Monthly Archives: June 2011

Guest Blogger: Handwriting Analyst Michelle Dresbold

My guest today in Handwriting Analysts Michelle Dresbold. She will offer her insights into the Casey Anthony case by examining Casey’s handwriting.

Casey Anthony


I am a handwriting detective. As I explain in my book, Sex, Lies and Handwriting, my specialties range from handwriting identification, (including anonymous letters and suspected forgeries), to threat analysis, to personality profiling. I have testified in a wide variety of cases including arson, embezzlement, voting fraud, forgery, stalking, and murder.

Lately, the media has been inundated with news about the Casey Anthony case. The Prosecutors theory is that Anthony suffocated her daughter, Caylee, so she could be free to “live the good life.” Their case presents evidence that suggests that Casey stuffed Caylee’s body in her car trunk and drove around for days before she dumped her daughter’s body in the woods near her parent’s home.

Casey Anthony had originally claimed that on Monday, June 9, 2008 she left her 3-year-old daughter, Caylee, with her nanny, Zenaida Gonzalez. However, when she returned to the nanny’s Florida apartment, Caylee was missing. Casey didn’t notify the police, she said, because she did not want to worry her parents and wanted to do her own investigation. Casey’s mother, Cindy Anthony, however, became worried and five weeks after Casey had allegedly “lost” her daughter, Cindy Anthony reported her granddaughter’s disappearance to the police.

After a five-month nationwide search, Caylee’s remains were found by a meter reader.

In his opening statement, defense attorney José Baez told jurors that Caylee had accidently drowned in the family’s swimming pool. He suggested that Casey Anthony’s bizarre attitude and lying was a result of her alleged sexual abuse by her father and her brother.

Recently, I reviewed documents released by prosecutors in the Casey Anthony murder case including jailhouse letters between Anthony and fellow inmates.  I’ve heard numerous theories about what Casey may have done and why… but, as I learned a long time ago, people can say whatever they want… but handwriting never lies.

As a handwriting profiler, I’m interested in what her handwriting has to say.

What stands out the most to me in Casey Anthony’s handwriting is her “bubble gum” script. Bubble gum writers have letters are almost uniformly the same height. The middle zone (the lower case letters a, c, e, i, m, n, o, r, s, u, v, w, x and the part of the other letters between the upper loops and the lower loops) of her writing is exaggerated. When the middle zone is overly large, like Casey’s, the writer has a tendency to be childlike and self-centered. These writers like to be the center of attention. It is difficult for them to delay gratification. What they see is what they want…today…this minute…right now!

Also, her individual letters and words have practically no space in between them. This narrow spacing indicates that Casey will crowd others for attention and can take up the time and energy of those around hers. Cramped spacing is also an indicator that she sees things from a very narrow perspective as opposed to seeing the big picture.

The artistic side of the word “Cookie” shows that Casey has a creative side. However, the letters “oo” show where this creative side may be put to use. The letters “o” and “a” are the communication letters. Think of these letters as little mouths. When a writer’s a’s and o’s are open at the top, the writer likes to talk and will find it difficult to keep a secret. When they are completely closed at the top the writer can take a secret to the grave. Casey’s “o’s” in “Cookie” are quite interesting because even in the artistic version of her script she wrote the “o’s” with a slash through them? Slashes through a’s and o’s, known as “forked tongue strokes,” are signs of a liar.

Casey actually makes her “o’s” three different ways. One is the “o” with the forked tongue slash through it (as seen in the words “cookie” and “on”). The second is an extra loopy “o” (as seen in the second “o” in the word “cool”)– an indicator that she rationalizes her behavior.  But the third way she makes her “o’s” may be the most telling of all. You know that the o’s and a’s that are tightly closed at the top mean that the writer is tight lipped and secretive. Casey not only closes her o at the top, she makes sure it is sealed tight by finishing it at the bottom. There is no way she could even leave a slight gap at the top. She is so secretive that she won’t even tell herself the truth.

Besides the slashes, extra loopy loops, and her overly closed o’s, Casey does something else that indicates that she is good at telling whoopers. Her writing looks readable; however, if you take words out of context many are ambiguous or unreadable. Look at the word between “So I” and “have this Super cool pen” in the first line underneath the word “cookie”. Can you read it? See if you can read the words labeled “A”, “B”, “C” or “D”.  In context, I’m sure you could easily make them out. But, out of context, what are they? People who are expert at tricky writing are like magicians. They make you see what they want you to see. They leave the interpretation of events vague and unclear, so that they have an out when they need it.

Casey Anthony also uses ambiguous letters in her signature. Her first name is spelled “CASEY.” So, given the fact that Casey knows how to spell her own name, why does it look like “CAESY”? That, my friends, is ambiguous or “tricky” writing.

Look closer at the signature and you will notice that the “a” in Casey’s first name is blown out of proportion. When a lowercase “a” is extra large it indicates that the writer is very concerned about his or her physical appearance. And, if you look carefully, you will see that there is a sharp point inside of Casey’s “a.” That point is called a “stinger.” Writers with stingers tend to be extreme in their sexual lifestyles – they either abstain from sex entirely, or they become sexaholics.

Also, do you see that Casey made her last name into a great big “X”? When a writer’s signature or personal pronoun “I” turns into an “X,” it shows that the writer feels as if his or her life has been ruined. These sad “x’ed-out” people worry and fantasize about death. Sometimes these gloomy thoughts are about other people’s deaths and sometimes these morbid feelings about the writer’s own demise.

Many people have asked if her writing shows that she has been abused. It’s hard to say for sure if a person has been abused however, she does have a number of signs that suggest that she has major trust issues; including, but not limited to, the letter “c” in the word, “cool”. The letter “c” is the trust letter. The more the letter “c” is closed the more the writer is “closed off” and less she can trust. Notice that Casey’s “c” is almost completely closed. Her narrow, compressed spacing also stems from insecurity and fear. And, of course, the extreme secretiveness that we saw in the letter o shows, that like many people of abuse, they feel it is imperative to never let their “secret” out.

If you’d like to learn more about what you can tell from deciphering handwriting or to read my communication analysis of Casey Anthony’s statement to the police, please check out my website:

Michelle Dresbold has been called the Sherlock Holmes of handwriting. For the past 15 years, she has been helping law enforcement agencies around the country put away the “bad guys.” 

A graduate of the United States Secret Service’s Advanced Document Examination training program, Michelle consults to private attorneys, police departments, and prosecutors throughout the United States. She is considered one of the top experts in the nation on handwriting identification, (including anonymous letters and suspected forgeries), personality profiling, and threat analysis. She has testified in a wide variety of cases including arson, embezzlement, voting fraud, forgery, stalking, and murder.

She is the author of Sex, Lies, and Handwriting, published by Simon and Schuster’s Free Press, and writes a weekly syndicated column, The Handwriting Doctor, which appears in newspapers throughout the United States. Michelle is also an accomplished artist, who has shown her work in galleries and museums across the country. 

Michelle has been featured on the CBS Early Show, the Today Show, the Fox Morning Show with Mike and Juliette, the O’Reilly Factor, Fox News, The History Channel and The ID Channel. 

Her press includes: Pittsburgh Magazine (cover story), Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Philadelphia Magazine, The Washington Post, MarieClaire Magazine, Martha Stewart’s Blueprint Magazine, Woman’s World Magazine, Psychology Today and The Ladies Home Journal. 

Michelle graduated with high honors from the University of Michigan, with a degree in fine arts and psychology.


Royal Pains Returns

The new season of the hit TV series ROYAL PAINS returns to the USA network this Wednesday. Don’t miss it. It’s fun.

And of course the first ROYAL PAINS tie-in novel ROYAL PAINS: FIRST, DO NO HARM is available at your local bookstore and on line.

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Posted by on June 26, 2011 in Writing


Coronary Deaths in Ancient Egypt

Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) is a modern disease. Everyone knows that. With industrialization, the advent of the car, the increase in dietary sugar and fat, the more sedentary lifestyle, the movement of populations from the farms to the city, and the stresses of modern life, the incidence of CAD has exploded in the past 100 years. For many years it has been, and remains, the major killer of adults in the US.

But is CAD actually more prevalent now or simply more easily recognized? Obviously the treatment of this disorder is a modern invention since bypass surgery began in the 1960s and angioplasty and coronary stents followed in the 1980s and 1990s. These life-saving interventions are very new.

But is CAD really that new? Was it present but unrecognized for many years before we really understood what a heart attack was?

The answer is yes.

A new study from one of my colleagues Dr. Gregory Thomas was reported in a recent American College of Cardiology meeting. As part of the study, CT scans were performed on 44 Egyptian mummies. Astoundingly, nearly half of them had significant calcifications in their blood vessels–the coronary arteries, carotid arteries, and the other more peripheral arteries–indicating the presence of CAD and Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD). Also the average age at death was only 38 years and female mummies were just as likely to have evidence for CAD as were their male counterparts.


These findings seem to suggest that something other than modern civilization is at the root of coronary disease. The ancient Egyptians ate more grains, vegetables, and fruits and consumed much less meat than modern humans, so dietary considerations did not seem as important. At least in this population. And I don’t think Cleopatra and her subjects had gyms and aerobic studios and I doubt they exercised just for the sake of exercise. All of this points to the fact that perhaps CAD has more to do with genetics than anything else. This isn’t exactly a new belief as we have known for years that a strong family history of CAD puts a given individual at a higher risk for this disease.

What does this mean for writers? If you set your stories in Ancient Egypt, it opens up more avenues for you to explore when creating your characters. You could easily have a 30 or 40 year old male, or female, who suffered from CAD. Of course, he would not know that what he suffered from was CAD but he might have at least rudimentary knowledge that chest pain and shortness of breath were not good things. He might even know that the development of these symptoms was often followed by death in fairly short order. This feeling of “impending death” could easily alter your character’s activities, beliefs, and confidence. Not to mention scare the hell out of him.

Other symptoms for your character would include fatigue, heartburn or indigestion (symptoms that seem to be GI in origin but are often the symptoms of CAD), palpitations, dizziness, and even fainting. Your character could also suffer from peripheral vascular disease, which would cause cramping in his lower legs with walking or climbing stairs. He could be prescribed a host of herbs, poultices, inhalants, and incantations and rituals to ward off the evil spells or foul humors that had obviously invaded his body. Such was the state of Egyptian medicine during its Dynastic Period.

So while you’re creating characters for your Ancient Egyptian historical fiction, consider giving one of them cardiovascular disease. It’s not only possible but indeed likely that your character could suffer from this problem.


Posted by on June 23, 2011 in Medical Issues, Writing


Q and A: Could the Sensitivity of Modern DNA Testing Prove Confusing in a Contaminated Crime Scene?

Q: I attended your forensics panel at SINC OC and remember you saying that DNA can be extracted from a single cell found at the scene. Is that correct? I have a meticulous serial killer that I want to leave only DNA clues but (for me at least) that begs two questions: How far is the one-cell method of DNA ID developed now and wouldn’t the DNA results become muddied since many persons would have been in the same area? In other words, how would friends/family/acquaintances be ruled out or in as suspects when they most likely would have physical contact with the victim?

P.I. Barrington, Riverside, CA

A: The techniques that allow very small DNA samples to be useful are well-established and have been the last 15 years. They are the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and short tandem repeats (STR). Together they are referred to as PCR/STR. The PCR technique basically copies the existing DNA chains so that a single DNA chain–therefore a single cell–can be used to produce as much DNA as is needed. Since the copying is exact, all the DNA produced by this method is identical to the original DNA strand. This process is called amplification but it is basically a duplication of the existing strand. The short tandem repeat is simply a method of analyzing the DNA and producing a profile from multiple short segments of the target DNA.

What this all means is that a very small DNA sample, and theoretically only a single cell, can be used to generate a DNA fingerprint.


Your other questions bring up a very difficult problem that will be an increasing problem in the future. If the DNA techniques are so sensitive, what do we do about extraneous DNA found at the scene? Since people shed skin cells all the time, a busy public place could theoretically house the DNA from thousands of people. But as with the blues, context is everything.

If the crime scene DNA is found in a drop of blood or a smear of semen or a fingerprint, the DNA found in that sample would belong to the person that left the sample behind. Could it be contaminated by other DNA? Of course, but this contaminant would be in very small amounts. In addition, the extraneous DNA might belong to a family member or friend or someone who had a reason to be at the scene before or after the murder. That’s not always true in the case of the killer. Often he has no innocent reason for having deposited his bodily fluids or fingerprints at a murder scene.

So let’s look at a scenario such as this: the killer does his deed. He washes his hands in the sink. He uses a hand towel to dry his hands. The crime lab technicians evaluate the towel and find DNA present. The DNA proves to be from several people. The victim, the victim’s spouse, the victim’s children, and maybe the victims next-door neighbor who visits daily. But another DNA is found. One that cannot be matched to any known individual. Later a suspect is identified and indeed this DNA matches him.

What does this evidence tell investigators? It tells them what any evidence does. That the individual identified by the DNA had contact with that towel. That’s it. It doesn’t say anything else. This is true of all evidence. It merely serves as a link between a person and another person, place, or object. Your investigators must then uncover the circumstances under which this person’s DNA was left on that towel. If he can prove he had been there for dinner the night before and had indeed washed his hands then this evidence is of little value. But if he swears that he doesn’t know the victim and has never been in the victim’s home, that’s an entirely different story. Again, context is everything.



Miaow Miaow: Not a Noisy Kitty But a Really Bad Cat

I have a very noisy cat. The Bean. He’s a Bengal. If you know anything about this breed they come from Abyssinians and Asian Leopard Cats, a wild breed. The Bean is a nocturnal roamer who can make about 100 different sounds, some of which are as if he’s dying. Not to worry all his yaps translate to “ME.” We call him Mr. Me Me Me. After all, it’s all about him.

But that’s not the cat we’re talking about here.

Just when you thought taking a soak in the tub was a great stress reliever, a new player enters the picture.

Miaow Miaow is mephedrone, a potentially dangerous synthetic derivative of the active drug in the East African Khat plant. It is similar in structure and action to Ecstasy and Methamphetamine. And it’s legal. So far.

This new drug of abuse can be found in some plant foods, incense products, and bath salts. Inhaling its fumes gives the “herbal high” and could be potentially deadly. Yes, your bath salts could kill you. This is a growing problem for drug enforcement but for writers it’s a new drug to play with.


Posted by on June 14, 2011 in Medical Issues, Poisons & Drugs


CraftFest and ThrillerFest Are Just Around the Corner

This year’s CraftFest and ThrillerFest are just weeks away. If you haven’t signed up, do.

Here is a note from Kathleen Antrim, ITW’s VP of National Events:

The ThrillerFest panel schedule and the CraftFest/AgentFest schedules are posted on the website!

ThrillerFest VI is only 4 weeks away!  If you haven’t registered time is running out!  Go to:  and register now.  We want to see you there.


Revolutionary Products in Publishing will be demonstrated!  Virtual signing tools for both print and ebook editions.

The CIA is coming to ThrillerFest!  Yes, you read that right.  The United States Central Intelligence Agency will be sending representatives to ThrillerFest to answer your questions about correctly depicting the spy world in your writing. Come prepared with your questions!




2011 ThrillerMaster R. L. Stine, 2010 ThrillerMaster Ken Follett, and Spotlight Authors Diana Gabaldon, John Lescroart, and Robert Crais.


ThrillerMasters Ken Follett and David Morrell to teach at CraftFest.


Karin Slaughter to be awarded the 2011 Silver Bullet Award for her “Save the Libraries” program.  Joe McGinniss to receive the ITW True Thriller Award.


AgentFest to be the largest event of its kind in the world!  60 agents/editors will join us this year!


We’re back at the Grand Hyatt in New York City from July 6-9th, 2011.


Register now:


I can’t wait to see you there!


Kathleen Antrim
Vice President of National Events
ThrillerFest Chair
Board of Directors
International Thriller Writers

1 Comment

Posted by on June 12, 2011 in Writing


Q and A: Can Shrapnel Blind My Soldier Without Leaving Behind Any Visible Evidence of His Injury?

Q: I have a Lt. Colonel blinded by shrapnel when he is ambushed while on patrol in Iraq. I have it that the projectile enters his temple and other shrapnel pocks his neck. Is this possible without visual damage to the eyes although he has scars on the temple? In other words, his eyes “look” fine, but he’s blind. Could a hit like that destroy the optic nerve without brain damage? I know that most blinding incidents occur from direct hits to the eye or from the pressure of explosives, so I want to be correct when explaining his injury.

A: First, a little anatomy. Here is a link to a diagram that will help you understand the explanation:

The optic nerves connect the optic cortex, which is the portion of the cerebral cortex involved with vision, with the retinas in a crossover pattern at what is called the optic chiasm. The left sided optic cortex supplies fibers through the brain to the left portion of the retina of each eye. This portion of the retina sees to the right. The right side optic cortex supplies fibers to the right portion of the retina of both eyes and sees to the left. Study the diagram in the link and this should be easy to see.

An injury on one side of the head that involves the optic nerve, say to the left eye, could cause blindness in the left eye only. The same would be true of the right. If the injury were deep enough that it reached the base of the brain and damaged the optic chaism and was severe enough to damage all the optic fibers then blindness would be bilateral because none of the optic fibers would be able to reach the retina. This would be a very severe head injury since these fibers lie deep into the skull at the base of the brain. He could survive it but it would require luck and fairly immediate cranial surgery.

The injury could also come to the back of the head and the optic cortex could be damaged. The optic cortex is the hind-most portion of each brain hemisphere. Injuries to these areas can result in what we call cortical blindness since the blindness comes from an injury and malfunction of the cortex of the brain. If the injury were to the right sided optical cortex he would be blind in his left visual field. We call this a left homonymous hemianopsia which is a big word meaning blindness in the left side of the visual field of both eyes. Here his visual field would be cut in half. The right half of the field would be normal and the left half dark as if a curtain had been pulled before his face. Of course if the left-sided cortex were damaged, he would be blind in his right visual field and would have a right homonymous hemianopsia. If the damage was to both of the optic cortices he would be completely blind.

So he could be blind in one eye with an injury to the optic nerve, both eyes if the injury involved the optic chiasm, a homonymous hemianopsia if one side of the cortex were damaged, and total cortical blindness if both optic cortices were damaged.

The chiasm could be damaged by a penetrating wound or from the concussion of the blast without penetration while damage to a single optic nerve would more likely occur with a penetrating wound. Complete or partial cortical blindness could follow either blunt or penetrating trauma to the optical cortices. But almost anything is possible.


Posted by on June 7, 2011 in Medical Issues, Q&A, Trauma


A Staged Suicide

Apparently, 19-year-old Kipp Rusty Walker suffered from mental health issues and had threatened to kill himself in the past. One night he made good on that threat. It’s a sad truth that suicides happen every day. But they don’t happen this way. In public. On stage.


It seems that Kipp stabbed himself to death during an open mic night at the Strictly Organic Coffee Co. in Bend, Oregon. The audience cheered and clapped, mistakenly believing that it was all part of the act. By the time they realized that it wasn’t, it was too late for Kipp.

Though this was a suicide rather than a natural death, it reminded me of the death of comedian Dick Shawn. A veteran of the movies and The Ed Sullivan Show, he also had an award-winning one-man show that he titled The Second Greatest Entertainer in the Whole Wide World. On April 17, 1987 while performing in San Diego and doing a skit about a politician, he said, “If elected, I will not lay down on the job.” He collapsed on the stage. As with Kipp, the audience thought this was part of the act and began to laugh and clap. But soon they realized that this wasn’t an act. That something tragic had happened. Dick Shawn had suffered a massive heart attack and died before their eyes.

Two very sad and unusual deaths.


Posted by on June 3, 2011 in Uncategorized

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