The Note

October 30, 2017
 

2017-57

The Note

                  Handwriting expertise, more clearly than any other field that I know of, illustrates the difference between science and expertise.  Science uses general rules and principles, understood by millions of people, to work toward increasing our shared understanding of the world in which we live, a key word being "shared".   What is learned by the scientist is in no sense the property of the scientist, if it is truly science and not commerce.   If in our field we were to discover, for example, that tall hitters do best against tall pitchers and short hitters do best against short pitchers, the value in this would not be to me, but to a baseball team by way of its manager.   The manager would be as much the owner of this knowledge as the analyst who discovered it.  Crucial to that fact—to the shared nature of its ownership—is how it is known.   If I were to say that I know that tall hitters hit best against tall pitchers and you should believe me because I am an expert in this field, no one would believe me and no one should believe me.   Others would believe me only if (1) I were to present evidence demonstrating that it is true, and then only if (2) others were able to study the same subject and reach the same conclusion.   Studying the same subject and reaching the same conclusion or a different conclusion does not require expertise limited to a small cadre of persons; it merely requires that we apply the rules of scientific enquiry which are universally owned and widely understood.  Shared principles yield shared knowledge.

                  Expertise, on the other hand, is the property of the expert.  The only way that WE know that Document 1 and Document 2 were or were not written by the same person is that an expert says so.  The only way to get a second opinion is to ask another expert.   If the other expert cannot get access to the documents, you can’t get another opinion.  

                  A couple of years ago here I wrote something about the handwriting in the Zodiac case; the Zodiac wrote several letters which were mailed to newspapers, and there are disputes about which are legitimate Zodiac letters and which are not.  I argued that something which was allegedly said by an expert handwriting analyst could not possibly be true.  The reaction of some of you, some readers, was "Why should we believe you, rather than the expert? You’re not an expert."  

                  Of course scientists acquire expertise in science, just as mechanics acquire expertise about engines, ditch diggers acquire expertise about shovels, and bartenders acquire expertise about the behavior of persons under the influence of alcohol. Scientists sometimes move into being experts in the same way that comedians move into being actors.  The law confuses the issue, and the legal profession confuses the public, by using scientists as experts.    But science and expertise are natural enemies.   Expertise is based on credentials, experience and on trust.  A scientist is trained NOT to trust, and knows not to be in awe of credentials. The most highly credentialed scientists in the world in our generation will be proven in the next generation to have been dead wrong about major tenets of their work.

                  Handwriting, on the other hand, has NO field of free-standing knowledge open to the public and verifiable by the public.   It could have; it should have.  It just doesn’t.  Handwriting analysis perfectly well COULD be done by scientific methods; it just isn’t.   The field went in a different direction.  It developed expertise independent of verifiable knowledge. 

                  I should say . . ."handwriting identification" has evolved into "document examination" or some similar phrase, document verification. Document examination is a more scientific field than handwriting evaluation, relies more on modern science. Document examiners study things like the ink and the paper and the soil residues on the paper, and generally have more of a grounding in scientific methods.

                  Anyway, my view is, no one has to be an expert to speak the truth.   If I say something which is true and which you can verify as being true through your own observation, why do I have to be an expert to say that?  That makes no sense to me.  The experts have seized control of the discussion, so much so that no one else is allowed to speak, even to speak the truth.

                  With that preamble, I’ve been looking in the last week at the handwriting in the JonBenet Ramsey case, which is not cursive writing but printing.  I had never really studied it before.  I had read about the handwriting in the case that there were many similarities between the handwriting of the ransom note and the independently known samples of Patsy Ramsey’s handwriting, but that no expert will testify that she wrote the note.  Steve Thomas, the detective who wrote a book about the case, tries to create the impression that Patsy probably DID write the ransom note; all the experts agree there are many similarities between the handwriting of the note and Patsy’s handwriting, but they just unfortunately were never able to get an expert to cross that little bridge between saying there were many similarities in their handwriting, and saying that she actually wrote the note.

                  Also, it is speculated in different places that the writer of the ransom note could have been attempting to copy Patsy’s style or to fake Patsy’s handwriting.

                  This was all I knew about the handwriting in that case until the last couple of weeks; I just accepted that the handwriting was somehow problematic for Patsy’s defenders, and let it go at that.  But in connection with another project I am working on, I had to get into the details.

                  Wow.

                  Patsy Ramsey did NOT write that note.   It should be obvious to anyone who studies the subject that Patsy Ramsey did not write that note, for reasons that I will outline later in this article.  No expert will EVER testify that Patsy Ramsey wrote that note, because if they did, they would be torn to shreds on cross-examination so completely that it would end their career, absolutely and beyond any question.  It’s never going to happen. 

                  Also, the perpetrator was NOT attempting to copy Patsy Ramsey’s handwriting.  There are four documents relevant to this dispute which have worked their way into the public discussion, which are:

                  1) The Ransom note,

                  2) A letter that Patsy wrote before the murders, which is known as the London letter.  The police came into possession of the London letter and used it as a basis of comparison of Patsy’s handwriting, and other documents as well, but these three documents listed here somehow leaked to the public.

                  3)  A page of Patsy’s copy of the ransom note, which will call the Copy letter.  Police in a case like this will dictate to the suspect the words of the note and instruct the suspect to write them down. You may have seen the Alfred Hitchcock movie The Wrong Man, in which a man spends years in jail because, while doing this, he makes the same spelling error that a bank robber had made in writing his note to the teller, spelling "drawer" as "draw".  There have also been several cases in which suspects were convicted after the police told them to misspell a word in a given way, and then later lost track of the fact that the suspect was instructed to spell the word that way. 

                  4) A handwriting exemplar taken of Patsy’s handwriting by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.

                  To establish the basis of our discussion, here are photocopies of those four handwriting samples.

 

1.  The Ransom Note

 

 

The_Note1 

 The_Note2

  

 

2. The London Letter

The_Note4

 

 

  

3.   The Copy

The_Note5


 

4.  The Exempler

The_Note6

 

                  Incidentally, if you get really into this subject I would recommend that you not go to the web site where you can find these things, as there are viruses lurking there.  

                  Let me pause here to embrace a couple of principles espoused by handwriting experts.  One thing that handwriting experts say often is that when dealing with a longer document, you ignore the first paragraph or the first couple of paragraphs, and focus on the later part of the document.  A person writing a ransom note will often try to disguise his handwriting, but the efforts at disguise require so much concentration and effort that, after a few lines, the disguise efforts will break down and the person’s natural handwriting (or printing) will come through.   I believe this to be true, and you can see in the ransom note that the writer did this; he or she did try to disguise their handwriting in the first few lines, but gave it up after a couple of paragraphs.

                  The second (related) thing the experts say is that it isn’t really possible to effectively disguise your handwriting, or not practically possible; you might be able to do it somewhat with a lot of practice and with more than a normal amount of time.  I believe this to be true.  In this case, for example, when Patsy Ramsey writes a small "v", she normally makes the two sides about equal, and makes the left half the highest stroke more than 60% of the time, whereas the person who writes the ransom note always or almost always makes the right side of the v higher than the left side, and usually MUCH higher.  (In making a capital "V", Patsy makes the right half higher than the left.)   Are you aware of whether you make the left or the right side of a "v" higher?   Probably you aren’t—but if you check something you have printed, you will find that you have done one or the other.   It is difficult to fake something like that, because when you print you are making 5 to 7 decisions per second about how to form the letters, and it just isn’t possible to remember to fake something 5 to 7 times a second.   You’re not normally aware of the small details of how you form your own handwriting. If you try to make yourself aware of it, you can’t do stuff that fast.   You can slow yourself down, but (a) you can’t slow yourself down ENOUGH, and (b) when you slow yourself down and deliberately change how you form the letters you are drawing the letters, rather than natural handwriting, and the difference is obvious.  This is what the experts say, anyway, and I believe this to be true.  

                  So getting to the subject.  Patsy Ramsey and whoever wrote the note were taught the same style of handwriting; that is, they were taught by teachers who were trained in the same way.   The similarities do not go beyond that.   For example, in writing a capital "D", both will start the circular or elliptical stroke substantially to the left of the downstroke/left pole of the D (although even there, I think one could easily recognize whether the "D" was written by Patsy or the ransom letter writer. 

                  But if we focus on a simple letter like a small "i"; there are four large differences in the way that Patsy makes an "i" and the way that the ransom writer makes an "i":

                  1)  Patsy doesn’t put the dot on the i until after she has completed writing the word, which causes her to very frequently misplace the dot.  Often the dot on her i is not over the i at all, but over the letter which is next to the i, to the right.   As she finishes the word she goes back to dot the i, but she doesn’t move the pen back quite far enough, so the dot winds up over an n or an r or an s.  In the ransom letter there is one case where the writer misplaces the dot, but that is one out of maybe a hundred small i's, whereas Patsy does it constantly.  We’ll all do it once in a while.

                  2)  The ransom writer will often move his pen as he applies the dot above the letter, creating a dot which is not really a dot, but more of a small slash.   Patsy never does this; she taps the pen to the paper, creating a small, precise dot.

                  3)  Referring to the parts of the letter i as the dot and the post, the ransom letter writer makes a very short post almost 100% of the time; in a couple of cases the post is just another dot, so that the letter i looks almost like a semi-colon.   Patsy does not do this; in fact, her post is rather tall, taller than I would make it if I was writing. 

                  4)  The ransom writer often or usually curves the post so that it almost a c shape, the bottom of it curving to the right as if the writer was rushing to get on to the next letter.  Patsy draws a very straight post, and usually slants the post with the bottom to the LEFT and the top to the right. 

Patsy:

The_Note7

The_Note8

The_Note9

The_Note10

                 

The ransom note:

The_Note11

 

The_Note12

The_Note13

The_Note14

The_Note15

The_Note16

 

                  Patsy picks up her pen much more often than the ransom writer.  The ransom writer almost drags his pen from one letter to the next, even though he is printing.   Patsy picks up her pen between letters.  The ransom writer is rushing to get from one letter to the next, and does things which create a "half bridge" between the letters.   The most obvious case in which he does this is the "n", small letter n:

The_Note17

                  The ransom letter writer draws his pen off to the right at the end of the "n", almost joining it to the next letter.   Handwriting experts sometimes call that a "foot"; he creates a foot on the "n".   He does this a high percentage of the time, and opens the n up at the bottom almost 100% of the time:

The_Note18

The_Note19

The_Note20

                  He does the same with his "h’s" and "m’s", less notably on the "m’s":

The_Note21

The_Note22

                  Patsy does not do that; she closes off the h, m, or n by drawing it back in the opposite direction—toward the left post of the n—in most cases; in some cases she finishes it straight down.   The way she finishes an h, n or m is the OPPOSITE of the way the ransom letter writer finishes; she closes it off by moving her pen back to the left; he opens it up by moving his pen to the right.   But this is not the largest difference between the two of them in their h’s, m’s and n’s.   The LARGEST difference between them is that the ransom letter writer puts a "tent" at the top of his of h’s, m’s and n’s, almost a sharp point at the top of the letter.   Look at the examples above; he does that in every case except the word "can’t".   He’s very close to 100% in having a sharp turn at the apex of those letters.

                  Patsy, on the other hand, draws a very ROUND roof on her h’s, n’s and m’s—as different from the ransom letter writer as it could possibly be:

The_Note23

The_Note24

The_Note25

The_Note26

                  There are a couple of instances in which Patsy drags her "n" off to the right, although even in those cases it isn’t really like the way the ransom writer does it. I should stress, if I haven’t, that the way Patsy and the ransom letter writer were TAUGHT to construct letters, when they were 5-6-7-8 years old, is identical.   They were taught by exactly the same method.  There are some differences in what could be called the architectural structure of the letters, but more than 90% of it is the same.   What is different—100% different—is the individual habits of the writers.   That’s the stuff that can’t really be faked.   You can’t "remember", every time you write an h or an m or an n, to put a "point" at the top of them, if you don’t normally and naturally put a point there.

                  Almost every letter of the alphabet has these kind of obvious interpretational differences.  The ransom letter writer, in writing a "t":

                  1) Uses a DOWNWARD slanting crossbar more than 80% of the time,

                  2) Usually puts the crossbar comparatively LOW across the post, and

                  3) Usually curves the post with the bottom of the post curving to the right.

                  Patsy:

                  1)  Uses an upward slanting crossbar,

                  2)  Usually puts the crossbar higher up on the post, and

                  3)  Usually makes a straight-line post, which normally leans to the right so that the bottom is to the LEFT, whereas in the ransom note it is toward the right.  

                  These things can be seen in the examples I have already given, or here.   Patsy:

The_Note27

 

The_Note28

 

 

                  In making the letter "o"—small o—the ransom letter writer often makes about ¾ or 4/5 of a circle and then finishes it off by drawing a line across the top, back to the starting point, making a flattop o or sometimes a round o.   Look at the words "situation" above, and "southern" and "John" and "money"; you’ll see what I mean.   Patsy, on the other hand, draws an oval-shaped o that finishes back where it starts, and sometimes over-traces part of the top of the o, moving her pen at the finish back over the start.   Look at the words "London" and "hope" and "join" above. 

                  In making a capital Y, Patsy makes three distinct strokes, drawing the Y with three lines, whereas the ransom letter writer makes a two-stroke Y; that is one of the few letters that is architecturally different between the two writers. 

                  In making the letter "f", small f, there are. . .shoot, there must be a dozen differences between the two of them.   Patsy uses a round "cap" on the f; the ransom letter writer uses a flat cap.  Patsy makes the f with only two strokes—always—while the ransom letter writer makes the f with three distinct strokes—always.   I don’t see any exceptions.  Adding the crossbar, Patsy makes a flat line which is usually parallel to the line on the paper; the ransom writer is never parallel to the line.  The ransom writer’s crossbar slants up or down depending on the next letter; if the next letter starts at a high point then he slants the crossbar up, leading into the next letter; if the next letter starts at a lower point then the crossbar slants down.  Frequently, in drawing the crossbar both on the f and the t, the ransom letter writer makes a CURVING motion.   Patsy uses a flat, direct motion.   Also, in making the f, Patsy’s crossbar will extend out further to the right than the "cap" or "roof" of the f does, whereas the ransom letter writer almost always extends the top of the "f" further out to the right than the crossbar.  

                  In making a "w", either a capital W or a small w, the ransom writer will either (1) make a "two-v" w or (2) bring his pen up so little at the bottom of the W that it is almost a wide "U" with just a small notch at the bottom.   Patsy doesn’t do either of those things; she makes a "two-u" w with rounded bottoms. . . .consistent with her n’s, h’s and m’s; Patsy makes circular motions whereas the ransom writer often  makes sharp turns in the middle of a letter.   (Sometimes Patsy will use the double-v w, rather than the double-u w.)

                  Line orientation. . . .Patsy is an "above the line" writer.  Most of her letters hover a fraction of an inch above the line, with only the letters that are supposed to drop down (g, j, p, q and y) dropping below the line.  Other than those letters which are designed to drop below the line, less than 5% of her letters go below the line.  The ransom writer, on the other hand, normally rests his letters ON the line, and actually drops below the line on MOST letters.   I counted 126 letters from various points of the letter, of which 82, or 65%, actually go below the line at some point.  

                  I wish I had looked into this years ago; it would have changed what I wrote in Popular Crime.   The ransom letter writer absolutely was NOT copying or mimicking Patsy’s handwriting method; they were just taught to do things in the same way, so that there are occasional words that come out looking similar despite the massive differences between them.  

                  Also, I had not "gotten" this before.   There is a line in the ransom note that reads "you are not the only fat cat around, so don’t think that killing will be difficult."  The line doesn’t make a lot of sense; why does the number of "fat cats" around have anything to do with how difficult it is to commit murder?  The murderer clearly was acting out a fantasy of being a master criminal.  There are a series of movies in which a nefarious actor seizes control of an innocent victim and uses that control to extort money from someone who has money, and the murderer clearly was clearly acting out a fantasy driven by those movies.  What he seems to be saying is that he may use the murder of JonBenet as leverage in some FUTURE crime.  He is threatening John Ramsey that he may kill JonBenet to prove to his NEXT victim that he will kill the person who has been kidnapped.   (JonBenet was alive at the time the letter was written.)

                  This matters, because there is another crime that may or may not be related.  That’s a tangent so I won’t follow it, but (while I generally do not think that the two crimes are related) this line seems to indicate that he may be planning a follow-up event.

                  Thanks for reading.

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

COMMENTS (29 Comments, most recent shown first)

bjames
Well, the real issue is that people fail to distinguish between reliable and unreliable generalizations. In my view, the generalization that it is entirely impossible to fake certain changes in your handwriting, such as suddenly putting a "tent" or "point" at the top of your h's, n's and m's when you usually use a rounded top to those letters; in my view the generalization that it is impossible to fake that is 100% reliable. Maybe it's not 100% reliable; maybe it's 99% reliable. It's reliable.

On the other hand, while it might be true that persons with similar letter construction were taught in the same area of the country and in the same time, it is massively unreliable generalization. It might be true; it might not. And 100 unreliable generalizations are not worth as much as one reliable observation.

In my view, you think you can improve the discussion with a long string of unreliable generalizations and observations. You can't. They're not worth printing; they're not worthy of discussion. That's my opinion.


8:38 PM Nov 6th
 
OldBackstop
@Tom, in Popular Crime, Bill hypothesizes that an outside party hatin' on John Ramsey put it all together as a master plan for perfect evil: death of the beloved daughter, suspicion cast on him for sexual abuse with the body in the house, suspicion cast on Patsy with some handwriting in the ransom note purposely crafted to look like hers. Bill's main thrust does indeed brilliantly explain a lot of the troubling weirdness:

-- the $118k bonus amount points to some external enemy. The low amount is explained by Bill as an attempt at a quick payday possible by an amount supposedly at hand and quickly grabbable assuming the Ramseys don't exhaustively search the house and also obey the order to not contact the police.

Bill's theory buttons up all around nicely here. A body left in an easily discoverable place in the house removes the possibility of a payday. A body removed from the house removes the eventual finger of suspicion at the Ramseys.

It is curious to me why the Ramseys immediately call the cops and said get the cavalry over here through the front door. If you told me I could get my kid back in a few hours for an amount I had on hand I would at LEAST contact law enforcement through some back channel of technology (Ramsey owned a tech company.) At one point there was some confusion over whether Patsy had read the whole letter before calling....but she does cite some elements of it in the 911 call, all the way down to the SBTC Victory! closing.

I don't believe Bill is backing away from the overall theory, I believe he is sharing new personal insights into the handwriting analysis.

Bill said in Popular Crime that "What it really looks like, to be honest, is somebody faking Patsy Ramsey’s handwriting."

He said in the above in the article he believed that Patsy and the author of the note came from the same school, as it were, of handwriting.

I've gotten sideways with Bill here, which is fine, or maybe comfortable :-) but I do think he raises an interesting opinion in that he believes Patsy and the note's author coming from the same "school" of handwriting.

I would ask Bill five or six questions at this junction, but my first one is that comment, and what hope that might have for narrowing down the author's education by time or geography.

















1:40 PM Nov 6th
 
trn6229
Hi Bill, Thank you for writing this article. Who do you think killed JonBenet Ramsey?

As for JFK. I believe that Oswald fired on the President and one of the bullets from his rifle struck JFK. I believe what you wrote on page 256 of Popular Crime. that Secret Service Agent George Hickey's weapon accidently fired and that was the mortal shot that killed JFK.

Thank you.

Take Care,
Tom Nahigian
12:37 AM Nov 6th
 
yorobert
I've written five or six expert opinions in the medical field that were used in legal cases, although none for a decade or so. One lawyer came back to me for an opinion a second time (another case), and he was quite surprised when I declined, telling him that nothing I would say would help his client. I then got sort of a request for a "devil's advocate" opinion, as in "could you and will you interpret the evidence in a favorable light for my client." The pay always ranged from $250 to $500 per hour, with the number of hours I reported being on the honor system.

I have seen well-recognized experts in the medical field give testimony that is either unbelievable or flat-out false. I believe they work from the position of "assuming the client is right, how could the evidence best be interpreted in his favor?" The problem is, they are then presented as an expert who has reviewed the evidence and concluded that it indicates that his client is right. Not the same thing. There was an effort to have medical specialty boards formally hold physicians accountable for their testimony, but it failed, to my knowledge.

I never believe that an expert witness thinks his testimony to be true, even if he says he does. I just assume that he was paid to mold the facts into the best possible argument.



5:43 PM Nov 3rd
 
JohnPontoon
MarisFan61, it's interesting that you mention "Primary Colors" and the Unabomber case, because the forensic linguist most involved in both cases - Donald Wayne Foster - was also very involved in the Ramsey case, albeit to highly dubious results in the last case. Foster eventually concluded that the ransom note was the work of Patsy Ramsey; Unfortunately for him and his reputation, Foster had previously:
1) staked his reputation on declaring that the internet personality known as "Jameson" was actually John Ramsey's son, John Andrew;
2) said he felt that Jameson/John Andrew was Jonbenet Ramsey's killer;
and 3) written unsolicited condolences to Patsy Ramsey, including the phrase "I know you are innocent - know it, absolutely and unequivocally. I will stake my personal reputation on it."
He was factually wrong about #1 and (therefore) #2; as for #3, it certainly doesn't strengthen his later assertion of the opposite position.

Just a quick idea about how it's possible that so many experts could be precisely wrong about their conclusions here, remember that the American zeitgeist about the subject was nearly unanimously something like, "The Ramseys MUST have done it, because they entered Jonbenet in beauty contests, thereby disgustingly sexualizing their own 5-year-old daughter!" The nation at the time was in serious, delirious high dudgeon about the subject. Can anybody here search their memory of the event and recall a single dissenting voice on the subject? Any columnist declaring otherwise risked being drawn and quartered in the court of public opinion. It's not hard at all to believe that dozens of experts were either swept along in this hysteria or unwilling to declare facts to be in opposition. Hmm. That idea wasn't as quick as I thought it'd be.
2:25 PM Nov 3rd
 
MarisFan61
P.S. re what I said about how my handwriting can vary:
On second thought, most of the kinds of aspects that Bill describes wouldn't vary. (Some would.)
11:22 PM Nov 2nd
 
MarisFan61
Great points by Herb, I think.
My handwriting can vary a lot according to circumstances also -- and by various factors besides stress: hurry, importance, and (I don't imagine this is a factor for most people but it's the main thing that affects how my writing looks, and there could be similarly idiosyncratic variables of other kinds for other people) ......how dry my hands might be (they get dry easily) and whether I've just put on moisturizer and whether I overdid it. (What can I tell you, I'm a "man's man.") :-)

About use of language, as was a factor in the Unabomber case: I'd guess that in general it may or may not be useful, including because I'd guess that imitation could be done. According to the recent TV mini-series on the Unabomber, using it as such a strong investigative factor was unprecedented, at least by the FBI, and the idea was greatly doubted and resisted.
BTW this was how the "Anonymous" author of Primary Colors was identified, but that's probably very different because it seems the author purposely didn't disguise himself much.​
10:31 PM Nov 2nd
 
HerbOf4
Interesting article. Only thing I can think to add is wondering if there are studies that compare the way people write when under duress or under different circumstances. For instance, on the rare occasions I'm writing a letter, in a journal, or something I want someone ELSE to read, my writing style may vary and often looks MUCH different from when I'm jotting down a grocery list, a post it note reminder or or a note on a job ticket in my office.

My writing on a job or a loan application might look considerably different from a not a I jotted down or something I wrote in great haste. Tough to imagine what it might look like if I were under investigation by the FBI, especially if I were trying to hide something.

Also, isn't the main bone of contention and interest in the Patsy Letter the verbage, syntax and use of language so much as the handwriting? Has it ever been compared to the handwriting of the son?
8:10 PM Nov 2nd
 
bjames
Responding to backstop


@John: Accusing someone dead by name of murder is vile and wicked? I don't agree with that at all, but there are over one billion websites on the internet this month where that rap might by better received.


We're not responsible for a billion miscellaneous websites. We're responsible for what happens HERE, on this web site. To make irresponsible charges against an innocent person is not something we have a lot of space for. How convinced you are that you are right doesn't have anything to do with it.
12:35 PM Nov 2nd
 
OldBackstop
@John: Accusing someone dead by name of murder is vile and wicked? I don't agree with that at all, but there are over one billion websites on the internet this month where that rap might by better received.

Picking a handful of differences out of a sample where, obviously, clearly, naturally, of course attempts would be made at disquising one's handwriting is....seriously? Does anyone perceive the idiocy of that?

Can someone tell me what they think of the lefthand sample, please?

3.bp.blogspot.com/-gfozhj_DPO4/URVsZWvnAnI/AAAAAAAAArE/DPOPjd45Z1g/s1600/patsy+left+hand+comparison+Nat+Enquirer.gif
10:38 PM Nov 1st
 
JohnPontoon
1. Any person stating that the letter "d" in the ransom note matches Patsy Ramsey's handwriting samples "perfectly" is wrong. In EVERY instance in "The London letter," if you look at the circle and line which, together, form a "d," the line is to the right of the circle. If you start at the bottom of the ransom note, you will see in the word "daughter" and the word "stand," and then the word "and" eight lines from last, and the words "scanned" and "dies" one line above, the line "pierces" the circle - by which I mean it is not completely to the right of the circle. Sometimes the line is nearly at the middle of the top of the circle. That just doesn't jibe with the words "matches[...] perfectly."

This is clear. It is not ambiguous. If you are willing to believe what you are TOLD over the evidence of your own eyes... I cannot think of a way to end that statement in a non-attacking way. Eat more carrots, I guess.

2. I believe that falsely calling somebody a child-murderer IS a vile deed, irrespective of whether that person lives. Readers: Have you a mother, father, brother, sister, or child who has passed on? Imagine somebody calling them a child murder. Does their absence make the accusation less wicked?
9:10 PM Nov 1st
 
OldBackstop
This site attempts to break down the statistical odds of a writer having a specified collection of similarities and the ones found between the ransom note and a previous letter from the weeks before the murder from Patsy.

I would be interested to hear the comments. I will say right off it feels like these are cherry-picked....if, for instance, there were 100 finite binary switches in handwriting (or 26) this would make more sense. But some of the connections are not binary they have multiple choices.....anyway, statistics are a hole in my knowledge, but I think it is interesting as a beginning down a road....

4n6.com/the-ransom-note-probability-the-key-to-understanding-the-jon-benet-ramsey-murder-case/
6:59 PM Nov 1st
 
MarisFan61
Fine. Totally fine.
But it seems a questionable leap to take the extra step of saying that the observations here mean the mother didn't write the note.

Cast doubt, sure. Maybe great doubt; I can't judge that.
But, show that she didn't write it?? Maybe it's just that I'm not capable of enough of judging that either, but I can't see how these observations rule it out.​
5:38 PM Nov 1st
 
chrisnickell
It is really hard to believe in any handwriting analysis given the examples provided in some of the comments below. One focuses on the "d" comparison. Look at the letter Bill posted above. Just that letter. Look at the lowercase "d"s. Do those look consistent? Not to the other samples, just within the letter itself. Sometimes they have extra flourishes, sometimes the are missing parts, to my eye they sure don't show enough consistently to judge anything. And that is a single letter that we have no reason to possibly think was intentionally misleading.

Any expert who uses the lowercase "d" from that letter as a significant basis to conclude that another document was created by that author is immediately suspect to me. (this is the case in one of the comments below) That comment also talks about how the "s" is the same. I don't see that at all.

Bill didn't really talk about the "d" at all - his points were on other characters. His analysis looks much more correct to me than anything else I've seen presented.

The fact that different experts can come to very different conclusions is very good reason to be skeptical of evidence of this type. Would you want your future and freedom based on whether your expert was more convincing than mine? This is garbage as evidence.

Chris
5:23 PM Nov 1st
 
MarisFan61
Zeke: Not really.

That's what cross examination is for, and that's what jurors' judgment is for. You make the experts explain and back up what they've said. They get confronted on it, and often they're asked what they can say about the other guy's testimony -- and it's up to the jury to judge it all.

For criminal trials, I don't see the problem at all, since the criterion is proving guilt "beyond a reasonable doubt." The defense doesn't have to prove what happened; it only has to show that there's some substantial doubt about the prosecution's case. Doesn't it seem to you that this process of dealing with experts' testimony is pretty darn good for getting a fair handle on that, and that the respective experts' testimony would be likely to have value in that?

BTW, as long as we're getting into it to this extent, I ought to amplify a thing I said before, about being repeatedly amazed at how much experts can get away with. That's true, but it may have given a wrong impression. Much of what experts say in court is in fact challenged, and challenged strongly, and then the guy better have good backup for what he said, or else he loses credibility pretty quickly. The thing that amazes me, though, is how often it happens that things aren't challenged.​
1:12 PM Nov 1st
 
Zeke**
Building on something MarisFan raised...

If we assume the dueling, mutually irreconcilable expert witnesses legitimately hold conflicting views, that's just as damaging to our faith in them as "experts."

If you can get an expert to say whatever you need him to, that testimony is obviously worthless.

Buuuut if a given field is so ill-defined that actual "experts" don't agree at least somewhat, their testimony is ALSO worthless.
12:59 PM Nov 1st
 
jimmybart
Bill: could similar handwriting be used to narrow down suspects geographically or time-wise? MarisFan mentions how he saw similar handwriting as his and discovered they were from the same area...I'm wondering if handwriting patterns could be traced this way. My instincts tell me there are too many variables involved, but wanted your take.
10:58 AM Nov 1st
 
OldBackstop
Well, I took the time to write out some long passages from my Ramsey library, including Patsy's testimony about being lefthanded. Those are gone. I wrote out the remarkable coincidence of the plot of the crime novel found in the house. That's gone. I specified letters and characteristics.....all gone.

So, given your deletion skills, and willingness to dismiss and smear any handwriting expert I raise, I am now an expert in predicting the end of this discussion.

Yesterday was Halloween. People came to the door in disguises. Did you think "that can't be little Mary. Mary never has red paint on her face." "Or, that little six year old has a black beard. He can't be from this neighborhood."

No, a moron would think like that. You see if you recognize the dog, the car at the curb, the Ls, the As, the ms....how common is a manuscript A?

I've listed 8 experts who have written analysis of the Ramsey note, (despicably smearing her, although she is a decade in the ground now,) It's all available on the internet. and, hey, I didn't pick the article topic....

One more: Smearable, dismissable deletabe Alice Weiser on 20/20:
---------------------
Handwriting analyst Alice Weiser analyzed the note. She was a contributor to Court TV 20 years ago.

She did a comparison to the writing of Patsy Ramsey, JonBenet's mother, prior to the murder.

"I, of course, cannot say if she -- by looking at this -- absolutley did it. But we found 55 commonalities between her writing and the ransom note," Weiser said. The 'd' in the handwriting prior to this matches the 'd' perfectly in the ransom note -- the way it curves and goes around. The 's' is exactly the same."

She said the 'm' is also the same.

"There are a lot of commonilaties between the ransom note and Patsy Ramsey's handwriting," she said. "I would have to look at this note and say that I'm quite positive Patsy Ramsey wrote the note."
.................................


9:14 AM Nov 1st
 
bjames
I have removed several comments here. This is not a place to post false and malicious gossip about the victims of a crime, regardless of how certain you are of your positions. I don't have time to answer every false statement one by one. You are all of course free to comment in this space, so long as you do not make false and defamatory statements in so doing.
1:21 AM Nov 1st
 
MattGoodrich
This reminds me: I've signed my name a billion times over the years. It's very consistent. If you watched me do it you'd know I'd done it many times. It's the only cursive writing I've done in the past 40+ years.

But a few times I've been asked to include my middle name in my signature. I have no idea how to sign my middle name. I have to think about every single letter and I pause between each one. It looks different each time and if you watched me do it, you'd be very suspicious that I must be a forger.

1:01 AM Nov 1st
 
MarisFan61
Granting that this might be because I don't know enough to properly grasp the details, it seems like this is a great duel we have going here, and that we can't rule out either side from being right.

I started out thinking Bill was probably right, but with the caution that I mentioned -- that without being an "expert" (and maybe even if you are one), you can't necessarily know that the things you're looking at and observing really are decisive factors. Rightly or wrongly, I'm thinking that the things OldBackstop is mentioning raise a real possibility that they aren't. If I were on a jury and hearing all this, I'd feel like I needed to hear a lot more before concluding anything, and I'd be hoping that the lawyers on both sides would bring out the right kinds of things to help clarify it.

About the thing of expert witnesses giving such differing opinions and saying whatever they're paid to say, let me say, although it's not a perfect analogy:
Bill and OBS are giving opposite views, for no reason other than that they have different ways of seeing it. There's no financial or professional interest for either; it's just how they genuinely see it. For sure it's sometimes like Bill said, maybe often, that the "expert" might state this-or-that opinion depending on who's paying and if they're paying enough. But I think usually it's genuine differing opinions.

It can easily seem the other way, even if it's not, because the parties in a dispute will each be trying to retain experts whose views and orientations tend to lean in the direction it seeks, and usually they're pretty good at knowing the bent of a prospective expert. Effectively this is sort of the same as what Bill said, because what it amounts to is that each side has an expert swearing to what that side wishes him to -- but I see it differently if it's a genuine opinion as opposed to an opinion for hire. Also I would note that often, the expert's opinion isn't totally what the hiring party wishes, not unlike, let's say, if it were an argument about Derek Jeter's defensive ability, and one side wanted to argue that it was terrible and the other side wanted to argue that it was terrific, and if I were helping on the latter, which indeed I would lean more toward (sue me!) :-) I'd acknowledge the ways in which it wasn't.
12:21 AM Nov 1st
 
jemanji
In my view this is some of the most important work Mr. James does, to chip away at the idea that "experts" are right by default, that the layman has a RESPONSIBILITY to BELIEVE experts until the expert is proven wrong.

Marisfan said:

++ [James] About this: "No one has to be an expert to speak the truth. If I say something which is true and which you can verify as being true through your own observation, why do I have to be an expert to say that?"

[Maris] Without meaning to imply that an "expert's" observation is necessarily terrific, if we're not highly knowledgeable and experienced in a field, we might not be good at knowing which things are relevant or not to observe. Taking this material here as an example, I'm not sure we can know that the specific things you identify in the handwriting are critically indicative factors. They sure look like they are, and I'd guess they are. I'm not sure I'd automatically embrace what an "expert" might say about those things either, but, I think this is an example of how "observation" by anyone isn't necessarily sufficient. ++

Democracy is the worst governmental system extant - except for all the alternatives.

An American jury trial is the worst possible mechanism for determining an accused person's fate -- except for the Russian system, the Iranian system, the North Korean system, and every other system.

....

If you think about it, SABERMETRICS itself is an example of the right way to investigate reality. A 23-year-old non athlete who is a math major is not an expert in baseball. But as a layman, he serves as the jury, in effect.

Adam (an ex-player) makes an argument that bunting in the first inning is good, citing his experience. Bob (a reader of James' abstracts) argues it is bad, and provides Run Expectancy tables for the "layman's" consideration. Cory (an ex-MLB manager) argues that it is good, making another argument that the layman can understand. Daniel (a bleacher bum with no college) comes up with a comparison between NPB runs scored per base gained and MLB runs scored per base gained. The layman considers this also.

Using this system, a system based on full disclosure to public laymen, do we understand baseball better than we do in 1967? Or do we understand it worse?

It wasn't a behind-doors exchange between James, Larussa, and Faye Vincent that achieved this advance in our possession of Truth, was it? Did fifteen baseball "experts" research the subject on campus, then publish their findings, and the rest of us nod approvingly as was our responsibility? Of course not.

.....

The priests of the Dark Ages fought claw-and-fang to keep "Laymen" from gaining literacy, because, Heaven Forbid the experts would lose control of the discussion and Laymen become a part of it.

When we are "shushing" the Layman and demanding his deference to the Expert, we are descendants in spirit from the Dark Ages clergy.

Personally, my thought is that Truth benefits from ventilation. If a statement does indeed reflect facts and reality, let's hear it. From whomever.

Best,
Jeff



4:13 PM Oct 31st
 
OldBackstop
First off, congrats at jumping down the Ramsey rabbit handwriting hole on the internet.

When I first looked at the notes and samples, during the Clinton administration, the two letters that jump out at me were the L and the “a,” which is written like a number two. Later these were the two examples I read from an expert who believed Patsy the author. Take a look. Look at word "listen," which was featured in one of the expert's examples. Sure, you can pick it apart, but....if 20 members here were told to write it, would any two look that similar?

(IF THE READER WOULD PAY ATTENTION TO THE DISCUSSION, RATHER THAN PERSISTING IN HIS DESPICABLE SMEARING OF THE REPUTATION OF A WOMAN WHOSE CHILD WAS HORRIBLY MURDERED, HE WOULD NOTE THAT IN COMPARING THE WORDS "LISTEN" AS WRITTEN IN THE RANSOM NOTE AND "LISTEN" AS WRITTEN BY PATSY RAMSEY, ONE SEES MOST OR ALL OF THE SYSTEMATIC DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE WRITING OF THE RANSOM NOTE AND THE WRITING OF PATSY RAMSEY WHICH I HAVE ALREADY DESCRIBED. THE RANSOM NOTE WRITER MAKES A SHARP POINT IN THE IN THE ROOF OF THE "N", AS HE ALWAYS DOES, WHILE PATSY MAKES A ROUND-TOPPED "N", AS SHE ALWAYS DOES. THE RANSOM NOTE WRITER FINISHES OFF HIS N OPEN TOWARD THE BOTTOM, AS HE ALWAYS DOES, WHILE PATSY FINISHES OFF THE N BY DRAWING HER PEN BACK TO THE LEFT, AS SHE ALWAYS DOES. THE RANSOM NOTE WRITER PUTS A VERY LOW CROSSBAR ACROSS THE T, AS HE NORMALLY DOES, WHILE PATSY PLACES THE CROSSBAR MUCH HIGHER ON THE T, AS SHE NORMALLY DOES. THE RANSOM NOTE WRITER MAKES A SLIGHTLY "BENT" OR "CIRCULAR" MOTION IN MAKING THE CROSSBAR, AS HE USUALLY DOES, WHILE PATSY MAKES VERY FLAT CROSSBAR, AS SHE USUALLY DOES. THE RANSOM NOTE WRITER JABS HIS PEN AT THE DOT OF THE I, CLEARLY MOVING HIS PEN WHILE DOTTING THE I, AS HE USUALLY DOES, WHILE PATSY MAKES A PRECISE, CIRCULAR DOT AS SHE ALWAYS DOES. OLD BACKSTOP, IN HIS MINDLESS DETERMINATION TO PERSIST IN HIS UNWORTHY
CAUSE, SIMPLY IGNORES THESE OBVIOUS DIFFERENCES, WHICH HAVE BEEN POINTED OUT TO HIM, AND INSISTS THAT THE WRITING IS "SIMILAR", WHEN IN FACT IT IS OBVIOUSLY NOT SIMILAR.)



I believe that handwriting comparison is somewhere you count the hits and not the misses. One expert saw 32 similarities….described as astronomic.

(IF AN EXPERT IN FACT SAID THAT, THE EXPERT WOULD HAVE TO BE A COMPLETE MORON. THERE ARE HUNDREDS AND HUNDREDS OF CHARACTERISTICS OF A PERSONS HANDWRITING. I PROMISE YOU THAT MY HANDWRITING AND YOURS WOULD HAVE MORE THAN 32 SIMILARITIES. BUT AN EXPERT SAID THIS, SO THAT IS GOOD ENOUGH FOR OLD BACKSTOP, GOD BLESS HIS VICIOUS LITTLE SOUL.)

It is an accumulation of distinctive characteristics, not an enumeration of distinctions, that sheds light in a case where (obviously) the author would not want their handwriting identified.

(DESPITE THE FACT THAT EVERY HANDWRITING EXPERT HAS AT SOME POINT IN HIS LIFE DIRECTLY STATED THE OPPOSITE.)

Some of the comments you make are pointed to as evidence of attempts at disguise and or haste.

David Liebman: president of the National Document Examiners (NADE) “90-95% certainty…astronomical odds against the chances of a third party having the same characteristics.”

Cina Wong: vice president, NADE: “100 percent certain”, 8.5 on a scale of 10.” She examined over 100 extant samples of Patsy’s handwriting.

Larry Ziegler, member American Board of Forensic Document Examiners: “It was determined and is still determined by myself that Patsy Ramsey was the writer of the ransom note.”



(ZIEGLER WAS THE ONLY ONE OF THESE EXPERTS THAT I WORKED BACK ON THE STORY. ZIEGLER, BASED ON HIS PUBLIC STATEMENTS, WAS HIRED BY A NEW YORK ATTORNEY TO WORK IN A LAWSUIT RELATED TO THE CASE. THE ATTORNEY BECAME FRUSTRATED BECAUSE ZIEGLER WOULD NOT DELIVER HIS REPORT ON THE CASE DESPITE REPEATED DEADLINES AND REPEATED PROMISES TO DO SO. WHEN THE ATTORNEY FINALLY INSISTED THAT ZIEGLER DELIVER HIS REPORT, HE ABRUPTLY RESIGNED FROM THE CASE. IT IS TRUE THAT HE STILL REFUSES TO ADMIT THAT HE WAS WRONG. I BELIEVE ZIEGLER IS NOW RETIRED; NOT CERTAIN.)


Thomas Miller, David Lacy, Donald Foster, Robert Ressler (“author was a 40 year old southern woman”) and the firm Seraph hired by the Boulder DA are also experts who swore some level of “probably” to “definitely” that Patsy wrote the ransom note.

Now….you can fill a book with experts retained by other parties or just diving into the publicity pool. A handwriting expert not commenting on this case is like Ron Darling not mentioning the winning pitcher. And they are all vicious bastards. And I suspect the Ramsey’s legal counter offensive knocked some of them back from their surety. But there are a bucket of them on the record.

Oh, and by the way, Patsy’s high school teacher and her housekeeper both swear she was ambidextrous and could write with both hands….



(HOW CAN YOU TAKE THAT COMMENT SERIOUSLY? HER HOUSEKEEPER TRIED TO EXPLOIT THE TERRIBLE CRIME BY SELLING HER STORY TO THE TABLOIDS, WHICH LED TO HER BEING IN A NASTY CONFLICT WITH THE RAMSEYS. HER SAYING THAT PATSY COULD WRITE AMBIDEXTROUSLY IS AS CREDIBLE AS MY ALLEGING THAT OLD BACKSTOP COULD RUN BACKWARDS FASTER THAN BYRON BUXTON CAN RUN FORWARD.)
2:56 PM Oct 31st
 
jaybracken
I've read Popular Crime cover-to-cover three times, and the Ramsey section is by far my favorite. Thanks for updating it!
2:26 PM Oct 31st
 
bjames

Regarding this comment from Marisfan:


That said, I'm an "expert" in one of my fields, and I'm repeatedly amazed at how much I get away with, how much I'm able to say without what I would consider scientific backup and which is essentially accepted, just because I said it.


The worst example of this that I am aware of is in forensic psychology--that is, testifying as to whether a person was sane at the time of the crime. There was a period in American history, roughly 1975 to 1982, when persons accused of murder would routinely claim to have been insane at the time of the murder, and would quite often be acquitted based on the testimony of a psychiatrist or psychologist that the person was insane. There professional psychologist who were likeable, credible people, and who would testify that ANY person was insane if they were paid enough money to give that testimony. One "psychologist" was so good at doing this that he was famous for his ability to make up clinical diagnosis on the spot, under cross examination if necessary, to justify his claim that whoever was insane. Transitional post-traumatic dissociation. He'd just put some psychological phrases together and claim that his was a recognized form of mental illness. But rather than being reviled and despised for doing this, he was admired and celebrated in his field for his ability to do this.

Several points needed in explanation:

1) There were also prosecution psychiatrist who would claim that anyone was SANE, no matter what the facts of the case. The person could be rambling, incoherent, hearing voices and responding to people who weren't there . .. nope, he's entirely sane.

2) The consequence of this was, of course, that every case after a time had "dueling psychiatrists", one side claiming that the person was mentally ill, the other that he was not.

3) The consequence of THAT was that, after a few years, juries stopped paying any attention to whatever the psychiatrists said. The insanity defense almost entirely stopped working about 1983.

4) In defense of the psychiatric community, this is not where we are now. Now, there is a thick casebook of recognized psychiatric disorders, and if it's not listed in there, you can't go into court and make up BS because you're an expert. Psychology has moved past that phase. Handwriting analysis has not.
2:17 PM Oct 31st
 
DanDanDodgerFan
Very illuminating! I sat on a jury in an insurance fraud case which pitted two handwriting-analysis experts against each other: for the prosecution, the sheriff's current analyst, and for the defense the sheriff's retired analyst. The entire case boiled down to their testimony, but they directly contradicted each other on every significant point. Thus did we learn one of the lessons Bill has often made on "experts."
1:20 PM Oct 31st
 
MarisFan61
Separate thing: It's a great point about how samples by different people who happen to have learned the same way of penmanship might seem by superficial analysis to be from the same person. I never realized how varied the way of penmanship can be -- never thought about it -- until, at some point in adulthood, when I was living 1000 miles from where I grew up, I saw someone's writing that looked a lot like mine, realized I hadn't seen any such resemblance in a long time, then found that the person was from around where I was from and had gone to elementary school in the same school system.
12:47 PM Oct 31st
 
MarisFan61
Fascinating, and it sure looks like you're right.
But, a couple of things about the more general thing about "experts" -- one from the other side, and one on yours.

About this: "No one has to be an expert to speak the truth. If I say something which is true and which you can verify as being true through your own observation, why do I have to be an expert to say that?"

Without meaning to imply that an "expert's" observation is necessarily terrific, if we're not highly knowledgeable and experienced in a field, we might not be good at knowing which things are relevant or not to observe. Taking this material here as an example, I'm not sure we can know that the specific things you identify in the handwriting are critically indicative factors. They sure look like they are, and I'd guess they are. I'm not sure I'd automatically embrace what an "expert" might say about those things either, but, I think this is an example of how "observation" by anyone isn't necessarily sufficient.

That said, I'm an "expert" in one of my fields, and I'm repeatedly amazed at how much I get away with, how much I'm able to say without what I would consider scientific backup and which is essentially accepted, just because I said it. Sure, I don't just 'say' stuff; I don't say anything unless I really think it and unless I can back it up in what I consider to be a valid way. But, y'know, my reasoning isn't necessarily unquestionable :-) -- but if you're an expert, it's usually taken at face value.
12:38 PM Oct 31st
 
wovenstrap
I was a teenager when your first historical abstract came out. I think that may have been the first place you said that explicitly, when you were describing Susie's research into the uniforms. That couple of paragraphs had a big impact on the way I thought about knowledge, research, expertise, etc. I'm glad to see you take up the theme again here.
12:25 PM Oct 31st
 
 
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