Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Harrison Graham: The Corpse Collector

Who Is She?

Frank Bender
Frank Bender

The single unidentified victim, with the morgue tag #3760, was placed into the hands of forensic sculptor Frank Bender, whose studio was on Philadelphia's South Street.  Since 1976, he'd worked with law enforcement to help with victim identification and the age progression of fugitives.  He'd gotten his start in this field after he was invited to tour the morgue to better learn about human anatomy.  While there, he saw a decomposing corpse that had not yet been identified.  She only had a number: 5233.  The woman had been shot three times in the head and dumped near the airport.  The possibility of identifying her seemed hopeless, but Bender said he believed that he knew what she looked like. He made a sculpture from her skull and got such a good likeness that 5233 eventually got a name, which led to her killer, who was convicted.  It wasn't long before he was invited into more forensic cases by the local and state police, and even the U.S. Marshals.  So it was no surprise that he'd be asked to assist with the identification of this victim of Graham's the third one found.

She had been a tall, thin black woman, said the anthropologist, about 5'9", between 20 and 30, with a narrow skull.  She was found nearly skeletonized beneath the decomposing corpse of another woman. At the time of her demise, she'd been wearing khaki slacks and two long-sleeved shirts, and the two earrings found next to her were presumed to be hers.

Bender completely defleshed the skull and placed tiny rubber posts on it to guide him in adding about five pounds of brown clay for the right tissue depth.  He then put fake eyeballs into the sockets.  The elongated face made this victim more of an individual with a unique appearance - a pointed chin and an asymmetrical nose aperture.  Adding a hairstyle that he believed was right for her, Bender had photographs taken for the newspapers.  Then authorities waited and hoped that someone would recognize her and come forward.

Skull (left); Bender's sculpture (right)
Skull (left); Bender's sculpture (right)

An older couple reported that their daughter had been missing for six months.  They knew that she'd been an acquaintance of Graham's and the description they gave was a match.  The ME's investigator got the young woman's medical records to compare against the remains.  He also showed the family photographs of the completed bust, but they weren't sure.  Yet others who had known the missing woman believed that the sculpture resembled her, and they recalled the earrings that she'd worn that were just like those found next to the corpse.  A past chest x-ray that showed an odd characteristic of one rib finally clinched it on January 26, 1988.  She was Valerie Jamison, 25, the mother of two sons, and she'd disappeared in April the year before.

Valerie Jamison
Valerie Jamison

With the victims identified and their association with Graham established, it was time to go to trial.

 

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