Weekend Road Trip

I’m currently on an actual road trip to the Midwest conducting research for a new book. I hope to back in the office Saturday afternoon and, if all goes as planned, I’ll post the real Weekend Road Trip photos at that time.

Enjoy your weekend.

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Friday’s Heroes: Killed In The Line Of Duty

Seargent Leslie (Les) Wilmont – Kiefer, Oklahoma Police Department

Sergeant Wilmont, a 30 year veteran and former police chief, was killed when his patrol car struck a tractor trailer.

Deputy Sheriff Michael Sean Thomas – Bibb County, Georgia Sheriff’s Office

Deputy Thomas, an eight year veteran, died May 25, 2008 of injuries he’d received in April when his police motorcycle collided with a pickup truck. The driver of the truck pulled out in front of Deputy Thomas as he approached an intersection.

Deputy Sheriff James Throne – Kern County, California Sheriff’s Office

Deputy Throne was killed May 23, 2008 when his patrol car collided with another patrol car while responding to assist other officers.

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Sheila Lowe: Can Handwriting Reveal a Serial Killer?

Sheila Lowe is a forensic handwriting expert with more forty years of experience in the field. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology and is the author of several published books including Handwriting of the Famous & Infamous, and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Handwriting Analysis, as well as Sheila Lowe’s Handwriting Analyzer software. Her first mystery novel, Poison Pen, received a starred review in Publishers Weekly and introduces forensic handwriting expert, Claudia Rose, who uses her handwriting analysis skills to help solve crimes. Www.sheilalowe.com for information about handwriting analysis. Www.claudiaroseseries.com to read a sample chapter and view a book trailer. Www.superceu.com continuing education for marriage and family therapists and licensed clinical social workers. Sheila@sheilalowe.com

Can Handwriting Reveal a Serial Killer?

He was handsome, charismatic, captivating. He was convicted of the rape and murder of ten women in Florida. He’d probably raped at least fifty.

As with other violent crimes, serial murder is on the increase. Between 1900-1950, an average of 1.2 cases a year were recorded. In 1960 there were 12 cases. By the 1980s this offense had jumped to an average of two cases a month. Since 1977 more than two hundred serial killers have been convicted, with well over a thousand victims between them. More than 80% of all serial murders have occurred in less than 30 years.

Like others of his ilk, serial murderer Robert Joseph Long managed to elude capture over a lengthy period–how? Because he was able to look and act pretty much like the average guy. He knew how to fit into society and appear like the rest of us. But his handwriting held clues that pointed to pathological behavior.

Most people agree that the way a person walks says a lot about him. Someone who swaggers into a room, for example, has a very different personality from one who diffidently creeps along, hugging the wall. Researchers tell us that facial expressions are interpreted the same way the world over, and one’s tone of voice indicates his mood. Similarly, handwriting is a projective behavior akin to body language, tone of voice, and facial expression, and it reveals a important information about motivation and personality, the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Having said that, let me be very clear that there is no such thing as a “criminal handwriting.” In an attempt to identify patterns of similarity in the handwritings of serial killers, I examined the handwritings of a number of notorious murderers. What I discovered was, there was no direct “this-means-that” correlation of a personality trait to a handwriting characteristic; it was far more subtle than that.

It would have been handy if we could neatly package up a syndrome of traits and instantly identify a serial killer or any other type of criminal, but what actually manifests in handwriting are red flags for certain types of pathological behavior, or the potential for it. Because what we see written on a sheet of paper is like a photograph of the past, the handwriting professional can make some extrapolations, but cannot absolutely predict future behavior.

With the exception of Wesley Allan Dodd, the handwritings available for my examination were written after incarceration, when these men and women were forced to toe the mark and curb their deadly appetites. The restraint they had to practice–the need to follow strict prison rules–had an effect on their handwriting, making it appear far more rigid and controlled than in the time leading up to a kill, when their murderous rage was building to a breaking point.

Robert Joseph Long, mentioned in the introduction to this article, has been described as “shockingly brutal.” He beat, raped, and strangled his victims. Long’s handwriting is rigid to an extreme, seen in the tight, angular forms, which indicates a lack of emotional release. Positive emotional release would be seen in a balance of rounded and angular forms. Note the extremely long t-crosses. This straight horizontal movement, combined with the rigidity, reveals his need to dominate and control others.

Wesley Allan Dodd, executed at his own request by hanging in 1993, kept a diary during the time he was killing little boys. His handwriting during the time leading up to a killing is far more “released” (though not in a positive way) and expansive than the second sample, written after he was convicted. You don’t have to be a handwriting expert to see the difference in the two samples. The second one is reminiscent of Bob Long’s, highly controlled and rigid, while the first is out of control.

Serial murder is not confined to male perpetrators. Aileen Wuornos, the subject of the movie, Monster, was executed in 2002 for the deaths of seven men. Christine Slaughter Falling (talk about an appropriate name!), whose handwriting appears below, is a very different personality type, but just as deadly. She was accused of killing at least six infants and toddlers she babysat, and was convicted of three counts of murder in 1982, receiving a life sentence that made her eligible for parole in 25 years. In an interview for CNN in 1992, Falling was asked what she would do if released. Her answer: she would like to babysit again, because, “I love kids to death.” She was denied parole in 2006.

Her handwriting sample, written after 10 years of incarceration, is the polar opposite of Dodd’s and Long’s. The extreme roundedness of the writing and the large size, suggest an egocentric person who was constantly seeking love and approval (though clearly, not in healthy ways). The letters “M” on “Me” and “R” on “really” are made in such a way that they look like an X. Such forms are often made by people with a death consciousness, sometimes by one who has experienced a death close to them, or perhaps have received a serious diagnosis of physical illness. In Falling’s case, perhaps her responsibility for the deaths of several young children was on her mind–though not her conscience. This handwriting specimen wasn’t made by someone with a conscience.

Another fairly rare characteristic in Falling’s handwriting is seen in some of the upper loops, such as the “l” on “letter,” which are made in the shape of a candle flame. The flame-shaped upper loop is often seen in one who has sustained a blow to the head. It’s known that when Christine was 8 years old, her mother (who was a 16 year-old-prostitute when Christine was born), hit her in the head with a two-by-four, after which she began having seizures. These flame-shaped loops are often created by those who tend to see the world quite differently than most of us do.

Most, if not all, serial killers came from childhoods where they were abused and/or neglected. Yet, comparatively few abused children grow up to be killers or engage in other types of crime. Many factors, both nature and nurture come into play. Genetics, environment, and the individual’s personal responses to a variety of experiences blend together to determine the outcome.

Handwriting, like personality, is made up of thousands of variables. In order to make any kind of objective assessment, it is important to study the whole picture, not just bits and pieces. The characteristics described above were viewed within the context of larger samples of writing, and are intended only as an teaser to what kinds of information is revealed. Handwriting cannot tell everything about the writer, but it can open a window into the mind, both of the criminal and the “normal” person. Some psychologists find it helps them to get a rapid grasp on what makes a person tick–whether the writer is motivated by the need for power, the need for security, the need to be loved, etc. Especially when used in conjunction with other personality assessment instruments, handwriting analysis can be an important tool for understanding the human psyche.

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* Any typos are all mine (Lee). I posted this last night in a hotel lobby at midnight. Sorry, Sheila.

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Author T. Lynn Ocean: Stopping Power

Unsure of what she wanted to be after college, T. Lynn explored various careers including commercial tread rubber sales and retail management. For one summer, her job was to scare people at a haunted house, but that was a long time ago. Most recently, she was a television producer for several years before leaving the corporate career world so that she could make stuff up on a fulltime basis.

She also writes freelance and her articles appear in regional magazines across the country. (To read a few, click on the ‘Musings’ tab.)

When not vacuuming up pet hair, T. Lynn enjoys photography, doing absolutely nothing anywhere with a terrific view, and taking impromptu road trips in the name of research.

T. Lynn is also a certified firearms safety instructor and shooting sports enthusiast. She lives in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina with her husband and a few furry critters.

T. Lynn Ocean:

Put most any man (who is not a seasoned gun collector) in front of a gun counter, tell him to pick one, and chances are good that he’ll go for the largest caliber thing he sees. It must be a guy thing. Take, for example, the 2007 NRA Gun of the Year: a Smith & Wesson 460XVR revolver that uses magnum loads. (Friends of the NRA hosts fundraising banquets around the country and they always choose a gun, knife, and print of the year, which become collector items.) FYI, if you haven’t seen one, this gun is huge! Of course, the NRA goes out of their way to be female friendly, but I’d guess that it was an all-male committee who chose the .460 SW Magnum as their coveted gun of the year.

Touted as the highest velocity revolver in the world, this gun has an extra large frame, weighs more than 5 pounds when loaded, and has an overall length of 15″.

I’m no ballistics expert, but generally speaking, the higher the caliber, the more recoil. And the more recoil, the less controllability a shooter has, especially anything beyond the first shot.

Why on earth would any woman (fictional character or otherwise) carry a weapon that will beat her up when she shoots it? Many law enforcement folks—including my local PD—use .40 caliber Glocks for their duty weapons. I shot one at the indoor range last month and literally stopped before I even emptied the magazine. Can you say, ouch! I shot with a firm, two handed grip and well balanced stance. But my wrist really hurt after only six or seven rounds. My shooting buddy, a guy, agreed that the recoil was rough. But he quickly added that the Glock’s recoil didn’t bother him. Of course it didn’t. His wrists are the size of drink coasters. The ‘kick’ factor might not bother most men, but if I were a female officer toting around a .40 Glock, I couldn’t begin to imagine what my wrist and arm would feel like after target practice. Not only would I not want to practice, but I’d dread doing so. I liken it to asking a marathon runner to train in high heels.

Law enforcement decision-makers must take into account many factors when doing a weapons buy. But for your average private investigator, retail store manager, lawyer, grandma, or jewel thief who carries a weapon, there is absolutely no reason to adhere to the old adage: the bigger the caliber the better.

Like everything else—from golf clubs to passenger tires—improved technology has made handgun ammunition much more effective than ever before. Stopping power IS available with smaller caliber weapons.

Most everyone is familiar with JHP, or jacketed hollow-points. Such bullets, as the name suggests, have a hollowed out space in the nose and are designed to ‘mushroom’ out, or expand upon impact. The development of hollow-point ammo was one giant step in creating good stopping power for lower caliber weapons. As an added benefit, the expanded chunk of lead is less likely to go all the way through the bad guy, and if it does, chances are it won’t have enough velocity to maim an innocent passerby.

9mm fired: A 9mm Hydra-Shok bullet that was fired into water jugs

Even better is the relatively new Hydra-Shok technology, available in Federal Premium ammo. (You’ll hear it called hydroshock among other names, but note that Hydra-Shok is a registered trademark.) Bottom line? Take a hollow-point bullet and add a small post in the center of it. The result is even MORE—yes more—stopping power. It’s something to do with energy transfer and penetration and the fact that the human body is about 60% water. I’m told that, even if the assailant is hit in the arm or leg rather than at center mass, a Hydra-Shok bullet will bring him down. Plus, most shooters in a self defense situation will keep pulling the trigger until the threat has been eliminated. Even cops with .40 caliber Glocks don’t stop after one shot when their life is on the line.

9mm Round: A 9mm Hydra-Shok round. It’s hard to see, but note the center post sticking up in the hollowed cavity. Also note the scored edges–these are the points where the bullet will rip open upon impact.

I just got the newly-introduced Ruger SR9 and love it. It’s slim and sexy and has a magazine capacity of 17 rounds. And loaded with Hydra-Shok, this 9mm has plenty of stopping power for any run-of-the-mill self defense situation. (Meaning you’re not up again terrorists with shoulder mounted rocket launchers.) Best of all, I shot about 200 rounds through the SR9 during one practice session, and went home with a happy wrist.

Ruger SR9: The Ruger SR9’s overall length is just over 7.5″ and its width is a surprising 1.27″. In the interest of safety, I must mention that the early production SR9s have been recalled due to possibly firing if dropped. It’s an easy fix and Ruger is giving a free magazine to those affected. But if you’re running out to purchase one, check the serial number first. You can find recall info at ruger.com.

A good firearms instructor will offer this advice to anyone shopping for a self defense gun: Buy the biggest caliber that you can comfortably and accurately handle. I always add a few additional words of advice: Buy something that you will not only practice with, but enjoy shooting. I’ve found that if a person enjoys shooting a particular gun, they’re much more apt to practice with it.

That means that women—including your gun-toting female characters—might want to forget about “bigger is better” and go with a smarter choice. Let’s face it. We just don’t have the upper body strength that a man does. Our forearms don’t have the same muscle mass, even if we are eating all our spinach. And most of us don’t have wrists the size of coasters. Why deal with uncomfortable recoil when we don’t have to?

Of course, if your character is in law enforcement, they may not have a choice as to what they carry on the job. And on the opposite end of the spectrum is the proverbial professional assassin who carries a small .22 since they know how to administer a well-placed head shot at point blank range. If done right, the low velocity bullet bounces around inside the skull enough to cause fatal damage.

But for the rest of us, a 9 millimeter, a .38, or even a .380 loaded with Hydra-Shok ammo should do just fine.

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You can visit T. Lynn Ocean at www.tlynnocean.com

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We’ve just been informed that Earle Hagen, the writer (and whistler) of the Andy Griffith Show theme song died yesterday at age 88.

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Weekend Road Trip: Twin Falls, Washington

The hike up to the twin falls is a journey into another dimension. Towering evergreens and thick brush surround the entrance to the trail. Civilization is soon a million miles away. No cars, no ringing cell phones. The only sound is the occasional bird alerting others of approaching humans.

Moss-covered trees lean out into the path, their mossy fingers stretching, guiding passing hikers deeper into the woods.

The trails wind around, through, and over streams as clear as polished glass. The smell of wet stones and cool mud punctuates crisp morning air.

Soon, the earth begins to gently tremble beneath the hiker’s feet. The air fills with moisture as they near the falls.

Foamy, whitewater explodes at the head of the stream.

The falls send milky tendrils of water crashing to pools 100 feet below.

The watery fingers sway and dance with the ever-changing mountain breezes.

Standing, listening to the symphony of rushing waters, a bald eagle is heard screeching from above, a signal that it’s time to begin the long walk out, plunging back into the sea of green.

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Friday’s Heroes: Above and Beyond The Call of Duty

5-21-08 Joliet, Illinois Police Officer Richard Trafton received his department’s highest award this week, the prestigious Murrin Medal, as well as other Heroism and Lifesaving Awards. Officer Trafton saved the life of fellow police officer, Mike Sheridan, who had been stabbed twice during a scuffle with a violent offender. Trafton quickly pulled Sheridan to safety, and was then attacked by the same knife-wielding suspect. Officer Trafton was able to draw his service weapon and stopped the threat. Officer Sheridan received a Purple Heart during the same ceremony.

5-20-08 A 35 year old Harper Woods, Michigan police officer went well above the call of duty when he pushed two civilians to safety before he was struck by an out of control car. The unidentified officer saw the car careening toward the pair and quickly shoved them out of harms way. The officer was hit in the hip and back, but is expected to fully recover.

5-16-08 Roanoke, Virginia Police Officer Brian Lawrence was severely injured while attempting to arrest two suspects who’d assaulted a female. Officer Lawrence was paralyzed as a result of his injuries. It’s not known at this time if the paralysis is permanent. Police have not released details of Officer Lawrence’s injuries, but a search warrant filed in Roanoke’s Circuit Court (probably to retrieve evidence from the suspects) indicates a shoe print was visible on the officer’s head. Both suspects have been arrested and charged with malicious wounding of an officer.

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