Each facial reconstruction began with information, gleaned by forensic anthropologists or provided by detectives, about the gender, race, age, body type and other characteristics of the remains.
Ms. Gatliff created a type of infrastructure by gluing small plastic markers of varying sizes to the skull to match the depths of tissue at critical points around the face. Using the road map created by the markers, she covered the face in clay, smoothing it at first and then sandpapering it to mimic skin texture.
In 1987, when she demonstrated her technique to police officers and artists at a workshop, The Wall Street Journal reported that she told the group, “I guarantee after these four days you won’t look at a person’s face the same way again.”
If hair was found with the skeletal remains, she had more certainty about choosing a wig. She sometimes made informed anatomical guesses about a nose’s shape. She used prosthetic eyeballs and tried to produce a realistic gaze.
But, she admitted, she knew she could not be perfect.
“They never look exactly like the person,” she told The Oklahoman in 2002. “A skull will just tell you so much.”
Her sculptures were only temporary pieces of forensic art. After photographing each reconstruction from various angles, she removed the clay from the skull, cleaned it and returned it to the police. The pictures she took, which were used in the media to get the public’s help in identifying the lost or murdered person, would serve as the only evidence of her work.
“She’d say that artistic ego shouldn’t enter this work,” Ms. Taylor said.
Betty Patricia Gatliff was born on Aug. 31, 1930, in El Reno, Okla., and grew up there and in Norman, where she would live for most of her life. Her father, Richard, was a builder and architect; her mother, Ella (Henry) Gatliff, was a homemaker who had a quilting business.
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