In one of the more bizarre and gruesome 3D printed-related stories, the 3D modeled decapitated head of an unknown woman is the most recent attempt by Pennsylvania police to determine the victim’s identity.

sketch

Professor Vitali’s sketch of the unidentified female [Image: AP]

Thanks to forensic artist and art professor Michelle Vitali, who teaches at Edinboro University in Pennsylvania, police now have an incredibly realistic, detailed bust of the as-yet unidentified woman that they could make public in the hopes of someone recognizing this anonymous victim. According to Professor Vitali’s bio on the Edinboro University website, she “has worked on high-profile criminal cases in the United States and performed facial reconstructions on historical cases in the U.S. and in Spain.” She is working to improve “the efficacy of 2D and 3D reconstruction,” which has generally been, at least to an extent, a combination of science and educated guesswork.

This case, however, may be one of the more peculiar ones on which she has worked. The decapitated head of the woman, whose age has been estimated at 50 and possibly even 60, was found in the woods in Economy, a small borough about 15 miles away from Pittsburgh a year ago on December 12, 2014. A young boy out for a walk in the woods spotted the head, which inexplicably had red rubber balls in place of eyes.

Economy Borough Chief of Police Michael O’Brien suggested to the media that the balls suggest that the “the mystery…may be linked to the black market for organs,” which is an undeniably sinister thought. Aside from the ghastly obvious — that the woman’s head was decapitated — there was an additional discovery: the head had been embalmed. However, evidently, the embalming fluids weren’t of the kind used by medical schools but, rather, by funeral homes so it’s thought, according to the Associated Press, that the body or at least the head was at some point taken from a funeral home.

Photo credit: AP Photo/Michelle Vitali via Economy Borough Police http://www.cleveland.com/nation/index.ssf/2015/01/western_pa_police_hope_3-d_ima.html

[Image: AP Photo/Michelle Vitali via Economy Borough Police]

According to police, the person who separated the head from the body “knew what he or she was doing.” That said, the police do not think the woman died as the result of a homicide as she was clearly dead, possibly from a heart attack, when she was decapitated. So, while criminal charges could be filed against a perpetrator should he or she be found, they would not be murder charges.

The effort to create a realistic likeness of the unknown woman was for the purposes of identifying her, although in doing so police might also find clues as to who might have perpetrated such an abhorrent act. Indeed, according one police official, there’s a somewhat thriving black market on body parts that “is pretty extensive.”

That’s chilling news. In the meantime, however, the 3D model of the figure created by Professor Vitali provides the case and the victim with a bit of much-needed dignity as police try to solve this most peculiar of mysteries. A year after having been found, the mystery woman’s head was given a proper burial — attended by Professor Vitali — and will receive a “Jane Doe” headstone if she remains unidentified by the spring.

3D technologies have been invaluable in several cases tied to forensics, reconstruction, evidence, and victim identification around the US and around the world recently. The level of detail possible with 3D design can lead to incredibly accurate views of the deceased — even those from very long ago.

 

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