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Police artist draws image from minds of witnesses

SHARE Police artist draws image from minds of witnesses

When the FBI called in Jean Boylan to make a new sketch of the Unabomber suspect, she could barely believe what the agent was telling her as they rushed to catch a flight to Salt Lake City.

They were going to see someone who had caught a fleeting glimpse of the suspect 7 1/2 years ago. The FBI said the sketch Boylan produced - showing the Unabomber in dark glasses and hooded sweat-shirt - was the first to satisfy the witness and was distributed worldwide.It wasn't the first time that the Bend, Ore., artist has succeeded in capturing an accurate image where others have failed. She has made a career of it.

Next week, Boylan is scheduled to testify in the Oklahoma City bombing trial of Terry Nichols about another of her sketches - one that corrected the image of John Doe No. 2, the elusive suspect spotted at a Ryder truck rental office. That man turned out to have nothing to do with the 1995 bombing that killed 168 people.

It's just the latest in a string of big cases for Boylan.

After the kidnapping of 12-year-old Polly Klaas from her home in Petaluma, Calif., in 1993, Boylan was called in. Her new sketch of the suspect turned out to be much more accurate than the original. The girl was later found slain.

"Do I think it's a gift? No," Boylan said Wednesday from her home on the outskirts of Bend with a view of the snowcapped Cascade Range. "I think it can be taught."

Boylan got her start in law enforcement in 1977 as a civilian following up investigations for the Multnomah County Sheriff's Department in Portland, Ore. She discovered that what witnesses were telling her days after the crime didn't always jibe with what they had said immediately afterward. Often, the information gathered later was more accurate.

Working for the Portland Police Bureau in the early 1980s, she became frustrated with the standard procedure - showing witnesses pictures of possible suspects, and offering them pictures of sample eyes, noses and chins to build a composite sketch.

"I found that using that system really tended to lead the witness," said Boylan, who is a correspondent for the television show "America's Most Wanted."

Over the years she developed her own technique, which aims to capture the brain's snapshot of something a person sees under traumatic circumstances.

"The trauma necessary for that information to be really encoded firmly in memory makes it more difficult to retrieve," she said. "To me it is like taking a 50-cent piece and tossing it into eight feet of water. It remains intact in the water. But the water creates distortion. So you have to reach down through all that distortion."

During her interview with mechanic Tom Kessinger for her sketch of John Doe No. 2, Boylan peppered her questions about the suspect with talk about motorcycles and life in a small town.

Those kinds of topics help put the person at ease, and Boylan said "that's the level where concentration will surface."

She got frustrated when an FBI agent sitting in on the interview suddenly asked, "Did he have a mustache?"

FBI spokesman George Grotz said Boylan gets called in on the tough cases because she is so good.

"She is kind of a lone ranger doing this," he said.

Marc Klaas, the father of Polly Klaas, said Boylan was the first person who really listened to the girls who had witnessed the abduction.

"I love Jeannie Boylan," he said. "She was the first person who treated them with dignity and respect in the aftermath of the horrible things that happened at that time."

The creator of thousands of sketches, Boylan said she remains frustrated that her techniques are still essentially her own and haven't broken into the highly structured world of law en-for-cement.

"If I were to recruit, I would go into universities and recruit psychology majors and teach them how to draw before I would take an artist and teach them psychology," Boylan said. "That's the missing element."