There is a bewildering, frustrating quality in Botha's crackling account of a quirky, maverick forensics artist, Frank Bender, and his largely successful efforts in facial reconstruction of murder victims. The steady, no-nonsense approach of the author (Mongo: Adventures in Trash ) is marred by the herky-jerky sequences of the narrative as he switches from Bender's hit-and-miss past triumphs to a monumental murder case south of the border in the sordid Mexican area near Ciudad Juárez, where about 400 women have been raped, tortured and killed. National and international recognition of Bender's uncanny skill grows, but the psychological toll wears on his home life and his interaction with authorities. What is extraordinary is Botha's writing, with his unerring depiction of Bender's painstaking work and the eventual unraveling of the brutal crimes it solves. Although Bender is not successful with every case, including the epic Mexican serial killings, the tales in this book accurately capture the dark motives and complexities of senseless murder, and even the most savvy true-crime reader will not be able to resist the author's insightful storytelling. 16 pages of photos. (May 13)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
The Girl with the Crooked Noseby Ted Botha
In The Girl with the Crooked Nose, Ted Botha tells the absorbing story of Frank Bender, a gifted, self-taught artist who can bring back the dead and the vanished through a unique, macabre sculpting talent. Bender has been the key to solving at least nine murders and tracking down numerous criminals. Then he is called upon to tackle the most challenging and bizarre case of his career.
Someone is killing the young women of Juarez. Since 1993, the decomposing bodies of as many as four hundred victims, known as feminicidios, have been found in the desert surrounding this gritty Mexican border town. In 2003, prodded by local political pressure and international attention, the Mexican authorities turn to the United States to help solve these horrific crimes. The man they turn to is Bender.
Through breathtakingly realistic sculptures, Bender reconstructs the faces of unknown murder victims or fugitives whose appearances are certain to have changed over years on the run. The busts are based in part on the painstaking application of forensic science to fleshless human skulls and in part on deep intuition, an uncanny ability to discern not only a missing face but also the personality behind it.
Arriving in Mexico, Bender works in secrecy, in a culture of corruption and casual violence where the line between criminals and law enforcement is blurry, braving anonymous threats and sinister coincidences to give eight skulls back their faces and, hopefully, their histories. Drawn to one skull in particular–"The Girl With the Crooked Nose"–Bender gradually comes to suspect that perhaps he is not meant to succeed, and that the true solution to the mystery of the feminicidios is far more terrible than anyone has dared to imagine.
Ted Botha brilliantly weaves Bender’s story–the cases he has solved, the intricacies of his art, the colorful characters he encounters, and the personal cost of his strange obsession–with the chilling story of the Juarez investigation. With a conclusion as shocking as its story is gripping, The Girl with the Crooked Nose will haunt readers long after the last page is turned.
“…[a] crackling account of a quirky, maverick forensics artist, Frank Bender, and his largely successful efforts in facial reconstruction of murder victims…. extraordinary is Botha's writing, with his unerring depiction of Bender's painstaking work and the eventual unraveling of the brutal crimes it solves…. the tales in this book accurately capture the dark motives and complexities of senseless murder, and even the most savvy true-crime reader will not be able to resist the author's insightful storytelling."--Publishers Weekly
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Read an ExcerptThe Girl with the Crooked Nose
A Tale of Murder, Obsession, and Forensic Artistry
By Ted Botha Random House
Copyright © 2008 Ted Botha
All right reserved.
Frank was used to the bad dreams. They came with the strange hours
and the heads. It was a trio that he had learned to live with ever since
the murder of Anna Duval.
The dreams returned at random, like old acquaintances—the man
hanging in the tree, the boy tied up and strangled and burnt and shot
through the temple, the man cut in half by a train—especially when he
was working on a new case.
It was very early. He had come to bed only at two A.M., after working
on a skull that he had just gotten from the New York police. He could
hear Jan breathing faintly next to him. Boy lay at his feet while Guy, black
and haughty, was barely visible on top of the video recorder in the corner,
his eyes the only thing that gave him away.
Frank knocked his knee against the side table as he got up. Boy shifted
slightly and then settled back into place. Frank turned to see if he had
woken Jan, but she hadn’t moved.
He pulled on a pair of boxer shorts. He looked good for a man who
had just turned sixty-two—a flat hard stomach from years of exercising
his abs by hanging off the sofa, skin tanned from cycling along the banks
of the Schuylkill River, an eagle tattoo on his sinewyleft forearm that
he’d gotten in the navy. He resembled the English actor Patrick Stewart
with a goatee, or, in his more serious moments, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin.
Over the years he had cultivated a habit of trying to appear mysterious
by bending his head forward slightly so that he looked at a person
through his eyebrows. If it worked on men, it made women uncomfortable.
But as soon as he smiled, the jig was up. His mischievous grin was
infectious, and most people couldn’t help liking him.
He had immortalized the grin in a life-size self-portrait that he’d
painted several years earlier. Anyone standing close enough to it would
see the silver tooth near his upper right incisor—that is, if they weren’t
first struck by another part of his anatomy. Not only was Frank naked,
but he had done his penis in 3-D.
The unframed painting was propped up against a wall near the entrance
to his studio door, which meant that anyone who came in—
friends, FBI agents, artists, journalists, policemen, criminal profilers,
U.S. Marshals, even his grandchildren—had no choice but to see Frank
and his penis. It was as much a joke as his statement to the world: Here I
am. Take me or leave me.
Cocked head, wide grin, upper right incisor glinting.
Frank walked from the bedroom into the studio, which was flooded
by a full moon shining through the skylight. The luminescence lit up the
rows of heads that either looked down from several shelves along the
eastern wall or stared up from the floor, at least three dozen bodyless
saints and devils.
Yvonne Davi took up a corner near Rosella Atkinson, who was next to
James Kilgore, the last member of the Symbionese Liberation Army. Ira
Einhorn was situated comfortably far from Brad Bishop and the 5,300-
year-old man. Near the front of the studio was the icy-eyed Hans
Vorhauer, a version of whom Frank had done in concrete to show off the
man’s pitted skin. John List hid behind Anna Duval, who looked slightly
shocked under her ten-dollar wig, as if Frank had sculpted her a split second
before the bullets had entered the back of her head.
Some of the busts were unpainted, identified even before Frank had a
chance to add their skin tone or the color of their corneas. Other busts
had almost too much color, like the girl with green eyes, sculpted when
National Geographic was trying to track down the peasant from
Afghanistan who had become one of its most famous cover girls.
The heads that hadn’t been identified—at least not yet, or not that
Frank knew of—were usually known by an epithet that he or the police
had given them, one that came with the manner or location of their
death. The Boy in the Bag. The Girl in the Sewer. The Burnt Boy. The
Girl in the Well. The Man in the Dumpster.
The victim Frank had dreamed about tonight, The Girl in the
Steamer Trunk, was inconspicuous between all the others on the shelves,
smaller, darker. She had braids that Vanessa had helped him with. Her
body had been found dumped under a Philadelphia bridge in the winter
Excerpted from The Girl with the Crooked Nose by Ted Botha Copyright © 2008 by Ted Botha. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Ted Botha is the author of Mongo: Adventures in Trash and Apartheid in My Rucksack, and co-author (with Jenni Baxter) of The Expat Confessions. He has written for numerous publications, including The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, Condé Nast Traveler, and Outside. He lives in New York City.
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This book was not an ordinary crime story that is usually seen on CSI or other shows. This astounding life of a man who worked to reconstruct the faces of the dead was a very compelling book and hard to put down. To me, every individual case was a new venture and kept getting even more interesting as it continued. I never would have thought that someone in a completely different career could be as dedicated and successful as this man was. Frank Bender’s work has been the key to solving at least nine murders. In 2003, Mexican authorities asked him to observe bodies to help solve the tragic murders of 400 young women of Juarez. By just reading the book, it put me in the place of a co-worker or friend and it was easy to imagine every scene he describes. It actually made me more motivated to want to learn more about the careers associated with crime solving. However, there were some parts where I was afraid by thinking of how some of the victims were murdered and how easily it can still happen in today’s society. Discovery plays a major role in this book because the families and friends are always hopeful that Bender will give them a sense of closure. The parts that I found most interesting in the book were the sections that dealt with Mexico and how the police were not able to get any control. It was very sad and scary. The one part I disliked was when the author jumped from one scene to the next and back. I felt there were too many unnecessary side stories and at times would seem very prolonged and dull. By writing this book, I think that it gave a lot of people a behind the scenes look at what goes on every day. It could give people almost an idea of what kind of world we live in and possibly what could be done to lessen the crime rate. Overall, this was a good book and I would recommend it to those who are interested mainly in artistry and sculpting. I wouldn’t as much for those who are looking for more in depth forensics. It was still very interesting with an unexpected twist included in the ending.
If you have always wondered, like I did how facial reconstruction is done from a skull, this is the book for you! Fascinating, easy to read, amazing story....
Ted Botha brings you the story of gifted self-taught artist, Frank Bender, who brought closure, through realistic sculptures and facial reconstruction, of missing murdered victims. His gift helped the public identify notorious criminals who long ago went into hiding to escape identification using aged reconstructions to show how age may have changed their looks. Frank's a man who's gift brought answers, his work could be said was a love affair with skulls where for little or no payment he was driven to bring answers to those could not longer speak. This interesting and remarkable man died way too early with still lots of work left to be completed. Maybe there another can pick up where he left off. RIP Frank Bender
In The Girl With The Crooked Nose, Ted Botha follows the career of Frank Bender and his forsenic sculpting work. Frank was a commercial photographer but his love was sculpting. As with most sculptors, he hired models to try to determine how human anatomy worked to make his pieces more authentic. This desire to know about human anatomy eventually led him to the Philadephia medical examiner's office. There he started to study corpses. After several visits, the police approached Frank about a murder victim who was unidentified. They explained that they had mimimal luck with sketch artists producing a likeness in such cases that helped with identification, and wondered if Frank could produce a bust that would be better. Frank didn't know anything about forensics but was persuaded to make an attempt. He created a bust that led to an identification, and found his life's work. Over the years, Frank worked on multiple cases. He was successful in finding identities in many cases. The ones that he was proudest of were the children, often found in suitcases or boxes, thrown away after being murdered. Frank's work was able to give them back an identity, and to let them be buried under their own name instead of being sent to an anonymous grave. Frank's biggest case was that of the scores of Mexican women who were murdered in the early 2000's. The Mexican government brought him in, along with an FBI consultant, but it was soon clear that there were politics at play and forces that did not want this case solved. While Frank went back to Mexico several times and created multiple busts, the cases still remain a mystery, although many believe either the Mexican police or the military had a hand in these deaths. Another area Frank's expertise was used in was age regression and advancement. He was the sculptor that created the bust of John List that was used on America's Most Wanted to identify this man who a decade earlier had killed his entire family and disappeared. That case led to the government using Frank for several other busts to identify fugitives who had been missing for many years. Ted Botha has outlined the life history of a fascinating man. Bender loved the work he did, but never made enough money at it to support his family. He had to take side jobs throughout his life to make ends meet. Frank lived life on his own terms, and his work was so valuable that he was able to live life as he wanted while still fitting in with the highly structured world of police work. This book is recommended for readers of true crime and those interested in forensic work.