Facial reconstructions by students at the New York Academy of the Arts using 3D printed versions of skulls of unidentified human remains found in Chilliwack in 1972 (left) and in Port Moody in 1995 (right). These are two of 15 skulls provided by the BC Coroners Service to help solve cold cases. (canadasmissing.ca)

Facial reconstructions by students at the New York Academy of the Arts using 3D printed versions of skulls of unidentified human remains found in Chilliwack in 1972 (left) and in Port Moody in 1995 (right). These are two of 15 skulls provided by the BC Coroners Service to help solve cold cases. (canadasmissing.ca)

Artists hired to help in skull reconstruction in B.C. cold cases

3D-print of unidentified skull found in Chilliwack among 14 sent to New York Academy of the Arts

There are many unsolved mysteries that surround missing people in British Columbia. Then there are the equally mysterious cases of the found.

Some of the names will be familiar to stories of missing people in Chilliwack reported in The Progress over the years.

There was Brandyn Dirienzo, who was last seen Oct. 4, 2006 going in to an apartment building on Bole Avenue and was never seen again.

Kelly Rideout was reported missing on Aug. 28, 2011, a disappearance deemed so suspicious that the RCMP’s Integrated Homicide Investigation Team has the file.

And of course the famous case of Joanne Maria Pedersen who, at the age of 10, was last seen with an adult male at a telephone booth in Vedder Crossing on Feb. 19, 1983.

• READ MORE: Finding Kelly: Closure is all her mother wants

• READ MORE: RCMP renew call for info on girl who went missing 35 years ago

But go even further back to Sept. 18, 1972 when the body of a man was found down at Peg Leg bar on the Fraser River off McSween Road. He was slender, short, had brown hair, brown eyes, and well looked-after teeth.

“There were only two fillings present.”

That detail from the National Centre for Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains an initiative of RCMP to help find missing people, but also try to put a name to unidentified remains.

Now artists in New York are helping the RCMP identify human remains from Chilliwack’s mysterious Peg Leg man and others as part of a unique project combining art and science.

Fourteen skulls from unidentified human remains investigations in B.C. were provided to the RCMP by the BC Coroners Service. The skulls were then recreated with 3D printing and transported to the New York Academy of the Arts (NYAA). Students at NYAA conducted facial reconstruction with the hope that it could lead to tips and names put to the faces.

“The 14 skulls provided by the BC Coroners Service as reference material are part of the B.C. inventory of cold cases,” said Eric Petit, director of the BC Coroners Service’s Special Investigations Unit. “Specifically, these are investigations where we have reached an impasse in terms of identifying the deceased individuals.”

Anyone who thinks they might recognize a face is asked to submit tips on the Canada’s Missing website at www.canadamissing.ca.

“This partnership is a unique opportunity to try to draw new breath into otherwise stalled investigations,” Petit said. “Our hope is that these reconstructions will trigger a memory that results in someone connecting with us or the RCMP, which will lead us to identifying these individuals. This collaborative project builds on other identification tools, including our unidentified human remains viewer, to help us close cold cases in our province.”

In addition to the young man found in Chilliwack, 3D printed version of skulls were sent to NYAA from human remains found in the Vancouver area, Whistler, Parksville, Port Moody, Coquitlam, Delta, Richmond, Lytton, Burnaby, and one from Sandy Cove Beach, Nova Scotia.

Students at NYAA’s forensic sculpture workshop reconstructed the faces under the guidance of Joe Mullins, a senior forensic artist with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in the U.S. The BC Coroners Service and the Nova Scotia Medical Examiner provided information such as sex, ethnicity and height for the unidentified human remains investigations. Armed with that knowledge, as well as their anatomical expertise and artistic skills, the students spent the week reconstructing the faces by applying clay to 3D-printed versions of actual skulls.

The reconstructed faces will go on display in New York in April 2020 as part of the New York Academy of Art’s Open Studios event.

NYAA has hosted its workshop annually since 2015, and since then four visual identifications have been directly attributed to facial reconstructions performed at the workshop.

In B.C. there are 179 unidentified human remains investigations open. There are currently over 700 unidentified remains in the RCMP’s national database of missing persons and unidentified remains.


Do you have something to add to this story, or something else we should report on? Email:
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