Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

How Does Age Progression Technology Stand Up to Real Life?

In each of these three remarkable cases, a missing child was found alive years after disappearing. Compare the age progression images created by forensic artists at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children with photographs of these missing kids as adults today.

Jaycee Dugard: Age 11; age progression image created in 2006; photo taken in 2009. (Police handout/NCMEC/Getty Images)

In a case that captured international attention, Jaycee Dugard was found alive more than 18 years after she disappeared at the age of 11. Jaycee had been kidnapped while walking home from a school bus stop in her hometown of South Lake Tahoe, Ca. During the nearly two decades she remained missing, Jaycee lived as a captive of Phillip Garrido and his wife Nancy. She and the two daughters she bore during her captivity lived in a tent in the Garridos’ backyard.

The age progression image created by forensic artists at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children bears a remarkable resemblance to Jaycee today, at age 31. Though the hair color and style are different, the shape of her nose and mouth, and the arch of her eyebrows are spot-on.

Read Jaycee’s story.

 

Carlina White: As an infant; age progression to 19 years old; at age 23. (Police handout, NCMEC, Getty Images)

Carlina White was 23 years old when she solved her own kidnapping and was reunited with her biological parents. When she was 19 days old, White was abducted from Harlem Hospital Center in New York City, where she was being treated for an infection. She was raised by her kidnapper, Annugetta “Ann” Pettway, in Bridgeport, Conn., under the name Nejdra “Netty” Nance, just 45 miles away from where her parents, Joy White and Carl Tyson, were searching for her.

As she grew older, White became suspicious that Pettway was not her mother. They didn’t look alike, and White was unable to get a social security card. When Pettway couldn’t provide her birth certificate, Pettway told her that a drug addict had left her in her care.

White began scouring the NCMEC website, where she came across a photograph of herself as an infant which resembled baby photos taken of her by Pettway, as well as her own infant daughter, Samani. She contacted the center, and a DNA test revealed that she was the baby that had been kidnapped from Harlem Hospital 23 years prior.

After reuniting with  Joy White and Carl Tyson, White became estranged from them once again and continues to go by the name Nejdra Nance. Pettway pleaded guilty to a federal kidnapping charge and was sentenced, at the age of 50, to 12 years.

 

Steven Carter: As an infant; age progression image to 26 years old; at age 35. (Police handout, NCMEC, Youtube.com)

After learning about the Carlina White case, Steven Carter became curious about his own past. He grew up knowing that he had been adopted from an orphanage in Hawaii, but some things didn’t add up. His birth certificate, created a year after his birth, listed him as half Native Hawaiian, which the blond, blue eyed Carter found hard to believe. Browsing the NCMEC website, Carter found the age progression image seen here, meant to predict what missing infant Marx Panama Barnes would look like at age 26. In addition to the uncanny physical resemblance, Carter and missing baby Marx had other things in common: they were born in the same place, and their birth dates were listed one day apart.

Carter learned that his own mother, who suffered from mental illness, had changed his name and race on his birth certificate and ran away with him when he was an infant. She then put him in an orphanage, where he was adopted by the family who raised him. At age 35, Carter contacted his biological father, Mark Barnes, who was astonished to hear from his son after so many years. His biological mother, however, remains nowhere to be found.

How do they do it?

When creating an age progression image, forensic artists take into consideration the person’s bone structure and features as well as age patterns seen in their biological relatives, such as wrinkles, weight gain or hair loss. With missing adults, factors such as smoking, alcohol use, and chronic illness are taken into account to predict aging. A missing child’s most recent picture can be combined with a photo of a close relative who most resembles that child. As children grow up, their noses become longer, cheekbones become sharper, blonde hair becomes darker and soft, round faces become longer and more defined. By studying the way people age, forensic artists can predict the appearance of a missing person with striking accuracy. ”If you look at the face of an infant, it’s all skull and forehead. Over time, there is a lengthening of the skull. We use family photos to simulate that cranial-facial growth and then we select out features that are uniquely inherited,” NCMEC president Ernie Allen told ABC after Jaycee Dugard was found.

Age progression has been in use since 1989, and is now largely done using computers. Still, the process can’t be automated and relies largely on the know-how of the forensic artist. As Allen put it, it’s ”half art and half science.”

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