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Police officer's sketch helps in homicide investigation

USC Aiken police officer Brian Hall grew up drawing. As a favor he attempted a sketch of a murder victim whose body was burned. (August 30, 2010 / WRDW-TV)
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News 12 at 6 o'clock / Monday, August 30, 2010

AIKEN COUNTY, S.C. -- Authorities say identifying Shalamar Byrd is a step toward tracking down her killer. The Aiken County Coroner's office says they got dozens of phone calls after releasing a sketch of a woman who was strangled and set on fire near Old Storm Branch Rd.

One of those callers was Robert Byrd, the brother of a 38-year-old Augusta woman. After contacting Byrd's family, deputies were able to use D.N.A. and fingerprints to bring part of this mysterious case to a close.

Coroner Tim Carlton says the Aiken County Coroner's office hasn't used a sketch artist for a case in more than twelve years. He'd heard of a police officer at USC Aiken who could draw well and decided to contact him.

Brian Hall's mother is an art teacher, and he grew up drawing and sketching. He says while he heard about the burn victims in Aiken, Hall never imagined he would get involved with the coroner's office on this case. "A mutual friend told them I draw a little bit and he approached me about it. I agreed to see what I could do....No idea I'd be a part of it."

Carlton adds that after seeing the sketch, Byrd's family recognized her quickly. "We're not looking for an exact rendition but just something to jog someone's memory. Maybe the nose is correct, maybe the chin is correct. In this case [the sketch] worked exactly as we wanted it to work."

Brian says because of the condition of the body, it took him about four days to finish the sketch. "I really didn't have much to go on. Her nose was really prominent, and her chin. That was all I had to work with... It was really a shot in the dark. One out of ten times, two out of times, you might get a hit on it."

Carloton says cases like this one are, thankfully, very rare. "From the perspective of the coroner's office, we have an obligation to determine cause and manner of death. And identity. We feel we've done on our end of the deal."

Brian says he was shocked at how quickly his sketch helped to identify Shalamar Byrd. "I'm glad to help, I'm just glad somebody was able to identify her."

Efforts to identify the woman may now be over, but many questions remain. Why would someone kill a young woman? How is Byrd connected to Yana Peters, whose ring she was wearing? Investigators say this case is far from over.