BIRMINGHAM, AL—Area police officer Lynn Marie Potter said Monday that she is "pretty proud of" her latest sketch, a drawing of an unidentified white male suspected of committing at least four recent Birmingham-area rapes since February.
"He looks so real, doesn't he?" said Potter, 38, admiring her rendering of the Caucasian believed to be in his early-to-mid 30s. "I mean, he looks like he could just leap off the sketch pad and violate you."
Potter, a certified criminal-image profiler who has drawn more than 400 composite portraits of wanted criminals in her eight years with the Birmingham Police Department, believes this latest illustration is her "finest work yet."
"I've done some good work before this, like my African-American carjacking suspect of 2002, or last year's Latino mugger, but this definitely tops those," Potter said. "What makes this one different is the palpable sense of menace—the disdain at the corners of his mouth and the ice in his gaze. You can practically touch the fibers of his stocking cap."
Potter called her previous drawings "competent, but flat."
"The others were void of personality," Potter said. "But this drawing makes you think, 'I know this guy. My God, maybe he's in my neighborhood right now.' It makes you want to lock your doors."
Added Potter: "I think I'll ask to keep the original of this one and get it framed."
Potter based the sketch on the eyewitness description given by one of the suspect's alleged rape victims, a University of Alabama student attacked at knifepoint in her dorm room.
"As is customary, I sat down with the victim and drew while she described the perpetrator," Potter said. "While I'm very methodical, sometimes it's hard to capture the physical features people describe, and often I have to heavily revise what I've drawn. But when I was done and showed the U of A student the drawing, she said, 'That's him,' and broke into tears."
"I was like, 'Yes!'" added Potter, pumping her fist in triumph.
Detective Fred Haines, Potter's colleague who has been assigned to the rape case, praised the work.
"I like how she added a little white dot to the suspect's pupils to make his eyes stand out," Haines said. "It sent a little chill up my spine, I'll admit. And the shading on the face is nice, too. She's come a long way with skin tones. I remember how, when she first started working here, Lynn Marie would just rub the side of the pencil lead across the paper if she had to draw a black suspect."
Potter's supervisor, Sgt. Dennis Schumacher, defended her early style.
"People in the squad room are likening her recent work to Lucian Freud's confrontational portraiture, but I prefer the crudeness of her novice period," Schumacher said. "The rudimentary line work and the thick, basic contours often captured the anonymous criminals' brutality and low, animal cunning. Though several of her early muggers and murderers looked very different from their portraits, police sketching is less about precisely capturing reality than interpreting it. Yes, Potter's later sketches are technically more accurate, but they have none of the robust expressionism of her early period."
Although a successful police sketch often hastens a suspect's capture, Potter admitted that some part of her hopes that the suspect rapes enough women to attract wider public attention.
"My dream has always been to see my sketches on the wall of post offices from coast to coast," Potter said. "If only one of my drawings ends up on the wall next to mug shots of suspected terrorists and bank robbers, I want it to be my best work."