Unidentified remains given faces at Tampa Bay History Center

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The faces of the nameless are on display at the Tampa Bay History Center in downtown Tampa.

Their remains were never identified due to a lack of evidence and technology.

But times have changed. Artists and forensic experts have joined forces, bringing life back to the dead in hopes someone recognizes a missing loved one. 

"All of these individuals, we've redone the bio-profiles, we got new information about their age and ancestry," explained forensic anthropologist Dr. Erin Kimmerle. "And we use that to create a face or an approximation of a face.

The results are on exhibit at the Tampa Bay History Center. Clay sculptures, like one John Doe whose remains were found in 1982, reveal how the man may have looked before his body was recovered from a pond off of US-301 and I-4. A lack of evidence made him unidentifiable and he was buried in a John Doe-style grave. But last year, his body was exhumed.

“They actually took his skull and created a 3-d image of it, and that is what is under the clay bust right now," said Cpl. Greg Thomas with the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office. "So it’s an exact replica of his skull right with all of the deviations, and how it’s shaped and what-not.”

If a family member is recognized, Thomas said, the next steps are simple.

"We'll simply take a swab or a DNA sample from them," he said. "It's a simple swab of the interior of their mouth. And most of these cases, their genetic profile is in a missing persons' database in Texas. And so the swab from a potential family member could be matched up in that database."

That sample could lead to a case closed for any of these men, women and children.