Forensic Artist Gives Unidentified Bones a Face

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - Right now, there are more than 100 unidentified persons cases in Arkansas. That's more than 100 families that are missing a loved one.
 
Even though some missing persons' remains may have been found, they have yet to be claimed.
 
One native Arkansan is doing her part to give a name to the nameless.
 
With the help of law enforcement, she's doing just that. She is giving those unidentified bones a face - making them more than just bones.
 
"When you're a kid, you draw whatever is around you and, of course, as a young girl I loved horses," Forensic Artist P.J. Puterbaugh said.
 
P.J. grew up in Huntsville, Arkansas, learning to draw as a teen.
 
"I moved to California and I continued art in school and went to college as a studio artist, so a representational painter," P.J. said.
 
Nowadays, P.J. spends her time painting portraits...
 
"This is my second oldest son," She says, of one of her paintings.
 
And while most of her subjects are living...
 
"He's the only one child I haven't done a portrait of yet."
 
Several others are not...
 
"Everybody needs to be known," P.J. said.
 
Which is why, in her free time, P.J. volunteers for The Arkansas State Crime Lab.
 
"I just thought, 'I have these skills, this is a gift,' and instead of my gift being in general about art this is one way I can give back," P.J. said.
 
In many cases where bodies are found, the State Crime Lab can use DNA, finger prints, or some other way to identify them. But in other cases, it's not as simple.
 
That's where PJ comes in.
 
When bones come into the Crime Lab, Executive Director Kermit Channel makes a call to PJ.
 
"She can take it from there and do her artistic rendition of what that person would probably look like," Channel said, of P.J. 
 
"You're always going back to these charts of estimations of tissue depth. You can't be artistic with this. It has to be exactly according to these numbers," P.J. said.
 
So when bones come in, after taking measurements and abiding by the forensic rules, P.J. turns them into a painting of who it might be.
 
"If someone out there would recognize this individual, it would be a huge step in solving this case which is a homicide," Channel said.
 
"She was found approximately in this area behind the house up next to the house," LRPD Lt. Dana Jackson said.
 
Lt. Jackson says the woman P.J. painted is the woman they found in a lot on Reservoir Road in August 2002, with a bullet hole straight through her head.
 
But now, almost 15 years later, Lt. Jackson is hopeful P.J.'s work will help crack the case open.
 
"It's a big deal for us, and a change to get it in the public's eye again and maybe get some information to solve the case and figure out who this young lady is," Lt. Jackson said.
 
"That's the truth of the matter," P.J. said. "It's a community effort because I could do a sculpture or drawing of someone and it could look exactly like them, but if the right people don't see it, then its not going to help."
 
P.J. currently lives more than 1,600 miles away, but says this is her way of giving back to her home state - all for free.
 
"When you grow up in a small town, I mean I grew up in a town of 1000, there's a special bond of people. Small towns are really great," P.J. said, through tears.
 
As P.J. gets back to her easel, she says while some of the cases she works on are old, she feels like she's refreshing these people, giving them another chance to be buried with a name.
 
"Everyone should be identified. It's tone of those unalienable rights that came before the constitution," P.J. said.
 
Click here to see some of P.J.'s paintings. Take a good look... If you know who these people are, call your police department and they can get you in touch with the right people.

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