This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. In 2006, the remains of a college student from New Jersey turned up in a landfill. Local police found his necklace in his dorm's garbage compactor, but couldn't figure out how that connected to the body. Then, a group of criminologists based in Philadelphia helped the detectives fill in the story. After a fight with his girlfriend, the student threw his necklace down the trash shoot, but soon regretted that move and decided to crawl inside to get it back. A false step set off the compactor, and then his crushed body was removed to the landfill in a garbage truck. In this case, it was an accident. But the Vidocq Society has helped solve a lot of murders over the past 20 years. Today, we'll talk with two of the group's founders, and we'll explain its unusual name in a few minutes.

Later in the program, the future of 3-D in movies and TV. But first, we want to hear from those of you with experience with cold cases as investigators or as family or friends of victims. Have you sought outside help? And if so, how did it work? Our phone number, 800-989-8255. Email us, You can also join the conversation on our Web site. That's at; click on Talk of the Nation. Frank Bender and William Fleisher join us from member station WXPN in Philadelphia. They're two of the founders of the Vidocq Society. Frank Bender is a sculptor and forensic reconstructionist. Bill Fleisher is a former FBI agent and director of the Keystone Intelligence Network. Nice to have you on the program today.

Mr. FRANK BENDER (Forensic Reconstructionist; Founding Member, Vidocq Society): Thank you, Neal. It's great to be here.

Mr. WILLIAM FLEISHER (Founding Member, Vidocq Society; Director, Keystone Intelligence Network): Yeah, again, thank you, Neal, Frank Bender.

CONAN: OK. Well, Bill Fleisher, let me start with you. How did you and your associates figure out the case of the college student in New Jersey?

Mr. FLEISHER: Well, let me give a little caveat: That's just a theory.


Mr. FLEISHER: And we sort of arrived at that theory based on the presentation by the New Jersey State Police investigators at one of our luncheons. That's where we usually do most of our work, over lunch.

CONAN: It's a lunch club.


(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: So, the detectives come and present you with the evidence in the case; say, look, we're a little puzzled here; can you guys figure it out? And of course, Frank Bender, it's not just you two; there's likely to be two, three dozen people there.

Mr. BENDER: Oh, we have up to, like, 60, 65 people at our meetings at times.

CONAN: And these are other kinds of investigators, dentists, specialists of various kinds?

Mr. FLEISHER: Forensic odontologists; we have polygraph experts; we have detectives, prosecutors, former prosecutors. We have a potpourri of intellect in there.

Mr. BENDER: And I think one of the beautiful things about our organization is it's not just professional forensic people. We have people that - like myself, who - I do facial reconstruction work, but over the years, I've gotten a feel for investigation. And you have a different perspective coming from people that are not directly involved with the system.

CONAN: So, Bill Fleisher, explain to me how it works. The detectives come from New Jersey, and what? They present the evidence, the pictures, and the results of any forensic tests that they may have performed?

Mr. FLEISHER: That's about it. It works like this: We have a very brief opening ceremony, where we have invocation and we have a Pledge of Allegiance and we introduce guests, if there are any, and we sit and enjoy a wonderful lunch. At the end of the meal, we invite up our presenter, a case presenter. Ninety-five percent of the time, it's somebody in law enforcement or a prosecutor. And they get up, and they usually have a PowerPoint and maybe some handouts. They present an overview of the investigation. And they do that anywhere from 25, 30 minutes, at which time our members will start to ask questions. And we feel what we do is, we act as a catalyst. We bring a fresh take. We get the brain cells of the presenters maybe active in a different manner, and that's what - that's all we do. We don't steal anybody's thunder. We just try to help offer different possibilities.

CONAN: So, you're helping them think outside the box, if you will, or outside their expertise?

Mr. FLEISHER: That's exactly what - well said, Neal.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FLEISHER: We help them think outside of the boxed lunch.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: You have to ask, though, after a nice lunch, some of these pictures are pretty gruesome.

Mr. FLEISHER: Well, I've been in this business 40 years, and some of them still shock me. But most of the people are professionals. And like my colleague Frank here, what he has to do to reconstruct a skull would make many of us cringe, to get into - not getting into graphics, but to take a partially decomposed or fully decomposed skull, clean it up, reconstruct it, put all kinds of different measurements, and come up with his very uncanny finished product - you have to have a strong stomach.

Mr. BENDER: I've even cleaned up skulls on my kitchen floor and in the studio.

CONAN: And - well, how did you get into that business, Frank Bender? You don't go to school for that, do you?

Mr. BENDER: Well, at the time, I didn't know anything about forensics. I mean, O.J. wasn't around, so I didn't even really know what the word meant. But I was going to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts here in Philadelphia, which is the oldest art school in the United States, and the only thing they didn't have for evening students was an anatomy course. And a friend of mine, Bart Sandell(ph), who worked at the medical examiner's office at that time - he fingerprinted bodies there - said, Frank, why don't you come down and watch some autopsies say, learn something about anatomy down there, perhaps. So I went down, and he showed me all these different bodies, and he showed me this one that came from the decom room, which means decomposition, and said, we don't know what she looks like; we don't know her name; we don't know anything about her, just the number.

And I just said, out of conversation, well, I know what she looks like. Well, the doctor standing next to me introduced himself. And he said, excuse me, my name is Dr. Halbert Fillinger. I'm the medical examiner of the day, and that's when he asked me if I knew anything about forensics. And I said, not really, but I know what she looks like. And he said, somehow, I believe you. Would you help me? So, I put a face to this woman, not over her skull, but just from her severely decomposed remains. And five months later, I had an ID. Twenty years later - 20 years later - the Philadelphia police made an arrest, along with the Jersey police, and they arrested a fellow by the name of Martini, who murdered Anna Duval down by Philadelphia International.

Mr. FLEISHER: It was a hit.

CONAN: And it was a hit.

Mr. BENDER: Yes.

Mr. FLEISHER: It was a hit.

CONAN: And how often do you get hits?

Mr. BENDER: Well, I've worked on, you know, a couple fugitives. One was Hans Vorhauer, that Bill Fleisher is also familiar with, who was a hit man. And I also did a bust of Allie Boy, Alphonse Persico, wonder boy, sort of, Colombo crime family. So, yeah, I've been involved in just about everything, including the murdered women in Ciudad Juarez, the 400 murdered women down there. I worked down there back and forth for a year.


CONAN: We're talking with Frank Bender and Bill Fleisher, who are two of the founding members of the Vidocq Society. They are - collect a bunch of criminologists over lunch once a month and discuss cold cases. And we're talking about some of the cases that they've had some success with. We'll talk about some of their frustrations a little bit later. If you'd like to join the conversation, if you have experience with cold cases as an investigator, as a family member, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, Nancy's on the line, Nancy calling from Ann Arbor, Michigan.

NANCY (Caller): My brother, Joe Wright, was murdered in his home in Houston, Texas, in 1998. It would be beneficial for your guys to know that there's already been a book written about it. It's unsolved, and - but there's glaring holes in the investigation. There's two possible suspects. They only went after one of them. And then, they kind of just threw up their hands and said, well, we know this person did it, but gosh, golly, darn, you know, we just can't get - they never pursued the other avenue, which was pretty viable. The FBI can attest to this. Even the district attorney's office is upset with Harris County. But for the past 10 years, we can't get them to do anything. And I'm the family member following this up, and I live in Michigan, and it's incredibly frustrating.

CONAN: Well, Bill...

NANCY: I can't even get him to return a call.

CONAN: Bill Fleisher, obviously, once the FBI's gotten involved, they have an awful lot of the resources that you guys would have as well.

Mr. FLEISHER: Well, they have much more resources than we have. The problem is, you know, is this. And I sympathize with Nancy. We hear this a lot. In order to get a case solved, you have to have the cooperation of the local law enforcement, the prosecutor's office; the victim's family is very important in solving these cases. The media is very important. Some of these cases, for some reason - and I don't know, I'm not talking about the Houston case, Nancy's case - they get off track because the police either go on to other matters; they don't have a cold case squad. It gets to a point where they - a lot of departments, a lot of investigators, if they can't solve it out of the gate in the first 48, 72 hours, and they don't have the resources to continue it, as time - it's like a radio signal. There's attenuation; further away from the actual crime, the weaker the signal. What you need is people like Nancy to stir the pot a little.

CONAN: Rebroadcast the signal.

Mr. FLEISHER: Rebroadcast the signal. And that's one of the secrets. And if she wants to send us - to the Vidocq Society, if she can get the police interested, and we have a lot of our cases come from police who do it to appease - initially, do it just to appease the family. Then, they come and they make a presentation, and they thank us. They're so happy that - because we don't - the last thing we do when somebody makes a case presentation is sit there and say, why didn't you do this? You did that? That's the dumbest - we don't denigrate the work that's been presented. We try to stimulate new thought.

CONAN: Nancy, we'll put a link to their information on our Web site. So, after the show if you go there, you'll find out how to get in touch with them.

NANCY: That would be greatly appreciated.

CONAN: OK. Good luck.

NANCY: Thank you.

Mr. FLEISHER: Thank you, Nancy.

CONAN: I wanted to ask, by the way, Frank Bender, getting back, you said you were working on that case in Juarez where all those women were found murdered. Did you find anything out? Was that - the case, we did a lot of work here, a lot of coverage here on NPR.

Mr. FLEISHER: Can I jump in for it? This is Bill Fleisher.

CONAN: Yeah, sure.

Mr. FLEISHER: You've got to read the book about that, "The Girl with the Crooked Nose," that was written about that - Frank Bender and that whole incident. It is amazing. But now, go ahead, Frank. I gave you a plug.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BENDER: Well, yeah. There is a book out by Random House called "The Girl with the Crooked Nose," written by Ted Botha, and it describes a lot of what I went through in Ciudad Juarez. I was brought down there by Bob Ressler, who formed the Behavioral Science Unit with the FBI, and also with the Vidocquian(ph). And he wanted me down there for the first conference, forensic conference, that was held in Chihuahua, Mexico. When I went down there, he said, Frank, I got the job of heading up the investigations since I retired from the FBI, and would like to have you meet the governor of Chihuahua in Juarez and try to get you down to put faces...

CONAN: On these women's bodies.

Mr. BENDER: Right.

CONAN: Well, we hear more about that in just a minute. Stay with us, guys. That's Frank Bender, who's a sculptor and forensic reconstructionist. We're also talking to Bill Fleisher, a former police officer and special agent for the FBI, about, well, solving cold cases in a most unusual manner. You're listening to Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. And we can solve one mystery for you right now, where the Vidocq Society got its name from: Eugene Fran├žois Vidocq, the 19th century French criminal who later became a detective and inspired the first detective story. He is credited with adding techniques like ballistics and fingerprints to the detective's investigative arsenal, some of the techniques used by the Vidocq Society members today when they work on cold case files. Frank Bender and Bill Fleisher are with us, two of the founding members of the Vidocq Society. And we want to hear from those of you with experience with cold cases as investigators or as family or friends of victims. Have you sought outside help? How did that work? 800-989-8255; email is You can also join the conversation at our Web site. Go to; click on Talk of the Nation. And Frank Bender, you were telling us the story of how you were down in Mexico and started working on the case of, well, I guess, the woman with crooked nose.

Mr. BENDER: Right. When I went down there, I've got to admit, I was totally naive to what I was in for. When Bob Ressler asked me to come down and I met with the AG of Juarez and the governor of Chihuahua, and they both had me down there, initially for a month, to put the faces on five of the skulls. And then, I would come down for different times at different points throughout the year. And I had a reporter down - they wanted me to have a reporter down to get good press, but they didn't realize that the reporter was going to go beyond what they were expecting him to do. And they drugged the reporter and I in a restaurant, had us drugged. I passed out against the wall of the restaurant. He was out for a day and a half. And I covered for him.

They said, Mr. Bender, we know where you are, but we want to find the reporter that you had down. And I said, well, he's in Russia doing a job now. But he wasn't. He was still in the country. And it was a rollercoaster ride the entire time. And the last trip down, I had Vicente Fox's personal bodyguards with me with machine guns and guarding me 24/7, and even at 11 o'clock one night, there was an incident. They do not want to identify these women or go any farther with the investigation. In fact, day after I came back from my last trip was shortly after that that they announced that they're not going to do anymore investigation at all on the murdered women.

CONAN: Hm. That's sad, after all that work and well, obviously the cases will remain unsolved unless they some more work. Anyway, let's see if we can get another caller on the line. Let's go to Frank, Frank with us from Port Charlotte in Florida.

Frank, are you there?

Mr. BENDER: Yes, I'm here.

CONAN: No, the other Frank, Frank on the call. Frank, are you there in Port Charlotte?

FRANK (Caller): Oh, yes, I'm here.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

FRANK: What I would like to ask is, how do you go about getting help when the police department just simply fails? You know, because I am ex-law enforcement, and I'm also retired military. And my son was killed back on July the 2nd, 2007. And I looked at the reports, and the lead detective - one of the witnesses that - supposed to have been only two witnesses that was there, the two women that were left alive in the house. Now, I see at 6:30 - this is supposed to have happened at 4:30 - and at 6:30, the lead investigator already dismissed one of the witnesses, saying that it was clear that she had nothing to do with the shooting. And that is two hours after this had happened. And when I arrived there at 10:30 - because they didn't even notify my family that anything had happened, and we live in a little, small community - but when I got there at 10:30, the crowd that had gathered out there already was saying murder/suicide. And they said that that is what the police was saying when they came out of, you know, the house. Now, my son was found with a shotgun, with the back of his head blown off, from the right side. And he is supposed to have - the gun is supposed to have fell to the floor in such a manner as to eject the spent shell out of the gun.

CONAN: In other words, you're a highly skeptical of this conclusion.

FRANK: Yes. And then he - and then when you've got a gun where - I'm asking the question, how did he hold the gun to right back of his head? The round, they say, traveled, you know...

CONAN: And let me ask you, Bill Fleisher, if the police there in - is it in Port Charlotte, Frank?

FRANK: Yes. It happened here in Port Charlotte.

CONAN: If the police came to you with that question, would you have people who could help him with that?

Mr. FLEISHER: Absolutely. We have medical examiners. We have ballistic experts.

FRANK: The medical examiner closed it as a - we live in a little, small community here, and everybody's connected.

CONAN: Yeah. Frank, why don't we just listen to Bill Fleisher for just a minute, OK?


Mr. FLEISHER: These happen more often than not, these type cases, where there is a dispute in the interpretation. Naturally, nobody wants to believe their loved one was involved - committed suicide. So, there's - I'm not saying this is your case, Frank, and I'm very sorry to hear about your son. But there's an element of denial, but a lot of these cases are really homicides. So, you have to, in some manner, ask the police or even the prosecutor, even the medical examiner, to revisit the facts. Take - and a lot of cases are solved when the investigator, initial investigator, goes back and starts again, gets that functional fixation out of his mind that this is how it happened, and look at other possibilities. It doesn't mean they're bad guys or they, you know, they don't want the truth. Sometimes, they get an opinion, and they stick to it. They don't change it. So, if you can them to revisit the elements, look at the crime scene photos, or even get an outside opinion, and a lot of times, it's what they do say - unfortunately, it is suicide or murder-suicide. But I believe the family is at least entitled to have these cases revisited.

CONAN: And some of the problem, I assume, a lot of the time is that they have a heavy caseload. They've got other things going.

Mr. FLEISHER: It could be that or it could be, you know, sometimes - I don't know with this case - sometimes it's arrogance.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FLEISHER: You know, this is what happened. I know it happened. I've been doing this for 25 years.

CONAN: Don't tell me, yeah.

Mr. FLEISHER: Don't tell me. And you don't have to go to homicide to see that. You see it in everyday life, in politics, you know, the...

CONAN: Good thing it never happens in radio. You know, I'm just...

Mr. FLEISHER: It never happens in radio. I'm sure, it doesn't.

CONAN: Of course not, right.

Mr. FLEISHER: Human nature.

CONAN: Human nature.

Mr. FLEISHER: But you...

FRANK: Can I just cut in right here?

Mr. FLEISHER: Sure, Frank.

CONAN: Yeah, go ahead, Frank.

FRANK: Now, I'll tell you what I've done. You know, like, what - I have tried, over the last year, to try to get them to revisit because I want to ask them these questions: How did the shell get ejected from the gun and the gun found under his body along with the spent shell?

Mr. FLEISHER: That's a good question.

FRANK: And how did he shoot himself through the back of the head and all of the blast went one way but his body fell backwards?

Mr. FLEISHER: What - did they come - did EMT personnel come and move the body? You know, these are questions you have to ask.

FRANK: When they moved the body, they said they found the gun and the shell under there. Now, the next thing is, they took no fingerprints. They are saying that my son had killed his friend first with a .357 magnum loaded with .38 caliber rounds. But they didn't take any...

Mr. FLEISHER: No, any ammo test, GSR or gunshot residue?

FRANK: Yeah.

CONAN: Yeah, yeah. All right.

FRANK: And that was another male white T-shirt with blood on it away from crime scene. It was soaked in blood. But nobody even did a blood analysis to see if it was either one of the victims' blood or someone else in the house. And that was...

Mr. FLEISHER: What is the prosecutor say about this?

FRANK: The prosecutor went along and closed it. He visited the crime scene. That was on the 2nd of July. What I'm saying is that the case, for all intents and purposes, except just wrapping up the paperwork, was closed the same day simply on the testimony of the supposedly two witnesses that was in the house. But there are evidence...

Mr. FLEISHER: Frank, let me just make one quick statement or question, Frank, and maybe it'll help you, and then I guess we can move on.

CONAN: Yeah.


Mr. FLEISHER: Do you have a sunshine law in your state?


Mr. FLEISHER: In other words - you do? Have you gotten all the records? Once they say investigation's closed, those records should be available.

FRANK: Yes. They have given me all 208 pages of the supposed investigation, and I have the autopsy report. But they are, in my opinion, they are not complete.

CONAN: OK. Frank. We've got that part that you don't think they're complete. What are you getting to here, Bill Fleisher?

Mr. FLEISHER: Well, you might want to have another person look at it. There may be - I don't know the circumstances. I know we have a lot of family members feel - you know, they don't want to think bad of your child, they don't want to think bad of your relative or kill themselves or hurt themselves or hurt anybody else. Maybe get somebody independent to look at what he has and offer - somebody you trust, Frank - and offer another view of it. That's what I would suggest.

CONAN: Frank, I'm sorry, we're going to have to move on. But again...


CONAN: We're sorry for your loss. And again, if you go to our Web site after the program, you can find information about how to get in touch with the Vidocq Society.

FRANK: OK. I need information on who I, you know - how to - I don't have a lot of money. That's my problem.


Mr. FLEISHER: We're pro bono. We don't charge anybody. If - there are certain criteria before we take a case on, but we don't charge anybody a penny.

CONAN: Good luck, Frank.

FRANK: OK, thank you so much.

CONAN: All right. Thanks very much. And let's go ahead to - this is another call. This is from Joe in St. Louis.

JOE (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi, Joe.

JOE: Thanks for taking my call.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

JOE: I'm the brother of a victim from a long time ago, and I guess my main question is, is there - as a rule, is there an age of a case at which it becomes virtually unlikely that anything will ever happen?

CONAN: I don't know. Frank Bender, what's the oldest case you've worked on?

Mr. BENDER: Well, the oldest case I worked on was for the federal government, Edward Solly, and - a fugitive. After 21 years, we got him, which was even older than the infamous John List case that I worked on. Twenty years, Anna Duval's murderer was brought to justice. There's no time limit on murder. We're working on the boy in the box in the Vidocq Society, and that's been going on even a lot longer than that. There is no time limit on murder.

CONAN: Bill Fleisher, what's the oldest case that the Vidocq Society has worked on?

Mr. FLEISHER: Well, we actually worked on the Cleveland Torso Murders, a case - a series of murders that Eliot Ness actually worked on when he was the public safety director in Cleveland.

CONAN: The Untouchable, before he went to Chicago?

Mr. FLEISHER: That was after.

CONAN: Oh, after Chicago.

Mr. FLEISHER: I think it pretty much finished off his career. There was a series of murders occurring along the railroad, where they would have - we knew growing up as hobos, in my era - I don't think the young people know what a hobo is, but you know, maybe unfortunately, we'll see some more of hobos in these times. But they were being murdered along the rail line from Eerie, Pennsylvania, to Cleveland, and butchered, not unlike the Jack the Ripper. And at the time, they even suspected that the perpetrator might have some medical, surgical training, just like in the Jack the Ripper case. And we worked on that. I can't say we solved it, but it was very interesting to work on.

But back to the the main point here, the point: a case that's old, what happens? Witnesses die. They lose evidence. It happens. So much evidence gets misplaced, misappropriate, damaged, that some - it's very hard, sometimes, to bring a case to trial. Now, people ask me, how many cases do you solve, and I say, we solve 80 percent of them. In other words, when we hear the case, we pretty much figure out what happened. But solving a case is not taking it to court and getting a conviction or even an indictment. But if the case evidence is still there on - Joe, on your brother's case, and the files are still intact and the evidence is still intact, and you can get the people out in St. Louis on a - they have a cold case squad and appeal to them, look through it. You know, there's a theorem in our business that in more than 95 percent of the time, that the perpetrator has been interviewed by the police within the first 30 days of the crime, and his name or her name will be in that box of...

CONAN: In the box of evidence.

JOE: OK. What they ultimately wound up with or keep re - going back to on the occasions that it does pop back up is, well, he - the - your sister's boyfriend cut somebody off in traffic, and he was mad and just followed him home and shot them both, you know...

CONAN: Joe, we're sorry for the loss, and we wish you the best of luck.


JOE: Thank you.

CONAN: We're talking with Bill Fleisher and Frank Bender of the Vidocq Society about cold cases. You're listening to Talk of the Nation from NPR News. And we're getting a lot of calls, as you can hear, by relatives who are angry or upset about the way the police investigated the death of their loved one. Bill Fleisher, that seems to me - you're saying that's a lot of the motivation as to why the police come to you guys in the first place?

Mr. FLEISHER: Well, it's frequent motivation. Some come under the no-stone-unturned doctrine. They'll try anything to solve their case.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. But you...

Mr. FLEISHER: Some come from family pressure.

CONAN: But you accept cases almost entirely from police officers or police agencies who come to you for help rather than from families?

Mr. FLEISHER: To make a presentation, you have to - we have to have the evidence, the facts. If the family has them, like in some cases, a case we worked on many years ago on a - under the sunshine law in Arkansas, the family was entitled to get everything. And there we had a pretty good case file that we could look at, and quickly identified who we felt was the perpetrator. But more importantly, we helped an innocent person, who they locked up for the crime, get off.

CONAN: Frank Bender, you do this, I guess, professionally, too, but what's the satisfaction you get out of this? Why do you do it in the Vidocq Society as well?

Mr. BENDER: Well, I get most of my satisfaction from the victim's family, the feedback that I get when a case is identified. They're almost like a new family member, the rest of the family. They send Christmas cards; they stay in touch. And when I was in Juarez and I'd go into the fast-food restaurants, the women would come up to me and say, we're praying for you. You're down here to help us with our ongoing problem. That's what keeps me going. It's not the money. I don't have money to take vacations; I don't own a car. I do this purely out of - I mean, I do get paid, but I don't get paid that much. I do it because as an artist, it's my turf. And it became that way with the rapport that I got from the families and the feeling that I get from - as - when you're working on bodies like I do, the forensic team are the last people to represent the dead. There's nobody left to represent them. And that's the beauty of the feeling that I get. And also, the Vidocq Society that can take over from when identification is made to hopefully solving the crime, like we did in the Manelias(ph) case.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. And if you'd like to contact them, again, we'll have the information on our Web site, but it's and that's V-I-D-O-C-Q, again, that strange French spelling, You can also find a link to that at our Web site at Just click on Talk of the Nation. Frank Bender and Bill Fleisher, thanks so much for being with us today, and we wish you the best of luck with your next investigation.

Mr. FLEISHER: Well, thank you so much, Neal.

Mr. BENDER: Yeah, thank you, Neal.

CONAN: Up next, you're forgiven if you ducked during the Super Bowl ads last night. TV goes 3-D. Grab your red-and-green glasses. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

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