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How artist created Gilgo victims' images

Danielle Gruttadavrio, 30, a Suffolk County police sketch

Danielle Gruttadavrio, 30, a Suffolk County police sketch artist, at Yaphank police headquarters Tuesday. (Sept. 20, 2011) Photo Credit: James Carbone

The face belonging to the woman known only as Jane Doe No. 6 took about a week for forensic artist Danielle Gruttadaurio to conjure.

She needed about a month to compose the face of the Asian man. His death was particularly violent and his remains left her with far less to work with.

Both victims were found not far from remains of eight others near Gilgo Beach and are among the five who are unidentified.

"Even though it was intact," Gruttadaurio said of the man's skull, "there were so many little bones that were out of place."

Their skulls were her blueprint. As she worked, they were perched on her desk in a windowless office on the second floor of Suffolk County police headquarters in Yaphank. For weeks, she scrutinized every bump and irregularity, every curve and angle, using vinyl markers cut from pencil erasers to measure facial-tissue depth so she could extrapolate faces from the skulls.

"I want to keep the skull here so I can feel for certain parts of it," said Gruttadaurio, 29.

Because they died years ago, she leafed through old high school yearbook photos to come up with a likely hairstyle for her victims, and guessed at hair color and skin tone.

Said Det. Sgt. Bob Feeney, a supervisor in Gruttadaurio's unit: "She went with the style of that era for a woman of that time."

The former schoolteacher studied art at the Fashion Institute of Technology and Stony Brook University. She joined the police department two years ago and has drawn about 15 composites of suspects from witness descriptions. The Gilgo victims are her first sketches from actual forensic evidence.

The process began with information typically provided by a forensic anthropologist. Gruttadaurio knew her victims' genders, approximate ages and races. For the woman, she had a little more, thanks to hair follicles found with her remains. Police knew the woman had wavy, shoulder-length hair of varying shades of brown and blonde.

For the man, she simply had to guess that, in all likelihood, his hair was black.

Reconstruction began with the 21 tissue-depth markers placed on pre-determined points on the skull to indicate thickness of muscle and skin. The first 10 are located between the middle of the forehead and the middle of the chin. The other 11 are placed at other strategic points, the eye sockets for instance.

"His nose veered a little bit off to the left," she said, holding a mock skull to demonstrate how the markings are read. "The inner and outer corner of his eyes were placed pretty high up and his eye orbits would tell me where his eyebrows would lay. It's outlining the tissue-depth markers and following the jawline. . . . The sides of your nose should follow the shape of your nasal aperture."

The size of a person's lips correlate to the size of their teeth, she said. The six front teeth determine the width of a person's mouth.

Full-time forensic artists like Gruttadaurio are rare; not all police department budgets allow for them.

Gruttadaurio consulted other colleagues in her field, like Det. Evelyn Grant, a part-time forensic artist with the Baltimore County Police Department. Grant, 29, has reconstructed six victims; two were identified.

"People think skulls look all the same," said Grant. "But you'd be amazed how every single one looks different."

Gruttadaurio sent her sketches to her unofficial mentor, Karen T. Taylor, a leading forensic artist. Gruttadaurio said she considers Taylor's 580-page book, "Forensic Art and Illustration," her bible.

Taylor, who is based in Austin, Texas, and others like her are a "close, little knit family . . . all willing to help each other out," Gruttadaurio said.

Taylor, who has worked with Texas authorities for two decades, said Gruttadaurio's sketches were impressive. "These reconstructions cannot be absolutely perfect," she said.

"You recognize someone based on the array of facial features, a certain gestalt of the face. . . . "The way our minds process faces, someone who is missing a loved one may well be able to extrapolate one of these images and make that connection."

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