The mystery behind LSU's FACES Lab

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POSTED: Tuesday, October 29, 2013 - 10:30am

UPDATED: Tuesday, October 29, 2013 - 3:16pm

Tucked away inside LSU's campus is a place many people don't get to see, but where many people have been found.

Students pass it everyday, but can't see in it. A world all its own. A world full of faces.

It's called the LSU Forensic Anthropology and Computer Enhancement Services lab or FACES for short, but what they do is a bit different than what you may see on tv. That's something director Mary Manhein emphasizes in her new book Bone Remains.

"Well they can learn a lot more about reality. What they see on television is a lot of dramatic license," Manhein said. "Some of the programs you see on television really are good at providing the public with how things work."

The FACES Lab teams up with local law enforcement agencies, like Crime Stoppers, to solve cold cases. Using forensic science and analysis, the lab helps identify the unknown by collecting bones.

"We've worked well over a thousand cases over the years," Manhein said. "Some of these are animal cases also, but it's just as important to tell law enforcement that a bone they've brought us is not human as to know whether it is human, and out of those several hundred we have identified."

Back in 2005, Manhein teamed up with Sid Newman, the director of Crime Stoppers of Baton Rouge. The two still work together on unsolved cases, all in an effort to bring closure to grieving families and an identity to unknown remains.

"I had a little bit of background as to what she did, but I didn't have as detailed as I would soon learn as to the fascination of the FACES Lab," Newman said. "Initially, this was skeleton remains of this female and through Dr. Manhein's team, they were able to develop this face."

Manhein even relies on unconventional sources to help her identify these unknown victims. You can find a deck of playing cards in state and parish prisons, but there are not your normal playing cards. They are used to help identify missing people.

"While they're playing cards, they may know some things about this case and contact of anonymously," Newman said.

"What we've done is we've created facial reconstruction of them," Manhein said. "Those have been enhanced using some software packages, and then we place these on billboards across the state to try to see if someone can recognize them."

Mary and her team spend countless hours analyzing and constructing these faces. It's a labor of love for the LSU grad, who's been there since the lab's inception.

"Just what her lab does is cutting edge, and we're very fortunate not only locally here in Baton Rouge, but in the state of Louisiana to have Dr. Manhein and her staff so close and readily available," Newman said.

"Sometimes how you can't get people identified no matter what you do," Newman said. "So the extent to which we go, but on a real basis."

Mary Manhein's book, Bone Remains, can be found at your local bookstore.

For more information on the FACES Lab, you can go here.

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