TODAY | December 08, 2012
>>> when we think about fighting crime, images of police officers are among the first to pop into our minds, of course. but in houston, there is a woman who has helped track down hundreds of criminals using a skill that they don't teach at the police academy . here's janet shamlian .
>> reporter: lois gibson sure doesn't look like a crime fighter.
>> big piece of chalk.
>> reporter: but make no mistake, this 62-year-old texan has been putting criminals behind bars for three decades. armed not with a badge and gun, but with an easel and chalk.
>> it's the best ride of anybody, any artist could ever have. it's the best ride you can have to get justice.
>> reporter: gibson is a forensic artist , the world's most successful according to " guinness book of world records ." from her studio deep in the houston police department , she's helped solve more than 1,200 cases, by sketching a suspect based solely on the often bruised memory of a devastated crime victim .
>> i tell them the more anger and hurt you feel, the better this drawing is going to be and the more chance you're going to get the guy, and that's actually true.
>> reporter: these are lois 's drawings, alongside mug shots of suspects who were arrested and later convicted. the resemblance is remarkable. there's also been more heartbreaking work, like helping identify a toddler who became nationwide as baby grace .
>> that tore me up. it was very hard to look at a decomposed baby because it looked like my daughter.
>> reporter: based on lois 's sketch, the girl's grandmother across the country in ohio identified the child as riley anne sawyer, offering some closure for those who loved her.
>> sometimes it's a little scary how good she is. it's always impressive.
>> reporter: detective keith mcmurtry says lois is as valuable a tool as the houston police department has. this wasn't her life's goal. lois used to paint portraits on san antonio 's famed river walk , but after surviving an attack on her own life, she changed course. along the way, she has helped hundreds. victims like lynn, sexually assaulted bay serial rapist some 20 years ago. l lois 's sketch helped send him to prison for life.
>> having lois put his face on paper, i no longer had to carry it around with me every moment.
>> reporter: sounds therapeutic almost.
>> it was, very much so. i would definitely say my healing started with lois gibson .
>> reporter: a softer side of crime fighting. as a texas woman draws her justice, armed with talent and tenderness. janet shamlian , nbc news, houston.