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The Girl with the Crooked Nose

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The Girl with the Crooked Nose
A Tale of Murder, Obsession, and Forensic Artistry. By Ted Botha. (Berkley Books, New York: 2012. Pgs. 384. 8 Photos.) ISBN: 978-0-425-24683-2.

Reviewed by Simone Bonim - January 9, 2012

Thanks in part to television shows such as CSI, Bones, and NCIS, forensic studies and forensics in general are all the rage. In The Girl with the Crooked Nose, Ted Botha gives us the very real story of a forensic artist who gave a face, and by extension, often a name, to countless murder victims, by sculpting their faces. A self-taught forensic sculptor, Frank Bender (1941 -2011), was instrumental in solving nine murders and tracking down nearly thirty fugitives, by sculpting the faces of the dead. Bender was also one of the founding members of the Vidocq Society, a group of private citizens who work together to solve cold cases.

In this unputdownable book, Botha chronicles Bender's life and career, and he provides insights into some of the most important cases that Bender worked on, as well as explaining how Bender was able to create facial reconstructions of the dead, often using no more than a few fragments of scull. A fine artist, Bender also helped to nab many fugitives by making colored sketches of their faces. The Girl with the Crooked Nose is true-crime at its best. This book in informative, well written, and fascinating to read. Botha must be a novelist at heart, because this book reads almost like a novel - only everything that he says is true.

One of most notable crimes detailed in this book, and the one that takes up the bulk of this tale, is Bender's attempt to identify the feminicidios, and to discover clues to the identity of their killers. The feminicidios are perhaps four-hundred women, maybe more, whose bodies have been found just outside of Juarez, Mexico beginning in 1993 - with up to thirty bodies discovered each year ever since. Despite Bender's best efforts, most of these murders have never been solved, and many of the women have never been identified.

The Girl with the Crooked Nose is a fascinating book to read, and it provides a spotlight on an incredibly useful tool in the arsenal of forensic sciences, namely the facial reconstruction of the victim. This book also serves as a gripping biography of an unsung hero who served on the front lines in the development of forensic science and art. This book includes eight photos, several of which show Bender's facial reconstruction alongside of a picture of the victim. The resemblances are uncanny, and they help to explain why Bender was such a successful forensic sculptor. A must read for anyone intrigued by the field of forensic science, as well as for afficionados of CSI type shows and books.

Related Reviews:

Beating the Devil's Game: A History of Forensic Science and Criminal Investigation, by Katherine Ramsland.
Rather than focusing on modern crimes and current forensic technologies, this book looks at the history and evolution of forensic science and the development of crime scene and criminal investigation techniques.

The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing, by Richard Dawkins.
A collection of more than 80 excerpts that highlight the depth and range of popular science writing from the early 20th century up to the present day.

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