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Portraits of Guilt:
The Woman Who Profiles the Faces of America's Deadliest Criminals

By Jeanne Boylan

Jeanne Boylan, famous for her highly accurate investigative sketches of the Unabomber and Polly Klaas kidnapping suspects, recounts her unique career and fragmented personal life.

328 pages
Pocket Books (2000)

Reviewed by: Eric Howard

Most police sketches of criminal suspects have far too generic an appearance to be of much use, and Jeanne (pronounced "gene") Boylan's most compelling argument is that they do not have to be that way. She makes no claim to special talents; rather, she presents herself as having a few learned skills. The implication is clear that she hopes that investigators and sketch artists change their ways, especially regarding how to question witnesses, so that better suspect sketches and more reliable witness information may result.

Central to her technique is patient questioning. She engages witnesses in conversation, mixing questions about the suspect with discussion of unrelated topics that provoke no anxiety. She also avoids asking obvious, unhelpful questions such as, "Did he have a long, thin nose or a short, wide one?" People do not remember faces as collections of parts, and her questioning is appropriately holistic. Her technique is time-consuming and antithetical to a average police grilling, but the accuracy of her sketches confirms the validity of her method.;

Her story of how she obtained the sketch of the Polly Klaas suspect, which so closely resembles the convicted killer, Richard Allen Davis, that it seems she saw him before drawing it, is sadly typical of the many other investigation stories she tells:

As I waited in the hallway [after interviewing Kate, one of the two young witnesses to the Klaas kidnapping], a weary-looking female FBI agent came strutting down the corridor and introduced herself as the investigator who'd interviewed Kate and Gillian that first night.
"How'd it go with the kid?" she asked.
"You mean Kate? Good. I think it was a productive morning."
She threw her head back and laughed, flashing a mouth full of fillings that matched her plain gray skirt.
"Well, good, because I really leaned on her and—"the next few words she said with a sliding jaw, her head bobbing back and forth—"I couldn't get shit. I wasted a whole day with that little bitch."
I felt my cheeks begin to burn. She'd leaned on her? Little bitch? A child who was feeling more guilt than a twelve-year-old should have to ever fathom, a child who was having nightmares about what she might have been able to do differently... and this was the attitude she'd encountered in her interview with the authorities?
It was no wonder Kate was withholding!

Fortunately, Boylan was able to connect with the two girls who had witnessed the kidnapping and produce the now-famous drawing. Additionally, at least for the jaded reader, her sometimes-catty, sometimes-purple prose can be quite enjoyable (in a way, presumably, that she did not intend).

The book also chronicles Boylan's unhappy marriage and divorce; her stress at being urgently called from one heinous crime to another and thrust into a circle of distraught relatives, aggressive reporters, and hostile law enforcement officials (who often regard her as an amateur and a meddler); and her conflicting desires for a quiet life in the country and the realization of her successful, peripatetic career. Boylan happens to be as beautiful as a movie star, with the consequence that she appears on television probably more frequently than she otherwise would, and the book conveys the strange feeling of being recognized everywhere whether she wants to be or not. When recounting her personal life, her best trait is her honesty.

Boylan's book makes for fascinating reading for those who simply want to hear from someone who was involved in the investigations of some of this country's most notorious recent criminal cases and for those who, like her, are seriously troubled by the traditional-but-wrong techniques that produce the typical police sketch.'

Eric Howard is associate editor of Los Angeles Lawyer.