Forensic Imaging Software: A Tool to Break Cold Cases?

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One increasingly important tool used by law enforcement and various organizations is forensic imaging software. This technique can be used to create images of victims whose bodies are unidentifiable, photos that display how a missing person is projected to look in present day, or to bring to life skeletal remains in the hope of finding someone who recognizes the deceased. A recent Massachusetts case involving an unidentified young girl nicknamed “Baby Doe” has once again validated the importance of investing in investigative technology.

One group pioneering this technology is the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), a nonprofit organization that works with law enforcement agencies and families to aid in cases of missing and exploited children. The NCMEC utilizes a variety of functions to fulfill its mission of helping to find, aid, and protect children. The agency has had great success in the past through its initiatives, as it has assisted in the recovery of more than 208,000 children.

Computer generated imagery is a relatively new technology, although it has been used heavily in recent years in cases of missing or unidentified children and has proven to be vital in investigations. This unit was first instituted by the NCMEC in 1990, and has been used so far in 6,000 age progressions, 1,300 of them leading to children being found or identified through the pictures. CNN reports, “forensic imaging and age progression are often fairly accurate and can help find the missing or unidentified children.” When comparing images created by forensic artists to real life photographs, it is evident that they are very close to the real thing, and are an integral tool in most cases.

For example, a recent case in Massachusetts has renewed focus on the benefits of forensic imaging technology. The remains of an unidentified young girl, who is believed to have only been about four years old and has been dubbed “Baby Doe,” were found in a trash bag on a Boston Harbor beach about three weeks ago. Even though the following computer-generated image of her has been seen by millions of people, authorities have had little to no luck in their efforts to identify her. This tragic case has mystified law enforcement and captivated the hearts of Americans nationwide, as people continue to search for any clues that could lead to the identification of this girl.

Authorities are working furiously to find any possible lead that could help them to identify the girl, perplexed as to how no one has recognized her yet. It is not clear whether her death was accidental or intentional, and investigators are desperate for any information at all that could lead to her identity or the cause of her death. Law enforcement in Massachusetts has teamed up with the NCMEC since this agency is well trained in these types of situations and offers many useful resources, including its expertise in forensic imaging.

The image of Baby Doe was created by Christi Andrews, a forensic artist who works with the NCMEC and who tried to make the face of the girl look as realistic as possible using Adobe Photoshop. In order for Andrews to join the Forensic Imaging Team and become a specialist, a job she has had for twelve years now, she had to first receive extensive training in order to master the software. She constructed the image by studying the precise details and photos from the autopsy. The picture has been shared hundreds of thousands of times on multiple different social media platforms and seen by over fifty million people, but unfortunately, no valuable tips have arisen.

This type of software is instrumental in many cases because it assists investigators in their efforts to identify deceased victims, create realistic, up-to-date photos of missing people that can be used when searching for them, and can garner useful information from the public once released. In the case of Baby Doe, Andrews was limited to pictures and information given from the coroner, although when creating age progression images, artists can often utilize pictures of family members to analyze similarities and use this to generate life-like images. Our culture’s obsession with taking photos has actually proven to be useful when it comes to creating these age progression images because it gives the specialists more to study and compare to.

After these images are produced, they are distributed to the masses via a variety of platforms, such as social media, billboards, flyers, through news stations, or other sources. The goal is to have as many people view it as possible so that the likelihood of someone recognizing the subject and contacting the police increases. This tool is especially helpful in cases of children who have been missing for many years, because the age progression feature gives investigators a glimpse of what the children might look like currently. This is crucial because not only does it increase the chances of other people recognizing this person, but also the missing person themself might see it. There might be children out there who were abducted at too young of an age to remember and are raised in a new family, so if they were to see these images displaying missing children that resemble them, this might cause them to recover old memories or even come forward if they suspect that they could be the child. Forensic imaging software is a critical tool for a multitude of reasons, although most importantly, it can be used to solve cases that seemingly have come to a screeching halt.

Toni Keddell
Toni Keddell is a member of the University of Maryland Class of 2017 and a Law Street Media Fellow for the Summer of 2015. Contact Toni at



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