Behind the Scenes: How forensic scientists fight crime by analyzing handwriting

SEATTLE -- Analyzing handwriting to help solve crimes isn`t just something you see in the movies -- it`s real!

I got a first-hand look at how forensic scientists do it and why our imprints are so unique.

“It can be writing on a wall, writing on an object, so a variety of things,” WSP forensic scientist Brett Bishop explains about document examinations and handwriting. He is one of only three in the state who specializes in this for Washington State Patrol.

Bishop continues, “We’re looking at things like proportions in the writing style, letter formations, spacing, slant, connections between letters, stroke direction-clockwise, counterclockwise.” The process to do this job takes years of specialized training before they are handed documents, forged checks or even ransom notes for analysis. And if you think you can throw him off by using the opposite hand, he says ‘no way.’ “Generally speaking,” Bishop explains,  “That master pattern still exists whether they’re writing with the pen in their mouth, in between their toes, left hand, right hand, it’s still coming from that same mental copy book image.” He demonstrated a technique used to recover writing from something other than the original source. A machine that uses things like toner and magnets to bring hidden ink and indentations to the surface and reveal images unseen to the naked eye. These techniques are used for several things, including fraud. He shows us an example of a document changed to add an extra zero to a dollar amount.

“So this is what it looks like to the naked eye, and this is under the V.S.C.,” Bishop says.

He also trains election officials to verify signatures.

“Some things that are significant or what to evaluate in signatures. What kind of handwriting characteristics to look at.” He fights crime one word at a time and brings those to justice who could otherwise be written off. “I think it’s very important from those threat letters, harassing letters, bank robbery notes, to even for example these financial crimes,” Bishop says, “For justice to be brought forward, where something as simple as taking money from somebody else, it’s still wrong and there’s still a penalty to be paid for that.”