ground-breaking facial reconstruction
The slightly varying likenesses put out by Spanish police following facial reconstruction

Cold-case murder of Portuguese solved through ground-breaking facial reconstruction

First time technique used to solve criminal investigation in Europe

Spanish homicide detectives are celebrating breakthrough in a cold case in which it seemed impossible to discover the identity of the victim. With the expert help of a forensic scientist and an artist, a likeness of the dead man was created, at which point investigators finally had something tangible to go on.

They put out a poster, giving various possible impressions of their victim, and a woman in Portugal responded, saying the images looked very much like her brother – a used-car salesman working out of Vigo whom she hadn’t heard from in three years.

Three men now stand accused the kidnap and murder of Carlos Alberto Videira do Órfão, originally from Viana do Castelo. 

Without facial recognition, police would never have found them.

As reports explain, “the body was discovered by chance by workmen in a sealed well near an abandoned warehouse in O Porriño, south of Vigo and near the border with Portugal.

“The remains had become badly decomposed and undergone a process known as saponification, in which bacteria thriving in a wet and warm environment turn body fat into a waxy soap-like substance, leaving the body completely unrecognisable.

“Investigators were able to conclude that the dead man had received a fatal blow to the head and other heavy impacts to the body, but the lack of flesh and absence of any personal effects in the well meant his identity was a mystery.

“DNA tests did not produce a match with any known individual or missing person”. Once the victim’s sister came forwards, however, DNA testing hit pay dirt.

The ‘genius’ who help crack this mystery was forensic scientist Fernando Serrulla, working in Galicia’s Institute of Legal Medicine.

Dr Serrulla has a reputation for identifying bodies in advanced stages of decomposition. Using forensic facial reconstruction, he has worked in the past at Darwin cemetery in the Falklands, helping put names to more than 120 anonymous Argentine soldiers; he was involved in identifying victims of the 2004 Madrid train bombings, in recreating the appearance of the first Mesolithic woman found in Spain (who died 9,300 years ago…) and in putting a face to Manuel Blanco Romasanta, Spain’s first recorded serial killer – who claimed a curse which turned him into a wolf was the reason he killed 13 people in the 19th century.

His skill was joined with that of artist Alba Sanín, and now Spanish police have one less cold case, and a family in Portugal at least knows what happened to a missing relative.

As the Telegraph reports, citing Spain’s El Mundo newspaper, “Guardia Civil investigators were able to pinpoint the time of Videira do Órfão’s disappearance as October 13, 2018.

“Tracing his movements leading up to his murder, investigators identified five suspects believed to have differing degrees of involvement in a killing they say ‘could be related to swindles’ perpetrated by Videira do Órfão in his dealings with used cars”.

Two of the men accused of murder have been remanded in custody by the investigating judge in O Porriño, while the third man believed to have participated in the killing has been released on bail.

natasha.donn@portugalresident.com