LONDON, OH (WOWK)—When it comes to solving a crime, subtle characteristics of a person’s handwriting can help investigators find the clues they need. At Ohio’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation Lab, there is an entire department dedicated to “questioned documents”. A team of forensic scientists gathers clues from notebooks, checks and several things in between.
Much like fingerprints have individual characteristics, handwriting is also made up of subtle elements unique to the person doing the writing. In BCI’s “questioned documents” department scientists can learn more from a simple note than meets the eye.
“Well, every time I think I’ve seen it all someone comes up with something different,” said Michelle Anderson, Forensic Scientist.
Anderson and other scientists at BCI examine everything from notes to lottery tickets. They use technology to determine if documents are authentic checking out physical traits including ink, paper, printing processes and security features.
“We use this for obliterated writing or altered writing,” Anderson said, pointing to one of the machines in the lab. “Also you can see the safety features in money.”
Devices in the lab can help her read between the lines.
“As I go through the different wavelengths of light you can see some of the inks will disappear and you’ll be able to see what is under the obliterated writing,” Anderson said, while using technology to see what was originally written behind something that had been scribbled out.
If someone sends a bomb threat scientists can look for patterns in the writing to link the note to a particular person.
“What we are looking for is size, slant,” Anderson said. She said there can also be a unique tick at the end of a letter that will be a clue. Anderson explained that each person develops unconscious patterns that surface even when they are trying to hide them.
“Maybe I’d have you write the same note 20 times and you are going to start, if you are the suspect, if you wrote the original note you are going to try to disguise your writing,” she said. “But you kind of eventually after writing it so many times fall into the same characteristics.”
Beyond the actual letters, they also look for indentations left behind when the words were written. In the bomb threat example, they could look at blank pages in a suspect’s notebook to find evidence.
“It is toner really, but it will charge the paper and then we can develop the actual note,” she said.
Scientists in the “Questioned Documents” department at BCI also perform quality assurance tests on instant lottery tickets for the Ohio Lottery.
“Perhaps someone owes child support or something like that and they sign their own name. They’ll try to obliterate that writing and give it to someone else to sign so that they are not responsible for that child support,” Anderson explained.
Her work at the lab is helping law enforcement agencies throughout the state uncover the truth and keep people safe.
“Often I think if this person would have used their knowledge for good instead of evil that they might have gotten farther in this world than behind bars,” she said.
Anderson has worked at BCI for several years. She said in that time the instruments they use have become more advanced, smaller and easier to operate.
To learn more about BCI click here.