Sculptor Puts Face to Murdered N.C. Child

"He's clearly recognizable as an individual," said Bender.

North Carolina Boy Might Be Recognized

"The next step is to try to get as much media coverage as we can, hoping that someone out there will recognize him -- a family member, a friend, a dentist, someone who knew him in school," said Denton. "We are hoping someone who remembers the child will come forward."

She doesn't dismiss the idea that Bender might live to see the crime solved.

"It could happen tomorrow, today or 10 years from now -- you never know," she said. "And Frank's record speaks volumes."

Last year Bender helped solve the case of a homicide victim in Boulder, Colo., 55 years after her remains were found beside a creek. Bender sculpted a blond-haired, blue-eyed woman who was later identified as Dorothy Gay Howard of Arizona. She was 18 when she disappeared in 1954.

"Frank told us that she would have blue eyes and she did," said Denton. "How did he know that?"

"I just know it," said Bender.

After looking at photos, Bender takes a series of minute measurements of the skull's bone structure. He then calculates the average tissue densities and builds them up with non-hardening clay.

When that's done, he pours reinforced plaster into a synthetic rubber mold, then sands and paints the sculpture.

Bender began his career as a commercial photographer. Enrolled at the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts, he couldn't find an evening anatomy class.

But his best friend worked at the morgue. "I'd love to come down and watch autopsies," Bender said.

There, in 1977, Bender saw a corpse of a woman who had been shot in the head three times. He announced instinctively, "I know what she looks like."

The coroner on duty invited Bender to join him on the "graveyard shift" to learn more. Within five months, he helped identify Anna Duval, 62, of Phoenix, and helped police convict her murderer, notorious hit man John Martini.

By 1989, "America's Most Wanted" was after Bender. The show asked him to produce a sculpture of John Emil List, an accountant from New Jersey who killed his wife, mother and children in 1971, then parked his car at New York's Kennedy Airport and disappeared.

After 18 years, the sculptor used old photos and produced the killer's exact image, complete with receding hairline, wrinkles and a pair of tortoise-shell glasses that he chose from an antique dealer.

Two weeks after the show, List was arrested.

"It's interesting that I have cancer, because I have always said through the years that catching fugitives and identifying people takes a piece of cancer out of our society," said Bender.

His doctors told him last October he had stage-four cancer and eight months to live -- 16 at the outside. Now the disease has invaded his abdomen. Tumors surround his heart and ribs.

To ease the pain, Bender relies on the same visualization techniques he uses to conjure up the faces of missing persons. No morphine.

"As far as the pain goes, I image it away," he said.

He is also the primary caretaker of his wife of 39 years, Jan, who is also fighting her own battle against non-smoker's lung cancer at 61. Her cancer returned just before Bender himself was diagnosed.

"I can't believe it, boom, boom," said Bender, of the double whammy that changed a blessed life.

"Going through the same thing at the same time as Jan is in some strange, surreal sense, kind of romantic," he said.

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