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Anonymous Letters And Disguised Hands
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The Principles Of Handwriting Analysis

Anonymous Letters And Disguised Hands

That mischievous and cowardly form of secret attack, the anonymous
letter, demands, unfortunately, a large amount of attention from the
handwriting expert. One of the most pleasant rewards that can attend the
conscientious and painstaking student of handwriting lies in the
knowledge that his art may sometimes enable him to bring to deserved
punishment the assassin of reputation and domestic happiness.

It is a moot point, which has been discussed by legal authorities, as to
whether the handwriting expert is justified in tendering evidence and
opinions of a kind that may be said to belong by right to the criminal
investigator. By this is meant that the expert should not be allowed to
point out to a jury such pieces of circumstantial evidence as the
similarity of the paper used by the suspected person with other found in
his possession; that he ought not to direct attention to postmarks,
coincidence of dates, similarity of ink used, the employment of certain
words and phrases, and other external and indirect clues that point to
the authorship. It is urged that the whole duty of the expert is to say
whether in his opinion two or more writings are by the same hand or not,
and any expression of opinion outside this question is _ultra vires_.

The obvious answer to this objection is that it is impossible to limit
the expert in the selection of those points which appeal to and assist
him in forming an opinion. It is impossible to say what may or may not
suggest a valuable clue to a keen observer; and as the expert is often
called upon to give reasons for his opinion he is quite justified in
indicating the steps by which he arrived at it.

These circumstances arise more often in connection with anonymous
letters than with ordinary signature forgeries, for the field of
exploration and the material examined are so much larger. Details become
invaluable. The quality and make of the paper used, or a peculiar method
of folding and placing it in the envelope may afford a clue that will
put the expert on the high road to an important discovery. It is
impossible to say how or where a clue may lurk. The torn edge of a
postage stamp once supplied a hint that was followed up successfully. A
smudge on the envelope, that matched a similar one on a packet of
envelopes in the writing case of a person quite unsuspected, led to
conviction, as did a number of an address that was crossed out and
rewritten, the anonymous writer having, by force of habit, begun with
the number he was in the habit of writing--his own.

In short, the expert has, _nolens volens_, to assume many of the
functions of the crime investigator in dealing with apparent trifles,
and even if they do not always help him in reaching his goal, they
provide material for exercising the useful art of observation. Strictly
speaking the expert should, perhaps, ignore all outside suggestions as
to the authorship, and confine himself to saying whether or not the
specimens submitted are in the same handwriting; but in practice this
will be found extremely difficult, if not impossible, for the student
cannot shut his eyes to the accidental clues that invariably arise in
the examination of the evidence, and almost before he realizes it, the
most cautious expert finds himself trespassing upon ground that by right
should be the preserve of the detective.

The points raised here may, however, be safely left to be dealt with by
the judgment of the student as they arise. In the early stages of study
they will probably not present themselves with the same force and
frequency as later on, when they will be appreciated as providing useful
private pointers for guidance; and though at times they may put the
inexperienced student upon a false scent, he will have no difficulty in
detecting his error if, when in doubt, he follows the principles laid
down for the comparison of handwriting.

The first step to the examination of the anonymous letter consists in
procuring as many suspects as possible, which, as before advised, should
be lettered or numbered and put aside, until the original, which in this
case is the anonymous letter, has been studied and mastered. The
external evidence of which so much has already been said may or may not
be looked for.

Next proceed with the examination and comparison of the writings. It is
presumed that the student has prepared his notes of the peculiarities of
the original; he has now to search for them in the suspects. Suppose he
begins with the spurs and beards, having found them well marked in the
original. He will take any one of the suspects and examine it for a
repetition of the same signs. He may follow on with the rest of the
suspects, taking advantage of his memory being fresh on this point, or
he may prefer to exhaust one suspect of all its evidences before
proceeding with another; but practice and experience will decide the
best course in this matter, and influence the line of procedure.

Whatever method is pursued, all have the same object--the discovery of
the peculiarities of the original in one or more of the suspects, and
the student will be wise if he follow accurately the course laid down in
the chapter on "How to Examine a Writing."

It is generally safe to take it for granted that the writing in an
anonymous letter is disguised. There are occasions when the author
persuades another person to write for him, but only rarely; for the
perpetrator of a contemptible act is not usually brazen and indiscreet
enough to expose himself to others. The same reasons lend strength to
the presumption that the writing will, so far as its general appearance
goes, be as much the opposite of the author's usual style as his
ingenuity can make it. The extreme back hand occurs very frequently. It
seems to be the first impulse of the anonymous writer to avoid the right
slope. Even when the normal hand is a vertical, with a tendency to back
hand, the extreme left slope is often chosen. Fortunately, the assumed
back hand is one of the most transparent of disguises. If the student
has practised it, he will not need to be reminded how difficult it is
for a writer to conceal his mannerisms. By altering the slope he has
only stretched and lengthened his outlines, and the expert soon learns
to recognise them in their new form.

Another common disguise is the illiterate hand. This is quite as easy of
detection. It is no easier for the practised and fluent writer to
reproduce the shaky, irregular outlines of the illiterate, than it is
for the speaker of pure and cultured English to imitate the coarse
accent of the vulgar. However good the copy it always breaks down early,
and the sudden and unconscious firm, clear and geometrically accurate
stroke reveals the practised writer beneath the mask. Sometimes an
accurately placed punctuation mark supplies the necessary clue, for when
once the art of proper punctuation has been acquired it becomes almost
automatic. Even experienced novelists are caught this way occasionally.
They will introduce a letter, supposed to be the work of an illiterate
character. The grammar and orthography suggest the idea, but the more
difficult details of punctuation will be attended to, even to the
apostrophe that marks the elided _g_ in such words as "talkin',"
"comin'," &c.

Very difficult and troublesome is the letter written throughout in
imitation printed characters. The expert has to rely upon the curved
lines, accidental punctuation marks and unpremeditated flourishes and
hand-gestures; but, broadly speaking, such a letter is beyond the skill
of the expert if unaided by accidental betrayal. If, as sometimes
happens, the writer is ingenious enough to adopt an alphabet formed
completely of straight lines and angles--an easy task--he may boast of
having produced a detection-proof writing; that is, if characters formed
with the aid of a rule can be called writing, for it defies detection,
because there are none of the signs essential for comparison, and is
less easy of identification than an incomplete skeleton. In the absence
of external clues, an expert would refuse to do more than offer a very
guarded opinion, and it would be wiser to decline to offer any comment

Another trick that has been resorted to by some persons is writing with
the hand constricted by a tight-fitting glove. This produces a very
effective disguise; but if the student will practise with the same
impediment, he will discover many useful rules for guiding him on the
road to penetrating this entanglement.

It should be remembered that the less control a writer has over his pen,
the more likely is he unintentionally to revert to those forms to which
he is habituated, for, left by itself, the hand steers the more
familiar course. Disguise, alteration and variation on customary forms
are the result of premeditation. When the mind is occupied more with the
subject than the formation of characters, the latter naturally assume
that shape to which the force of custom has bent them.

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