A Tale of Murder, Obsession and Forensic Artistry
by Ted Botha
I first saw this book at the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia. It is an amazing and true account of how a young aspiring artist in Philadelphia is asked to recreate a face from a human skull and thus embarks on an yet unknown field of forensic science. Frank Bender worked to reconstruct the faces of many human remains and in so doing, gave closure to many families.
Often unpaid for his work, sculpting the busts of these victims became a passion and obsession to him. He barely made a living, though and relied on his wife Jan to help support them and enable him to continue his work.
As he scuplted the faces, they came to have defining characteristics and he named them accordingly. This young man was found buried in a cornfield so he was aptly called the “Man in the Cornfield. Frank’s work led ot the identification of hte missing young man and the arrest of his murderer even 12 years after the crime!
When a series of murders of young women began in Juarez, Frank wa called to Mexico to try to help identify the victims. Many young women were murdered and their bodies abandoned. The police were heavily criticized for not making enough effort to apprehend the murderers and so they brought in Frank as a token gesture.
Frank felt in danger all the time he was in Mexico and distrusted the police he worked with. Nevertheless, he worked diligently to recreate the faces of five young women. He went so far as to find the families of missing girls and talk to them. As a result, some of these women were identified but the murders remain unsolved to this day, some believing them to be related to the drug cartels.
In a field yet unknown, Frank became a pioneer and made a great contribution to the forensic science.The book honestly portrays the man and his private life, the relationships with his wife and the others he worked with. I found it an engrossing and highly interesting story!