NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – There are about 10,000 unidentified victims on medical examiners’ shelves in the United States and 1,200 here in New York.

Now, local art students may hold the key that could help solve the mystery of who some of them are.

As CBS2’s Maurice DuBois reported, the images one gallery window may look like artwork, but they are in fact images of murder victims whose cases are unsolved and identities unknown.

“When we first uncased the skulls that we were given, they all had bullet holes or smashed-in skulls,” said John Volk, director of continuing education the New York Academy of Art. “They all have a story

So, Volk and his students decided to take a unique opportunity to try and solve the mystery and hopefully uncover their identities.

“You could see each one had some sort of trauma,” Volk said.

The replicas of each victim’s actual skill were created using the latest computer and 3D technology by the New York City Medical Examiner’s Office.

“These are cold cases where we’ve exhausted all other more traditional means of identification. You know, DNA has been done, dental, we’ve exhausted everything,” said Bradley Adams, director of the forensic anthropology department for the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

Now, using a block of clay, 12 students will try to give a name to the victims. But the artists will have to put their creative instincts aside and limit themselves to the forensics, taking their anatomical clues from the skull itself.

“She was between 17 and 24 years old. They found her with long, wavy blonde-orangish hair,” artist Stefania Panepinto said.

Those are the only clues that Panepinto had to work with, but using specific markers and measurements for muscle and facial features, she helped bring her victim back to life.

“I feel like they’re trying to speak but you know, we’re speaking for them,” she said.

Artist Zoe Suenson-Taylor was in awe as her victim took shape.

“I felt that she did start to kind of look quite concerned and kind of like imploring,” she said.

Marco Pali was surprised by the work too.

“The moment I put the eyes on the skull, I felt like I had a huge responsibility on me,” he said.

Pali had an additional clue for his victim: distinctive cornrows.

“What matters is that this person is unidentified. Nobody knows who he is. Maybe his family is still looking for him,” Pali said.

Gunshot wounds killed the victim Richard Comstock re-created.

“There was a hole back here and then there was like two to the face,” he said.

This is the first time recreations of this sort have been tried.

Joe Mullins from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children brought the project to the art academy.

“You can’t help but get emotionally involved in with class. But I guarantee all 12 of them now are emotionally attached to their individual skill and they want to see them identified,” he said.

The sculptures will be on display at the New York Academy of art at 11 Franklin St. until March 8.

You can also see them online here.


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