FBI honors suburban tattoo artists for helping victims, ex-criminals replace reminders of past

  • Chris Baker, at right with a customer in Oswego, and his wife, Lisa, were honored Thursday by the FBI for their work removing or covering tattoos of ex-gang members, human trafficking victims, ex-criminals and domestic-abuse survivors.

    Chris Baker, at right with a customer in Oswego, and his wife, Lisa, were honored Thursday by the FBI for their work removing or covering tattoos of ex-gang members, human trafficking victims, ex-criminals and domestic-abuse survivors. Courtesy of 180 Ink

  • On the left is a tattoo a former criminal wanted covered up to help move away from his past life. On the right is the result, done by 180 Ink of Oswego.

    On the left is a tattoo a former criminal wanted covered up to help move away from his past life. On the right is the result, done by 180 Ink of Oswego. Courtesy of the FBI

 
Updated 9/30/2022 11:21 PM

It's bad enough having your ex-girlfriend's name tattooed on your biceps.

Imagine having the name of the pimp who forced you into sex work inscribed on your neck. Or a gang tattoo, when you're trying to leave that life behind and get a job.

 

Enter Chris and Lisa Baker of Oswego. Over the last 11 years, their business, called Ink 180, has helped more than 9,000 people erase or cover up such tattoos, for free.

On Thursday, the FBI's Chicago office honored those efforts with the 2021 Director's Community Leadership Award.

Ink 180 has worked with the FBI, police departments and sheriff's offices to remove or remake tattoos for former gang members and victims of human trafficking, domestic violence and self-harm, according to the FBI. Their work, if the Bakers had charged, would have been worth an estimated $1.4 million, the bureau says.

Chris Baker keeps a backpack filled with the tools of his trade, so he's ready to go at a moment's notice. He and Lisa have traveled across the country helping the FBI, but they also perform the work at their shop.

The Bakers moved from California to Illinois about 16 years ago.

"We were really troubled by the gang situation here. We started praying for how to make an impact," Chris Baker said. The answer was to use their skills to start covering or removing gang tattoos.

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Chris and Lisa Baker, here with Acting Special Agent In Charge Ashley T. Johnson of the FBI's Chicago office, were honored for their work removing or covering tattoos for crime victims and former criminals.
Chris and Lisa Baker, here with Acting Special Agent In Charge Ashley T. Johnson of the FBI's Chicago office, were honored for their work removing or covering tattoos for crime victims and former criminals. - Courtesy of the FBI

Erasing a relatively small tattoo may take just one session, but covering it up can take several, he said.

Some people -- pimps, gang leaders, domestic abusers -- are not fans of the work. Baker said he has received 13 death threats.

"I feel like we're doing what our faith has driven us to do, and our (Christian) faith protects us," he said.

Some of their business comes in through word-of-mouth, and police departments hand out their business cards. They've also worked in the Kane County jail.

The work is paid for through donations on their website, 180ink.com.

In 2014, the Bakers helped get a state law passed that allows victims under the age of 18 to have trafficking or gang tattoos removed or covered. Before that, permission of their parents was required -- and oftentimes those parents could not be located, or had victimized their own children, according to the FBI.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 
This is an example of the work Chris and Lisa Baker, of 180 Ink in Oswego, do to cover up tattoos of ex-gang members, human trafficking victims and survivors of domestic abuse and self-harm. On the left is the tattoo before covering.
This is an example of the work Chris and Lisa Baker, of 180 Ink in Oswego, do to cover up tattoos of ex-gang members, human trafficking victims and survivors of domestic abuse and self-harm. On the left is the tattoo before covering. - Courtesy of the FBI

Baker said self-harmers may use tattoos to cover up scars. Domestic violence victims may be erasing painful reminders, such as scars or their ex-partner's name.

Trafficking victims used to be marked with bar codes when Baker first started the work. Now, he said, it is more typical that they are marked with a "property of so-and-so" tattoo.

Husband's murder conviction upheld

In the months before she was found dead in a bathtub in her South Barrington home, Cynthia Hrisco confided to friends that her marriage was struggling and she feared her husband.

Frank Buschauer
Frank Buschauer

Nearly two decades later, when Frank Buschauer finally faced trial on charges he killed his wife, the judge deciding his fate considered those disclosures before convicting him of first-degree murder.

But should he have?

That was among the questions a state appeals court decided this month when it unanimously upheld Buschauer's conviction and 25-year prison sentence.

Buschauer, who told police his wife accidentally drowned in the tub in January 2000, wasn't charged until 13 years later. That's when, authorities said, improvements in forensic technology gave them evidence showing Hrisco died while being held underwater face down by the neck.

Buschauer's appeal of his 2019 conviction rested on two issues: First, that the judge considered improper hearsay statements from his wife's friends, and second, that police unlawfully questioned him at the time of his 2013 arrest because they didn't tell him that he'd already been charged with first-degree murder.

But the appellate court rejected both claims, ruling first that Buschauer had no right to know that he'd already been charged when police questioned him.

As for Hrisco's comments to friends, the court agreed they could be considered hearsay statements but ruled there was enough evidence to convict Buschauer had they been disallowed.

"Sufficient independent circumstantial evidence exists of Buschauer's motive to kill Hrisco and many of Hrisco's statements about the qualitative state of her marriage were self-evident from the nonhearsay evidence," Justice Michael B. Hyman wrote. "All in all, evidentiary error, if any, did not warrant reversal."

Buschauer, now 73, will not be eligible for parole until August 2044, by which time he would be 95 years old.

As seen on TV

If you want to learn more about the Buschauer case, the Investigation Discovery network's "Evil Lives Here: Shadows of Death" crime documentary series released an episode on it last year called "The Bathtub."

The episode features interviews with the couple's son and Buschauer's sister, both of whom say they believe he's innocent, as well as with police and prosecutors who say otherwise. There's also crime-scene footage, family photos and fictional re-enactments.

If your content provider carries the network, or you subscribe to Discovery+, you can check it out online.

• Have a question, comment or story idea? Email us at copsandcrime@dailyherald.com.

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