HOUSTON, TX - In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate, yet equally important groups: the police, the district attorneys… and don't forget about the witnesses, and those who help them identify the suspects.
"Mostly what a forensic artist does," explains HPD artist Lois Gibson, "is they listen to a witness that's been through the worst thing in their life; and from the witness's memory they're supposed to make a portrait of the face of the bad guy."
Artwork hangs on the walls along with newspaper clips and awards. It doesn't look like a regular office at the Houston Police Department's headquarters on 1200 Travis Street. But this is the place where some of the most horrendous crimes took their first steps towards resolution.
Think about it: a woman gets raped, a child sees a stranger kill his father in cold blood, a man gets brutally assaulted… These people are barely able to remember the face of the monster. Somebody needs to know how to bring those flashbacks onto the drawing board.
"The way I do my job is to relax the witness," she said. "That's the number one thing… the comfort of the witness. And then I have a catalog that has pictures of different eyes, noses; and this catalog is used worldwide."
And speaking of worldwide… Houston's own Lois Gibson holds the record for solving more crimes than any other forensic artist on the planet.
"I'm in the Guinness Book of records for helping solve more than 1,266 crimes."
Gibson works with HPD, the FBI, the DEA and teaches students from all over. She knows she possesses a special skill, but refuses to call herself a hero.
"But I'm one of the most powerful people in the world", cried the artist, "because I can get with witnesses and just love them."
And then it was time for a test. We attempted to describe the face of a ruthless criminal, still at large: receding hairline, large forehead, strong jawline, defined upper lip… Stop! Lois said, and took control of the situation, we did it her way:
"Here's the high forehead with the receding", she told us. Gibson opened the catalog and ordered us to pick the pictures that best matched our description. She listened to us, asked plenty of questions and kept on drawing.
After a while, the mystery was revealed: Keyser Soze, from the Usual Suspects. Kudos to us: we've managed to produce -spoiler alert- Kevin Spacey's first official identikit. When we showed the actor's picture to Gibson, she was delighted with her work of art.
"Well, this is a good job", she laughed. "But you made him uglier than he is."
Regardless, pick up your pace, Spacey: you're now a wanted man.