'Art of Forensics' at Tampa History Center aimed at solving cold cases

USF will host an event at the Tampa Bay History Center in hopes of solving cold cases by recreating heads of unidentified people who have died in the past -- mostly by homicide.
Published October 26 2018

Twenty-one unidentified people who have died around the country will have their heads recreated as clay busts and displayed publicly at the Tampa Bay History Center in hopes that their identities can be determined years later.

The people whose busts are being recreated come mostly from unsolved homicides, according to the Tampa Police Department. The goal for Art of Forensics: Solving the Nation's Cold Cases is that someone will recognize the faces and give investigators a name. Then, in turn, bring closure to the victims' families.

The faces, created from skeletal remains and postmortem photos, will be available for public viewing in Tampa through Nov. 27.

The Tampa Police Department will have busts created for four of its unsolved cases -- two from the 1970s and one from both the 80s and 90s -- that will include two potential homicides, an apparent suicide and a man who died in a fire. All four were buried in "John Doe" graves.

The exhibit was put together and will be hosted by the University of South Florida's Institute of Forensic Anthropology & Applied Science, which has had success identifying people in past events it has hosted.

One success story came in 2016, where a woman successfully identified her sister, Brenda Williams, who was found dead and decomposing in 1985. Investigators at the time concluded that the woman was killed, but could not collect usable fingerprints to identify her. Her sister entered the event in 2016 and recognized the woman's bust immediately, running to it with a photo in hand.

Upon further investigation, authorities confirmed Williams was the woman's sister. A proper burial for Williams was held days later.

More information about this year's event and about USF's program can be found here.

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Contact Josh Fiallo at jfiallo@tampabay.com. Follow @ByJoshFiallo.

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