- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 12, 2007

FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) — Eight bodies went unnoticed for years in a thicket of trees and scrub, on the edge of downtown.

When they were discovered in March, nothing remained but bones.

Six months later, authorities still know little about the skeletons, other than they were white men between the ages of 18 and 49 and died as far back as 1980. Detectives say their best hope for solving the case now rests with a forensic sculptor who will try to reconstruct their faces.

Authorities hand-delivered the eight skulls to Sharon Long last month in hopes that her work will help determine their identities.

“When I’m working on them, I’m thinking about that person being loved, loving someone, being born, going to school, going through their lives, because they are real people,” Miss Long said. “It’s a deep emotional thing, especially when the face starts showing up.”

A surveyor found the first skeleton. Police soon uncovered seven others nearby. No flesh remained on the bones, which appeared to have been gnawed by animals. There were no clothes or personal items, either.

Investigators have weighed several theories, including whether the skeletons could be the work of a serial killer or remains dumped by a crooked mortician.

A forensics lab in Texas is working to extract DNA from the bones, but until detectives identify the remains, there is no trail to follow.

“Identification is critical. Without that, there really is no investigation,” Detective Barry Lewis said.

That is why investigators are depending on Miss Long, 67, of Laramie, Wyo., who has degrees in art and anthropology. She has made busts for the National Geographic Society and the Smithsonian Institution, helped reconstruct the faces of mummies and re-created faces of some of the first settlers’ remains discovered at Jamestown.

She begins by painting the skulls with latex.

“When I peel off the rubber, I have an exact replica of their skull, every little pockmark,” Miss Long said.

A plaster bust is then made from the latex mold. Miss Long places eraser tips on 21 points that mark tissue depth and uses clay to form the face.

Lips are designed by measuring the front six teeth. The nose can be tricky. She uses the bony protrusion at the base of the nasal cavity to determine form. For the ears, she draws a straight line across the head just above the eyebrows.

Each face takes up to 70 hours to complete. Once Miss Long finishes all eight, police plan to release the images nationwide hoping that someone recognizes them.

“I think I’m going to be somewhere between 90 and 100 percent accurate,” she said.

Detectives have not ruled out the possibility that the skeletons are victims of Daniel Conahan, who was sentenced to death in 1999 for the strangulation of a drifter.

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