The art of detection

The art of detection

Most artists have the luxury of being right in front of what they’re drawing. For a forensic artist, it’s a little more complex. They have draw someone they’ve never seen, someone they’ve never met; they have to draw your memory.

Forensic Artist Carrie Stuart Parks explained, “I have to retrieve it from your mind and put it down on paper without adding anything at all of what I think about it.”

To someone with no artistic background it sounds impossible, but Carrie swears it’s easy.

“If you can say yes, I would know the man again if I saw him, or the woman again if I saw her, that is enough memory for me to work with,” she added.

We wanted to know how that’s possible, so Carrie invited us into her North Idaho studio to see how it works.

I played the victim and used KXLY photographer Ernie as my bad guy. Like a victim, I couldn’t look at photos of him to describe him to Carrie. Luckily, she had dozens of mug shots of her own to help jog my memory.

In three hours, she created a sketch of Ernie.

In a real case much more is at stake as detectives race clock.

When the owner and manager of Westview Manor on Spokane’s South Hill were murdered this past December, Carrie only had minutes to speak with the victim’s son and create a sketch of what he saw.

“He said African American female, gave me an age range, he gave me things that he remembered best. He told me he saw her maybe 27-28 seconds. All we have to do is get something out there, where somebody will look at it and go ‘that kind of reminds me of,'” explained Carrie.

It did more than that.

A police officer and the suspected killer’s boss recognized the woman in the drawing. Forty-eight hours after the sketch was released, Spokane Police arrested 23-year old Anne Carpenter.

Parks shared, “that’s what the reward is from what you’re doing.”

She’s had plenty of rewards in her thirty years as a sketch artist. She keeps a binder full of news clippings, some small cases, many big ones that she’ll never forget. Like Shadle Park rapist George Grammer and serial killer Robert Yates.

“This is one of the better-known ones, Tom Dibartolo, who murdered his wife and claimed a couple of young men did it,” Carrie said as she thumbed through the pages of her binder.

“This is all with the Phineas Priesthood. These are just all of the different drawings I did,” she added.
Carrie’s work goes far beyond the Inland Northwest. She and her husband travel the country and abroad as the leading instructor’s in the forensic art world.

She’s proud of her students work and a second binder tracks their accomplishments

Carrie said, “one of my first students who couldn’t draw, ended up catching the largest serial arsonist in US history – Paul Kenneth Keller.”

She often only has two days to teach officers how to draw, and draw well enough to make a recognizable face from a witness description

For someone who never set out to teach, that would be the ultimate accomplishment.

For Carrie, though, nothing compares to completing a sketch and learning her interpretation of your memory is spot on.