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
Did You Blink?
If you watched Dateline NBC on June 14th, you might have seen me-but only if you didn’t blink. A lengthy interview I gave translated to about 30 seconds of air time. Well, that’s TV for you. If you blinked and you would like to know what the interview concerned, here’s the story:
In the summer of 2008, a man calling himself Clark Rockefeller was arrested for the kidnaping of his own little daughter. Claiming to be distraught over his recent divorce and his ex-wife’s decision to move with their child to England, he had duped a limo driver into helping him grab the child from a social worker.
While under arrest, information came to light that this man was connected with John and Linda Sohus, a young couple in San Marino, California, who had disappeared in the mid-1980’s. The Sohus’, who knew “Rockefeller” as Chris Chichester, had been renting a guesthouse to him when they disappeared.
A month or so after John and Linda were last seen, some people acquainted with Linda received postcards from Paris signed “John and Linda” and “Linda and John.” The Sohus’ were never heard from again, but a few years later their story was in the news. Their home had been sold and when the new owners began landscaping the backyard, human remains were discovered-male, presumed to be those of John Sohus. The police sprayed the guest house with Luminal and, no big surprise, found copious amounts of blood.
This may not be news to you-it’s been on TV and splashed all over the Internet for the past few weeks while “Rockefeller”, who is really a German national named Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, was on trial for the kidnaping. Despite pleading insanity, he was convicted on most of the counts against him.
My entry into the case came with a call from Marie Szaniszlo, a reporter at the Boston Herald. She’d acquired some handwriting of Rockefeller’s on an extradition form, and she wanted me, as a forensic handwriting examiner, to tell her what his handwriting revealed about his personality. The writing on the form was printed in all capitals (“block printing”) and there was tremendous variability in the size of the letters. Although the quality of the faxed copy was less than ideal, it was good enough to reveal that Rockefeller appears to have an explosive temper (this was later verified by his ex-wife’s testimony) and is highly impulsive. His signature was illegible, which is often a sign of a desire to hide information about oneself.
I gave Marie my opinion and figured that would be the end of my involvement, but about a month later a call came from Frank Girardot, the managing editor of the Pasadena Star newspaper. He’d obtained a letter and some other items Linda Sohus had written, using her professional name (she was an artist), “Cody,” and he asked me to analyze it. Frank also wanted me to tell him about the handwriting on the Paris postcards, which two other handwriting experts had examined and said did not match Linda’s true, known handwriting.
My first glance at the postcards showed that they did indeed appear to be quite different from Linda’s true, known handwriting. I wrote about Linda/Cody’s writing that she had the easygoing, relaxed quality of a person who wanted to enjoy life and avoid friction whenever possible. There were indications of the type of sensuality that might be expressed by escaping into alcohol, drugs, or sex, which would help her shut out unpleasantness. Another item that caught my attention was that many letters butted up against each other, showing a lack of clear social boundaries, and t-bars that “bowed in,” indicating that she could be coerced.
The writing on the postcards has a tight rhythm, which reveals a need for control. At odds with this characteristic are the wavy lines on some capital letters, which are generally seen in one who smiles a lot and who projects a happy-go-lucky image. The writing is tall but narrow, indicating strong ego needs but reluctance to make demands. Some of the ending strokes curl back over the final letters of words: a need to protect one’s ego. The writer of the postcards came across as friendly and outgoing, but put up barriers between herself and others, revealing little of a personal nature.
Something interesting occurred while I was doing my analyses of these writings. I began to notice important similarities between the writing on the postcards and the known writing of Linda Sohus. Keep in mind, two handwriting experts had already given their opinions that this was not Linda’s handwriting. I personally know and respect one of those experts, but as I continued my own examination I found that I could not agree. One after the other, idiosyncratic features of the handwriting matched up. If only one or two of those features had matched, it would have been less significant, but with about 15 very similar important items in this particular handwriting, it’s unlikely to have been a chance match. I gave my opinions to the Star newspaper that Linda Sohus had written the postcards. Then I pretty much forgot about the case.
Fast forward to earlier this year (2009). A Los Angeles Assistant District Attorney called and said my work on this case was going to be subpoenaed for a grand jury investigation. I explained that I’d never been retained by anyone, but had simply given my opinions to the newspaper. The D.A. said, that’s okay, I would be required to send any findings and reports I had written. So of course, I did.
Since I’d received all the handwritings samples from Frank Girardot at the Star, I called to let him know about the D.A. Before I knew it, he’d written an article about the Grand Jury and within a few hours I’d received calls from several other news outlets, including Dateline NBC. They were preparing a special edition of their show that would be aired following Clark Rockefeller’s trial in Boston, which had just begun. Since, as I’d told the D.A., I wasn’t retained (nobody was paying me for my work), I felt free to discuss my findings with them.
They sent a town car for me and on a Friday afternoon, a charming driver named Marcus took me to the Langham hotel (formerly the Ritz Carlton) in Pasadena. As is usually the case in TV, there were delays and my scheduled 4:00 pm interview actually began around 6:45. It wasn’t tough duty, though, as the person in charge of the production set me up in the fancy-schmancy restaurant and bought me lunch (yummy pumpkin soup and breads to die for, in case you were wondering). Then I went over to the bungalow where they had been taping all the interviews-the place was bigger than my house, cables snaking across the living room floor, bright lights on stands that you don’t see in the finished product.
At their request, I’d prepared a Powerpoint presentation to illustrate my findings. The interview just before mine happened to be with Frank Girardot, and this was the first time we met face-to-face after our phone discussions. I set up my laptop and projector, and met Mike Taibbi, who conducted the interview. Mike is a tall, good-looking guy with a great sense of humor and a non-stop repertoire of fascinating stories about his years with some of the world’s top news reports. In between, he took time to mentor a young intern, encouraging and instructing her in some keys to success in the industry. He was kind enough to comply with my request for a handwriting sample, which will appear in a new non-fiction book I’m writing on handwriting and relationships.
But, blatant self-promotion aside, when I finally got miked up and ready to go, Mike took up the position of Devil’s Advocate and challenged me every step of the way. By the end of my presentation, he seemed to be convinced of my point of view. It was one of the most enjoyable TV interviews I’ve done. In case you blinked, I’ve uploaded my entire Powerpoint presentation to my web site, and welcome you to decide for yourself: Did Linda Sohus write those postcards from Paris?
Let me know what you think: firstname.lastname@example.org