March 28, 1994 12:00 PM

FORENSIC ARTIST JEANNE BOYLAN, 40, reaches into her beat-up leather briefcase and pulls out some portraits she has done of people she never wants to meet. There’s a pencil drawing of an Oregon serial rapist, a sketch of a man who shot a California policeman to death and, last, Boylan’s most famous subject: Richard Allen Davis, 39, the man who allegedly kidnapped and murdered Polly Klaas, 12, last October. Done two weeks after Polly was abducted, the drawing’s uncanny resemblance to Davis spooks even Boylan, who recalls the moment she first saw an actual photo of the accused killer. “A reporter flashed it in my face,” she says, sitting on her porch in Bend, Ore., “and I felt sick and excited at the same time. I knew he was our guy. I prayed we would find Polly alive.”

That was not to be. But Boylan, whose unconventional techniques had until then been regarded warily in law enforcement circles, suddenly found herself a star. “I’ve never seen anything like it. I can’t say enough about her talents,” says Eddie Freyer, 42, a Santa Rosa, Calif., FBI agent who worked on the case. “The similarities are astonishing. Jeanne’s sketch is even more remarkable when you consider she was working with two young girls—Polly’s friends—who had been traumatized both by the event and by [our] interrogations. Jeanne developed a wonderful rapport with them and got the job done.”

And she got it done, she says, without ever having attended an art class. “What I do is not about art—it’s about the mind and how it processes information into recall,” says Boylan, who has made more than 7,000 forensic drawings over the past 16 years using her unorthodox methods. Most police artists start by having a crime victim or witness flip through the FBI Facial Identification Calalogue, a handbook of eyes, noses, mouths, facial shapes and other features. From their choices a composite portrait is developed. But Boylan ignores catalogs. “When you give a person visual aids, it destroys their ability to identify a subject,” she says. Instead she tries to relax her sources with casual conversation about hobbies, music and the like and interrupts every few minutes to ask about one facial feature or another. “I take information rather than putting information into the person’s mind,” she says.

Boylan’s talent for sketching has been evident since her first-grade teacher in Montrose, Colo., was so impressed with a drawing of a dog that she hung it up for the entire year. A doodler in high school, Boylan, the third child of Tom Boylan, a plumber, and his homemaker wife, Jean, claims, “I drew on every piece of paper I could get my hands on.” But after graduation there was no money available for college, so Boylan headed for Durango, Colo., then Oregon, supporting herself with odd jobs.

Boylan stumbled onto her career path in 1977, when she look a job as a criminal investigative assistant with the Multnomah County sheriffs department in Portland. One of her tasks was to interview crime victims. “I started noticing that none of the details I’d gathered from them matched the drawing done by the police artist,” she says. ” ‘I decided that trauma must affect a person’s initial perceptions of a crime.” Soon Boylan began sketching suspect portraits on her own. In 1978 her dead-on facsimile of the Waistband Bandit—a robber who habitually tucked his pistol into his waistband—helped apprehend him. “My first big break,” she says.

While working as a sketch artist for the Portland Police Bureau and several freelance clients during the next decade, Boylan struggled to gain recognition for her methods. “At a couple of FBI training schools I attended, I was ostracized,” she says. “I tried to explain I’d found a better way of doing things, and nobody would listen.” But since the Klaas case the assignments have been pouring in from all over the country.

Most recently, Boylan interviewed a 9-year-old L.A. boy whose mother had been shot to death before his eyes. “It makes me sick inside that there’s so much ugliness out there,” she says. “My gratification is knowing that when I interview a victim, they can get on with their lives. The image of the bad guy is on paper. They no longer have to conjure it up.”

MARJORIE ROSEN

CATHY FREE in Bend

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