Capturing a Criminal: Facial Composites

During the 1940s, the United States developed a system (called the Identikit), which uses transparent layers to build up a picture of a suspect’s face. In later years, the concept of the Identikit has evolved to include technological enhancements. In this article, you will also learn about some of the crimes that a facial composite has helped to catch.


The police will take the descriptions given to them by the witnesses is used to create a profile of a criminal suspect. Information, such as hair styles, eye color and other details, is collected and then laid over a basic face shape. This helps create what the face of a suspect would look like. Over time, enhancements and technological developments have been introduced. This includes the computerized E-Fit (Electronic Facial Identification Technique) and Photofit.

The traditional, main use of the facial composite is to record the details that a witness can remembers about what a suspect looks like. Law enforcement uses these sketches and technique to identify the suspects that are in wanted poster, learn additional details about a suspect, help an investigator in checking leads, and sends out alerts to communities about a potential serial offender. The facial composites also appear on the nightly news and TV shows that investigate crimes, such as ‘America’s Most Wanted’ which uses the public to lend their knowledge and give tips on the whereabouts of criminals. After viewing the composite, they’d have access to a phone number to call the proper authorities.

Using Facial Composites to Catch a Criminal

Facial composites have helped catch criminals involved in high profile cases. The Oklahoma Bomber Timothy McVeigh was captured with the help of a police sketch. Police traced the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) of a rear axle found in the wreckage, which traced back to the vehicle that had been rented to carry the bomb. Workers at the agency helped the FBI artist create a sketch of the renter. McVeigh had used the alias of ‘Robert Kling’. People showed the sketch around and the manager of the local Dreamland Hotel (Lea McGown) identified the man in the drawing as Timothy McVeigh. He was eventually executed by way of lethal injection at the age of 33.

In Sweden, the serial sexual assaulter named Kurt Niklas Lindgren was known in the media before his arrest as Hagamannen , ‘The Haga Man.’ Lindgren was convicted as a serial rapist in the country. In 2006, he was convicted of nine counts of sexual assault for the crimes he committed between 1998 and 2005. When Lindgren attacked his victims, he would take advantage in the outdoors and used physical violence. Two of his cases were called attempted murder. When he was captured, a facial composite greatly helped to confirm his identity, as a tip from the public led to his arrest. The suspect bore such a striking resemblance to the facial composite that he even went so far as to jokingly referred to himself as Hagamannen when speaking with his co-workers.