Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Mysterious Charlie Chop-off

Improved Composite

200 West 106th Street
200 West 106th Street

The following year, the situation only grew worse. On March 7, at around 1:00 in the afternoon, the body of a Puerto Rican boy, ten-year-old Luis Ortiz, was discovered in East Harlem, dumped in the basement stairwell of a building at 200 West 106th Street. His mother had sent him around the corner at 8:15 the evening before to the local grocery on Amsterdam Street to buy milk and bread for his five brothers and sisters. The grocer recalled him coming in to purchase the food he was thirteen cents short - and leaving. But he didn't return home and a search of the area that night failed to locate him. When he was finally found, the bread and milk were gone.

Luis Ortiz
Luis Ortiz

This time, the police had witnesses who were able to offer a description. In fact, authorities received more than three hundred calls from people offering information on their dedicated phone line. Most of it wasn't useful, but some of it gave them a way to improve on their suspect drawing.

Reporter Wolfgang Saxon described the resulting composite photo. "The picture was made with the help of witnesses and a photomontage machine owned by the Rockland County Bureau of Identification." The machine, which used actual photographs as the basis for the composite, supposedly had assisted in solving five out of every 100 cases in which it had been utilized.

To achieve a coherent image, witnesses were shown photographs of various facial features, and once they identified those that resembled the person they had seen in the vicinity of the murder, the machine assembled the parts "by using layovers of the selected photographs through a prism system that can block out different features. The picture is then projected on a television monitor, enabling witnesses to make suggestions until a close likeness appears." Once the witnesses were satisfied, the image was finalized and photographed from the monitor screen to use on posters, in newspapers, or on news reports. This device was thought to be an improvement over the Identi-kit, because it used genuine likenesses from real life rather than drawings.

It escaped no one's notice that these witnesses were describing a man who was similar to the one that the lone survivor had recalled the year before. The suspect was Hispanic, between thirty and forty years old, slender, and stood about five-feet-seven to five-feet ten inches tall. He also bore acne scars on his face, black marks on his chin, and possibly had a noticeable mole on his left cheek. His voice was described as "gruff."

 Detectives from the Fifth District Homicide Assault Squad went out into the neighborhoods all day that Saturday to distribute posters and show pictures to residents in the hope of getting more information about this person of interest. He was known to have used the names, 'Tony' and 'Michael,' and investigators believed that he had served time in either a penal or psychiatric institution. They figured he had been released in 1971 or early '72. They also checked all ships that had docked at the harbor to learn if any had been there during all four incidents. None had.

The composite got results, but perhaps not what the police were expecting.

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