Season One, Episode 06 – Anything For A Witness

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LOIS GIBSON: I get completely, I guess high, I get a feeling like no drug. It’s the most beautiful, buoyant, confident, happy feeling inside. And I used to not– I used to wonder, what is that? I was embarrassed. I mean, do I enjoy? No, I’m not happy people are murdered. I thought, well, it’s because I get a chance to help. And that’s true. You gotta know what situation, what frame of mind the witnesses in. Do they love the person that was killed or is it just a stranger? They don’t care.

Do they see the perpetrator run by, or were they tortured for three days by the perpetrator? So I need to understand that. And some of them are screaming. I can’t remember the face. That would be a kidnapping. Those are very traumatizing. All the successful sketches I’ve done, all of those sketches were done from a witness that in the beginning of the effort denied that we could do that effort. They denied their ability.

That’s just what witnesses do. There is no fulfilling way to use your art than to be able to get with an innocent victim and pull a vision from their mind. And give it to the detective and help him find the person he’s searching for.This is Lois Gibson in my house in Spring, Texas. I’m the forensic artist for all the law enforcement agencies in this area of the state. I have the most fulfilling job in the world. I never want to quit. I am the art squad.

I grew up in Kansas City, Missouri. There’s five sisters and brothers, and all I wanted to do was draw. I drew before I could actually walk. Be crawling around. I get crayons and use ’em all up. Visually I get my excitement from seeing things. I think it was like that from the womb. When I was eight we went to the Atkins Museum of Fine Art, Kansas City. Their big fine art museum.

And I remember looking at the paintings and I could tell how the painting was painted. I saw the paint strokes on these big, gigantic famous paintings, and I understood how they were painted. So I always knew I wanted to draw, but I especially wanted to do faces.

AUDIO CLIP: The two sides of the head is determined by considering the head from three points of view, from the front, from the back, and from the top.

LOIS GIBSON: Faces are like, they’re beautiful. I mean, the eyeballs are wet and they’re shiny, and there’ll be different colors of the iris and the light shines on them, and you get all your emotions from people. They give you what they’re thinking and stuff. 

AUDIO CLIP: The most noticeable asymmetry is the one presenting the front view just as the prisoner faces. 

LOIS GIBSON: Really always wanted to draw faces. I did drawings from photographs, and I did my baby brother, and it was exact. The first time I tried it was exact. But I made it the same size and I think people thought I traced it. I was sort of ignored and lost in the shuffle because I, there were five children. And then as I grew up, I decided I had to be practical. I wanted to make money, so I tried to major in business and economics. Which is really strange, the way my brain works.

But I’m a masochist, so I can make straight A’s in economics. But I would draw pictures of the professors all during the class, and people would start gallerying, sitting behind me so they could see what I’d draw next. The reason I moved to Los Angeles was because I wanted to make more money. I worked my way all the way through college. And I figured if I lived cheaply– that they paid so much more in Los Angeles that I could save money over the summer and go back and make it through a semester of school. 

AUDIO CLIP: Welcome to Los Angeles, super city of the future, metropolis of Southern California.

LOIS GIBSON: Then my boyfriend talked me into going to a modeling agency because like most people, I don’t really think or care for my own looks. 

AUDIO CLIP: Most of the talent agents are located in Beverly Hills who will evaluate her potential strictly in terms of the existing market.

LOIS GIBSON: I did a whole bunch of apartment complex advertisements. I’m like the girl by the pool you wanna meet. If you rent this apartment, this girl is laying by the pool. And I did a mop thing, and yachts. I was a dead girl and a Robert Mitchum movie poster. Modeling for Playboy came about is I had an agent and he said, Playboy wants you to model. And I said, I won’t model for those male chauvinist pigs. And then he kept asking and finally he was very pushy, of course, cuz he was gonna get a lot of money.

And I said, okay, if they get a female photographer, I’ll do it. If it’s a female, I can call the shots. It won’t be embarrassing. Few weeks later, after I told my agent, he calls me, he goes, got female photographer. He talked, baby, talk to me. For the first time in the history of the world, they got a female photographer, Donna Michelle. She was Playmate of the year in 1965. I set up the shots and they were tasteful. But it’s so long ago, like there’s dinosaurs behind me and the girls all wear long johns.

As far as painting, I dated a Beverly Hills dentist and he loved Vermeer. He said, that’s the best artist in the world. He did very economical, clean, pure domestic scenes. And I said, oh no, I could paint as good as that. And he went, no, he was vicious. And so he took me to a paint place. He goes, you won’t know what to buy. I go, yes, I will. And I had him buy all the supplies and I painted my version of Girl with a pearl ear drop. And while I was painting, listening to music and painting. I realized that’s one of the most fun activities. In fact, that is the most fun activity. To this day that I will ever wanna do.

And that’s when I realized I gotta get out of LA. I want to go somewhere where I can just paint and listen to music, get an art degree. And then of course, when that torture rapist nearly killed me. That cinched it. The year I was attacked was 1971. I was living by myself in a nice apartment. It was a secure apartment. You had to have a car to get into the garage. And this guy knocked on the door one day and he said, hi, I’m Jim Hutchins. I live down the hall and I see you come and go. So we’re neighbors. And he says, so I thought, Hey, why don’t we meet? I opened the door and the first thing he did was almost snap my head off my body by just throwing all of his weight and muscle onto my neck and squeezing my neck.

And then from then on I was being choked nearly to death while he did the act. And if you like to enjoy killing someone over and over like he did. You can make the person black out when you choke them and then you let them gasp I guess and come to. Cuz that went on for 25 minutes and that is a long time to ponder your own death. I remember thinking, wow, I never finished college.

Finally he finished and he made it clear he was gonna get out and I’m bleeding down in my throat. I’m bleeding from my eyes and I’m gasping, and he gets out and I lock all the locks. My reaction to the attack was I couldn’t leave my apartment. I spiraled down, I spiraled down to almost nothing. I wanted to get that guy caught so bad. I wanted justice. That was the number one painful thing. Forget the pain during the attack. It’s over after a while, but afterward I wanted justice so bad. But darn, I couldn’t get justice cuz I couldn’t bring myself to tell the police.

There was no way I could tell the police. I’ve had little girls now, little female victims, young, five, six years old, and they asked me, why didn’t you report it? The biggest problem was I could not have stood for a male police officer to look at me. Even to sit and chat about it, is just a ridiculous question. Why didn’t I report it from my viewpoint? Especially at the time I was destroyed mentally, emotionally destroyed. I mean, I had blood coming outta my eyes. I looked like a monster for weeks. I know all the reasons to report, but at the time, no, no, no, I couldn’t. And I wish everybody would report cuz if you don’t report, you take the side of the attacker, you help them attack more people.

I had already decided to leave LA and I already had decided where to go and that just sped it up. The way I decided on Texas is I drew a map of Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana because I just wanted to be able to drive to my parents in Kansas in an afternoon’s time, and I twirled around in five times outta seven my finger landed on Texas and that’s why I moved here.

I moved to Texas with no friends, no job. Just drove in and that was it. When I went to Texas, I immediately went to UT Arlington. Got a job waiting tables. And I majored in art. After I graduated in 1976, I moved to San Antonio. I thought I’ll go to Dental Lab Tech school because you can be a maxilla facial prosthesis technician where you make the false eyeballs and the false noses and cheeks and parts of faces that people lose through trauma and or surgery. 

AUDIO CLIP: Makeup can be used on the prosthesis as well to attain bilateral symmetry.

LOIS GIBSON: And you need to be an artist to do that. So I studied that. I went there for a year and a half at dental school and I became really familiar with like all the bones in the skull, in the teeth, 

AUDIO CLIP: narrow entry into a cavernous socket to position the superior lid, posterior and superior.

LOIS GIBSON: And then I went to the riverwalk in San Antonio and I started making about $500 a day drawing portraits of tourists. The riverwalk in San Antonio is one of the most beautiful places. It is to me, the best tourist attraction. And it’s like a Venice situation, all the sky and the buildings and the lights are reflected on the water.

I would work a business deal with various owners of properties along the river, and I’d say I’d give them a percentage. And I’d bring my easel down and the best thing that I could do is draw faces. I could do that at my sleep. I would set up at the edge of a restaurant and immediately the restaurant would fill up, and it was just the most beautiful time of my life because it was raw talent. Do somebody’s face, they give you money, they love you for it. And then you do the next person.

I got deeply involved with all these thousands of people for just that one hour or two that I’m drawing a portrait. I did about 3000 during my time there. I did so many portraits. I got an inflamed sternocleidomastoid muscle, which is the muscle along the side of your neck. You’re switching your head back and forth thousands of times in eight hours and I just inflamed my neck muscle.

The doctor said, you have to quit. And I said, hey, no portraits, no eat, no rent. Along about the time when my neck made it impossible to continue doing portraits, I fell in love with a man, a businessman who lived in Houston. I forced him to sit down, he’s incredibly shy. And I did his portrait. So when he sat down and immediately 50 people jump over and start staring at you– draw the person, nothing personal to him.

He curled up and caved his head down to his chest and very difficult cuz I couldn’t get him to sit up and look at me. But I think we fell in love with each other right then. And then we got together later and then he was the one. So I moved to Houston and followed him. When I got to Houston, I ended up doing portraits in malls, Northwestern Mall. In 1982 after I’d done thousands of portraits of people, tourists, happy portraits.

I was with my girlfriend Diane, and I love having a good conversation and I hate it when people have the TV on in the background. So she had the TV on and I never watched the news cuz I couldn’t stand to hear about people getting attacked. So I religiously avoided the news, but you can’t be rude and go, I’m turning your TV off. So I’m watching the tv and then Dave Ward comes on and he goes.

AUDIO CLIP: A growing concern of the Houston Police Department. Crime Stoppers will pay. 

LOIS GIBSON: He tells about a story of there are a bunch of little girls, 11 and 12 year old girls, and they’re in a dance class and a man comes in and rapes the dance instructor in front of these little girls. So shocking. I stood up to go turn the TV off. I started cursing and before I got to the switch it hit me what I could do. And I turned around to Diane and I said I could draw that guy. I started breaking down because I realized in the back of my mind I wanted to get somebody, like that guy that did that horrible torture, rape of me. And I’m so illogical. I just wanted to get one guy. I mean all those little girls, they saw him for sure, and I draw people so easily, I know I could do it. And she says, just call the police.

I knew it was gonna be harder than that. And besides, I knew I needed to practice. So I convinced her to go to the gas station and let me babysit Amy, her two-year-old. I said, look, I’ll babysit Amy, and you go look at the guy at the gas station. I assumed it would be a man, and then come back and I’ll try to draw him. And then we can go back and see how I did. And she went and did it. And that seemed like forever.

Diane gets back and then I started trying to draw from her talking to me. And it was impossible. She hovered over me and said, keep working. And when we got down to the teeth, she goes, oh, you’re not gonna be able to do this part. He shows both his upper and lower teeth. And I said, no, I went to dental school. I’m a tooth fairy. I can do it.

So I did this guy with his mouth like Satchmo, like he’s showing upper and lower teeth. He’s grinning all the time. I did that. And she goes, oh, it looks like him. I would send people to a convenience store to look and then I’d come back. To see if they were still on the shift. I mean, the whole neighborhood was getting portraits and they didn’t know why. And I’d send my redneck husband, he goes, we got a new guy at work.

And I go, well, describe him. And I’d get up at five in the morning and drive him to work, and he’d pull the guy out of the shed where they’re drinking coffee. And I’d stare at the guy’s eyes and his ashes and his nose shape. But it was always, always, always good. I could always do it really good. And I thought incorrectly, wow, if I get a witness, it’ll be harder. Well, no, it’s easier because their memory’s more vivified by the trauma.

So as far as approaching the Houston Police Department, it’s like, hi, I’m Lois Gibson. I’m an artist, and I can draw people I can’t see. And it just didn’t go over. It’s a slow start, very bad. In fact, everybody just tried to get rid of me. The Houston police had no one doing sketches. I mean, one guy, he goes, honey, you come down we’ll have you somebody guard you and sit you next to the jail and you can draw all the perverts you want. He didn’t realize I was gonna talk to witnesses. They just didn’t understand the concept.

But I kept coming back. I needed to be almost killed to put up with their bureaucratic rejection. So finally what I did is I had a speech.I would tell them, look, I will come in there and you can have somebody go look at somebody at the jail. You have ’em come to me. I can’t see the guy they see. I’ll draw from their memory if I’m good. What a great trick. If I’m not, you guys are armed. I’m not. I’ll just leave. What do you have to lose? The way I got my foot in the door with the Houston Police Department is a Lieutenant Don Mack Williams sent somebody out to drive me down to the police station.

I had them take a dingy secretary and she went to the jail and looked at somebody. And they didn’t tell her she was gonna do a sketch. So they brought her back and I had my easel and all my gear ready to draw, just like on the river walk, but it would be witness memory. I was gonna delve into this woman’s mind. And that particular suspect had what’s called pegged laterals.

So they looked like points instead of a flat white surface. So I drew it and I nailed it. I blew everybody away. They’re walking behind me and they’re crowded behind me, like on the Riverwalk. But it’s a bunch of police with guns and attitudes, and I shocked them. After I proved that I could draw from someone’s memory from a secretary in their office, I got two cases that went nowhere. One guy only spoke Farsi. I still don’t know what went on with that. The second one, I let the girlfriend of the rape victim who was raped by a taxi driver.

I let her girlfriend sit in. And note to Lois, lesson learned. Don’t let anybody sit in on the sketch but the witness. The first case that I solved was the third case I ever did. It was a murder. Some guy in Memorial Park was having sex with another guy. The person receiving the sex killed the other person for fun. I have to bring all my gear, my easel, and my art supplies into the building, like a pack mule.

And I set it up. And the witness is hysterical because he comes upon this man. And he thinks he’s digging in the ground, and then when he gets closer, he realizes he’s stabbing a man in the back and the blood squirting out. We did the sketch and it was like pulling teeth. The murderer looked like he just bit a sour lemon. They pinched face with messy hair, and I gave it to the detective Douglas Osterberg. They called him Big Bird. I gave the detective to Big Bird and I got in my car and I drove down to White Oak Bayou and Houston Avenue, and I went to a vacant lot and I had decided I’m not doing that again.

Boy, it would be a good trick. It was a nice idea. But it’s not working Lois. You’re not going back. I’m done. So I drove home and I was like, wow, never again. The next day, Big Bird calls me on the phone and says, you did it girl. The roommate or the murderer is watching the news. And they talked about having a murder in Memorial Park. And then they showed a sketch. And then he stayed up for the rebroadcast till two 30 in the morning cuz he was so freaked out. And he saw it again, he saw my sketch again and that’s when he went, damn.

Well, they found the roommate’s underwear covered in blood and the knife was in the underwear. Just kind of a little sticky mess there. And, bada-bing it solved the case. The way I handle witnesses is I feel what people feel. I’ve always been like that. And if you go in and feel what the witness feels, you can work that way– you can make that person do whatever you want. And I need to get them to do a real unnatural act, which is draw the face of the guy. That’s just represents the most horrific thing to them. There’s two tricks that are solid gold. And they are the two different things you can say to a witness when they are screaming at you or yelling or inserting, or very violently telling you, I can’t remember the face. 

AUDIO CLIP: Interviewing is the most frequently used, the most important information gathering technique available to the law enforcement officer in investigations.

LOIS GIBSON: Here’s the two tricks. One thing. Is you gotta relax them and then you say, well, what kind of hair do they have? Humans are obsessed with hair. They always notice the hair. And if it’s a bald person, that’s obvious. So human beings always remember hair. It’s a very large item. 

AUDIO CLIP: The successful solution of a criminal case depends more often on the completeness and accuracy of information gained in this way than through any other means.

LOIS GIBSON: Second thing is, if people just are adamant, they say, I never saw the face. And you realize that they had a fist fight, they were rolled around, they were sexually assaulted or other activities that went on that, that give you the knowledge that, oh yeah, they saw the face. But you don’t argue with the person. Instead, you talk pleasantly, you get them relaxed and you say this, what kind of expression did they have? When they talk about the expression, they will start re-living emotionally the event.

Because that expression is riveted. I mean, it’s seared in their mind. I struggled for seven and a quarter years to try to get the Houston Police Department to institute me a job. It was not pretty. Every third sketch I would do, however, would help solve the case. I mean, they would be getting beaten up by the media. They were coming after ’em. Why don’t you solve this case? And when they were desperate, they’d call me. But it’s a large bureaucracy. They’re very slow to change.

The real thing that finally got me the job– I approached the chief of police. His name is Lee Brown. I called up naively and said I’d like to meet with the chief. And I showed Chief Brown how I’d solved one from a five-year-old witness, how I’d solved one from a witness that had been shot all up. I showed him these sketches next to the proven perpetrator of the crime. My successes.

Lee Brown says to me, how about a full-time job? He started the process and got me hired off full time. Finally. When I first started at the Houston Police Department, everybody that was gonna be able to work with me– I think they were excited to be the guys that were working with the artist in the same office, and it was in robbery. And so it was really fortunate. I was treated wonderfully to the end of the world. There’s always gonna be some individuals that don’t believe in using a forensic art, but they’re wrong.

So that’s okay. One of the most difficult sketches I ever did was with Paul Deason. Paul Deason is an officer and he was on patrol and he didn’t realize the guy he stopped was an escaped convict. The driver gets out, walks toward Paul, shoots him in the head, then shoots him in the back, and Paul falls down unconscious on the ground.

So I go to his hospital bedside about three days later, two and a half days later. He’s semi-conscious on all kind of medications. And he tells me, I never saw his face. I only saw the flash of the gun. And I go, Paul, you’re gonna be okay. You’re gonna be all right. What kind of expression did he have? And I’ll never forget, he said, he looked like he didn’t have any expression like a shark. Like he didn’t care about anything. And in my mind I’m screaming, yay cuz I knew he saw the face and I did the sketch.

Three days later some guy goes to a Sears and tries to shoplift a chainsaw. So he gets caught for that. And two guys at the jail who saw this shoplifter thought he looked like the sketch. So they held a video lineup and Paul’s hospital room. He picks him out and then they spent hours searching the shoplifting scene and they found a car with pieces of Paul’s skin and uniform hanging from the undercarriage. Which means that guy really did do it. I gotta say, I teach a class and I teach the best class in the world. Of course, there’s almost nobody teaching it, so there’s no competition. 

AUDIO CLIP: What you’re witnessing here is a classroom of future forensic artists learning their craft. Their teacher is a master. Lois Gibson, the world renowned artists for the Houston Police Department.

LOIS GIBSON: I have students that do a sketch that solves a murder the first time they work a case. If you’re somebody out there and you draw really well and you go, wow, I’m useless. All I do is like to draw like me. You can take my class, but I can show you how to take your artistic skills and use it as a tool to catch murderers, rapists, robbers, horrible people. 

AUDIO CLIP: And it seems some of her students quickly learn the craft of forensic art.

LOIS GIBSON: Universally after about the first few sketches I ever did universally when I turned it around, the witness is elated. That I could actually do as good as I can, and they’re very excited. And all of a sudden they realize they can get justice and they appreciate me like nobody else does. They appreciate me hugely. And they let me know and they cry and they say, this is a mission from God for you. And they say it to me and then it’s actually true. Witnesses have gotten back to me.

Recently a girl got back and it’s been like 25 years. I got with her when she was eight years old and a man had pulled her out of her window when she was eight and sodomized her and cut her throat, cut her head almost off of her body, and she laid for 12 hours and survived. And I did the sketch and he was matched with DNA 19 years later. And it looks just like the sketch. And she recently called me. And we’re gonna get together sometime. She’s grown and has a baby. Yes.

Every once in a while I never contact them, but if they wanna reach out and send me something they do. This guy calls me and he says, hi, I’m Glenn McDuffie. I’m the sailor kissing the nurse in the famous August 14th victory in Japan Day, Times Square. Where the sailor’s bending the nurse over and kissing her. He goes, I’m that sailor In that picture.

AUDIO CLIP: When I come up out of the subway, lady met me at the top of the steps. And said, sailor, I’m so happy for you. I said, for what? She said, the war’s over. You can go home. 

LOIS GIBSON: 23 men had claimed they were the sailor in the picture, and I just had to take care of him. He was 80 years old and I had him come over and hold a kiss, a pillow. Hold a pillow instead of trying to find an 80 year old nurse. I took about a hundred pictures trying to get that one angle that replicated the angle in the famous picture with the same lighting. And I miraculously got a shot.

I’m alone in my computer and I made the old man’s picture transparent, somewhat, and laid it on top of the young guy. And every single thing lined up. The ear was identical. The ear is the most complicated item on your head, more complicated than your eye. And then the hairline occurs at the same place. The superciliary arch is the same shape. I mean, it’s just Glenn McDuffie. Experts who have looked closely matched his ears and his musculature agree. It was McDuffie’s moment. The really huge thing that’s changed about my job, and this is very recent, is they’ve perfected the facial identification software.

And my department just bought, but we have not used it yet, that’s how new this is, software where a detective can take the sketch that you’ve done, a forensic artist has done, and they put it in a computer and it gets instantly compared to hundreds of thousands of mugshots, of proven perpetrators. And it can pull up the photograph of the guy that did the crime.

And because there are only 26 full-time forensic artists in the country. Meaning there’s almost none, there’s no full-time artist in Chicago, San Diego, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Denver, St. Louis. I predict that there’s gonna be thousands of jobs open up because once these detectives realize they can just stick a sketch in a system and it pulls up the identity of their perpetrator, they’re looking for, my gosh, I think all these departments are gonna wanna have a forensic artist because that’s gonna change the world. That’s gonna convince our police departments like nothing else has before, that they need to hire forensic artists.

The frequency of me doing these sketches is varied with crime surges, obviously. In the early nineties, I was doing over 300 a year, and now I’m just a little over 100 a year. But I hardly notice if I’m doing twice as much work because I do enjoy it. And I got a tiger by the tail. I can’t say no. I mean, you can’t go, well, we’re not gonna work this murder or this kidnapping. So a crime starts going up, I’m 65, and if it starts going up, I’ll be in the belly of the beast doing everything they throw at me.