No matter what kind of art youre into, youve probably seen the work of Atlantas Marla Lawson. A forensic sketch artist for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Lawson has drawn some of Atlantas most wanted criminals, including Olympic bomber Eric Robert Rudolph.
How did you get started in your career?
I had just gotten out of high school and I needed a job. My mom found an ad in the AJC that said there was a need for a street artist at Underground. I thought to myself, I cant do that. But I went down to Underground anyway like I was hot stuff and started working. The police department was nearby, and I would go down there from time to time telling them I wanted a job as a typist. After I went down there for the third time they finally hired me. Eventually, word got out that there was a girl downstairs could draw, and pretty soon I was being bombarded to do sketches.
What does a forensic sketch artist do?
If youre a victim of rape, robbery, homicide or any type of act, investigators will make an appointment with me. I would sit down with you and we would make a sketch of the person who committed this act against you. I also work with the morgue on unidentified remains. I work to create models of what the person would look like today, so that perhaps people will see these forms and be able to identify them.
What is the process for creating the form for unidentified remains?
Its actually kind of hard, because you dont know the hair color, eyes, size of the person. A lot of it is sketch work. The skull has a lot of landmarks to reveal how they look.
A sketch of yours was a part of a wanted poster for Olympic bomber Eric Robert Rudolph. How did that come about?
After the Olympic bombs went off, the GBI contacted me to draw Eric Robert Rudolph. They had heard of me from the work Id done with the Atlanta Police Department. A few days later, the phone rang and Charles Stone, who was the chief at the tim,e asked me if I wanted them to create a job for me. I have been here ever since.
What is your least favorite thing about your job?
Going to the morgue. Its not someplace you want to hangout. The people who work there just love it, but I think its pretty strange.
Do you watch any of the criminal investigation shows on television?
The only one I watch is "The First 48" on A&E because its very realistic. Ive tried to watch the other ones, like "NCIS" and stuff, because my husband loves it. But they're just so fake. I mean, you have one person in an entire crime lab and they do everything and solve the crime in one episode.
Most recently, you created a sketch of UGA professor turned alleged triple-murderer George Zinkhan.
Yeah, I was contacted to do a sketch of him, and they pretty much gave me free reign to do whatever I wanted. I created two sketches: one of him without facial hair and another of him bald. All I had to work from was one picture they gave me, and, you know, he was really a sloppy looking guy to tell the truth. After I sketched him, he looked better. I cleaned him up a little bit. Im sure the whole time he was laughing at me in the spirit world, because he was dead when I was sketching him.
What do you think about the crime in Atlanta?
Its just so horrible in Atlanta now, the crime is ridiculous. I do not know why Georgia Tech is having all those issues with those robberies. All they need to do is call me.
(Photo by Joeff Davis)
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