Category Archives: Document Examination

Q&A with Expanded Audio Discussions Now on the Suspense Magazine Website

Q&A with Expanded Audio Discussions Now on the Suspense Magazine Website

Check out the new posts John Raab of Suspense Magazine and I put together. Read the Q&As and listen to the expanded discussions. Hope each proves helpful for your crime fiction.

Can DNA Be Used To Identify Multiple Assailants In a Three Decade Old Rape?

In 1863, Could An Autopsy Accurately Determine the Cause of Death?

Can My Female Character Cause Her Pregnancy To Become “Stone Baby” By Shear Will?

More to come.

Want more cool questions from crime writers? Check out my three Q&A books.

M&M 200X300

More Info and List of Included Questions


More Info and List of Included Questions

MF&F 200X320

More Info and List of Included Questions



FFD 300X378


Forensics For Dummies Updated 2nd Edition is now available.

Get it through your local Indie Bookstore or here:




Forensics For Dummies, 2nd Edition Coming Soon


FFD 300X378


Just got the new cover for Forensics For Dummies, 2nd Edition.

It will be released from Wiley on 2-29-16

Pre-Order now


Toilet Paper to the Rescue


“I have a gun. Give me $300.”

Here’s a bit of advice: If you plan to rob a bank or a business, say a pizza joint, don’t write your “stick up” note on toilet paper and then leave the roll behind for the police to find when they search your home. If you do, you give the investigators much to work with in connecting you to the crime. Don’t believe me? Ask Eric Frey.

In this case, Frey left behind “indented writing” on the roll and, much to his dismay, investigators were able to match this “writing” that that on the note.

This is definitely an odd case of Forensic Document Examination.

Two other forensic techniques that could enter the picture here would be chemical ink analysis and fracture pattern assessment. The ink on the note could be chemically matched to the marker pen found at Frey’s residence and this could serve to further link him to the note.

Also, since no two things fracture, crack, or tear the same way, analysis of the torn edges could match the note paper to the roll—-if no other tissues had been torn away after the note was removed. The tear line between the roll and the note paper would match and this match is about as good as DNA or fingerprints. Such tears, like broken glass or chipped paint or broken sticks, are called fracture patterns and they are highly individual.

There is an entire chapter on the fascinating field of Document examination in my forensic books Howdunnit: Forensics and Forensics For Dummies.

Howdunit 400X533

FFD 400X600 copy

And a few links for you to explore:

A Simplified Guide to Forensic Document Examination:

FBI Forensic Ink Analysis:

Glass Fracture Patterns:

Howdunnit:Forensics and my other Forensic Books:


Posted by on February 24, 2015 in Crime Scene, Document Examination


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.


Forensic Graphology: A Key to Understanding Killers by Sheila Lowe

Like her Forensic Handwriting Mysteries series (Penguin/Obsidian) character, Claudia Rose, Sheila Lowe is a real-life forensic handwriting expert who testifies in a variety of handwriting-related cases. A frequent guest in the media when there are interesting handwritings to comment on, Sheila recently appeared on Dateline NBC, discussing the Clark Rockefeller case. She’s the author of the best-selling Complete Idiot’s Guide to Handwriting Analysis, Handwriting of the Famous & Infamous, and award-winning Sheila Lowe’s Handwriting Analyzer software.

Sheila was kind enough to share her expertise with us.

It’s been fifteen years since Susan Smith, “killer mom,” strapped her two little boys into their car seats and sent them into John D. Long Lake, drowning as she watched, hysterical, from the shore. In the late 1980s Christine Falling became infamous as the babysitter who, over a period of time, smothered six small children in her care. In more recent times we have Casey Anthony. What news watcher in 2009 has not heard of this young woman who is awaiting trial for the murder of her toddler daughter, Caylee? Or American student Amanda Knox, currently on trial in Italy for the murder of her roommate in a sex game gone horribly wrong?

Besides being tried for murder, what do these women have in common? Their handwritings have been studied by forensic graphologists. Graphology is the generic term for handwriting analysis and simply means “the study of handwriting.” More specifically, the study of handwriting to understand personality, and in these cases, to understand what might have driven them to kill.

Can handwriting of women who kill really tell us something about them?
In reality, this is an enormously complex subject, but it can be boiled down to this basic fact: handwriting can reveal important information about what motivates the writer.
To be properly understood, a handwriting sample needs to be viewed as if it were picture. It’s not a simple case of “this means that.” There is no direct relationship between a single stroke of writing and a personality trait such as if you make high t-bars it mean you have high goals. Picking out bits and pieces such as how you dot you i’s or how big your loops are, is not particularly useful unless they are examined within the context of the whole writing sample.

In examining these women’s handwritings, are there commonalities?

Susan Smith:



Christine Falling:



Casey Anthony:



Amanda Knox:

Knox, A


Smith, Falling, Anthony, and Knox all have handwriting that is very rounded and is concentrated in an area known as the “middle zone” (which includes letters that don’t have upper or lower loops, or the middle parts of letters that do). In general, people with these characteristics (excessive roundness and large middle zone) have been found to need far more love, nurturing, and attention than the average person. Looking back on their early life, they felt deprived of those qualities. As adults, they spend an inordinate amount of time and energy trying to get their unfulfilled emotional needs satisfied in relationships, yet they invariably choose relationships with men who are unable to meet their needs.

Falling’s handwriting has some interesting features, marked by arrows. The first part of the word ‘me,’ for example, is formed in a way that looks like an X, as the long initial stroke of the ‘e’ crosses the downstroke of the ‘m’. Interestingly, people who make this form often have a “death consciousness.” In many cases, someone close to them has died and they may be feeling guilty about it. In Falling’s case, the cause is much more sinister, of course. The other arrow in her sample points to a letter ‘l’ that is twisted on top, and which indicates idiosyncratic thinking—she doesn’t see the world the way the rest of us do. It is reported that when Falling was a child of eight, her mother hit her in the head with a two-by-four, resulting in epileptic seizures.

A notable characteristic in Susan Smith’s handwriting are the letter ‘t’, which have a cross so low that the cross bar sits on the baseline. It also stays on the left of the ‘t’ stem, rather than crossing through it. This has been identified in the handwritings of “professional victims” who set themselves up for punishment. Her letters squeeze together, bumping up against each other, which suggests a lack of social boundaries, and is sometimes seen as an aspect of suicidal thinking.

Casey Anthony’s handwriting has some letters that are close together and others that are far apart, which reveals ambivalence abut who she is. It also contains letters that are hard to distinguish, or that look like something they’re not, an indicator for not telling things like they are.

Amanda Knox’s handwriting is fairly typical of modern young women. Once again, the letter spacing is extremely narrow, and as with the other writers, the writing is concentrated in the middle zone. People who use this form tend to believe that the world revolves around them, they manage to rationalize their behaviors, and they look to no authority beyond their own noses.

Does handwriting reveal that someone is a killer? No. But it does provide information to help understand the motives behind their behavior. For the women whose handwritings appear here, the chief motivating factor is the need for love, attention, and approval. Smith rid herself of her children because the man she was seeing didn’t want children and she desperately wanted his love and approval. Falling killed children to get attention. Neither Anthony nor Knox have been convicted so far, but their motivations are the same—they see only their own needs.

The few characteristics that I’ve pointed out here are only a tiny section of the dozens of elements that a handwriting professional considers in making an assessment, and that’s true regardless of whether the writer is a killer, a salesman, a teacher, or a doctor. And, by the way, when it comes to their handwriting, doctors get a bad rap—like everyone else, doctors are individuals, some with bad handwriting and some with beautiful handwriting. And, like the killers and possible killers we’ve looked at here, their handwriting tells the truth about them!

Visit Sheila’s website.


Posted by on August 24, 2009 in Document Examination, Guest Blogger

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