Advertisement

Drawing Attention : Forensic artist Jeanne Boylan has spent 14 years perfecting the art of sketching suspects. Some of her interviewing techniques may be unorthodox, but police say her work makes the phones ring with new leads.

January 12, 1994|BETTIJANE LEVINE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jeanne Boylan, free-lance forensic artist, never travels in a straight line. Like a child's connect-the-dots puzzle, her life zigs and zags--from trauma to trauma, crime to crime:

* New Year's Eve in a roach-filled motel on Sepulveda Boulevard in Manhattan Beach, called in after the slaying of Police Officer Martin Ganz.

* Dec. 28 in the San Fernando Valley, on case of the serial child molester, still at large.

* Dec. 23 in Antioch, Calif., on the abduction of Ruth Mayer, a jeweler's wife "stolen" along with the family cars and gems.

* Mid-December in St. Louis, Mo., on the kidnapings of Angie Housman and Cassidy Senter, ages 9 and 10.

Twice in November to Petaluma, Calif., working on the kidnaping case of Polly Klaas.

Her schedule shows that police agencies nationwide are discovering what those in the Pacific Northwest have known for years: When the trail grows cold on a horrible crime, call Jeanne Boylan.

After 14 years and 7,000 cases, she has become the most visible practitioner in the time-honored--she'd call it time- worn --field of forensic art. Her job: to extract a picture of the criminal's face from the traumatized memory of the person who saw the crime.

Her sketch of the suspect in the Polly Klaas kidnaping, based on the memory of two 12-year-old witnesses, was so accurate that one police officer calls it "eerie--almost like a photo of the guy they finally caught."

Her drawing of a suspect, based on the memory of a witness to the slaying of Ganz, brought in new leads, says Sgt. Bob Stoneman of the L.A. County Sheriff's Department, which is investigating the case.

"We called Boylan in because the first composite, done by our own staff artist, brought almost no response."

On Tuesday, the Sheriff's Department named two possible suspects, still at large, in the Ganz killing. "We received tips about the suspects, and in doing follow-up we found wanted posters on them. Their pictures have a very strong similarity to the composite done by Boylan," Stoneman says.

Boylan's methods are unorthodox. To this day, she says, most in her profession do their job by showing the witness catalogues of eyes, noses and mouths, and asking them to pick the features that most resemble those of the perpetrator. She shows the victim nothing.

"Memory is too fragile," she says. "Each piece of new visual information pollutes and buries the memory further. By asking a victim to select from hundreds of features that might approximate those of the criminal, you add layers of contaminants over the original image, which is intact somewhere in the recesses of the victim's mind."

Boylan spends hours gently interviewing witnesses, rather than interrogating them. The results, say those who have worked with her, are detailed sketches that make the detectives' phones ring.

"She's great," says Portland Police Detective Gary Sandell, who recalls a violent armed robbery at a Baskin-Robbins store in which the only witnesses were two battered and traumatized kids. "We sat them down with Jeannie, who drew the suspect based on their memories. We made an arrest the next week and realized Jeannie's sketch and the suspect's mug shot were almost identical."

Yet her efforts to promote her techniques are largely ignored by others in her field, most of whom are police officers. ("At meetings I'm ostracized; if I sit down with them at lunch, they move to another table.")

Boylan, 39, says she'd happily start a school, free of charge, to share her insights with others--but she thinks no one would attend.

*

Boylan, whose home is a cabin in Bend, Ore., respects the law enforcement community immensely, she says. "They do such excellent work that I don't even like to talk about any of this, because it might sound as if I'm criticizing them. I'm not--I just think this area of forensic art is a weak link."

So weak, so low a priority, that she was ready to chuck her career and look for something else when the Polly Klaas case turned her around.

"Until Polly, I came in to cases after the crime was over, the victim was dead or the damage was done. In this instance, there was a chance she was still alive and we could help save her."

Boylan was called to Petaluma about 10 days after the kidnaping, because a sketch done by a local police artist had not produced good leads.

In fact, the original composite looked so unlike the man ultimately arrested that sheriff's deputies who stopped Richard Allen Davis and questioned him for 38 minutes on the night of the kidnaping never made the connection.

What Boylan found shocked her, she says, even after all these years.

The two 12-year-old girls who were in the bedroom with Polly had been interviewed by press, police, FBI and "just about everyone on earth."

The police artist had questioned them together (an absolute no-no, in Boylan's view), using a catalogue of faces and supplemental photos (another Boylan no-no, but one the FBI recommends).

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|