Michael W. Streed, known as the SketchCop, is one of the world’s leading forensic artists based out of Orange County, California and the Baltimore and Washington D.C. areas. Streed has been involved in law enforcement for over 35 years and though he is now a retired sergeant, he still works on cases for the Baltimore Police Department as their full-time sketch artist. In his first three years working with the Baltimore police, Streed created over 400 sketches.
Michael Streed grew up in Orange, California, dreaming of being a Disney animator. His father was a police officer in Orange County for 30 years and Streed eventually followed in his footsteps, becoming a police officer himself. However, he never forgot his passion for art and took courses to become a police sketch artist. Streed’s drawings have helped identify robbers, rapists, and murders among other criminals and his expertise has been instrumental in trials where the prosecution has little more to go on than circumstantial evidence.
While Streed mostly does ‘mechanical’ or hand drawn sketches, he has done forensic sculpting and computer-generated sketches. Streed even developed his own facial composite software program called SketchCop® Facial Composite System Software, which he believes, with the right training and interview processes can be just as effective as a traditional police sketch artist.
Much of his work is interviewing witnesses of crimes and generating a sketch of the suspect. It is Streed’s his interview process with witnesses that has made him so successful in his work. In order to generate a successful sketch, it is important to create a nonthreatening, nonjudgmental, relaxed environment for the witness. Through hours of cognitive interviews and the use of pictures of facial features, Streed can build the face of a criminal out of a person’s memory.
One of the most significant cases that Streed has worked on is the kidnapping and murder of ten-year-old Anthony Martinez in Beaumont California. On April 4, 1997, Anthony Martinez was violently abducted twenty feet from his home by an unknown man. He was taken in front of his younger brother and cousin, whom he had fought to protect. Streed was immediately called in and began to work with the traumatized young boys to generate a sketch of the man. After a long interview with the boys, Streed was able to come up with a sketch which was released to the media. Many tips were called in as a result, but sadly none panned out and Anthony’s body was found in the desert 10 days later. Years went by and Streed reworked and updated the sketch many times with the help of witnesses. The case was cold until 8 years later in 2005, a man named Joseph Edward Duncan III was arrested in Idaho for the murder of a family and the abduction of their daughter. After his arrest police in Idaho noticed the resemblance between Duncan and Streed’s sketch of Anthony’s killer. Duncan’s fingerprints were matched to partials found in Anthony’s case and the case was finally solved thanks to Streed’s sketch. Duncan is now on death row in federal prison for his crimes.
In addition to generating police sketches, Streed also does facial reconstruction for remains which can no longer be identified. In 1993, two sets of skeletal remains were unearthed by torrential rains in Riverside County, California. Bullet wounds were found in the skulls and the authorities determined that the two individuals had been murdered. However, their dental records had no match in California’s missing person database, so the police called upon Streed to generate faces for the two bodies so they could be identified. With the help of a forensic anthropologist, it was determined that the skeletons were both young, white men with similar builds and had been dead for 7 to 17 years. Using tissue depth markers to approximate facial features and his 1976 year book for hair styles, Streed was able to produce to sketches of the victims. A detective skeptically remarked how similar the sketches looked to which Streed replied, “Who knows, maybe they’re brothers,”. Two years later, a woman recognized the sketches as two brothers, Charles and Allan Taylor, who had been kidnapped at gunpoint in Huntington Beach in 1978. Two men had already been convicted for their murders, but without their bodies the families never got the closure they needed.