Victims of March 2011 identified thanks to realistic portraits of a forensic officer


They were almost identical – the photo of Kiu Abe, 99, before his death and the portrait that a retired forensic officer from the Miyagi Prefectural Police drew on the basis of the remains found in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture. , two months after the tsunami triggered by the earthquake of March 2011. hit the region.

The portrait captured her soft character from plum cheeks to the depth of her wrinkles, much like a smiling snapshot. It was the work of Shuichi Abe, 70 – a forensic expert who still works for Miyagi Police to pass on his experience – of eight years ago that helped identify the remains that were missing. were found until the end of June this year.

“I was almost giving up, thinking that she had been taken to the Pacific. After nine years, he found my aunt again, and I have nothing but gratitude for him, ”said Kazuyuki Kanno, 80, nephew of Kiu Abe.

What has become decisive in determining his identity is an analysis of TBEN which is transmitted only through matrilineal descent. Based on where the bodies were found, investigators narrowed down where she allegedly lived and then checked with the portrait.

The portrait of Kiu Abe drawn by Shuichi Abe | KAHOKU SHIMPO

Shuichi Abe has long been a forensic policeman, excelling in portrait drawing. It illustrates a person’s face from their skull based on forensic data. He studied the technique on his own, reading various academic books and predicting, for example, the thickness of the cheek through body fat.

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“The key is to get as much information from the dead body photo as to what the deceased looked like when he or she was alive,” he said.

He first drew a portrait of a skull in a criminal case in 1978 when he was a forensic officer. Since then, Abe has drawn nearly 1,000 portraits to help investigators solve their cases.

After his retirement in 2012, he drew 94 portraits of unidentified bodies during the 2011 disaster, which led to the identification of 24 people. People called his works genius. It was even featured in Time magazine. As the only such specialist in the Prefectural Police, he also educates the younger generation in facilities such as the Police Academy.


Soliciting information from the public using portraits was an innovative idea. Over time, however, the bodies found had suffered more damage. Police struggled to identify them as they could not locate loved ones essential for TBEN analysis, and local dentists, needed to match previous dental treatments for identification, were also hit hard by the disaster . In these difficult times, police turned to Abe for his expertise.

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Bodies that are not counted are given a combination of numbers and kanji characters for categorization, which was the case with Kiu Abe. Shuichi Abe was pained when he heard these cold headlines.

“I wanted to bring her back to the family as soon as possible and give her her name and address back. I wanted to restore her face to its original state before she died, ”he said.

Driven by this sense of mission, Abe continued to draw.

There was only one photo of Kiu’s body, taken during the autopsy. Looking at the photo and carefully reading the record, he imagines her gaze when she was still alive. Damaged by debris, her body was swollen, and her mouth and nose were deformed.

“Just adding a line can change the impression,” said Abe. Repeating the process of drawing and erasing, he carefully adjusted the outline of the face with thin pencil lines, bringing the mouth and nose back to their original place in his mind. He imagines his life before his death.

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When the remains he draws do not have teeth, he usually draws a vertical wrinkle between the upper lip and the nose, but in the case of Kiu Abe, he suspected that she had dentures.

“Are you okay, really good?” he kept asking himself the question for two days, before finishing the portrait.

“I can really see the resemblance in the area under the nose. Aunt Kiu must be happy to have been drawn so beautifully, ”said Kikuko Kanno, 79, wife of Kazuyuki Kanno, nodding, while looking at her smile in her photo.

One month after the 2011 disaster, the number of missing bodies in Miyagi Prefecture stood at 1,253. Almost 10 years later, that number has now dropped to seven.

In early July, Abe saw a report on Kiu Abe’s remains handed over to Kanno.

The numbers assigned to the body have now become names. Remembering the days when he drew in frustration with lack of information, he felt another weight come out of his heart.

This section presents topics and issues from the Tohoku region covered by Kahoku Shimpo, Tohoku’s largest journal. The original articles were published on September 18-19.