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13 November 2014

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A searcher looking at pictures of missing people

The people finder

Have you ever seen those posters where someone's been missing for a few years, and their faces are changed to show how they might look today? Melita Dennett went behind the scenes at Missing People to meet Teri Blythe, Head of Identification.

Teri Blythe has a job that reunites families - she leads a team of experts who can 'age' photos to get a picture of how missing people might look today.

The team take original photos of the missing person and of their families to look at the resemblances. They then piece together the clues to make a computer image of how that person could look a few years later.

Teri works on missing and unidentified cases, such as where someone has turned up alive but can’t be identified, maybe because of a mental health problem, or a body has been found.

“That can range all the way from bones, to someone who’s recently deceased,” she explained. “My job is to try to put all the pieces together, and cross-match unidentified people with missing people, in the hope of identifying them.”

Kevin Hicks

Kevin Hicks, who disappeared in 1986 aged 16.

Teri also undertakes a process known as “age progression”, where she takes a picture of a person at around the time they went missing, and uses a computer to show how they might look today.

 “We’d take other reference photos as well,” she told me, “trying to get an idea of the general look of that person, and I also ask for reference photos of the family, particularly the parents at the age to which we’re progressing the missing person.”

Teri uses all these clues to see how someone might age, and updates clothes and hairstyles to give a more modern look.

Kevin Hicks

Kevin Hicks; in his early thirties.

She showed me a picture of Lee, who went missing as a teenager and now would be in his early thirties, and explained how she had age progressed him.

“He’s fairly recognisable through his smile and the shape of his mouth, and we want to retain that because that’s the sort of thing people recognise. Those sorts of features don’t really change.”

But Teri showed me how she’d subtly altered some other aspects of Lee’s face: “We haven’t had to change a huge amount, but we’ve thickened out the neck a little, given him a stronger jawline, giving him a more masculine look.”

Don’t some people find Teri’s work a little morbid?

“Some people do. I personally don’t, I find it fascinating. Obviously dealing with the families you get to realise you’re doing something useful.”

A missing girl

The point of this isn’t necessarily to encourage people to spot that person in the street, but rather to raise publicity about the missing person several years on, as Teri pointed out.

 “We also realise it’s a very good support mechanism for the families – they know that ten, fifteen years later, new publicity revives a case and they might get some new information they never had before.”

last updated: 15/12/2008 at 13:25
created: 09/12/2008

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