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ATLANTA -- "I was just a street artist at Underground Atlanta and kept walking up the street to the Atlanta Police Department putting in applications for typist," Marla Lawson recalled on Friday.

It was nearly 40 years ago when she finally landed that job, but it wasn't long before detectives found out she had a unique talent for piecing together the face of a criminal.

That unique talent includes coaxing useful details from frightened victims and witnesses.

"I can sense things from people, if they don't feel well or if they've been hurt real bad, what questions to ask 'em, what questions not to ask 'em, because I'm a people person; I love people," she told 11Alive News.

Lawson's sketches have been praised as some of the most accurate in the crime solving business.

One of her first in Coweta County helped put a murderer on death row when the sketch was recognized by the suspect's probation officer.

Her uncanny sketch of Olympic Park bombing suspect Eric Rudolph won international praise and her job with the GBI.

More recently, her sketch of Dunwoody day care murderer Hemy Neuman was right on the money.

She was honored Friday with a GBI retirement party attended by family and friends from several law enforcement agencies.

Among them was daughter, Kelly, who Marla spent the past year training as her replacement.

"She is an inspiration not only to me, but to forensic artists across the country," Kelly Lawson told 11 Alive News.

Her mother's most rewarding memories are knowing how she helped solve many cases over nearly four decades.

"Looking across the courtroom at the man's face and comparing it to the sketch that I did and knowing he won't ever be able to hurt anybody again, just because of a pencil drawing," she said.

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