Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Artist and the Killer: Frank Bender and Hans Vorhauer

'This Is the Same Man'

It was a simple observation that got forensic sculptor Frank Bender involved in the hunt for Hans Vorhauer. In February 1986, Bender, who calls himself a "recomposer of the decomposed" for his ability to create accurate faces from the skulls of the dead, happened to be in the Eastern District U.S. Marshal's Office in Center City, Pennsylvania, consulting on a different case. As he sat at an empty desk, looking through mug-shot albums relating to his case, he couldn't help but overhear an animated conversation at the other side of the room. Tom Rappone, the head of that office, was in high gear, questioning two of his men about the latest tip they'd received about Vorhauer. He'd just been spotted again in the area.

Rappone, a compact man with a deceptively calm face, pressed his men for more details, demanding to know how reliable their source was.

The deputies reported that the tip came from a woman in Vorhauer's old neighborhood who said she'd known both Vorhauer and his wife. She said she was pretty sure she saw Vorhauer, but wasn't positive because she hadn't seen him in 15 years.

Rappone shook his head in frustration, complaining that the whole problem was that no one really knew what Vorhauer looked like. He pointed to a wanted poster tacked to the wall, the usual black-and-white face-forward and profile mug shots. The photos showed Vorhauer in his early 30s, but he was 44 now. They had no photos that showed him any older.

Vorhauer age 31, front & side
Vorhauer age 31, front & side

The deputies reported all the recent information they'd gathered, including one man's claim that Vorhauer was selling meth again. A pile of surveillance photos taken at various places where Vorhauer had been spotted lay on a desk. One of the deputies frowned at the pile. Vorhauer was like a ghost, he muttered.

Bender's curiosity drew him to the surveillance photos. Rappone and the deputies were so involved in their discussion that they didn't notice Bender poring over the images. Most of the prints were out of focus, but Bender was drawn to a series of shots of a man with reddish-brown hair walking down a crowded street. The man must have been walking fast, or even trotting, Bender thought, because all these shots were blurry.

Bender picked up the best of this series and walked over to Vorhauer's wanted poster on the wall. He studied Vorhauer's face for a while, then checked his birth date and did some quick subtraction. Vorhauer was 31 when the mug shots were taken. His face was deeply lined for someone that young. His brow was prominent, and his eyes stared out from a shadow. Bender saw arrogance and smug superiority in Vorhauer's expression, and he had a feeling it wasn't a bluff. He also sensed genuine intelligence in Vorhauer's face. This man was capable of doing a lot, Bender thought.

He held up the surveillance shot he'd picked out of the pile and compared it to the wanted poster. He called out to Rappone and the deputies, "This is the same man."