Ten years ago I found myself on a plane from Las Vegas with several young actors who had just completed taping the first episodes of the promising new TV show, CSI. Back then, nobody could have foreseen just how popular that show and others of its ilk would become. Let’s face it, these days you can’t channel surf without running into CSI and all its spinoffs, or NCIS, Forensic Files, Criminal Minds, Cold Case, or my personal favorite, the original Law and Order. What’s behind our fascination with those forensics and crime scene investigation shows? What make us keep coming back for more?
We love to solve a mystery, get to the bottom of things, put the puzzle pieces together into a picture that makes sense. In a one-hour show, everything falls neatly into place and we breathe a sigh of relief. Sure, we know that’s not how things work in real life, but maybe wrapping up a murder that fast, knowing whodunit and how, make us feel a little more in control of our world.
For more than thirty-five years, my own career has involved solving mysteries in a very specific area of forensics: handwriting analysis. I testify in the court system in cases of forgery and I work in a separate but related area of the field, behavioral analysis through handwriting. Did you ever think of your handwriting as something that could reveal forensic evidence about you?
Think of this: As children, we learned to write from a copybook model, but once we reached graphic maturity (which means we develop the ability to write without having to stop and think about how to form each letter and word) we began to individualize our handwriting to reflect our own unique personality. That might mean simplifying the letters or making them fancier, or printing them instead of writing cursive or vice-versa. And that’s why handwriting can be accurately analyzed—we are all different and our differences are reflected in the way we walk, the expression on our face, tone of voice, the way we write.
As we go through life collecting various experiences and reacting to them, our handwriting changes to reflect our personality growth. The way handwriting is laid out on the page (spaces between letters, words, lines, margins), the way it looks (printed, cursive, elaborate, simplified, etc.), the speed, pressure, and dozens of other features tell a lot about your personality and how you function in your personal world. Handwriting analysts say that when you pick up a pen and start to write on a blank sheet of paper, the ink trail you leave is symbolic of how you behave when you walk into a room. Do you write large and take up a lot of room? Or is your writing shyly crammed into a corner of the paper? Are there wide spaces (elbow room) between the words or are the words so close they almost touch? Does your pen press aggressively into the paper or does it barely touch down as it glides across the surface? The answers to these questions tell the handwriting analyst about your social and intellectual style, the state of your ego, your stamina and vitality, and many other aspects of your personality.
Forensically speaking, although there is no such thing as “criminal handwriting,” there are personality traits shared by various types of convicted criminals that can be identified in handwriting as red flags for pathology. This knowledge can be helpful to psychologists and human resource managers in the hiring process, as well as to private investigators doing background checks, and law enforcement when interviewing a suspect, witness, or victim because handwriting tells the truth, even when the writer is lying.
Besides being a court-qualified handwriting expert, Sheila Lowe is the author of the Forensic Handwriting Mysteries series, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Handwriting Analysis, and Handwriting of the Famous & Infamous. Www.sheilalowe.com Www.claudiaroseseries.com