Local Forensic Artist Brings Victims to Life

Lois Gibson's clay facial model
It's a rare and invaluable talent, being able to look at a set of bones and recreate what that person might have looked like alive. As Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams reports, a local forensic artist is helping detectives solve crimes and identify nameless victims.

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"I know that I'm the person that's crying out for him and he can't talk."

With almost loving hands, forensic artist Lois Gibson gives an amazingly realistic clay model of a man's head a final brush-up, adjusting color to make it look even more life-like.

"I'm just going to shine his eyeballs up and then that's it."

This is what Gibson thinks a homeless man whose skeletal remains were found in a grassy lot near downtown in 2005 looked like, with shaggy hair, a drawn-in mouth, sad eyes and a five o'clock shadow. She's drawn thousands of sketches over the years for the Houston Police Department, but this is her first clay facial model, complete with bone and muscle structure, even the wrinkles she imagines the man had.

"I've done thousands of live people's portraits, so if I can give a vision of what I thought he looked like and cry-out for him to the loved-ones, you can recognize the face in a fifth of a second so maybe a flash, and I've had that happen where people saw somebody in a flash they recognized that's that person. He's not Tom Cruise, but I want to get him out there."

Gibson is the only forensic artist on staff at HPD and one of only two in the entire state. It took her about 60 hours to complete the clay model, mostly at home between sketches of criminal suspects. She says the pay-off is when someone recognizes a victim or suspect.

"It's hard doing this work, and if that happens it's so, I'm able to go to the next one and that's the carrot on the stick. Do it good, do it good so somebody recognizes because you're alone and he can't talk to you, but do it good for him."

HPD homicide detective Sgt. Darrell Robertson says authorities don't think foul play was involved in the homeless man's death. He says they simply want to give him a name and some closure for family members who may wonder where their relative is.

"It is an investigative tool, an investigative effort that we feel we have to try and fortunately we have someone that can do that, that can do the forensic reconstructions. Not all departments are fortunate enough to have somebody that would literally take this type of work home. This is not an easy thing to bring home to your family to do."

You can see of picture of Lois Gibson's clay facial model on our website, KUHF.org. Anyone who recognizes the man can call Crime Stoppers at 713-222-TIPS.

Bio photo of Jack Williams

Jack Williams

Director of News Programming

News Director Jack Williams has been with Houston Public Radio since August of 2000. He's also a reporter and anchor for Houston Public Radio's local All Things Considered segments...