The Girl with the Crooked Nose
A Tale of Murder, Obsession, and Forensic Artistry
By Ted Botha
(Random House, Hardcover, 9781400065332, 288pp.)
Publication Date: May 13, 2008
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In The Girl with the Crooked Nose, Ted Botha tells the absorbing story of Frank Bender, a gifted, self-taught artist who can bring back the dead and the vanished through a unique, macabre sculpting talent. Bender has been the key to solving at least nine murders and tracking down numerous criminals. Then he is called upon to tackle the most challenging and bizarre case of his career.
Someone is killing the young women of Juarez. Since 1993, the decomposing bodies of as many as four hundred victims, known as feminicidios, have been found in the desert surrounding this gritty Mexican border town. In 2003, prodded by local political pressure and international attention, the Mexican authorities turn to the United States to help solve these horrific crimes. The man they turn to is Bender.
Through breathtakingly realistic sculptures, Bender reconstructs the faces of unknown murder victims or fugitives whose appearances are certain to have changed over years on the run. The busts are based in part on the painstaking application of forensic science to fleshless human skulls and in part on deep intuition, an uncanny ability to discern not only a missing face but also the personality behind it.
Arriving in Mexico, Bender works in secrecy, in a culture of corruption and casual violence where the line between criminals and law enforcement is blurry, braving anonymous threats and sinister coincidences to give eight skulls back their faces and, hopefully, their histories. Drawn to one skull in particular–"The Girl With the Crooked Nose"–Bender gradually comes to suspect that perhaps he is not meant to succeed, and that the true solution to the mystery of the feminicidios is far more terrible than anyone has dared to imagine.
Ted Botha brilliantly weaves Bender’s story–the cases he has solved, the intricacies of his art, the colorful characters he encounters, and the personal cost of his strange obsession–with the chilling story of the Juarez investigation. With a conclusion as shocking as its story is gripping, The Girl with the Crooked Nose will haunt readers long after the last page is turned.
“…[a] crackling account of a quirky, maverick forensics artist, Frank Bender, and his largely successful efforts in facial reconstruction of murder victims…. extraordinary is Botha's writing, with his unerring depiction of Bender's painstaking work and the eventual unraveling of the brutal crimes it solves…. the tales in this book accurately capture the dark motives and complexities of senseless murder, and even the most savvy true-crime reader will not be able to resist the author's insightful storytelling."--Publishers Weekly
Ted Botha is the author of Mongo: Adventures in Trash and Apartheid in My Rucksack, and co-author (with Jenni Baxter) of The Expat Confessions. He has written for numerous publications, including The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, Condé Nast Traveler, and Outside. He lives in New York City.