- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 16, 2005

NORFOLK — From bits of clay molded to a skull, Special Agent Ed Gardner shaped the face of a man who has been a mystery since his death.

It has been a week since agents from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service exhumed the man’s body. Workers dredging near the Navy piers found the corpse in the water in May 1997.

He was buried months later, after an investigation turned up no leads to his identity or how he died.

Special Agent Amanda Carlson has resurrected the case and obtained a court order for the exhumation.

The remains went to the medical examiner’s office, where Special Agent Mike Wigent worked to clean the bones. The bones told the agents the man was black and in his early to mid-20s, of slim but muscular build, who stood between 5 feet 9 inches and 6 feet 1 inch.

During the weekend, Mr. Wigent and Mr. Gardner took the man’s skull to an office on the Navy base to begin re-creating his face.

First Mr. Wigent, a forensic anthropologist, examined the bone structure to determine distinctive features. One stood out — a prominent jaw line. It was a good sign.

“In this case, someone will probably identify him from the jaw,” Mr. Gardner said. “We were both pretty happy to see it. Instead of being an average face, there’s something particular about it.”

The heavy, strong jaw is the most striking feature in the profile sketch that Mr. Gardner drew in pencil based on Mr. Wigent’s descriptions of the bone.

Next, the men worked together to map the measurements that define the face.

Interest in re-creating the faces of the dead began hundreds of years ago.

Over the years, Mr. Wigent said, scientists compiled studies of the average depth of tissue at different points on the skull.

Together, Mr. Wigent and Mr. Gardner compared the features on the skull with charts detailing those measurements. Then Mr. Gardner cut pieces of pencil eraser to lengths measured in millimeters and affixed them to the skull.

He used the points as depth markers to tell him how much clay to mold to the bone to get a picture of what the man looked like.

It’s a painstaking process, and one that is ruled by precise measurements rather than artistic vision.

“The markers keep me in check,” Mr. Gardner said. “It keeps me from trying to make him look too pretty, or it’s not the reality.”

Mr. Gardner reinforced the delicate bone of the eye orbits and nasal cavity with cotton and clay, and then got to work.

First came the eyebrows and the forehead. Next the cheekbones. Then Mr. Gardner dropped to the jaw line, building up clay to resemble skin.

He hunkered down to look John Doe in his fake eyes. Mr. Gardner cut, rolled and shaped pieces of warm, brown modeling clay and used a tool that resembled a wooden cuticle pusher to gently nudge eyelids into place.

As the face took shape, the grayed bone of the skull began to take life again.

The agents found other clues in the unmarked pauper’s grave where the remains rested.

The man evidently had some financial means. His teeth showed signs of repair, and his wisdom teeth had been removed.

All his clothes bore brand-name labels — a purple and turquoise Nike windbreaker; a dark, possibly green, Nautica sweat shirt, Guess jeans.

His silk Jockey boxers had been altered to make them smaller. The windbreaker and sweat shirt were size large and extra large; the jeans had a 34-inch waist.

Mr. Gardner hopes to finish the facial reconstruction this week.

The Navy will release his sketches and pictures of the completed face in hopes that someone recognizes their John Doe.

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