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New USF Art Exhibit Aims to Help Solve Cold Case Homicides

The theme of the exhibit at the Tampa Bay History Center is missing persons with a focus on violence against women and children.

In an effort to identify missing persons and solve cold cases, faces created from the skeletal remains and postmortem photos of 20 unidentified people from around the country are available for public viewing. The University of South Florida’s Institute of Forensic Anthropology & Applied Science (IFAAS) created a month-long exhibition Art of Forensics: Solving the Nation’s Cold Cases at the Tampa Bay History Center in downtown Tampa.

The majority of these cases are open homicides, and this effort aims to provide closure to the victims’ families and attract potential witnesses to help solve their murders.

“This project is so important because it may be our only chance. For decades, the homicide investigations remained open and untouched. They need to be brought up to current investigative standards,” said Erin Kimmerle, PhD, IFAAS executive director and USF associate professor of anthropology. “I encourage families who have a missing loved one to come forward, no matter what obstacles existed in the past and make a report. With the public’s help, this is how we solve cases.”

'The Little Girl on Collum Street' is one of the many facial composites at the exhibit.

Exhibition displays consist of clay busts and drawings, digital compositions, artifacts and information about the crime scenes.Kimmerle, USF graduate students and Sgt. Sergio Soto, a forensic artist with IFAAS, created the reconstructions and exhibit. Their work is part of the ongoing statewide cold case initiative by IFAAS, for which the team conducted a number of forensic methods - such as exhuming Jane and John Doe graves for skeletal analysis, facial and clothing reconstructions, chemical isotope testing of the bones, hair and teeth, as well as DNA testing.

Four of the featured cases are from the Tampa Police Department. One victim is a man who authorities believed died from a drowning accident in 1989, but was recently discovered to be a victim of homicide.

“It’s amazing when you take a look at science and police work in combination,” said Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan. “If there’s someone who’s missing, we need to know about it. It’s about justice for these victims, it’s about these family members and extended family, it’s very important work.”

Additional case information and imagery can be found here:

Erin Kimmerle, PhD, IFAAS executive director and USF associate professor of anthropology
Kimmerle previously hosted two smaller events involving only clay sculptures,in which three of the Jane Does were identified, connecting the victims to their families.This exhibition marks the end of the Cold Case Program IFAAS created in conjunction with agencies locally and nationwide using a $386,537 grant from the NIJ.

“The National Institute of Justice fully supports and understands the importance of this event to victims and their families. As an NIJ grantee, USF has done very well as a leading support agency to those working on missing and unidentified person’s cases,” said Chuck Heurich, senior physical scientist for the Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice.

Art of Forensics: Solving the Nation’s Cold Cases runs October 26-November 27 at the Tampa Bay History Center. Admission is $14.95 for adults. Senior and youth rates are available.

*Anyone who recognizes one of the featured victims can contact Crime Stoppers at 1-800-873-TIPS, which may lead to a cash reward.

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