Bender, Frank

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Bender, Frank


Frank Bender is a man of many talents. He is a painter, a sculptor, and a forensic artist. Bender is expert at the evaluation and authentication of fine art paintings for insurance purposes. He also creates architectural models for government and agency use. In forensics, Bender is adept at traffic accident scene model reconstruction; he is an expert witness with local, state, and federal courtroom experience; he is an expert at facial reconstruction of homicide victims from skull to full three-dimensional face and head; he is the co-founder of The Vidocq Society, which is an international society of forensic experts dedicated to the solution of "cold cases"; he is expert at creating sculptures in order to facilitate identification of crime victims whose bodies are no longer recognizable; and he is perhaps best known for his age-progressed three-dimensional sculptural renderings of fugitives.

The most well known case in which Frank Bender was involved was that of John List. In November of 1971, List shot and killed his wife, his mother, and his three children. He made no effort to hide the crime, and left several notes stating that he felt a need to "free his family's souls." It took the police about a month to discover the bodies, and the only clue as to List's location was the discovery of his car in the parking lot of a nearby airport. Eventually, it was learned that List had lost his job and was feeling considerable anxiety and shame over financial pressures. Rather than choosing to deal with his difficulties and facing the consequences thereof, List opted to murder his entire family.

List successfully eluded capture until 1989, when the television show America's Most Wanted planned to air an episode about the List murder. The show's executives approached Frank Bender, and asked him to create a strong visual representation of what John List would look like 18 years after the crime. Although Bender had considerable experience in aging faces, he felt that this case also required psychological insight in order to estimate how List might lookhow he might have chosen to alter his appearance after the crime; how his personality traits might have affected the aging process and his appearance across time; and, generally, how to make the sculpture "come alive." Bender enlisted the aid of criminal psychologist Richard Walter, and they collaborated on the creation of a "profile" to assist in the generation of List's age-progressed appearance.

Ultimately, they created a psychological portrait of a man who would alter his appearance very little, who would try to re-create his former life as much as possible (to include re-locating to an area less than 300 miles from his original home, although he might have traveled some distance immediately after the murders), and who would have opted not to hide a potentially identifying surgical scar behind his right ear. They decided that he would probably be a bit paunchier, have drooping jowls, deep worry lines, and a receding hairline, and they incorporated those features into the final List sculpture. The bust was completed and aired during the proposed television program. Within days of the broadcast, a call was received from a female former neighbor of a man named "Bob Clark," who felt that he might be List, and was able to offer a number of striking details. Less than two weeks after the call, FBI agents arrested "Clark" at his office, which was located less than 250 miles from the murder site. Bender learned that List largely resembled the bust that he had created, and was quite similar to the profile generated by he and Walter. Ultimately, List was convicted of five counts of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.

see also Ancient cases and mysteries; Art identification; Cold case; Composite drawing; Crime scene reconstruction.