October 22, 2012 by msashtonwriter
In addition to his current investigative assignment, Ken is also an active Forensic Artist, providing police agencies with composite sketches, post-mortem and age-enhancement drawings, and skull reconstructions.
Q. Is law enforcement something that you’ve always wanted to do?
A. It is something that has always fascinated me, especially when I realized as a high school graduate that college wasn’t in my immediate future–my father was a factory worker at a local auto plant and we couldn’t afford it. But through persistence, I set my goals on a career in law enforcement and then pursued my educational goals later.
Q. How did you discover your side of forensic artistry?
A. I’ve always been right brained and art/music was my favorite classes in school. My forensic artistry was discovered by my Lieutenant after seeing the Marilyn Monroe portrait hanging on our Office Assistant’s wall.
Q. What is facial reconstruction?
A. We use facial reconstruction to recreate a face on a known bone structure in an effort to identify the subject. Through our art skills, and known anatomical information, art and science collide to help the artist and anthropologist recreate an accurate representation of the skulls facial features.
Q. Would it be correct to say that facial reconstruction is part science and part art?
Q. Please explain what’s all involved during this process? What are the steps taken?
A. The process is quite tedious, but first begins with the recovery and cleaning of the skull. Any leftover tissue is removed and the surface cleaned so as to apply tissue depth markers to specific landmarks on the skull. These tissue depth markers come from numerous studies on cadavers.
Once the tissue depth markers are applied, the artist begins applying clay to the mounted skull, reaching the top of the tissue markers. The eyes, nose and mouth are specific features that are measured in based on known anatomical information provided by science.
Using a variety of measuring tools, the artist sculpts the features, taking frequent measurements to insure the feature’s accuracy. As for the ears, the artist uses a rule of average to create ‘average’ ears, as there are no scientific calculations to aid us in determining how the ear should be developed. As for the hair, evidence from the scene (i.e. a hair mat left behind from the decaying body) tells us a lot about the hair length, thickness, and color. And from that information we sculpt the hair, though some artists do use wigs to create a more realistic representation.
Q. With each skull, do you find yourself needing to connect with it mentally before you can proceed?
A. No – the landscape of the skull speaks volumes to you. In fact, we forensic artists often say that “bones don’t lie.” This is because the landscape of the skull is all telling about the layout of the facial features.
Q. What about the estimation of body fat? Can errors affect the model?
A. With a simple skeleton it’s hard to estimate body fat. However, with evidence left behind (i.e. clothing) we can look at the size and estimate if the individual was overweight or such. The thing to keep in mind is that not everyone wears their clothing the same. Some prefer baggy clothes, while others prefer a more snug fit. So there is no true accuracy.
Q. What are sketches drawn from?
A. We usually sit down with a witness who uses a facial feature catalog to pick out the traits and characteristics.
Q. Is a sketch presumed to be better than a mug shot at times?
A. A sketch is an image that is meant to represent the recollection of the witness. We have had witnesses who were so on point with the facial features that it strongly resembled mug shots of suspects.
Q. What type of effect does a sketch have on a witness?
A. It depends on the crime. I’ve had rape victims’ break down and cry “that’s him,” whereas victims of a property crime briefly mention that the sketch strongly resembles the suspect as recalled.
Q. During your career, have you had a case that was unforgettable?
A. I have two homicide cases that gnaw at me. Both were shootings where I was able to develop enough information to figure out who the shooter was, but did not have enough information to charge the case and get it into court.
Q. You have written two books. One titled Walking Among the Dead and your second book, Standing in Death’s Shadow was just released this month. Tell us a bit about them.
A. Walking Among the Dead is my debut true crime book that captures actual cases I worked as a homicide detective in the State of Maryland. Though it was self-published, it has captured the attention of some prominent people in the literary world, to include Chris O’Byrne, the founder of Red Willow Digital Press. I was invited to sign on as an author with Red Willow in 2011 and we just released my second book, Standing In Death’s Shadow. This book continues telling of my homicide experiences, true crime written like a novel, which allowed me to immerse the reader right into the action as it truly unfolds in such an investigation.
Q. Do you plan on writing another book?
A. Yes, I’m working on the last of the homicide series trilogy, Death Comes Uninvited, which will sum up my homicide experiences. Following that book, I have been working on outlining a crime novel series that will be based in Baltimore–and I’m quite anxious to start working on those projects. Finally, being a history buff, I haven’t ruled out the possibility of a historical romance.
For more on Mr. Lang, please visit his website at http://kenlang.weebly.com/