It is not usual for Austin homicide detectives to identify a dead person in just a few hours. However, that is exactly what happened after the unit used forensic technology for the first time.
Recently a forensic artist digitally altered a picture of a deceased man. The artist enhanced the photo by opening the man’s eyes, closing his mouth, and adding a shirt. As a result, police could release a photo of the then unidentified man to the public.
Austin Police Homicide Detective Chris Symth credits the picture with solving the unidentified person's case overnight.
"I was impressed,” Smyth said.
The digital enhancement was done by DPS forensic artist, Jorge Molina.
“Technology is very helpful but its only a tool that we employ,” Molina said.
Molina showed FOX 7 more examples of digital enhancements such as changing hairstyles, aging people, and even cleaning up clothes. It’s a technique that helps give authorities the best image possible.
“The computer is not an automated system that will spit out a likeness of that skull or that morgue photo, we have to interpret it,” Molina said.
Molina joined fellow forensic artist, Suzanne Lowe, earlier this year. Since they serve the entire state, there's a backlog of several dozen cases. Lowe says she is seeing a big increase because law enforcement and medical examiners' offices are pulling out their cold cases.
There are some 900 unidentified bodies reported from across the state.
Sketches and 3D facial reconstructions require research to determine gender, race, age, and other biological details. Real prosthetic eyes and clay are used.
Real skulls are used for each and every facial reconstruction. Once they are done, forensic photographers will document this and take a couple of dozen pictures before they're sent back to each investigative agency.
DPS has had image verification or facial recognition software since 2006. It's used to see if the unidentified fits the description of Texas driver’s licenses.
Thanks to Molina's work, APD homicide detective Smyth was able to identify Anthony Williams and notify his family. His first experience with the forensic technology proved successful and the homicide unit will use it again, if needed.
Molina also says he plans to work toward making 3D computerized facial reconstructions a reality.