Helping Law Enforcement to Unmask(ing) A Killer

Working with the media can be an exciting opportunity for forensic artists. It’s a great way to showcase your work and increase both your credibility and professional standing.

I recently appeared in HLN’s “Unmasking A Killer”, a frightening story of California’s Golden State Killer, a prolific serial rapist/killer who’s evaded capture for over 40 years.

During the series, I was asked my expert opinion on several composite sketches created during the investigation, including three the F.B.I. felt were most representative of the killer’s appearance. The series also featured interviews with other forensic experts, detectives who worked on the case and most important, surviving victims and their family members.

To provide context to the story, The Golden State Killer surfaced in 1976. He was a serial rapist terrorizing Sacramento-area communities. Over the next several years, he roamed California evolving from a serial rapist to a serial killer of men and women. By the time GSK stopped, he racked up 12 murders and 51 sexual assaults. Since 1986, there hasn’t been a crime attributed to him. With the exception of a couple of taunting phone calls, he seems to have vanished into thin air. Since then, he’s become arguably the most prolific serial killer in the United States

If you’re a forensic artist who does significant work on a high-profile case, like The Golden State Killer, chances are, you’llbe asked to appear in the media too. When you do, it’s important that you present yourself in a professional manner. How you present yourself speaks to your personal brand.

I’ve been lucky enough to be on television and print media quite a bit during my career. I’ve made some mistakes, but I learned much along the way. Below I’ve listed some tips that I think you’ll find helpful when appearing on television.

  • Pay attention to your physical appearance
  • Speak clearly
  • Look at the camera
  • Stick to your area of expertise
  • Stay positive, don’t be critical of other experts

Seeing yourself in print, or on TV is exciting. Extending your influence via social media is also becoming more common. Posting on the various social media platforms presents a different set of rules. Some of them, I’ve listed below.

  • Refrain from political/religious commentary
  • Don’t post offensive cartoons
  • Do post photos of you at work
  • Post photos of your work

Once you appear on television you’ve taken the first step to becoming a public figure. If you’re in the media enough, you may get recognized around town.

In retrospect, I think being on the front page of the newspaper or on TV, is better than being on a wanted poster, don’t you? Just remember, when all the attention dies down, you’ll still be where you’ve always wanted to be. Doing the work you love … in the service of others.

Not a bad way to make a living if you ask me.

To learn more, you can buy my book, Creating Digital Faces for Law Enforcement (Academic Press) where I dedicate a chapter to media issues.