Newly released in paperback, this compelling though not strictly factual account of Frank Bender’s forensic reconstruction work jumps between his early days learning the craft and his involvement in a mass murder investigation in Mexico. A successful advertising photographer, Frank stumbled onto facial reconstruction work at a time when its validity was still very much in question. With some positive ID’s made based on his busts, Bender became more obsessed in trying to put a face on unknown crime victims thus allowing loved ones a sense of closure. Although payment for facial reconstructions barely covered the cost of materials, Bender continued his work, eventually at the expense of his thriving photography business.
With literally hundreds of murdered women being discovered between Juarez and Chihuahua, public outcry and pressure from Amnesty International finally drove the Mexican government to enlist Bender’s services. More interested in appearances then actually identifying the victims or apprehending the murderer, Bender finds working in Mexico challenging at best, dangerous at worst. Dwindling resources and his numerous affairs created a serious toll on Bender’s personal life but the satisfaction of putting a name to a previously unknown murder victim or the arrest of a criminal kept him sculpting.
Complete with sixteen pages of photos showing Bender’s busts, identified victims, age progressions and more, this is a fascinating look at the infancy of facial reconstruction as experienced by this driven man. While the storytelling style can be jerky as it bounces between Mexico and Bender’s early work, it is always interesting. Although Botha has taken a certain amount of artistic license with parts of the story and in one case, misquotes the facts, true-crime buffs will enjoy this part biography, part forensic science read.
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