Forgery at its Finest

criminalMany of the crimes we see committed today are serious offenses such as murder, vehicular manslaughter, assault or even burglary. When we think of crimes being committed, rarely do we ever think of something being stolen through the use of forgery anymore, but as we’ve seen in the past and in Spielberg’s famous movie Catch Me If You Can, Frank Abagnale was a mastermind behind the forging efforts. Furthermore, what we believe in this film to be mostly a farce actually ends up being mostly accurate, Abagnale was indeed a master thief through the use of fraud.

Frank W. Abagnale, a once highly sought after forger back in his day can attest to the fact that money is stolen all the time through the use of forgery. Abagnale began his own life of crime when he was only a teenager by first altering the age on his license to make himself appear 10 years older than he really was. This was accomplished by just changing a single number on the identification of the individual.


This then lead Frank to the idea of opening up his own bank account, and when we say his own we mean his own. Frank would print his account number in magnetic ink on the deposit slips and return them to the bank counter. By the time they realized this forgery, Frank had made nearly $40,000 or more and would have changed his identity already.

With this strategy, Frank would work the system for more than $2.5 million, and would become one of the most wanted criminals in the world for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. After serving five years in Prison throughout various countries, Frank would start a normal life and become a leading consultant in the area of document forgery and fraudulence in the FBI for more than 25 years. Frank would then go on to teach how to detect forgery, avoid consumer fraud and prevent crimes like these.

High-Profile Cases Cracked with Handwriting Analysis

morgue tray Expert forensic analysts closely examine individual characteristics on a microscopic level to identify criminals and verify document authenticity. The numerous criminals suspected, caught and convicted based on nothing more than a writing sample or a single strand of hair is astounding, a number that will continue growing.

Robert Durst
Robert Durst was suspected of murdering Susan Berman ever since her murder in 2000. But there was no physical evidence tying him to the case. Found dead with a gunshot to the back of the head, Berman was a longtime friend to Durst. But letters between the two suggested they didn’t share the friendliest of relations.

Among the evidence against Durst is a handwritten letter sent to Berman in 1999. The writing in this letter was matched to an anonymous note sent to Beverly Hills police at the time of Berman’s killing, using identical block form writing with all capital letters. It not only informed the police of information only the killer would have known, but also shared the same misspelling of Beverly Hills; “Beverley Hills.”

BTK Killer
Dennis Rader, better known as the BTK (“Bind, Torture, Kill”) Killer terrorized the Wichita, KS area for nearly two decades. Having tortured 10 known victims between 1974 and 1991, Rader wasn’t even suspected until nearly fifteen years after his final victim was murdered.

In 2005, well after the BTK case was ice cold with no leads whatsoever, Rader was suddenly a prime suspect. That’s because it was then he initiated a series of communications with the media.
Though the ace in the hole for the prosecution was tracing contact information Rader inadvertently provided police on a computer floppy disk, once he was tracked they were also able to forensically match a series of handwritten letters. These were the handwritten letters he sent to police in order to communicate and garner media attention and strike fear into the hearts of the public. It was ultimately this need for media attention- along with his ignorance- which finally put him away for life.

More Infamous Cases Cracked Using Forensics

DNA TestingExpert forensic analysts closely examine individual characteristics on a microscopic level to identify criminals and verify document authenticity. The numerous criminals suspected, caught and convicted based on nothing more than a writing sample or a single strand of hair is astounding, a number that will continue growing.

Boston Strangler

Even though scientific forensic analysis based on DNA matching is a relatively new method of catching criminals, it is still being used to confirm uncertain closed cases. The Boston Strangler, for example, was one just case. Back in 1964, Albert DeSalvo killed his last of 11 confirmed victims- a 19 year old from Cape Cod in the trendy Beacon Hill neighborhood of Boston.
Showing a pattern of raping and strangling his victims, the Boston Strangler was linked to 11 deaths from 1962 to 1964. It was his last victim, though, which confirmed he was the murderer with 99.9% certainty 39 years later. That’s because Boston police were unable to make a definitive connection without DNA evidence. Taken from a living relative, DNA from DeSalvo was matched to DNA found at the crime scene in 2013.

The Night Stalker

The Night Stalker not unlike the Boston Strangler terrorized women, but unlike the ‘Strangler,’ the Night Stalker murdered in the early 80’s. This was soon after the introduction of a central fingerprint-matching database. Having launched his reign of terror in the summer of 1984, the Night Stalker got away with his shameful behavior, tormenting Southern California, until August 1985.

The Night Stalker would break into victims’ homes as they slept, attacking and murdering 13, while assaulting countless others. But on that fateful late summer night in 1985, a vigilant citizen noticed a suspicious vehicle in the area of the Night Stalker’s latest attack. Found abandoned, the car was investigated, turning up a very useful fingerprint. Using the cutting-edge fingerprint-matching database system, it was quickly matched to 25-year-old Richard Ramirez. He was was recognized and captured by local citizens within one week.

Cases Closed Thanks to Forensic Analysis

Expert forensic analysts closely examine individual characteristics on a microscopic level to identify criminals and verify document authenticity. There have been a number of criminals suspected, caught and convicted based on nothing more than a tiny simple blood spatter or how a suspect might even write their J’s on a ransom note.


forensic investigation
Machine Gun Kelly
Many are under the impression the practice forensic analysis is a more contemporary practice. However, dating back to 1933, police were able to bring down George “Machine Gun” Kelly with the fingerprints left by one of his kidnapping victims. Spanning the Prohibition era, Kelly was a notorious bootlegger, kidnapper and extortionist.

In 1933 at the pinnacle of his terror, he had kidnapped a wealthy and, unfortunately, crafty oilman known as Charles Urschel. Having extorted the Urschel estate for a $200,000 ransom, the oilman was released nine days later, unharmed. Kelly was Scott-free, $200k richer… or so he thought.

The oilman wasn’t a slouch when it came to attention to detail. And he didn’t make a legitimate name for himself being anything less than smart and quick on his feet. The victim was blindfolded the entire time he was in captivity. Regardless, taking note of every possible observation he could, including the time of day he heard planes overhead, allowing the FBI to pinpoint the relative location of captivity. Just to be sure, Urschel was conscious to intentionally leave as many fingerprints as possible to seal Kelly’s fate, who died in jail 21 years later.

Ted Bundy
Having committed a suspected 40 or more murders, Ted Bundy was quite the prolific serial killer. Charming, good looking and smart, it was easy for Bundy to lure his numerous, unsuspecting victims. Despite the astronomical number of women killed at his hand, he left behind very little physical evidence.

Having been picked up by Colorado Police for nothing more than a single kidnapping charge, Ted Bundy actually escaped custody. Having made it all the way from Aspen Colorado to Florida, he would actually seal his fate, leaving his first traces of physical evidence. Blazing a trail from Aspen to Denver, Chicago, Detroit, Atlanta and finally, Florida, Bundy committed 3 more murders.

During the course of his run across the Midwest and the South, he made one seemingly small but detrimental mistake, having left bite mark impressions on one of his victim’s bodies. Able to match his easily identifiable chipped front tooth to the bite mark, expert witnesses for the prosecution were able to effectively testify with sufficient evidence. A markedly miniscule impression brought down one of the most notoriously intelligent sociopaths in modern criminal history.

Incompetence Forces GBI to Suspend Handwriting Analysis

Handwriting analysis has been the foundation for case-cracking throughout the modern era. High profile cases such as the Lindberg kidnapping and Son of Sam were busted wide open thanks to the science of handwriting comparison. But apparently enlisting the services of a private handwriting expert is the only option the people of Georgia have nowadays.

The Georgia State Crime Lab has stopped providing handwriting comparison analysis for criminal cases because scientists have yet to pass an assessment required by a national accrediting agency, according to recent reports from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Reports indicate the staffed GBI scientists conducting the handwriting comparisons did not meet the “requirements for our quality system.”

Handwriting analysis is a much targeted specialty, implemented to really target the finest details of a case when other pieces of evidence aren’t available or DNA wasn’t found. Implementing private handwriting analysis firms seems the best route at this point, given the failure at the state levels to pass basic comprehension for accreditation.

Expert forensic handwriting analysts closely examine class characteristics from a writer’s writing system and their individual characteristics to identify criminals and verify document authenticity. Comparing known specimens written by an identified person, the “exemplar,” are judged against differences and similarities in similar words or letter combinations. There have been a number of criminals suspected, caught and convicted based on nothing more than a forensic handwriting analysis.

Handwriting Analysts Keep Society Safe

Handwriting analysis is a remarkable field imperative for putting hundreds of thousands of criminals behind bars every year. The practice catches offenders in the act using their written word, almost as unique as a fingerprint and as identifiable as DNA.

Handwriting analysis is very effective in pinning down kidnappers, bank robbers and even murderers. The subtle differences in loops, curves and lines in written letters and numbers- undetectable to the untrained eye- can disclose to an expert analyst insurmountable information about the writer.

Control comparisons determine the identifying similarities to confirm or disprove suspects. If you take a close look at the BTK (“Bind, Torture, Kill”) Killer, having murdered 10 people between 1974 and 1991 in and around the Wichita, KS area, it was testimony from a professional handwriting analysis that did him in. Having evaded police for 30 years, the murderer was finally tracked down.

His pitfall was internet technology ignorance. Having resurfaced in 2005 with the apparent intent to kill again, the BTK killer once again was reaching out to police. But this wasn’t the early nineties anymore; instead of handwritten letters, the BTK wanted to show he had advanced beyond this. Having sent a ‘text’ communication with police using a mailed floppy disk, the bottom immediately fell out.

The files on the floppy disk told the detectives everything they needed to land a suspect. It showed there were files saved by someone named Dennis and it had been used at the Christ Lutheran Church. Having been essentially handed this information, police almost immediately suspected Dennis Rader, president of the Christ Lutheran Church congregation.

Having blown his decades-long cover after making one of the most rudimentary mistakes, all investigators had to do was let the pieces fall into place. Fortunately, all the letters Rader had written local newspapers, since his reign of terror was underway in the mid-1970’s, were retained as evidence.

The letters Dennis sent to local newspapers and TV stations, as a means of taunting investigators. Experts were able to compare his writings and testify they were indeed made at the hand of Rader. His craving for media attention seemed one of his main motivations throughout the murder spree and, appropriately, the reason for his demise. The BTK killer was subsequently sentenced to nine life terms in prison.

The Impact of Forensic Handwriting Analysis

forensics Expert forensic handwriting analysts closely examine class characteristics from a writer’s writing system and their individual characteristics to identify criminals and verify document authenticity. Comparing known specimens written by an identified person, the “exemplar,” are judged against differences and similarities in similar words or letter combinations. There have been a number of criminals suspected, caught and convicted based on nothing more than a forensic handwriting analysis.
Jack the Ripper
Though never caught nor convicted, Jack the Ripper was supposedly found out in 2002 by one Patricia Cornwell. Having committed his murders in the 1880’s and having probably died toward the end of the 19th century or beginning of the 20th century, there would be no conviction for some of the most notorious murders in modern history.
Regardless, a detailed analysis of handwriting identified the Ripper as artist Walter Sickert. An artist having painted countless disturbing and morbid portraits and landscapes- one even entitled “Jack the Ripper’s Bedroom”- Sickert was always a suspect. But having compared his found writings to the notes left at every crime scene by Jack himself, Cornwell determined a positive match. Sickert’s disturbing psychological profile was also very convincing.
Clifford Irving
An investigative reporter and novelist, Clifford Irving was a talented writer. In the early 1970’s, Irving expressed interest writing an “autobiography” on the eccentric life of millionaire, Howard Hughes. Yes you read that correctly; Irving wanted to write Howard Hughes’ autobiography (something people are supposed to write themselves).
Because Hughes was a complete recluse, not in the public eye whatsoever, Irving and a friend decided they could probably get away with the scam very easily. McGraw-Hill, Life magazine and Dell Publications had paid over $1 million to publish excerpts of the book. But a firm of handwriting experts, who originally botched an analysis, determined writing samples submitted for the autobiography draft were false. This, combined with a teleconference with Hughes himself, was enough to try and convict Irving and his cohorts for conspiracy to defraud through use of the mails.
Son of Sam
A handwritten letter left at a crime scene addressed to NYPD Captain Joseph Borrelli brought down the Son of Sam Killer, who terrorized New York City in the summer of 1977. It revealed the name “Son of Sam” for the first time, expressed his disrespect toward the police and his intent to keep killing. But it also was valuable in profiling David Berkowitz and confirming he was the murderer. He was initially detained after his Ford Galaxy was confirmed in the area of a Son of Sam signature shooting.
The Lindbergh Kidnapping
After 20 month old Charles Lindbergh Jr was abducted in March of 1932, authorities tracked bills used to pay the ransom money to an area close to the Bruno Hauptmann residence. Though he denied everything, evidence suggested he was the kidnapper and he was subsequently convicted 2 ½ years later and executed in 1936. Combined with material used to build a makeshift ladder to commit the crime found in Hauptmann’s house, testimony from handwriting analysts was fundamental to the case against him. His writing was an uncanny match to that scrawled on the ransom notes.

A Glimpse into the Science of Handwriting Analysis

Writing Successful handwriting analysis requires the careful examination of a collection of different contributing factors that compose an individual’s writing style. The process of professional, forensic handwriting analysis is meticulous and thorough, and an analyst will look for a range of individual traits.
Among these traits is letter form. For this, the analyst will examine the slope, curves, proportional size of letters to others and slants, both for words and sentences as a whole and individual letters. This school of analysis will also examine a person’s propensity to pay special attention- or to completely ignore- certain letters in certain context.
An analyst will also closely examine formatting, or the spacing between letters, words and the placement of words on a line. In this respect, the analyst will also closely look at what kind of dead space the writer will leave on a page, including not only margin width, but the spacing between lines, considering the intersection- if any- of word strokes on one line over another.
Another fundamental component to accurate handwriting analysis is line form. This examines the pressure a writer will apply to the pen and paper while writing. Also studying the speed of the writer, this is determined by how smooth and dark the lines are. Other things an experienced analyst can determine is how shaky the lines are, if there are dark and thick starts and finishes and a lot of pen lifts. All these factors determine if the writer id slowly or naturally, quickly forming letters.

The Glaring Difference Between Graphology & Forensic Handwriting Expert

influencedWhen defining the term “Handwriting Expert” as one who is qualified to offer certified opinions with respect to forgery, there is a gray area for those who are not familiar with the industry. Results of internet searches for “Handwriting Expert” fail to differentiate between a graphologist and a forensic handwriting expert. With just a little bit of research results show that the differences are quite profound. The most important and basic difference between a graphologist and a forensic document examiner is the background, training, experience and board certification required by each profession.


The practice of graphology is the act of determining degrees of personality characteristics, physical attributes or injuries to an individual based only on the “appearance” of one’s handwriting. For example, if an individual makes capital letters shorter than some lower case letters a graphologist may conclude that the author has a low self-esteem. Recently a graphology online course offer a course designed train the graphologist on how to identify the sex of the unborn child by examining the expectant mother’s handwriting.


On the other hand a forensic document examiner provides opinions as to the authenticity or true history of a document or disputed signature. Based on proven scientific principles the details, elements and characteristics of a document or signature can be identified and compared to determine whether-or-not the document or signature is genuine or a forgery.


Confusing a forensic handwriting expert for a graphologist can land you on the wrong end of a correction lecture. The practice of graphology requires relatively a simple certification, which can be completed in just a few months while to become a certified forensic document examiner one is required to train a minimum of two years before embarking on certification which could take another year and a half to two years. Whose analysis and opinion would you trust in a court of law?