Kent State Anthropology Professor and Forensic Artist Honored for Her Work in Identifying Missing 4-Year-Old Child in Cleveland
Strength, tenacity, courage and unrelenting persistence. These attributes describe the women who have shaped America’s history, by overcoming great obstacles to accomplish great achievements. Women’s History Month in March was an opportunity to recognize and celebrate them.
Linda Spurlock, Ph.D., assistant professor of anthropology at Kent State University, is one such woman who is making a huge impact in the field of forensic art. Dr. Spurlock, who also serves as a forensic facial reconstruction artist for several medical examiner and coroner’s offices throughout the region, was honored at the City of Cleveland’s Fifth Annual Salute to Women in Public Safety on March 22. Dr. Spurlock received the Community Service Award at that ceremony along with Cleveland Police Detective Kathleen Carlin and reporters Peggy Gallek of WJW-Fox 8 News and Homa Bash of WEWS-News 5. The four were honored for their work on the Eliazar Ruiz identification case reported in 2017.
It was not until a forensic sketch by Dr. Spurlock was shown on Cleveland television stations that the identity of a 4-year-old boy’s skeleton was recognized as Eliazar by his mother who was watching the news from prison and saw the sketch. The boy was found dead in September 2017 when his bones were found in a bag in a vacant home on Longmead Avenue on the west side of Cleveland. The boy was never reported missing, and no arrests have yet been made, but identifying the boy was an important first step of the investigation.
“This honor means a great deal to me because it was given at a large gathering of public safety officers,” Dr. Spurlock says. “I felt very proud to be one of four people who won this Community Service Award with Detective Kathleen Carlin, Peggy Gallek and Homa Bash, and it was very satisfying to be part of the team that helped identify Eliazar Ruiz. It was an additional honor that Sgt. Jennifer Ciaccia, spokesperson for the Cleveland Police Department, nominated us. Dr. Amanda Spencer from the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s Office also worked diligently on the Ruiz case – this kind of work is always team work.”
Dr. Spurlock says she is eager to do any kind of forensic art because it can stimulate new investigative leads. Her knowledge of anatomy and artistic skills are used to fashion the approximate appearance of the deceased person.
“When these faces appear in the media, people are more likely to listen carefully to details about the case, more so than if it was just spoken or written words,” Dr. Spurlock says.
She says it often takes several days of research and preparation before the approximation sketches (or sculptures) can be started. Some skulls must be cleaned and then “put back together” again. If it is a sketch, both full face and profile views are drawn. Drawing or sculpting then takes another few days.
Another recent forensic facial approximation sketch done by Dr. Spurlock led to the identification of Brooke Cameron, whose skeletal remains were found in a vacant lot in Cleveland in 2016.
Watch a video of Dr. Spurlock discussing her work
Dr. Spurlock has had an extensive career as a teacher of anatomy and physiology in colleges and universities throughout northern Ohio. At Kent State, she teaches courses in biological anthropology, forensic anthropology and archaeology. In her courses “Introduction to Forensic Anthropology” and “FACES: Human Head Anatomy with a Forensic Art Focus” (the latter taught at the Florence Summer Institute), she shows students how the facial approximations are executed.
She received her Ph.D. in biomedical science from Kent State and held a postdoctoral position in the Department of Anatomy at Northeast Ohio Medical University (NEOMED), where she refined techniques of forensic facial reconstruction. She is also a scientific illustrator who specializes in primate fossil reconstruction and has recently worked on reconstructing the pelvis of the fossil Ardipithecus ramidus. In 2006, she co-edited Caves and Culture: 10,000 Years of History in Ohio, published by the Kent State University Press.
For more information about Kent State’s Department of Anthropology, visit www.kent.edu/anthropology.