- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 1, 2001

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. Jeanne Boylan is haunted by faces the steely glare in a person's eye, the direction in which hair waves or a discolored eyetooth that protrudes from a smile.

Miss Boylan is a criminal image profiler.

She has put faces on some of the nation's most notorious criminals: Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski, Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and Richard Allen Davis, the parolee who abducted and murdered Polly Klaas.

The Montrose, Colo., native has assisted in thousands of cases for the FBI, network news and police agencies worldwide.

Investigators have labeled her a renegade. They say her methods are unorthodox, but no one can dispute she gets results.

That's because she has perfected a technique that allows her to crawl inside the mind of a victim or eyewitness and extract critical information to produce an accurate drawing of a suspect.

"I never use the term 'sketch' in relation to my work," Miss Boylan says. " 'Sketch' implies simplicity, and there is nothing simple about this process."

In 1993, 12-year-old Polly Klaas is snatched from her bed during a slumber party at her Petaluma, Calif., home.

Miss Boylan learns of the breaking news story after watching television reports from her home in Bend, Ore.

"The mother was on TV and she was appealing to the public," she remembers. "Her eyes were so full of pain… . I could not get that woman's face out of my mind."

Ten days elapse and there are no new leads.

An early composite drawn by a police artist depicts a tall man wearing a headband.

The case grows cold.

The FBI summons Miss Boylan to California. Her job is to re-interview two 12-year-old witnesses who were with Polly the night she was abducted.

"She revitalized a dying case," says Polly's father, Marc Klaas. "We were not sure of the individual we were looking for and Jeanne came along and developed a [drawing] of the suspect who committed the crime. It was different from the first one, and it gave us vital clues towards moving the investigation forward."

Later it is discovered that the murderer, Richard Allen Davis, had been detained by police within an hour of the kidnapping. Many believe Polly was alive and hidden in a wooded area 40 feet away from where Davis was stopped in his car. He was let go because police were unaware of the kidnapping or Davis' lengthy criminal history.

But there was something else. Davis didn't look like the police sketch. He wasn't tall, his wiry hair was wavy and he wasn't wearing a headband.

Trauma encodes the image into the memory.

In the Klaas case, Polly's two friends were tied up with pillow cases placed over their heads. Polly was abducted at knife point.

In the early stages of the investigation, a police artist showed the girls the only eyewitnesses in the case nearly a thousand mug shots, contaminating their memory.

Miss Boylan sees memory as evidence a smoking gun.

She uses the psychology of how the memory works, how the visuals are encoded into memory recall and how trauma might affect that recall.

"It is a process of not overlaying, but rather coaxing the accurate recall, which is housed at a subliminal level of memory," says Miss Boylan. "I usually arrive after the traditional police artists have substantially contaminated and distorted the recall."

Witnesses are interviewed sometimes for hours on end to retrieve images in conjunction with the way the mind processes the recall.

For 56 days, everyone working on the Klaas case, including Miss Boylan, keeps the faith that little Polly will be found alive.

Miss Boylan's drawing of Davis turns out to be a mirror image. He can run but he can't hide.

The FBI credits her drawing for Davis' arrest and subsequent confession. Miss Boylan is relieved that he is behind bars, but she is angry about the way the case was handled.

Last year she wrote the book "Portraits of Guilt" and dedicated it to Polly.

For more than 20 years, Miss Boylan has been fighting an uphill battle. She is blond and beautiful, and she's a civilian. That can be a deadly combination in the world of law enforcement, where good looks can be taken lightly and outsiders sometimes are viewed as a nuisance.

Despite that, the calls keep coming in.

The Unabomber. Susan Smith. Ennis Cosby. Sister Dianna Ortiz. The little beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey.

The Unabomber drawing, featured on the cover of Newsweek, became the most widely circulated drawing in investigative history. Miss Boylan said she plans to start charging royalties for the unauthorized use of the likeness printed on T-shirts and hats.

Miss Boylan grew up in an Irish Catholic family in Montrose somewhere in the middle of a throng of six children. She describes her father as a Frank Sinatra look-alike and her mother as the neighborhood's most beautiful mom.

By all accounts, Miss Boylan had a zest for life. She was well liked. Her classmates voted her homecoming queen in 1970.

But the farm town in which she grew up seemed suffocating.

When she got word that she had been accepted at a small college in Missouri, she rattled halfway across the country in her '63 Ford pickup.

What happened next would change her life forever.

While at college, Miss Boylan was attacked on a rural road by two men.

"I had the experience of sitting on the other side of the police table," says Miss Boylan. "I was talking to people with no ears. Not only did they not understand the vocabulary … I felt like I was talking to a wall."

An excerpt from Miss Boylan's book reads: "My case was never resolved, but I've never stopped searching. In airports, in crowds in fact, everywhere I go. Faces haunt me every nuance, every angle, every shadow, every line. I've lived without the luxury of conclusion. Instead, my healing has come through this unexpected kind of work that I could never have imagined I'd be doing."

Miss Boylan got into her unconventional line of work by volunteering for a pilot project in which civilians were used as criminal investigative assistants to conduct follow-up interviews with crime victims.

She nearly got fired because the data she was collecting didn't fit into pre-formatted data-entry boxes.

That's when she became fascinated with memory recall and how it worked. Her academic background consists of psychology and memory in relation to criminal cases.

She has been blazing forensic trails ever since.

But her work has taken on a more personal twist. For the first time since her attack in college more than two decades ago, Miss Boylan made a decision to publish the faces of her assailants in her book.

They remain at large.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide