Saturday, September 8, 2007

The Clues in Handwriting

Sheila Lowe (Guest Blogger)

With more than 35 years experience in the field of handwriting, Sheila Lowe has been qualified as a handwriting expert in the California Court system since 1985. She holds a bachelor's degree in psychology and was certified by the American Handwriting Analysis Foundation in 1981, as well as the Society of Handwriting Analysts in 1985. She is an active member of the National Association of Document Examiners. Sheila is also the author of a mystery series, beginning with Poison Pen, featuring a sleuth who shares her expertise. Visit her web site at

While the Zodiac Killer terrorized the San Francisco area in the late 1960s and early ’70s, he wrote letters to the police and newspapers, taunting them in his own handwriting with terrifying threats of torture. The Zodiac was never caught, but more than thirty years later those handwritten letters remain, as accurate a representation of personality as the picture of Dorian Gray. We may not know what the man looked like on the outside, but his handwriting tells us who he really was inside.

After studying the handwritings of more than twenty serial killers, one thing becomes abundantly, frighteningly clear: in many ways, these men and women do not appear to be so different from the rest of us. That’s why many of them get away with their crimes for years -- their ability to hide a compulsion to kill under the mask of civility allows them to function somewhat successfully in the world. Yet, their handwriting tells the truth, and as the need to kill builds, forcing its way to the surface like the Incredible Hulk straining to overtake David Banner, changes in the handwriting reflect what’s going on inside.

But don’t get the idea that handwriting is like a crystal ball that can predict that someone is definitely going to kill. It’s not. But the potential for violence is easily seen if you know what to look for, and those red flags for danger alert the handwriting analyst. I’ve been asked whether the handwriting of a friend or acquaintance has ever made me decide to distance myself from that person. As a matter of fact, it has.

I’ve written and spoken in many places about the alarm I felt when my 27-year-old daughter showed me the handwriting of a new man in her life. He was a special agent for the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and he taught hand-to-hand combat to other agents. His handwriting showed a controlling personality, a “do as I say, not as I do” mentality, a potential for violent behavior. In addition, I saw something in the handwriting that prompted me to ask whether he had sustained a blow to the head. He said he had, and that he suffered severe headaches as a result.

What do you get when you add an authoritarian personality to a head injury, mix it with alcohol abuse and stress at work? An explosion waiting to happen. Within a year my daughter had become the victim of murder by this man, who also killed himself. Handwriting doesn’t lie, but we have to listen to what it says. My daughter’s killer never struck her before he shot her eight times, but he had threatened her. I share this story in the hope that it will help at least one person make the choice to leave an abusive relationship before it’s too late. Abuse isn’t just about physical violence. It includes verbal mistreatment, too.

Although I’ve been writing about handwriting and what it reveals about personality for more than thirty years, I’ve wanted to write mystery since I was fourteen. So, it was a natural progression to create a character who works as a forensic handwriting expert, as I do. Remember the old TV show that started with the line, “There are eight million stories in the Naked City”? Well, behind every story is a handwriting, and my expert, Claudia Rose, has already investigated two of them in Poison Pen (in stores now) and Written in Blood (coming 12/08). Like me, Claudia is both a handwriting expert who testifies in cases of forgery, and a behavioral profiler through handwriting.

But besides potential for violence, there are lots of other clues that handwriting provides. Social skills for one -- whether you’re an outgoing, gregarious type of person, or a loner, for instance. Thinking style is another -- logical, common sense, creative? The condition of your self-image. Sexual attitudes. How well you organize your life. Where your fears come from.

So, what did the Zodiac’s handwriting say about him? Google turns up samples on several web sites. You’ll see that the flow of ink is heavy and muddy-looking, an indication of dammed-up anger and frustration. There are letters that suddenly flop over to the right, which signals a sudden eruption of emotion. The way letters and words are spaced show his feelings of isolation and profound inability to connect with another person. Whether it’s the Zodiac, the Night Stalker, Aileen Wuornos, or any of the dozens of other less-known killers on death row, their handwriting reveals the truth about who they really are.

Handwriting can’t tell everything about a person, but understanding what motivates others, what makes them tick, puts an investigator way ahead of the game. It provides a great deal of important information that can be added to other evidence and build an accurate portrait of personality. Having access to that kind of information gives the graphologist an edge when she becomes involved in a murder investigation, or white collar crime, or a child abuse case, or even just analyzing someone who wants to know himself better. So next time you pick up a pen and paper and begin to write, you might want to ask yourself what clues your handwriting reveals about you...


Lee Lofland said...

Great blog, Sheila. I wish I'd had you around when I was in the real-life crime-solving business.

Sandra Parshall said...

Sheila, could you expand a little on the kinds of testimony graphologists give in court?

Sheila Lowe said...

Although most of the time when handwriting analysts testify in court it's in cases of handwriting authentication (forgery), the testimony of graphologists as to state of mind has been accepted in at least 10 states. There are document examiners who do only handwriting authentication, and there are those who do both authentication and personality assessment. The latter requires training in the physiology of handwriting and its relationship to the brain, and how it is affected by personality.

Some like to claim that graphology--the personality analysis part of handwriting examination--is a "pseudoscience" and liken it to palm reading and astrology. I think it's because there are unfortunately no controls on its practice, no licensing and some who call themselves graphologists are untrained or poorly trained and are no better than charlatans. However, graphology itself is based on scientific principles and there is plenty of university research behind it.

Lonnie Cruse said...

Wow, facinating! I have the world's worst handwriting, so I'd love to have you look at a sample some time. My boys are even worse. Thanks for blogging with us!

Sandra Parshall said...

When I was a young newspaper reporter -- back at the dawn of recorded time -- I interviewed a graphologist who did both authentication in legal cases and personality assessment using handwriting. I had my doubts about whether anyone could detect personality and character traits through handwriting -- until he took my reporter's notebook and looked carefully at several pages of my writing. He said that a full assessment would require more study, but a preliminary look showed... well, let's just say he was shockingly accurate, and not everything he said was flattering!