Handwriting Forensic Investigation
Jack the Ripper and The Killer Clown are two famous examples of serial murderers that moved masses of polices and investigators in order to find them. The first one typically murdered prostitutes in slums of London in 1888. His victims typically presented the removal of internal organs, which suggest his knowledge in surgery. The Killer Clown was convicted of assault and murder of around 33 teenage boys and young men, between 1972 and 1978 in Chicago. Unfortunately, they made history in this way, and nowadays, these cases are studied in criminology universities around the world. One of the first applications of Handwriting Forensic Investigation comes from these examples: Jack the Ripper left a signed diary in Liverpool, which was examined for checking its authenticity. The Killer Clown’s writings were also examined in order to determine his personality. In this article, the readers will understand the importance of handwriting as proofs in crimes like homicide, suicide, fraud, sexual offences, drug trafficking, and clandestine laboratories. The first question that comes to mind could be: how? Namely, how the handwriting could aid investigators in a criminal scene?
As it was mentioned before, handwriting can characterize our personality. Although we all are taught to write according to our culture, it is known that two people cannot do it in the same way. Several factors can determine the way we type the letters, like education, preference, artistic skills, and physical development which make our style unique. From these features, handwriting analysts must accurately distinguish between the style characteristics and the individual characteristics, because the latter are the key to characterize the author. For instance, style characteristics are patterns shared by people from the same culture, like the shape of some letters, or the rules of punctuation. Investigators, criminologists, forensic document examiners look for individual peculiarities: features that are not common to any group. At present, the methodology to figure out the identity of a criminal is clearly defined, and it is based on searching the differences between one text written by a known author, and one by an unknown author. These differences aim to know whether one person can write two texts in a different way. Comparing both writings, the investigator can find important differences (investigators always look for individual characteristics) which indicate that the two texts were written by different persons, because one person cannot simulate as much individual characteristics as he or she wants. On the other hand, if both texts have several characteristics which match, then the authority of the writing is almost assured. This provides model specimen handwriting forms. Next question could be what patterns or features are searched in these comparisons?
Once analysts find a written clue, as it was explained, they compare the proof with a known writing from the alleged offender. Then, the principal issues to focus are: the shape, proportion, angles, connections, lines and curves of the letters; the next step is to find patterns in the spelling, grammar and punctuation; after that, they look for arrangements in the spacing, the alignment and the formatting; then, they try to find out the writing instrument by examining the pressure exerted, and the continuity and the flow of the script. Difficulties in the investigation can occur when the writing has been deliberately modified, however, although the form may change, the type of words used and the sources that have influenced phrasing remain the same.
Once the author is identified, an additional research is actually defining the criminal features of the criminal. Over the years, several patterns that characterize each type of criminal have been defined. For instance, an aggressive person’s writing is characterized by accelerated features, uppercases with bombast, large letters, huge pressure on the scripts, and big accents. A further example is a violent person whose handwriting is filled with scripts with intense pressure, dirty deed (lines inside and outside of the letters), angular features, and thick lines at the end of the sentences. Nevertheless, it is difficult to match one criminal with only one type of personality. Jack the Ripper had serial killer signs in their handwritings; however, as it was explained in the first paragraph, serial murderers usually present multiple personalities: a normal person during the day, and an insane person when he or she commits crimes. Four hundred samples from Jack the Ripper were analyzed, and his identity couldn’t never be determined.