Examples of extremely accurate police artists's sketches/composites

Since I first saw it, I have been amazed at the uncanny resemblance between the police composite sketch of Paul Bernardo and his actual appearance around that time. In fact, on the basis of that sketch, a number of people told the police to check Bernardo out (which they did, but let him go). (For those unfamiliar with Bernardo and his crimes, here is a link to one of many articles about him).

Recently, I stumbled upon the composite sketch of Timothy McVeigh that was put out by the FBI soon after the Oklahoma City bombing. It, too, was uncanny in its resemblance to the real thing.

Does anyone have any more examples where the police sketches were so close to the real thing? Even better, do you know of a site where there’s a collection of such sketches, i.e. impressively accurate ones? (Here’s one such site* but some, and maybe even most, of the sketches there seem to have been drawn based on mugshots which is not what I’m interested in). (*note that its content is identical to many other sites featuring super-accurate police sketches)

I don’t know what is up with that Timothy McVeigh sketch. It looks like it has a couple of birth defects going on. The top of the head is way too flat and then there are those weird lobes of hanging skin below his mouth. Even if I knew Timothy McVeigh personally, I wouldn’t have made the association between the person and the sketch because the artist appears to have skipped a couple of basic anatomy classes.

I agree that most composite sketches are comically bad. The Unabomber sketch was one of the most high profile sketches ever released and it doesn’t match real-life Ted Kaczinski at all other than the fact that they are both white dudes.

There are some fairly severe flaws with the sketch idea although I suppose it can be better than nothing as long as it isn’t completely misleading. Most people can’t remember faces that they were exposed to briefly or in stressful situations well at all. Even if they know exactly what someone looks like, they probably still don’t have the artistic training and language to be able to describe it to the sketch artist. The sketch artist him or herself may also misunderstand what is being communicated or may not be that talented an artist to begin with. It is like asking a musician to play a unique piece that you only heard once and only have a vague idea of what it sounds like and no musical training yourself.

That, and all the main defining features of a person are hidden behind giant aviator glasses and a hood. About all I can get from that sketch is that we’re looking for a white guy with a mustache and a defined chin (which he does not appear to have IRL, or at least it’s all covered in a beard. Regardless, it looks much broader IRL than in the sketch.)

I strongly disagree. I feel this could serve as an example of bad sketch artistry.

*The sketch has a triangular head. McVeigh has an oval head.
*The sketch has a straight chin. McVeigh has a pointed chin.
*The sketch’s nose and mouth are too low on his face.
*The sketch has some weird jowls which McVeigh didn’t have.
*The sketch has a much higher hairline than McVeigh had.
*The sketch’s eyebrows slant down from the center. McVeigh’s eyebrows slant upwards.
*McVeigh has very distinctive ears which widen at the bottom. The sketch totally missed this.

I disagree - the eyes, nose, and brush cut are spot on. I’d say that the general shape of the face (especially the important midface) was also accurate. And, FWIW (at least according to the Wiki article), McVeigh was quickly identified on the basis of that sketch.

What got me was that, at the time that Kazinsky was caught, all of the news sources were cutting back and forth between the sketch and the mugshot and raving about how similar they looked.

Oh dear…


Assuming that wasn’t faked (cuz it’s hilarious as hell), you got to wonder if the police brought him in for questioning.

When Ann Rule first saw the “Ted” sketch, she noticed the resemblance to her friend Ted Bundy. And she knew he had a gold VW bug, just like “Ted.”

Well while doing a google search for that photo several different versions came up that appeared to have been photographed directly from different televisions, so I imagine it was a genuine recording. I would love to know his reaction when it was brought to his attention!

Probably not much of a reaction. I once saw a wanted poster giving a description of a rapist that matched me in every detail, but it also matched approximately 8000 other men in my town in the same details. I did briefly wonder why the police were even bothering with such a vague description, but it didn’t worry me or anything.

I had a personal experience of this although slightly different than per the OP, and I had nothing to do with the crime. This being in the bad ole days long before computers, cell phone, etc.

I was perhaps 4 years out of college, working construction, and single living in the 1st house I had bought. On a Thursday in the spring there was a horrific crime of two girls abducted by two guys. One was murdered and the other only lived by playing dead. The entire city was horrified and this was the only news on radio, TV and in newspapers once this occurred. The crime happened about a mile from where I worked. I worked late that afternoon and was hearing all the police sirens wondering what was going on.

Friday and Saturday the news was on the health of the surviving girl and finally she was able to talk to police.

On Sunday I go out to get the Sunday paper and there, above the fold, is the police sketch of the two perps. One of them was a dead ringer for me. Uncanny how accurate the police drawing was to how I looked at that time. I was so alarmed I sat down right then and wrote out in long hand everything I did the previous Thursday the best as I could recall. Started in the morning and I recorded everything I did, who I talked with, every phone call I made, every stop I made. It was three or four pages by the time I was done.

As it turned out they knew on Sunday who the perps were and picked them up in the middle of the week. They were both found guilty and still in prison the last I knew.

Many folks commented to me how I was the 1st person they thought of when they saw those polices sketches, including both my parents.

Wouldn’t a “great” police sketch be as much a testament to witness menory as artistic ability?

It was three days later and he had sat in jail on some other charge, iirc. And, it doesn’t look like McVeigh. It looks more like a doctor that I know, who doesn’t look anything like McVeigh. ’

That’s the kind of thing that amuses me. At a local university, there is a guy who ‘rebuilds’ faces onto skulls. His work was in the news fairly often about 20-30 years ago, and all of them looked eerily similar, and nothing like the face of the victims. They looked,each time, rather, like a shaved monkey with a confused look on his face. When the body of the missing person turned up, people were getting goose bumps over the uncanny accuracy of the model, and shook their heads at the marvels of science.

I’m sure you could find a few examples where the sketches looked exactly like the person. Heck, even a broken clock is right twice a day.

I heard about an experiment a few years ago where they had volunteers sit down with police sketch artists and (unbeknownst to the artist) describe famous people, such as Tom Hanks. Then they showed the sketches to random people on the street and asked them if they recognized the person. The success rate was something like 4%. Sorry I don’t have a cite.

When you consider the situation of trying to describe someone you’ve only seen for a few seconds, it’s hard to imagine how the success rate would be better than what you get from describing celebrities. But hey, if you have 1,000 crime victims describe 1,000 criminals, it’s inevitable that 5 or 10 of those sketches will end up actually looking very much like the criminal. All you have to do is ignore the 900+ sketches that are totally worthless.

Just like those “psychological profiles” most of them are wrong. ted Kyzinski’s was comical-despitr being drafted by a psychiatrist, almost nothing in the profile was correct.

Google for the sketches police had of the Son of Sam shooter in New York in the late Seventies.

Early AND late sketches were absurdly off the mark and looked nothing like David Berkowitz.

Sketches are essentially useless, as others have said. But there’s an alternative that appears to be actually useful (though I’m sure they need to do studies to be sure).

The witness sits in front of a computer that has thousands and thousands of faces. They can narrow down the examples to get a close match, or at least A’s nose, B’s hair, C’s eyes, etc. I believe they can then make a composite image which can be further tweaked.

It’s a lot easier for people to know what something ISN’T than to accurately describe what it IS. Narrowing down instead of creating from scratch.

I wish I could recall the book that I read this idea in, but I can’t. Maybe some sci-fi fans will remember this plot point and answer that question.

In the book, the method the police had for starting to build an image of a suspect, was to ask the witnesses which celebrity or public figure the perp looked like. Then they asked the witnesses how the perp was different from the celeb to try to zero in on a face that looked more like the perp.

I also remember seeing (late 50’s, early 60’s) the IdentiKit that some police organizations were using. The witness picks out hair, eyes, nose, mouth, ears, chin, etc. that they think matches the perp, and then the police assemble the image for fine tuning.