Before Frank Bender became a forensic sculptor and an invaluable asset to several Philadelphia-area police agencies, and before he became a savior to the families of murder victims who had gone years without answers, he was a member of the United States Navy who spent many years sleeping on Navy vessels. And it was because of those years that Bender developed the mesothelioma that would ultimately take his life when he was just 70 years old.
Bender was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma in 2009, more than 50 years after the years he spent being exposed to asbestos while sleeping in a Navy destroyer escort’s engine room. At that time, he was given just eight months to live, as is the case with many mesothelioma patients. Bender outlived his doctor’s predictions, and survived another two years. However, late last month, he succumbed to the disease.
Bender is best known for his work as a forensic sculptor. One of few in his field, Bender used his background in art and photography to re-create the faces of Jane and John Does who were the victims of violent crimes, in an effort to give their families closure and to catch the perpetrators responsible for their deaths.
Often, Bender worked for several months to create a sculpture of a murder victim, and he was usually only paid a paltry sum for his work. However, he was grateful for his ability to help grieving families. “I always wanted to serve a purpose,” he told a reporter after announcing his mesothelioma diagnosis. “It’s only now I’ve realized what I’ve done.”
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer, “Farewell to a healing artist,” Monica Yant Kinney, July 31, 2011