By Kevin Guilfoile
There are no doubt hundreds of murderers walking free on Chicago area streets. This one is especially terrifying.
On February 2 at just after 10 AM, a man walked into a Lane Bryant clothing store in a south suburban mall and announced he was robbing it. He bound the six women who were working or shopping there, covered their heads and then shot them execution style with a .40 caliber semiautomatic handgun.
Miraculously, one of the woman survived and has provided police with a description of the killer, which they used to create a composite sketch. The witness and her family are currently in protective custody, while the police are asking anyone who might know the identity of the man in the sketch to come forward. Lane Bryant is offering a $50,000 reward.
"The offender has friends. The offender has family," said the son of one of the victims.
"Somebody somewhere knows where the killer is," said Reverend Jesse Jackson.
I looked at this sketch for a long time, and perhaps because it's related to something else I'm writing, I began asking myself a question over and over.
Assuming this sketch is fairly accurate, and assuming I knew this guy, is it likely that I would recognize him?
A few years ago, an extremely talented New York artist named Anna Featherly drew a sketch of me to accompany articles I wrote for The Morning News. Her source was a photo taken when I was a bit younger and it's a very accurate rendering of the picture. I've had a few milkshakes between then and now, but let's assume this likeness remains at least as accurate as the one drawn by a police sketch artist based on the memory of an eyewitness. If on tonight's news they announced, "Police are looking for this man:"
I wonder if any of my friends would say, "Hey that's Kevin!"
I think there is something slightly abstract about even the most accurate drawings, and recognition takes at least some context. I almost think you have to suspect someone is capable of murder before you could recognize even a very good drawing of him as "a murderer."
Now, police have an advantage in this case. The killer had an unusual, green-beaded braid hanging down by his left ear. Certainly that might be something a person would recognize.
But in general I wonder if a sketch alone could make you suspicious, or if you have to be suspicious before you could recognize a sketch.