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Between the Lines

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Between the Lines

The Academy Group, Inc. (AGI), was founded by Dr. Roger L. Depue, former Chief of the FBI's famed Behavioral Science Unit at the FBI National Academy, Quantico, Virginia.

AGI's staff of former career law enforcement professionals use their combined 300 years of experience to assist Fortune 500 corporations, public institutions, individuals and law enforcement agencies in solving many types of cases.

AGI is the model for the "Millennium Group" in Chris Carter's television show "Millennium".


Peter A. Smerick, M.Ed.:

I went to still photography school and motion picture photography school with the army. I eventually ended up in Vietnam as the officer in charge of 125 men, Combat Photography Unit. Spent a year in Vietnam, was hired by the Naval Investigative Service as a special agent in Philadelphia, and did a great deal of their crime-scene work and photographic surveillance work, and then in 1969 I was recruited by the FBI, and in 1970 became an FBI agent. I served in Eugene, Oregon, Los Angeles, California, New York City, where my primary responsibility was that of the photography coordinator for the office. So if a case came up requiring surveillance photography, or trying to cover the drop site when a kidnapping has occurred for the ransom money to be picked up, or trying to photograph spies or organized crime figures, I would do that type of work.

Handwriting and Text Analysis

Peter Smerick:

I believe I was recruited into the Behavioral Science Unit because of my background in photography and my background as a questioned document examiner, and for a while in the Behavioral Science Unit I was the program manager of the threat assessment statement analysis unit, and at the same time I taught the other guys how to analyze statements from a forensic stylistic point of view. I think most people are aware that handwriting is a unique science from the standpoint that it's never been proven at any time in civilization that two people will write exactly alike. It's based on a premise that you are subconsciously producing your thoughts down on a piece of paper by moving a pen. So you've got your mind involved with the process, you've got your muscular coordination, you've got your nerve endings, but you're not paying attention to how the letters are being formed, and so that's what makes handwriting so unique. Under a magnifying glass, if there are enough unique combinations of letter formations there, I can identify you and anyone as having prepared a certain document. Now, if you make an effort to disguise your handwriting and disguise your handwriting characteristics, then it becomes much more difficult for me to make a positive identification. The flip side of handwriting identification is something that today is either called text analysis, or authorship identification, and what this pertains to is that even though you have gone to school, you have attained a certain education, when you write reports or what have you, you have developed your own style of expressing yourself. So if you would pick up a book by Tom Clancy versus a book by Ernest Hemingway, you readily see that they express themselves in writing differently, and so in this field of authorship identification, or text analysis, what you're looking at is syntax, how an individual may string sentences and words together. You'll look at word choices, word compounding, punctuation, capitalization, the length of paragraphs – there's about 25 or 30 things that you look at. Once again, if there are enough of these stylistic markers present, you can, in fact, identify somebody as being the author of an anonymous communication.

The Case of the Missing Wife

I had worked a case for the Bend, Oregon, police department a number of years ago involving a missing woman, and they suspected the husband of eliminating his wife because he was afraid that she was going to run off with another man and take all of his retirement money. And the police started putting a little bit of pressure on him. Well, lo and behold, this photocopied two-page anonymous typewritten letter was sent to the police, saying that, "We had been driving up this highway, we picked up this woman who was hitchhiking, and she died. We put her in an inflatable after wrapping her in a white sheet. We put in the inflatable a chain for density… chains for density, and put her body in the Columbia River." To make a long story short, I identified the author of that letter as being the husband, and based upon my identification of him as the author, he was tried for the murder of his wife, and even though the body was never found, the man is still in jail, based upon authorship identification. Because he sent that letter in order to steer the investigation into a different area. It's know as 'staging after the fact', and some people will stage a crime scene right there to make it appear that robbery was the motive of the crime, or sexual assault. Other people will stage the crime scene afterwards by sending an anonymous letter, trying to make it look like somebody else committed the crime.


Peter Smerick:

In the field of questioned document examinations, frequently we encounter documents that have been altered, or the ink has been erased or somehow obliterated, either with blood or with another type of ink, so that the information underneath that written material is just not visible to the naked eye. There are a variety of techniques that can be used, however, that are non-destructive to documentary evidence, to be able to peer through those obliterations to see what is the information contained underneath. And what we have here is your basic television camera, video camera, with a television monitor, but we also have an image intensifier. And what we end up doing is recognizing the fact that when you look at any object with the naked eye, you're concerned with visible spectrum, the colors of the rainbow from violet all the way up to red. But by going beyond that, either into the infrared range or the ultraviolet light range, and bombarding evidence with this type of illumination, sometimes we are able to see information that was not visible to the naked eye. So in this particular instance, we have a document appearing on this easel, and if we pay attention to the one sentence that says, "Mr. Black should not be eliminated as a suspect", to the naked eye it appears to be a complete sentence. But if you put a certain filter here, which is now going to block the visible light rays from coming in, and just allowing the infrared radiation to be here, by using this technique we are able to see that the word "not" was actually added at a later point, so originally this statement read, "Mr. Black should be eliminated as a suspect in the case", and somebody had added the word "not".

Now, moving down to obliterations, on the same sheet of paper we can see that we have two horizontal lines here, where if there was something written underneath, it's been completely obliterated with a black felt-tip pen. Once again, using the filter, we can see that on the right-hand side of the screen we have a telephone number, on the left-hand of the screen, however, we don't have any reaction whatsoever. Now, what makes this work is that even though you may have two ballpoint pens in which the ink is black or blue in color, they may appear identical to the naked eye, but in reality the formulation of the inks can be different. And, as a result, by using the right type of filter, we can see through that obliteration. Now, where it doesn't work is that if I write a telephone number down on a piece of paper and then use the very same pen to obliterate it, now there isn't a differentiation in the inks, so this technique will not work. And so, in a nutshell, that is one of the techniques we use in the Academy Group in analyzing altered medical records, or if we get a document that's got dried bloodstains on it, and we want to know what information is underneath it, this is how we would go about doing it.


Roger Depue:

Email's great, because the author can be anonymous, and when people can be anonymous, they'll say all kinds of things. And also, email is the freest form of expression, so you don't have punctuation, you don't worry about that stuff, capitalization, all that. You just put it down, so you're likely to get a more authentic picture of the person. It's like free association sometimes, they're just pouring it out. Well, we started a relationship with this New Jersey firm, a former FBI agent who was very good at tracing emails back to their source. Now, the source may be a building with 500 people in it, but he sent us a test case. It was an individual who was trying to affect the value of the stock of a major corporation, so he was putting things on a website, on a message board, that were negative things about this company. And so the company was very interested in finding out who he was. So he sent me about six or eight of his postings and I went through them, and we were able to narrow it down. And this individual had one expression that we had trouble trying to pin down. He said… in one place, he said, "Never try to catch a knife while it's falling." That was one of the expressions that he used, and I hadn't heard that before. But that's a very logical expression, isn't it? So I tried a search on it, and I thought that had ethnic roots somewhere. We were able to say that this was probably a white male, and we were able to say … I narrowed it down from 36 to 38 years of age, and that his occupation was an accountant, and that he had a college degree, and that he had kind of a grandiose self-image, that he would… I could see where he would respond favorably to complimentary things that were said to him, and that he would be very sensitive to criticism of any kind. So a picture of the guy begins to emerge, and so we had occupation, and some things like that, and basically what we did was, we sent it back to him, he was able to trace it into a place of business, and they were able to nail the guy, because there were only two or three people that fit the profile that closely. He turned out to be a guy who worked for a temporaries company, who had done an audit in this place of business, and apparently felt like he was treated unfairly, or something like that, but was an accountant. Everything fit, except we found out that he was Filipino, and we couldn't nail that down.

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