Jane Doe No More
artist Gloria Nusse, whose portfolio spans museum
reconstructions of Miwok Indians to those of suicide
and murder victims for law enforcement. "I get called
in when a case is completely cold."
— Photo by Dave Dellaria
In 2003 the remains of a young woman were discovered behind a Castro Valley restaurant. After more than three years, the victim's identity had yet to emerge. "It was heart-wrenching," recalls lead detective Sgt. Scott Dudek of the Alameda County Sheriff's Office. With nowhere else to turn, he ordered the body exhumed and called forensic artist Gloria Nusse. The SF State anthropology graduate student and anatomy instructor made a mold of the young woman's skull at her Clay and Bones studio in Mill Valley.
Nusse's intricate process starts with identifying the proper tissue depth at a number of landmarks across the facial area. Various measurements are made to determine such factors as nose thickness and length and eye placement. "It's based on anatomical studies that go back to the 1800s," Nusse says, explaining that race, gender and age determine tissue depth.
Her earliest lessons in facial reconstruction came from Professor Emeritus Roger Heglar. Nusse visited his lab in the late 1980s when she was working as a scientific artist and sculptor at the California Academy of Sciences. "The technique does work," she says.
Last year Sgt. Dudek took Nusse's sculpture to Yahualica, Mexico, the hometown of a person of interest who was seen with the victim in California. The sculpture was placed prominently in the town's square. Flyers with photos of the sculpture were also handed out. Community members identified the young woman as Yesenia Nungaray.
The 16-year-old had sought out a new life in the U.S. but was killed just three weeks after her arrival. "There's no way people would have made the connection without Gloria," Dudek says. "This case wouldn't have come to a conclusion without her. She's right up there with the best of the best."
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