PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — To find a murderer, you first have to identify the victim.
But what if the body is in a state that unrecognizable or just skeletal remains?
"Every skull is different, just as every face is different," says Forensic Imaging Detective Autumn Krick with the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office, describing the skull from a 1976 cold case.
She is currently in the process of recreating the man's face digitally.
"It is like a bony road map," she says, explaining the process.
Krick first discovered her passion for Forensic Imaging nearly 13 years ago. When she was just starting out as an officer on the mounted patrol unit, a homicide detective heard she knew how to use Photoshop.
He asked her to help clean up a photo of a gunshot victim so it could be released to the public to help identify the man.
She did it and the man was identified.
"I thought to myself, I don’t know what this is, but whatever it is, it is what I am going to dedicate my life to doing," she says.
She has grown her passion for forensic imaging into age progressions, suspect composites and skull reconstructions.
To recreate a person’s face is no small task, Det. Krick gathers medical examiner, crime scene and forensic anthropologist reports looking for indicators of age, race, gender and lifestyle.
"Damage in the bone that might have suggested this person was a worker or had bone fractures or was in good health," she explains.
From there she studies the skull, taking the time to analyze each detail from the shape of the eye socket, to the spacing of teeth and how each feature connects.
The reconstructions take around two weeks. Hair presents one of the most challenging pieces, because it can be colored and changed.
"It can throw off how you recognize or perceive that person," she explains.
So she looks for clues from crime scene photos or notes from detectives on if any hair was found near the remains, and chooses styles reflective of the time period that the victim died. As the pieces come together, she sees a glimpse of life in the remains.
"As I am creating it, I see how it is becoming the face of that individual from the skull," she says with a smile.
She hopes the public understands the reconstructions or composites aren’t meant to be an exact likeness, but a way for a person’s features to be recognized and hopefully identified.
"How does it make you feel when someone’s loved one says, 'I know who that is'?" asked First Coast News' Katie Jeffries.
"It is very rewarding and one of the reasons that I stuck with it after that first reconstruction I did and really powered through to be where I am at now," responded Det. Krick.
Making sure victims are not forgotten and hoping the public will never forget a face.