Who Authored the Letter That Sparked a 19th-Century American Scandal?

On February 27, 1859 Philip Barton Key sat on a bench outside the home of his mistress Teresa Sickles and signaled his arrival. Key was the son of famed author Francis Scott Key, and a lawyer who served as U.S Attorney for the District of Columbia. He also had a reputation for rakish behavior and was widely regarded as the handsomest man in Washington. Teresa Sickles, meanwhile, was the wife of congressman Daniel Sickles of New York.

Key’s affair with Sickles began in the spring of 1858, but it would come to an abrupt halt on that fateful day in February 1859.

Earlier that Week, Daniel Sickles received an anonymous letter describing the details of Key’s affair with his wife. On the afternoon of the 27th, Sickles was lying in wait to catch Key in the act. Upon seeing Key on the bench outside his home, Sickles dashed outside and cried, “Key, you scoundrel, you have dishonored my home. You must die!” Sickles then fired multiple pistol shots a Key, inflicting grievous wounds that left him dead just a few hours later.

Following a lengthy and highly-controversial trial, Sickles was acquitted of the murder of Philip Barton Key based on grounds of temporary insanity. This was the first time the temporary insanity defense was employed successfully in the United States. It’s also worth noting that Sickles’ defense attorney was Edwin M. Stanton, who would go on to serve as Secretary of War for President Abraham Lincoln.

Although the murder case was closed long ago, the author of the letter that alerted Sickles to the affair remains a mystery. In an attempt to establish authorship of the letter, I compared it to writing samples of the four primary suspects: Samuel Butterworth, Stephen D. Beekman, Rose O’Neal and Henry Wikoff.       

It was a challenging examination process, due in large part to the fact that I was limited to digitally-scanned documents which lack the detail of original documents. Despite these challenges, I was able to analyze common writing habits like letterforms, spacings, slant and connecting strokes to determine that none of the four suspected authors were the source of the letter. Thus, the letter must have been written by a fifth suspect who has yet to be identified. For now, the source of this letter remains one of the most enduring mysteries in American history.

Autographed Sports Memorabilia Isn’t Always What it Seems

Baseball in GloveFor a diehard sports fan, there’s no better gift than a piece of autographed memorabilia from their favorite athlete. Thanks to online marketplaces like eBay, it’s easier than ever to find autographed uniforms, balls and other equipment from some of the world’s most iconic sports figures. Unfortunately, however, the sports memorabilia market also harbors enormous potential for fraud.

It’s very easy for scammers to find an image of an athlete’s signature online, copy it and apply it to a jersey or photograph. Sometimes, signed pieces of sports memorabilia come with “certificates of authenticity,” but even these can be forged with relative ease. If someone is willing to go to the trouble of forging an athlete’s signature, you can bet they won’t have any qualms about making a fake certificate as well.

Last year, one such fraudster was taken into custody twice after being accused of operating a $10 million scheme that involved selling fake sports memorabilia to investors. He was first arrested in March, and then again in November when authorities found he was continuing to sell fake sports memorabilia even after taking a plea deal. Now, prosecutors are seeking a prison term of at least 11 years for his alleged crimes.

So how can you avoid falling victim to one of these scams?

As a general rule of thumb, if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. Be sure to take those certificates of authenticity with a grain of salt as well. Whenever possible, buy sports memorabilia from reputable dealers rather than individual vendors you find on the Internet. Even if a seller has positive reviews on eBay, it doesn’t necessarily mean their goods are authentic.

If you suspect you may have already purchased a fraudulent piece of sports memorabilia, you maybe be able to take legal action against the seller. First, however, you must obtain proof that the item was forged, and that the seller knew it was forged when they sold it to you. At Drexler Document Laboratory, our forgery experts can analyze autographed sports memorabilia to verify its authenticity once and for all. Give us a call or contact us online today to learn more.

How Handwriting Can Make or Break a Case

How Handwriting Can Make or Break a CaseHandwriting is something that many people take for granted, but there are many cases where it is important to discovering the truth about a hand-written document. In some cases, handwriting can even have an impact on a case, even swaying a court’s decision. Let’s look at a prime example of how handwriting can make or break a case.

Written documentation is important in many civil and criminal cases. While many documents are now generated electronically, many are also still created the “old fashioned” way with a pen and paper. In one recent criminal case from the U.K., handwriting turned out to be critical to the defense.

A man in Bedfordshire, England was charged in 2001 with trespassing in search of game after he and another man were spotted on private land. According to reporting from the BBC, the police officer prepared a written report in the case that accused the man of illegally coursing for hare. At the trial, the accused man’s attorney argued to the court that the police officer’s handwriting on the report was so poor that he was unable to read it to prepare a defense. The court agreed with the defense attorney, and ruled that the illegible handwriting on the report resulted in a breach of the defendant’s human rights. The police department later said that they had never before encountered a case like this.

While this criminal case may be a bit unusual, it does highlight the importance of handwriting and its role in many court cases. While sheer illegibility is certainly a rare exception, handwriting comes into focus more commonly in cases of forgery or questioned documents. Hand-written notes and copy plays a role in many legal cases, and in many instances, it is essential that documents are analyzed and examined by a properly trained document examiner.

At Drexler Document Laboratory, we provide a variety of expert services, including document forgery detection, handwriting comparison, and analysis and examination of questioned documents. We provide assistance in civil, criminal and private inquiries. Contact us today by calling 844-373-9522 to discuss your case.

Documented Evidence: The Role of Document Examination in the Lindbergh Baby Case

Back in September 1934, a man named Richard Hauptmann was arrested and charged with first-degree murder for killing Charles Lindbergh Jr., the oldest son of famous aviator Charles Lindbergh and his wife, Anne. The following January, Hauptmann was put on trial for the murder of the young boy, and after a monthlong trial, he was found guilty and sentenced to the death penalty. Hauptmann’s trial was referred to as the “Trial of the Century” at the time, and while there were plenty of scandalous details surrounding it, document examination is what ultimately played a key role in Hauptmann receiving a guilty verdict at the end of the court proceedings.

Handwriting in Court CasesShortly after the Lindbergh’s baby disappeared in March 1932, the Lindbergh family received a series of ransom notes demanding money in exchange for the return of the child. There were a dozen or more ransom notes in total and several other written correspondences between the suspected kidnapper and the Lindberghs. Many of these documents can be seen on investigator Jim Fisher’s website.

During Hauptmann’s trial, document examiner Albert S. Osborn was able to determine that all of the ransom notes had been written by the same person. Osborn was able to obtain a few documents written by Hauptmann independently, but he also requested dictated writing samples that were carefully constructed to offer insight on certain character formations that could be used to clearly tie the ransom notes to Hauptmann. In addition, some of the misspellings and grammatical errors that were present in the letters ware repeated in Hauptmann’s own personal correspondence, while distinctive inversions of certain letters that marked his handwriting style.

Hauptmann’s handwriting was also a hot topic during the investigation into the Lindbergh baby’s death. Police asked him to rewrite the ransom notes that had been sent and also had him write out other statements in an effort to prove that he had indeed written the original notes. Unfortunately, police were unable to conclude much from the handwriting analysis that was done because they incorrectly asked him to copy the notes and also spelled certain words out correctly for him. However, Osborn’s work in tying Hauptmann’s writing to the random notes through document examination was still viewed as one of the central pieces of evidence against him and is often touted as some of the most compelling evidence that resulted in his conviction.

Document examination can play a major part in all kinds of different legal cases. If your case involves a contested signature or other handwritten evidence, you should call the experts at Drexler Document Laboratory. We can verify, authenticate, or investigate documents with questionably authentic writing, and our determinations are legally admissible in both civil and criminal court actions. As the Lindbergh baby trial proved, testimony offered by document examiners in court can be used to strengthen a case, and it could even be a deciding factor for your situation.

Learn more about handwriting analysis and examination services available for your case from Drexler Document Laboratory by calling us at 844-373-9522 today.

Honest, Fair Elections: How FDE Helped the Government Successfully Prosecute Voter Fraud

Voter fraud is a recurring news topic, particularly during election seasons. While voter fraud allegations and concerns may often seem to be a partisan issue, the reality is that it amounts to a crime against all citizens. Honest, fair elections are an essential component of our democracy and a hallmark of the voting process. Forensic document is well-known for aiding in civil and criminal cases, but in one case, it was the vital evidence needed to reveal disenfranchisement and voter fraud.

Election FraudThe year was 1994, and as National Review reports, the citizens of rural Greene County, Alabama were preparing to vote in an election. As it turned out, several county and Eutaw city political races were close contests. In more than one race, an incumbent was in danger of being voted out of office.

The tax assessor was the first to publicly raise concerns about the abnormal number of absentee ballots in the 1994 election. There were about 7,700 registered voters in Greene County at the time, and more than 4,800 voted in person on Election Day. The margin on several political races was razor thin based on in-person votes, but more than 1,400 absentee ballots had been cast in this election – absentee ballots that helped to shift the outcomes of several of the races.

The initial concerns about election fraud centered around these absentee ballots, many of which – more than 1,000 – had been delivered to the local post office by just five individuals on election night. In addition, the high number of absentee ballots totaled more than one-third of all votes cast in Greene County, a percentage that was significantly above historical trends in both the county and the state of Alabama.

The subsequent investigation revealed that a number of local elected officials, their spouses and other government employees had been involved in a conspiracy to cast fraudulent absentee ballots. Following the investigation, two of the accused were found guilty at trial and nine others entered guilty pleas.

Forensic document examination is a vital tool for discovering the truth in many different situations. In the Greene County election fraud case, forensic document examination helped prosecutors build solid criminal cases against those who would thwart democracy. Through the analysis of signatures of victim voters on corresponding absentee ballot applications and absentee ballots, the handwriting of witnesses on absentee ballots, and interviews of the victim voters, a pattern of blatant voter fraud was revealed. As a result, however, reforms were made, turnouts at elections improved and honest and fair elections were restored to the county.

Drexler Document Lab brings decades of experience to any forensic document examination case, including suspected ballot fraud. Contact us today at 844-373-9522 to learn how our services can help with your case.

The Salamander Letter: Forgery in the Mormon Church

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the LDS Church or more commonly as the Mormon church, has been rocked by numerous scandals throughout the years. One of the church’s biggest scandals, though, took place back in 1984 and involved what was known as the Salamander Letter.

The Salamander LetterThis letter that appeared to include correspondence between early Latter-day Saints convert Martin Harris and W.W. Phelps, one of the first leaders of the Latter-day Saints movement, and it seemed to allude to the true origin of the “gold plates” that founder Joseph Smith used to put together the Book of Mormon, the sacred text used by the LDS church. Specifically, the letter suggested there was a magical component to Smith’s discovery of the plates, says Times and Seasons, which would have rocked the LDS community at the time.

In the letter, a salamander spirit was believed to have been guarding the plates and demanded that Smith bring his deceased brother to him to get the plates. This implied that folk magic was involved in the early development of the Book of Mormon – not simply just a practice that Smith abandoned earlier in his life. If true, this letter would have stirred an immense controversy in the beliefs of the Mormon church.

However, in actuality, the letter was a forgery. Mark Hofmann, a notable counterfeiter and forger – who is currently serving a life sentence for attempted murder, as KSL Newsradio in Utah notes – approached LDS leaders and told them he had “found” documents that would portray the church in a negative light. He then attempted to sell many of the documents to the church since he believed they would want to hide them and prevent LDS followers from accessing them. He was successful in selling many of them and, for a time, there were church leaders who believed the Salamander Letter to be authentic.

Hofmann was such a skilled forger that the letter looked and felt like it had been written in 1830. According to a report from D. van der Reyden posted by the Smithsonian, Hofmann used some interesting methods to achieve the forgeries. For instance, he used hydrogen peroxide – the same that may be in your medicine cabinet – to create an artificially aged look through oxidization. However, as the report says, his forgeries became suspect when high-power magnification showed the ink was cracking strangely on the documents and in a manner inconsistent with what would be expected from authentic aging.

But it turned out that the Salamander Letter was just the tip of a much larger web of deceit and deception. As the Deseret News discusses, documents are still being uncovered today that Hofmann had a hand in forging. He had forged perhaps thousands of documents, continuing to play collectors and document enthusiasts against one another for years until finally his past caught up to him, and after setting off pipe bombs that killed two and injured himself, an investigation by the Salt Lake City Police Department uncovered the truth.

Hofmann’s attempt at duping the LDS Church with the forged Salamander Letter is a good example of just how far forgers will go to try and trick people, and the great degree of success that he saw is a prime example of how easy it can be to pass off a document as legitimate – at least to the untrained eye. Fortunately, at Drexler Document Lab, we have decades of knowledge and experience and can examine any suspected forgery to try to validate it or prove its falsehood. Learn more by calling Drexler Document Lab at 844-373-9522 today.

Beyond Handwriting: Other Ways to Identify Document Issues

At Drexler Document Lab, we deal with many people’s concerns regarding the validity and authenticity of a range of documents, including examining the handwriting that can be found on any given document for signs of alteration of forgery. But that’s not all we do. We have an extensive list of services that can be of great help for criminal cases, disputes or general inquiries.

Ink Differentiation

Our ink differentiation and analysis service allows us to review a document to see if more than one kind of ink was used, possibly in an attempt to alter the document. Though it may be hard to see with the naked eye, our technology allows us to compare inks and carefully analyze the writing or signatures on a document to determine authenticity and to see if anything has been altered or changed.

Document ForgeryCheck Writing Machine Identification

Just like different people have different fingerprints, check writing machines often have small defects in their operation which gives us the opportunity to identify the exact machine that produced a given check. With check writing machine identification, we can compare a specific check you may have to the manufacturing of the source machine or samples from the machine. If we can recreate or identify the same type of inconsistency or specific unique marking – with a stray mark or blemish, for example, the exact machine that created the check in question can be identified – we can verify the authenticity of your check.

Staple Mark Identification

How could the location of a staple possibly influence a fraud investigation? You may be surprised. Often, we can determine the fraudulent insertion of a problem document with staple mark identification. By analyzing subsequent documents and reviewing the position of marks where pages have been stapled, unstapled, and then stapled again, we may be able to identify an inconsistency in the staple holes and a symptom of alteration from the original sequence of documents.

Typewriter Comparisons and Identification

If a questionable document was produced using a typewriter, we can often go in and determine which typewriter was used. Typewriter comparison and identification can either identify the manufacturer of the typewriter by examination of the type style and character spacings or, if the questioned typewriter has defects in the typeface or mechanical operation, these “unique” defects can be used as clues to possibly identify the exact machine that produced the document in question. Take for example the case of Rathergate, which we recently discussed on our blog. Knowing how a document was produced can make a world of difference in a variety of situations.

Document Age Analysis

Many times, a document is said to be created on a given date, but soon after, that origination date may come into question. By using document age analysis, we can analyze individual parts of the document to determine its true age. Sometimes we can identify watermarks, typesetting styles or specific character production methods to not only pinpoint the method by which a document was made, but also the original creation date of a work, helping to verify or invalidate claims as to its authenticity.

These are just a few of the many services we provide here at Drexler Document Lab. If you have a suspicious document or suspect a forgery, our expertise can help you uncover the truth. Give us a call at 205-685-9985 to discuss your document issues and schedule a consultation today.

Certifying Documents: What We Learned from Dan Rather

It was meant to be a breaking story about President George W. Bush’s National Guard service, but it ended up getting four CBS News employees terminated for presenting a tale that wasn’t entirely true. The story, which aired in 2004, was reported in the midst of the race for president between Bush and Sen. John Kerry, and ended up being one of the biggest cases of the importance of certifying documents thus far in the 21st century.

Originally reported by Dan Rather, the news story was based on four documents that the reporters stated were written on a typewriter by Col. Jerry Killian, one of Bush’s Texas Air National Guard commanders back in the early 1970s. The letters were supposed to be things of great history, but there was a problem – they were forgeries.

The documents, which suggested that Bush disobeyed a direct order to appear for a physical exam in addition to stating that his time in the service may not have been as heroic as some may have thought, probably weren’t typewritten at all. Instead, many experts believe that they were written on a modern word processor.

After CBS News could not prove the authenticity of the documents, an investigation was launched. Led by a certified forensic document examiner, an investigative panel identified 10 defects in the story, including the fact that a typewriter produced in 1972 just could not have written them.

How Did They Make the Ruling?

Many experts were brought in throughout the course of “Rathergate,” and they all brought their expert analysis to bear in examining the factual and production flaws in the documents.

Several factors went into falsifying the use of a 1972 typewriter. For one, there are several instances of the letter “f” overlapping the beginning of the next letter, which was a feat that could not have been achieved by even the best typewriters of the 1970s, noted Carnegie Mellon University professor Joseph M. Newcomer in an article in The Washington Post.

Other tests showed that the font widths in the documents were not possible on any typewriters from the year they were supposedly written. Also, the use of a raised and compact “th” symbol and the letter spacing was atypical for typewriters of the era, according to technology consultant Bill Glennon, speaking to Time magazine.

The New York Post also investigatedElectric Typewriter the problems uncovered dealing with the authenticity of these documents.  Previous investigations found that the specific model of typewriter used was an IBM Selectric II, and in the Post’s investigation, the newspaper found several inconsistencies with the documents.  At the time the Rather documents were purported to have been produced, no commercial office machine was available that could perform certain functions that were used in creating the documents.  Examples of anachronistic technologies included the ability to center the header, the use of Times New Roman font, the option to select a superscript function and the presence of a specific spacing of letters (proportional spacing).  In addition, the paper reported they had created a better – and near identical – reproduction when using an IBM Selectric Composer typesetter.  Records show, however, that this type of office machine was not commercially available and not at Bush’s National Guard base at the time the documents were produced.

One of the first document examiners brought in by CBS, Linda James, cautioned producers that there were clear problems and she could not rule out the possibility that the key documents to the story were fraudulent and may have been produced on a computer.

“The package wasn’t ready. It didn’t meet authenticating (standards),” James said she told CBS in an interview with The Washington Post. Most telling, James warned “if they ran (the story), that the problems I saw … other document examiners would see.”

In the end, the scandal brought up the often forgotten fact that modern journalism can sometimes be more about ratings than journalistic integrity. The station learned that the hard way, and Rather stepped down from the evening news desk soon after.

These days, Drexler Document Laboratory is synonymous with quality document examination and handwriting verification, and we are skilled at handling projects big and small. While you may not be trying to verify the authenticity of a potential breaking news story, we can put our knowledge and skills to use in verifying the authenticity of your document or disputed handwriting. To learn more, call us today at 844-373-9522.

Identifying Altered Documents

At Drexler Document Lab, we specialize in ensuring the security and integrity of your most precious and irreplaceable documents. We review contracts, checks, historical records and more to verify that all information is authentic and that the paperwork has not been modified after its original creation.

Even though technology has advanced and digitized documents have become mainstream, many people and companies still rely on paper checks and written documents to conduct their business. When you rely on paper documents, however, there is always the potential for your documents to be exploited by identity thieves, forgers and more.

To show just how much we know about how professional criminals can alter your documents and checks, we’ve compiled a few tips that you can use to identify these devious tricks.

Identifying Bogus Checks

Many fake checks employ little tricks that deceive you into believing that it is the real deal. One quick way to check that you’re not dealing with a forgery is to make sure that the check number is the same as the last numbers at the bottom of the check. Also, verify that the check has perforations along the edges, as a check without perforations could mean that it was created using a home printer. Finally, check for stains around the signature as they could be signs that the original signature was erased.

ForgerySpotting Forged Documents

When it comes to documents, remember that if it is too good to be true, it probably is, especially for letters you receive that state that you have won something. If you receive a letter in the mail and the salutation is “Dear Friend” instead of your real name, this could be a red flag.

If the company name looks suspicious, do some research on them online. The same goes for phone numbers and addresses – do not call or send anything until you verify that they are legitimate. The most experienced criminals can send you a letter that appears to be from a recognized company that asks you to send in a payment, only to provide a falsified address so that they can keep the money for themselves.

Although you can do much of this sleuthing yourself, you can never truly catch everything on your own, and that is why our addition and deletion identification services can be so beneficial to your home or business. If you have any reservations about the authenticity of a document or you suspect forgery or fraud, we can help analyze your document and determine if it’s an authentic document or a reproduction or forgery.

To learn more or to request an analysis of your suspicious document, call Drexler Document Laboratory today at 844-373-9522.

Historical Handwriting and Its Impact in Colonial Times

The Impact of Handwriting on History You may not think about it as you scribble your grocery list on a notepad, but those letters you’re using weren’t always the way people communicated. Ancient civilizations like the Egyptians used hieroglyphics, messages with a mixture of alphabetic and representational images to convey messages. Even as recently as Colonial times in America, when writing was considered a skill set that only few had, letters and handwriting varied drastically from one class of society to another. A recent article by The Atlas Obscura tells us more.

During Colonial times in America, reading was valued as a more important skillset than writing. Most children learned to read at home from a family member who used the Bible as their main tool. Once a child could read, only very few were then taught how to write.

People who learned to write often did so because their profession demanded it – lawyers, doctors and those with religious duties were often the only people who could write. However, as literacy increased among the residents in the 13 colonies, so did peoples’ interest in the act of writing. And they didn’t focus so much on what they were actually writing about, so much as how they were writing their letters.

As a result, many distinctive handwriting styles arose among the different groups of Colonials who were writing. For example, merchants might learn “round text,” which was a thin line with a slight tilt, or “round hand,” which was a more embellished version of round text. Women would learn a different and more delicate handwriting style. Ornate capital letters and flourishes acted as personal signatures or trademarks.

With all the varying styles of this time, and the way that someone might insert a personal signature or flourish into their capital B’s, oftentimes, you can tell who wrote a document simply by looking at the lettering. If you aren’t able to narrow it down to a specific person, you can often at least identify their profession by just their font style alone!

As the years went on and the educational system grew, literacy increased and handwriting became less and less proof of one’s social status. Handwriting today cannot provide the expert clues to one’s class, however it does allow the trained and experienced examiner to eliminate or identify possible the author(s) of a body of disputed writing.

Can you imagine if all lawyers had the same handwriting style, and all businessmen had a different one still today? Perhaps every time you saw Arial font in an email, it was a message from your doctor, while your church only sent out missive in Times New Roman – what a world that would be!

If you have a questioned or disputed document that you would like to have examined, our handwriting experts may be able to help you. To learn more, call us today at 844-373-9522!