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Forensic Artist: Dermatologists Can Be Effective Crime Fighters

Courtesy Lois Gibson(NEW YORK) -- Lois Gibson, who holds the Guinness World Record for being the "most successful" forensic artist of all time, has helped Houston police solve 1,266 crimes by identifying criminals and victims.

She is one of only 26 such professionals in the United States, so few that they all know each other.

For years, police have worked with dentists and anthropologists who are able to reconstruct skeletal remains to identify victims.  But now, Gibson has suggested that dermatologists can be just as important in solving crimes.

In an essay that recently appeared in the journal Clinics in Dermatology, Gibson argues that more crimes could be solved if dermatologists worked more closely with law enforcement.  They are experts in scars, lesions and skin abnormalities, after all.

"Knowing how someone may have gotten a scar, for example, is a clue investigators could use," she said.

In one case, Gibson worked with a witness who described a dime-sized keloid scar on an armed robbery suspect's forehead.  The sketch helped police track down the man, and he confessed and the crime was solved.

Dermatologists could use Gibson's drawings of a described scar to determine if it is the result of a burn or a surgical procedure, or even a bad car accident.

"You never know what detail might solve a crime," said Gibson.

"This actually is very cool," said Dr. Josh Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research in the dermatology department at Mt. Sinai in New York City.  "Everyone has skin and no one has perfect skin, and there are different types of skin lesions that are identifiable."

Scars typically go through a wound-healing phase. "New scars are red and that redness tends to fade over months and years," said Zeichner.

There are also different types of collagen in scars. "We can actually identify how new or old a scar is," he said, enabling dermatologists to potentially give police a timeline for an injury.

"Picture you are the detective and you really want this guy," Gibson said.  "You make an announcement in the newspaper and talk about a unique thing -- one scar in a certain place.  The news people will write or talk and dwell on that item even more."

More than anything a scar or skin lesion "brings attention" to the person -- whether it's the victim or the criminal, she said.  "Maybe that's the thing that pushed you into calling the police."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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