It’s 2am and a terrified 10-year-old girl, snatched from her bed, manages just a glimpse of her would-be kidnapper before he vanishes into the night.
Turns out the Hazelmere girl’s jittery description of the attacker was more than enough for Sgt Paul Allsop.
Then again, it doesn’t take much for WA’s chief police artist to unlock the traumatic recollections of a victim of crime - even a child - and transform it into an identifiable human face.
Days later the kidnapper was in a Midvale fish and chips shop hunting spare change. A police officer recognised him instantly from Sgt Allsop’s drawing and arrested the man on the spot.
There are gasps around the room when Sgt Allsop shows The West Australian the 1996 freehand identikit alongside the kidnapper’s mug shot. It may as well be a portrait. Frightening, given the artist and criminal never met.
“The best part of the job is getting a good match like this,” Sgt Allsop explains.
“The worst part is having the poor victim in here, when you do get close and they start breaking down.
“It’s good for me because I know we’re getting close but it’s bringing it all back for them.”
Sgt Allsop’s modus operandi is enough to make any Hollywood cop blush. For starters he doesn’t wear a uniform, has trained at the FBI and gets around in a ‘66 Mustang.
The messy days of freehand drawing suspects long gone, Sgt Allsop now presides over a digital database of thousands of noses, eyes and beards used to create the identikits strewn across the media on a daily basis.
Sgt Allsop, one of only two police artists in WA, produces up to 10 identikits a week. They take between 30 to 90 minutes to put together.
The shape of the eye, not the colour, is a crucial element of reconstructing a face, according to Sgt Allsop.
Compared to when he started 18 years ago, Sgt Allsop said the increasing variety of modern hairdos was a sticking point. The internet helped, though.
“If I can’t find anything in the database I’ll go look on the net and grab stuff off there,” he said.
“One person said (the offender) looked like Mel Gibson so we grabbed some bits and pieces and used Mel.”
Major crime Det-Supt. Anthony Lee said a good police artist could mean the difference in solving a case.
“Often CCTV footage is not available and it is the images created by the police artist which enables the nomination of offenders to occur,” Det-Supt. Lee said.
“The police artist spends considerable time with a witness to meticulously build the facial features. The computer helps with the process but it is their artistry that brings it all together.
“A good police artist is a visual translator. They are able to capture from victims and witnesses an almost perfect image that often leads to the arrest of offenders.
“Their skills are used predominantly in the serious crime field and have been used to help solve some of the most difficult cases.”
The most famous WA case was the 1997 spa bath murder of Elizabeth Threnoworth, when a composite of a suspect proved so uncanny that Dale Robert Miller reportedly handed himself in to police.
Miller was later convicted of murder.