred P. Murray federal building in Oklahoma City and detonated it and killed 168 people including a bunch of kids at a day care center in the building. Chuck Bryant: Yeah. I remember seeing that as it unfolded. That was one of the few that I was up early when I was living in New Jersey. Josh Clark: Do you remember the view of that building with just the whole side missing? Chuck Bryant: Oh man, horrific. Josh Clark: It was horrific because, I mean this was pre-2001 and this was at a time when it was like terrorism happens in Beirut. Just don't fly a plane from Germany to Beirut and you're going to be fine if you're in America. This was weird. I mean like it was after the World Trade Center bombing, the first one, but that one hadn't gone very well and I remember, I think America felt a little cocky. Chuck Bryant: This was the first big homeland incident that kind of shocked everyone I think. Josh Clark: Yeah. So Timothy McVeigh got away. It wasn't even a suicide bombing right? He got away. Within two hours he happened to be pulled over for a traffic violation and the cops said, "You seem a little hanky skinny. Let me search your car." And found some weapons and said, "Are these, do you have registration for these?" And I'm sure Timothy McVeigh said some crazy thing like, "I don't, I don't, see I don't bow to your authority, pig," or something like that and the cops said, "Well you're coming with me." Chuck Bryant: Just on suspicion of those things. Josh Clark: Totally accidental. It was totally happenstance as Conger put it in this article that he was pulled over, but he was ultimately found out as the guy who blew up the federal building in Oklahoma City, because while he was in police custody after being pulled over, a police sketch came across the wire and this police, I guess the Highway Patrol looked at it and said, "You know what? This looks a lot like our guy," and in fact it was and this police sketch helped catch the Oklahoma City bomber. Chuck Bryant: Yeah, have you seen it? Josh Clark: Who was ultimately executed? Chuck Bryant: Have you seen the sketch? Josh Clark: It's in the article and actually like - Chuck Bryant: It's pretty good. Josh Clark: It is. At first glance it's like that's not that great and then when you really start to look at it feature by feature it's pretty close, except maybe two things that should have been changed. Chuck Bryant: Yeah, or when you look at other police sketches, you realize this one falls in the what we'll learn later is a very small percentage, Josh Clark: Yeah, the 9 percent. Chuck Bryant: Those are pretty darn accurate. Josh Clark: Yeah and if you are in the mood for amusement, you can type in "funny police sketches, bizarre police sketches". There are a lot of image galleries out there of just, there's no other way to put it, really bad police sketches and hilariously some of them are in, like it's a photo of the police sketch in a newspaper. Chuck Bryant: Oh really? Josh Clark: So like they made it out and were disseminated. Chuck Bryant: Yeah, well we'll learn there are varying levels of competency and artistic merit when it comes to these so that's probably where you get - did you ever see the one where they did the literary characters? Josh Clark: No. Chuck Bryant: I think they gathered sketch artists to do some of the more famous literary characters based on their book descriptions. Josh Clark: That's awesome. Chuck Bryant: And it was pretty cool. Casey's nodding. Did you see that? It was awesome. It was like a big Internet thing a couple of years ago. Josh Clark: I have not seen it. I would like to. Chuck Bryant: Like what is the Great Gatsby look like in a sketch? Josh Clark: I'm also fond of those ones where they illustrate, like with photorealism a cartoon character. Chuck Bryant: Oh yeah. Josh Clark: Like what they'd look like in real life, like those Beavis and Butt-head sculptures. Chuck Bryant: Those are so creepy. Josh Clark: Aren't they? Chuck Bryant: And I think everyone looked at those and be like, "Wait a minute. I think I knew that guy." Josh Clark: Exactly, yeah. So we shouldn't just lay, we shouldn't start the whole thing out by making fun of police sketches, even though there are some really bad ones. You could have a really genuinely talented artist with a sketchpad in hand and if the eyewitness isn't giving it up well, it's not going to come anywhere close. Chuck Bryant: Yeah exactly. Josh Clark: Ultimately it comes down to the eyewitness. The problem is, as we're going to find out, eyewitnesses are not very reliable and so it's up to the police sketch artist to figure out how to cull information from the eyewitness, that the eyewitness might not even know that they know. Chuck Bryant: The sweet science. Josh Clark: Oh that's boxing. Chuck Bryant: That's right. Josh Clark: I've never understood why it's called sweet or science. It doesn't make any sense either way. Chuck Bryant: I think that's the whole point, is they call it a science to combat the notion - Josh Clark: Brutality. Chuck Bryant: That it's just like two brawling guys. It's like a lot more - Josh Clark: Oh sure there's strategy. Chuck Bryant: Yeah sure. Josh Clark: I like boxing. I'm not a big fan of MMA but I like boxing. Chuck Bryant: Agreed. Josh Clark: Okay, so police sketching has been around for a while. In fact there was a, there is an antidote in here about a guy named Annabelle Karachi, you should say it. Chuck Bryant: Annabel Karachi. Josh Clark: Who was a 16th century painter, a good one too, and as a boy he and his father were attacked by robbers on the road to Carmona and Karachi said, "You know what? I have a secret weapon you don't know about. I'm going to draw you guys." Chuck Bryant: Yeah, my hands. Josh Clark: Yeah, exactly. And he drew the band of robbers and apparently he did such a good job the robbers were immediately identified and the kid got his father's stuff back. Chuck Bryant: Yeah, that's awesome. That's a great story at least. Whether it's true or not? Josh Clark: Right. Modern police sketching came about around the time of Jack the Ripper actually. Chuck Bryant: Oh yeah. I didn't put that together. Josh Clark: There were a lot of police sketches associated with the Jack the Ripper case. And that was actually one of the early, one of the births of forensic police work, which was actually founded by a guy named Alphonse Bertillon. Chuck Bryant: Yes in the 1880s in France obviously cause from Joss's outrageous accent you could tell. So this guy was a criminologist and he started, he became obsessed some say, with notating these physical characteristics of various criminals, and he would measure them and measure their forehead, measure their arms, and ears and just anything. Josh Clark: Their brain pans. Chuck Bryant: Anything that stood out, you know scars, tattoos, and it became known as criminal anthropometry. And in 1884 the police there in France nabbed 241 repeat offenders based on his notations and from that people started saying you know what? It might be good to start noting what these people look like and drawing them because that could help us. Josh Clark: Yeah. At first he was just looking to find repeat offenders that kept coming in and out because this was prior to fingerprinting being a reliable technique. But eventually, like yeah people started to think, "Hmm, maybe we should start using this one particular thing called sketching, police sketching to create an image of a suspect." Chuck Bryant: Yeah, a lead perhaps. Josh Clark: Exactly, and we mentioned this guy in our crime scene photography episode if you'll remember because he started that as well. Chuck Bryant: Oh yeah? Josh Clark: Yeah. Chuck Bryant: Same guy? Josh Clark: Same guy. Chuck Bryant: Wow, we owe a lot to Alphonse. Josh Clark: Yeah, he was an obsessive Frenchman that we owe a lot to. Chuck Bryant: All right. So a forensic artist these days, it sort of depends on what kind of outfit you're running with. It could, because they point out in here, who is this Connor? Josh Clark: Yeah. Chuck Bryant: Christian points out that if you're in a sort of a small town, it might just be a cop that draws better than the rest of the cops on the force. Josh Clark: Right, exactly. Who is like a patrolman otherwise but is like, "Oh we need somebody to make this sketch." and "Hey, I took some art classes." Chuck Bryant: You can draw that turtle. What is that? Josh Clark: The turtle, the pirate or I can't remember the other thing. Chuck Bryant: What was that anyway? Josh Clark: It was for art, mail in art courses. Chuck Bryant: And you would, if you could draw it really well you send it in and got what like? Josh Clark: Well you sent them some money too and then they would teach you how to draw even better. It was a mail in art course. Chuck Bryant: Oh okay, got you. I always knew it was some sort of a scam probably but I never - Josh Clark: Not necessarily. There is, I'm sure they taught you some techniques. I just remember that as like part of the simpler times you know, like if that was the only scam-y come on. Chuck Bryant: Yeah, that and see monkeys, like that's all you got to worry about. Josh Clark: Hey, those were real. They were brine shrimp and they were alive. They were. Chuck Bryant: Yeah, but they don't have faces and stand around and chat like the little cartoon depicted. Josh Clark: No. Chuck Bryant: Okay, so it might be a patrol officer that can draw really well or a civilian contractor that's qualified. Although I learned there is no official university degree that you can earn. Josh Clark: No, but you can go to - Chuck Bryant: A lot of courses. Josh Clark: You can go to the FBI. They have a training program for forensic art. Chuck Bryant: Yeah, and then a lot of private people teach this kind of thing too. So it could be a private civilian contractor, or it could be a full-time fully employed artist that you have on staff. I guess if you got enough crime going on it might be good to pay that person on a yearly basis instead of like hey, we get a murder once every six months. Like Atlanta probably has their own sketch artists, is what I'm guessing. Josh Clark: I wonder. Chuck Bryant: I'll bet they do, or more than one probably. Josh Clark: Oh I don't know. Chuck Bryant: You don't think? Josh Clark: No. Chuck Bryant: We'll have to look into this. Josh Clark: Yeah, we need to find out. Chuck Bryant: A lot of crime in Atlanta. Josh Clark: So if you are a witness to a crime and you agree to give some eyewitness accounts to a police sketch artist, you're going to find, well it's kind of like the lie detector test a little bit. It can be broken down into three parts. Chuck Bryant: Oh yeah, never thought about that. Josh Clark: And the first part is just like what you will get when you go take a lie detector, that's rapport building, where the police sketch artist is saying like, "Hey, how's it going? How are you feeling? Are you okay? Everything's good? You want some ice cream? Can I get your Coca-Cola? What's going on?" Chuck Bryant: "My name is Dave. This is a pencil and this sketch pad. Don't be alarmed." Josh Clark: Right. "Make yourself comfortable. You can throw those magazines anywhere. Just have a seat. I'm sorry, I'm an artist and these are my cramped quarters." Chuck Bryant: Right. "I'm going to go off and smoke some opium and I'll be right back." Josh Clark: "Let me go get my beret." Chuck Bryant: So that is part one wherein they disarm and make the person feel comfortable. Josh Clark: Yeah, with opium. Chuck Bryant: That's right. That is not true. Then what's the second part called? Josh Clark: That is - Chuck Bryant: Recall. Josh Clark: If it's free recall it's basically like, "Tell me everything you remember about this person." And apparently most eyewitnesses start with the shape of the head or the hair, usually the hair. Chuck Bryant: Sure, that makes sense. Josh Clark: Like if I were to describe you I would be like, "Well he had fantastic hair and a beard." Chuck Bryant: Yeah and they'd - Josh Clark: Draw him. Chuck Bryant: Yeah, they would draw you know Zach Galifianakis. Josh Clark: Yes. Chuck Bryant: He has great hair and a beard. Josh Clark: He does have nice hair doesn't he? Chuck Bryant: Well it's thick, lustrous. Josh Clark: You could call it mane, it's a mane. And the guy would be like, "Really, that's it? The free recalls over?" And you'd be like "Yes." Let's move to part three. Chuck Bryant: But that's a perfect point even though you're kidding around, about why, I bet a lot of times these artists are just like, "Oh, come on man. I'm really trying here but you're not getting me much besides horse face." Josh Clark: And apparently that's what a lot of people say, "Oh he had a horse face." Or "He had bug eyes." Or something like that. And again part of the forensic artists - Chuck Bryant: The sweet science. Josh Clark: Right. Part of their job is to say, "Oh okay. Well I kind of know what they're talking about." And they can't just like draw bug eyes. They know that bug eyes also includes like a certain kind of bridge of the nose and like makes the cheekbones go this way or that. And so if you say bug eyes it can be helpful to, if you're saying it to an experienced forensic artist. Chuck Bryant: Yeah. I mean that's the great skill I guess to draw those things out literally. Josh Clark: Right. And so that's part of free recall where the eyewitness or the victim says, "Here's all the stuff I remember." Buck teeth, claw hand - Chuck Bryant: Club foot. Josh Clark: Wearing like a high lace collar like you'd see on Emily Dickinson or something. Chuck Bryant: Yeah, goiter, disco eye. Josh Clark: And then they say, "Okay. Well I'm glad you came up with all that really mean stuff to say about this perpetrator. But we didn't talk about the mouth. So tell me about the mouth. What did the mouth look like? Did it look like this? Did it look like that?" That's cued recall. Chuck Bryant: Yeah, and they may bring out pictures of other criminals in the database just to see like, did he look like this guy with the big nose or this guy with the big nose? They might pull out celebrities and show them celebrities because I guess - Josh Clark: And the person goes, "That's him." Chuck Bryant: It's Burt Reynolds. Josh Clark: He did this to me. Chuck Bryant: But I guess that can help. I think people operate on those terms in this age of celebrity anyway because when someone says, "What does your friend look like?", like if I'm setting your friend, you would often say, you wouldn't say, "Well he's got a horse face and great cheekbones." You would say, "He looks like Josh Duhomil." cause that's just the way we operate because everyone knows those faces. So it doesn't surprise me that they use that tactic. You know what I'm saying? Josh Clark: I'm with you, yeah man. Chuck Bryant: It's sad but it's the way things are these days. Josh Clark: Well it's part of our, the way we remember things as we'll see eventually. So you've got the interview's kind of done, the cued recall is done and the forensic artist has probably been kind of sketching. Chuck Bryant: It's a work in progress for sure. Josh Clark: Right. But as the work progresses the eyewitness will probably be like, "Oh yeah, it's starting to look like this person but maybe just change this a little bit or change that." And as this kind of fourth part where they're working together to kind of carry out the details, that's when the sketch really starts to pop. That's when they put like the shadow in the eye or something. Chuck Bryant: I'm telling you, "He had a third eye in the center of his four head, I swear to God." All right, so who are these people? Josh Clark: Well again you said that they may or may not be a full-time employee. They may just be like a patrol officer who is good at drawing. Chuck Bryant: Or I guess what are their skills? Like if you're not an artist with a pen you can use things like computers right? Josh Clark: Well yeah sometimes you don't even have to have skills. So in 1959 a company called Townsend Corporation introduced this thing in the United States called Identi-kit. Chuck Bryant: Yeah, still around. Josh Clark: It is still around. Now there's Identi-kit 2000. Chuck Bryant: Yeah, its version 6.0 is what thereon. Josh Clark: So originally Identi-kit was a wooden box that had a bunch of little, I guess plastic like - Chuck Bryant: Snozs. Josh Clark: No. What was it called that you used on the overheard? Chuck Bryant: Oh, like an overhead projector? Josh Clark: Yeah, what were the - Chuck Bryant: The transparencies? Josh Clark: Yes, transparencies and then that transparency would have a certain type of eyebrows and then another transparency would have a certain type of eyes, a certain type of nose and you had this literal toolkit of facial characteristics that anybody, you didn't have to draw anything. Chuck Bryant: So you would just construct a face? Josh Clark: "Did the eyebrows look like this?" "Yes." And then you'd construct a face like that. Chuck Bryant: That's pretty cool. Josh Clark: It is pretty cool but also created some pretty laughable images. And we should say, that is what's called a composite image. It's like a bunch of different stuff fit together. You could also call a composite image if a police sketch artist interviews a bunch of different eyewitnesses and then culls it all together, that's a composite image as well. Chuck Bryant: Boy, I'll bet that's frustrating. You know because people see think so differently. It's like he had a small nose. He had a huge nose. And the guys just, the artist, the lady or the dude is just like, "Oh my God. Is it 5 o'clock?" Josh Clark: Right. "I hate eyewitnesses so much." So you've got Identi-kit. That was the first one. And they've kind of expanded on that ever since then and entered the realm of computer software. And there's basically like division among forensic artists, computer or paper. And a lot of people say, "Why not both man? So for example there is a guy in the NYPD who uses nothing but pencil and paper named Stephen Mancusi. Chuck Bryant: Old school. Josh Clark: Then there is a guy named Roderick Scratcherd, who works for Philly and he basically creates a composite of all, like a computer composite of all the features and then he draws the sketch from that composite. And both of them kind of have in common the idea that a hand-drawn sketch is better than a computer composite and the FBI actually agrees. Chuck Bryant: Yeah. I mean that's, my first question was why would this guy draw it after he's done the computer composite? Because they found there is about a 4 percent greater likelihood of it being accurate when it's hand-drawn. Josh Clark: Yeah. It gives the ability to add more nuances. And apparently computer software is getting better and better at that but you still can't compare to a really good hand-drawn composite sketch. Chuck Bryant: And those numbers are right. Sadly, 9 percent of the time for hand-drawn and 5 percent of the time, do you create what ends up being, in terms of what? Josh Clark: Being accurate, in terms of like producing an image that looks like the suspect. That's recognizable as, "Yeah, that's that person." Chuck Bryant: Yeah, so it's not like they take the percentage on the number of people who, or the number of sketches that it actually led to an apprehension because that's probably way lower even. Josh Clark: That's the only way to create this estimate is by taking a police sketch and then taking a picture of the guy who was eventually caught for this and comparing them. Chuck Bryant: Yeah. They have a good website that I found today that had some of the more famous killers and then their police sketches. And a lot of them are pretty good, you know close. And that's what you're gunning for you know. You can't do a photo real picture of someone because as we're about to learn, people's memories suck. Josh Clark: Right. So like we said, if you have a really great police sketch artist and a really bad eyewitness, you're not going to produce a recognizable sketch. And the reason why eyewitness testimony is so unreliable is basically like what you were talking about earlier. Like when you were saying, like you set your friend up with somebody else and you don't say they have bug eyes or horse face. They look like who? Chuck Bryant: I said Josh Duhamel. And if that's the case ladies, you're in luck. He's hunky. Josh Clark: The reason we do that is because we use what's called recognition memory where we look at someone's face as a whole. We look at the forest rather than the trees. If we were to look at it as the trees, what the eyes look like, what the eyebrows look like, what the nose looks like, what the mouth looks like and broke it down into those component parts that would be recall memory and it would pretty much be perfect. Our recall memory requires like almost no priming. Recognition memory does require priming. So you could say. "Did he look like Brad Pitt?" "Well kind of but he looked like Brad Pitt with Steve Buscemi's eyes." And then the sketch artist goes, "Whoa." Chuck Bryant: Yeah, it's like that Conan O'Brien thing they do if they mated. Josh Clark: Yeah, exactly. That would be a composite sketch. Chuck Bryant: Yeah, and that's why if, like I could see Josh Duhamel walking down the street and my heart would flutter, but if I sat down with a sketch artist and had to describe Josh Duhamel for him to sketch it would probably end up looking more like Josh Clark, which is even hunkier. Josh Clark: Thanks man. But yeah, it probably wouldn't look anything like Josh Duhamel. Chuck Bryant: You know like, I started to think about when I read this, it's like, they used Brad Pitt in the article. Like how would I describe Brad Pitt besides handsome and sort of looks like Robert Redford, a young Redford. Josh Clark: He's starting to a little bit isn't he? Chuck Bryant: I think he always has. Josh Clark: Especially his Benjamin Button. Chuck Bryant: Boy, that movie was sad. Josh Clark: It was good. Chuck Bryant: Did you like it? Josh Clark: Yeah, I liked it. Chuck Bryant: I didn't, I had a hard time with it. Josh Clark: It was very touching. Chuck Bryant: It was touching but the whole time it was just like the inevitable sad conclusion was just looming. Josh Clark: You know what's weird is, that's the second time F. Scott Fitzgerald has come up, cause wrote that short story. Chuck Bryant: Oh really? Josh Clark: Yeah. Chuck Bryant: I don't think I knew that. Josh Clark: One episode, two F. Scott Fitzgerald - Chuck Bryant: What was the first reference? Josh Clark: You said that the Great Gatsby was drawn by a police sketch artist. Chuck Bryant: Oh, look at that. Josh Clark: See I told you I'm paying attention. That time you took me to the side and you said, "You need to pay attention while we're podcasting." Chuck Bryant: That is certainly not true. Josh Clark: I said, "I am." And I just proved it. Chuck Bryant: Okay, we can put that one to rest. Josh Clark: So we were talking about memory right? Chuck Bryant: Yeah, and how it stinks for the most part if you are a, well it stinks in general but especially if you are the victim of a crime. Josh Clark: Right, that's a good point I think you should make it. Chuck Bryant: Well, you're stressed, it happens very fast. You're probably not thinking, "All right I got a get a good look at this perpetrator's face and features." Josh Clark: And have you ever noticed on like a convenience store, if you look at the doorframe inside it will say like four, five, six, seven. Chuck Bryant: Oh really? Josh Clark: You know what that's for? Chuck Bryant: Well I do now but I never knew it existed. Josh Clark: That's exactly what it's for, is for when a perpetrator runs out, the person can just very easily, at the very least get the guys height. Chuck Bryant: Well now every convenience store robber is just going to like get small as they exit. Josh Clark: I guess so. Or jump out the door. Chuck Bryant: He's between four and seven feet tall. Josh Clark: Right. Chuck Bryant: Huh. That's a great tidbit. Josh Clark: But yeah, if you are the victim of a crime you're not going to recall it very accurately and one of the reasons also as Conger points out, that to create a long-term memory, it has to undergo consolidation, which means we have to file it away and the neural pathways that that memory follows have to basically be strengthened over and over again and that requires thinking about that person which you might not want to do. So a strong memory may never be created which means that the eyewitness account may be flawed from the start. It might not even be there. Chuck Bryant: Yeah, that's a good point. Josh Clark: If it is there, it's also subject to a lot of infiltration by unreal memories, like there's some work that's going on, like they used to think that once a memory was consolidated it was done. Apparently they got it came up with that won the Nobel Prize for it. They've recently proven or shown that that's probably not the case. That every time we remember something, we're actually taking all of its constituent parts from the different parts of our brain where it's stored and putting it back together. And when we do that, it's subject to infiltration. So like if you are a victim of a bank robbery and you're remembering the bank robbery, you may also inadvertently remember a scene from a movie about a bank robbery and that detail might enter and become part of what you think is the actual event that you witnessed. That's a big problem with eyewitness testimony is our recall is very flawed. Chuck Bryant: You know the other problem is just eyesight being poor, is one of the fundamental basics. I wrote another article called Why Are Eyewitnesses Unreliable and they did a study at the University of Virginia and it's not surprising. They found that participants over the age of 60 performed much worse than younger people, but what's scary is the older eyewitnesses were more adamant than the younger ones. So like they would have the face wrong but be like super adamant, "That was what he looked like. I swear." Josh Clark: "I never forget a face." Chuck Bryant: Yeah, exactly. This sounds like something some old guy would say. And then they did some testing with eyewitnesses and they found that even if you have good eyesight, just 10 feet away you may not be able to tell what color a person's eyes are. From 200 feet away the eyes themselves are just a blur. At 500 feet you probably won't be able to recognize any facial features at all. And if that sounds like, you know, big D 500 feet away? There have been convictions of 500 feet away eyewitness accounts based on that, convictions based on that. So it's pretty scary. Josh Clark: Yeah, what about 12 Angry Men? Good move. Chuck Bryant: Yeah, it's a great movie. Josh Clark: They've come up with this thing called DNA phenotyping that actually is showing a little bit of promise, at least in theory. If a suspect leaves behind some sort of usable DNA of some sort, you can test it and you can say, oh well the suspect has brown hair, brown eyes and is probably - Chuck Bryant: Caucasian. Josh Clark: Right. So at the very least you have that set and then if you could add to that eyewitness testimony. Chuck Bryant: That's a good one two punch I think. Josh Clark: Yeah but it's still in its infancy. Chuck Bryant: So we talked about sketching criminals. There are other things if you're a forensic artist that you do that you probably don't think about a lot but you see a lot. Like for instance this child was abducted when they were six and here is what they might look like today at 16, so advancing - or a criminal who has been on the lam for 15 years. Josh Clark: On the lam. Chuck Bryant: Or here's what they might look like with a beard. It's believed that they've grown out their hair and this is what they might look like now. Josh Clark: Here's what they might look like as a clown. Chuck Bryant: Yeah, exactly. Here's what they might look like as a clown under your bed. So that's called age progressed imagery and then they have reconstructive imagery when you have an unidentified body that's decayed quite a bit. And sometimes it will be sculpture even that will try and put together what the person looked like. Josh Clark: That amazes me. Chuck Bryant: Yeah, it's so cool. Josh Clark: And I've never figured out how they know where to put the points, you know the little point that stick off of the skull that they use as like a guide, a structure for the putty? Chuck Bryant: Yeah. Josh Clark: How do they figure out how long it should be? Where it should be? I guess it's just a decision by the artist. Chuck Bryant: Yeah. Or was this person really fat? Because your skull wouldn't be any different you know? Josh Clark: It just blows me away man. Chuck Bryant: I bet there's a lot they know as far, I bet it's not just like surmising. Josh Clark: And they're not selling. Chuck Bryant: No, you could probably find out. Take one of these courses. Josh Clark: Oh, and then there's also ones where they basically touch-up photos of really gruesome dead bodies if they need to show the public something. Chuck, if only 9 percent of hand-drawn police sketches are recognizable as the actual suspect and even fewer computer generated sketches are, what's the point of police sketching? Chuck Bryant: I was about to say there is no point. But there is a point because what it does is, like I said it provides a lead. It publicizes the crime. It gets a face out there. Even if it's, and this is me talking here, even if it's only 9 percent accurate, it's probably not so inaccurate that you know it's probably in the wheelhouse as far as some features of like this is a white guy who had dark hair and bug eyes so at least that puts you in the wheelhouse in most cases I would say. Josh Clark: So also if the witnesses all agree, "Oh yeah he had a huge scar across his face." Chuck Bryant: Well that helps. Josh Clark: Just seeing that in print, the suspect has a scar across his face, might not do the same as seeing it even just on a rudimentary drawing of the scar and maybe the direction it's going in, maybe how long it is. That's going to help tremendously as well because you know we're visual creatures. Chuck Bryant: That is certainly true. So I did look up a little bit of this schooling and there are all kinds of courses. That one guy, the pencil and paper guy, Mancusi, I think he has his own website, it's very outdated but he teaches courses. So if you're listening out there you should update your website. You might get a little more, boy what was not one website we went to? Oh it was the cryogenics one remember? Josh Clark: Oh yeah. Chuck Bryant: Yeah, that was one of the worst websites I've ever seen. Josh Clark: It was pretty bad. Chuck Bryant: But this lady, Karen Taylor is a forensic artist and she says that besides the FBI there are all kinds of courses you can take. You probably should have some artistic merit to go into it. Otherwise why would you even be interested in it to begin with? And it can involve sculpting, model making, computer graphics, animation even. So they're doing all sorts of stuff. You can work with anthropologists and dental specialists and other forensic scientists. It's like a team effort sometimes. Josh Clark: Yeah, you know that, you mentioned animation. You know those Chinese, I guess state television news where they do like The CGI recreations of big news stories? Chuck Bryant: Oh I haven't seen that. Josh Clark: Yeah. They did one remember - Chuck Bryant: It was like anime or -? Josh Clark: No. It's almost like instruction manual art. Chuck Bryant: Oh right. Josh Clark: But they, anime? Chuck Bryant: That would be awesome. Josh Clark: They did one for that steward, the sky steward, the flight attendant guy who told everybody go to hell and then grabbed two beers and slid down the chute Stephen something remember him? Chuck Oh yeah, uh huh. Josh Clark: They did one for that for some reason. Normally it's like crimes that they do it to but they did it for that one. Chuck Bryant: That's weird. Josh Clark: But I imagine you would be a forensic artist in that sense cause you're just taking a recounting of the episode and drawing it. Chuck Bryant: Yeah. Hey do you ever make note when you see something you think might be shady going on? Josh Clark: Yes, especially license plates. Chuck Bryant: Yeah, I do that. I do license plates and I look at people and think, "This guy look shady and I'm just going to take an extra glance and notice that he's tall and has long blonde hair and a horse face." Josh Clark: Shaun White? Chuck Bryant: It's never, but you never know. I think you should, you owe it to the world to be like a vigilant citizen. Josh Clark: And to know CPR. Don't be a dummy. Chuck Bryant: Yeah, that's true. Josh Clark: Let's see, you got anything else? Chuck Bryant: No sir. Josh Clark: Davie Cooper, great police sketch. Who knows if that's what he looks like though? Chuck Bryant: Unabomber eh. Josh Clark: Yeah, they didn't give them much to go on though. Chuck Bryant: Anybody with a hoody and sunglasses pretty much. Josh Clark: Which anybody who wears a hoody and sunglasses now looks like the Unabomber. Chuck Bryant: Yeah, they got the nose wrong though big time. Josh Clark: And his hair, he had like a Jheri curl in it, like a perm. Chuck Bryant: Yeah. His nose, the real Unabomber's was like really bulbous and this nose was just, you know was a nice nose. Josh Clark: Anything else? Chuck Bryant: No. Josh Clark: Okay. That's police sketches. You can type those words into the search bar at It will bring up this great article and you could see some police sketches in it including the one of Timothy McVeigh with a photo of him side-by-side. And I said search bar in there somewhere so it's time for a word from our sponsor. Chuck, you know meetings are essential to the way we work. You know this. Chuck Bryant: No kidding. Josh Clark: They give us an opportunity to share ideas, problem solve, develop creative solutions. Chuck Bryant: Which is what we're all about. But Josh if you and I were not in the same place, which you know it happens a lot. All we have to do is go to GoToMeeting with HD faces, hook it up, a little web cam, a little clicking on a link and then you and I are like looking at each other like we're in the same room. Josh Clark: Instantly connected to our team, which is us and Jerry. And we're sharing the same screen to collaborate documents online. I can give you the power to type on my computer, crazy and the whole time we're seeing each other face-to-face in HD. Chuck Bryant: That's true and now dude, they have apps so you can use this on your iPad, which is very convenient. Josh Clark: Yeah, your phone, your tablet wherever. All right so we want to tell everyone to visit There is an offer there free for 30 days, you can try GoToMeeting. Chuck Bryant: Yeah, and hey if nothing else it's kind of fun to play around with. And if you have a long-distance relationship you can just connect there and write each other documents, love letters. So try it free button is there at, promotional code Stuff, S-T-U-F-F and you will be chatting it up in HD real-time in no time. Josh Clark: That's, promo code S-T-U-F-F. All right now listener mail. Chuck Bryant: Josh, I'm going to call this we laughed, he cried. My name is Luke. I'm currently a junior at Grand Valley State. I'm a bottle deposit broke student, which I guess that's a term for when you turn in glass bottles for five cents. Josh Clark: I guess so. Chuck Bryant: So I guess he's also in the 1950's. About 97 percent of the time I'm broke. Because of this I got a job at the beginning of the school year making hunting knives and I just want to thank you both for giving me eight stitches and a trip to the emergency room. I always have the iPod preloaded with a variety of Stuff You Should Know episodes so I'm prepared for any situation of sheer boredom. It was while I was listening to Why Does Music Provoke Emotion that Joss made me laugh so hard I was sent to the ER. Josh Clark: Oh wow that's really something. Chuck Bryant: 33 minutes and 42 seconds into the episode Chuck, you had just officially introduced Ben Sollee to the audience, our musical guess - I was sitting on the bench using a belt sander to sharpen blades when Ben said, "All right, well I can't wait to hear what y'all have been talking about then." Chuck managed to keep it cool but Josh loses it and starts immediately laughing hysterically. I don't remember that. I guess because we did it in two parts and it was clearly faked and you just couldn't keep it together. I don't remember that though. Like always Josh, your laughter triggered my own laugh and I was laughing so hard that my left knee jerked up to my chest only to be socked by the belt sander. Josh Clark: Oh man. Chuck Bryant: Caught my lower thigh and sanded a hole so big in my leg you could see the muscle and the meat. This is your fault dude. I never admitted to my employer that it was you guys who made me laugh so hard but a trip to the ER and eight stitches later I still can't listen to the clip without laughing out loud. Really love the show. No hard feelings at all. A trip to the ER is good for a person every now and again. I disagree by the way. I think you should really never, ever do that. Josh Clark: Yeah, that's a terrible philosophy. Chuck Bryant: Yeah. And my parents aren't too happy about the hospital bill but what's done is done. Josh Clark: Well thanks for covering for us. Chuck Bryant: Keep up the good work and if you feel a desire I would not deny a free T-shirt. That is from Luke Newman and if we can dig up a T-shirt Luke I'll send it to you cause - Josh Clark: You can find them on Discovery Store but they ain't free. Chuck Bryant: I might try and dig one up for this kid. Josh Clark: That is very nice and pretty funny. Chuck Bryant: But he was legitimately injured because of our actions. Josh Clark: Yeah, thanks again for covering for us Luke and thanks for writing in. We're glad you're okay. Seriously we do think you should reconsider your trip to the ER every once in a while as a good thing idea though. Let's see, if you want to let us know how we've made you injure yourself, in a lighthearted way. Chuck Bryant: I hope there are not a lot of those stories. Josh Clark: I would hope not. You can tweet to us at SYSKPodcast. You can join us on You can email us at And visit us at our website Narrator: For more on this and thousands of other topics, visit [End of Audio] Duration: 40 minutes

Topics in this Podcast: crime, forensic science