Newcomers to this blog are advised to begin with the first two posts, Just the Facts, Ma'am and Case Solved, which explain in very general terms why I believe I've solved this case. Some important questions are answered in the following post, Misunderstandings, Misconceptions, Misdirections. After that feel free to browse whatever topics might interest you (see blog archive).

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Thursday, August 2, 2012

Ruled Out -- Part 3: Courier New

It occurred to me some time ago that the "ransom" note may have been originally typed on a word processor and then traced or copied onto the note pad. It would have made it easier to compose the note in the first place, without having to constantly cross words out to make corrections. (There are only a very few corrections in the final copy.) More importantly, this would also have been a very clever way for the writer to disguise his hand. I fiddled with various fonts and settings and got some interesting results, but nothing that fit exactly.

This morning I decided to give it one more try. Assuming the experts were comparing specific characteristics pertaining to lettering and spacing, then a document copied from a computer font might well have fooled them. I went back to the drawing board and lo and behold, it didn't take all that much time for me to find what looks to me like a pretty good match. After a few trials and errors using Microsoft Word, I hit on the following format: Courier New, font size 11, with a left margin of .5 and a right margin of 4.7. Typing the first paragraph of the note with this setting automatically produces a line by line layout identical to that of the original (I didn't use the Enter key at any time). This even includes use of the Tab key on the first line. I consistently left two spaces after each period, except for line 7, which required a single space after "posession." in order to fit.

I then tried different scalings of the original note until I got one that more or less corresponded to  what I had typed. And lo and behold, when I placed each line of the original below my typed copy, there was a remarkable similarity, of both letter form and spacing. (NB: the spacing between the words in the original note is unusually wide, but corresponds quite well, generally, with that of the Courier New font.) I altered nothing in either the typed copy or the original. The only thing I changed was the scaling, so the two would be comparable.

Here's what I came up with:

I haven't yet experimented with the rest of the note, but what I came up with so far is so interesting I thought I'd share it now. Even if the rest doesn't line up quite so well as the beginning, I still think this could represent a significant new piece of evidence. There is certainly a very close correspondence between the design of the font and the formation of the letters in the note.

[Added 8-4-12: After continuing my comparison I discovered that the similarities of both format and word spacing continue on lines 11 through 15 but from line 16 on the correspondence breaks down. Interestingly this is the case with both the line by line and word by word formatting.]

Regardless of what the authorities might think of this particular bit of sleuthing, I feel very strongly that in order for this investigation to go forward, the original group of handwriting examiners should be questioned, separately of course, on the following issues:

1.  What was your original conclusion regarding your comparison of John Ramsey's exemplars with the writing on the note?

2. Did you conclude initially that he could not have written it, or was your conclusion based on what another examiner said? Was there any dispute regarding this among the various examiners?

3. Did you feel any pressure to agree with the others so there would be a 100% consensus?

4. On what basis was your decision made? What standards of questioned document analysis enable an examiner to conclude with confidence that a particular person could not have written a document such as the Ramsey "ransom" note? Are your conclusions based principally on resemblance? How do you take into account the possibility of deception (such as for example the use of a computer font as a model)?

5. Was the legal statement of John Ramsey's I presented earlier on this blog, which is also analyzed on Fausto Brugnatelli's blog, one of the exemplars you examined? If not, are you aware of it?

6. What do you make of the comparison I've provided here, that suggests the writer might have imitated or traced a computer font? If that were indeed the case, would it have a bearing on your decision to rule John out?


  1. If it were traced, it would seem to me the alignment would be better, and that the letters would be formed better. OTOH, if it were copied, the spacing should probably be closer.

    I had never noticed the spacing before, but it does seem unusually wide.

  2. Only one line is seriously out of alignment, and that could be due to readjustment. The only other misalignment is on the word "to" toward the end, which could also have been a readjustment.

    As for the formation of the words, I doubt he'd have bothered to duplicate them exactly, just to use the font as a rough guide.

    I checked the rest of the document and only the next five lines work. After than the alignment gets off. So it's hard to say what to make of this matchup. It's possible he could have used a slightly different font or different font size than the one I used or that his word processor interpreted the fonts in a slightly different manner. Nevertheless, I wonder how many other hand printed documents one could find that would correspond so closely to the formatting of a computer font for so many lines.

    And yes, the spacing of the note is odd, but corresponds very closely to that of the Courier New font.

    As I see it, this demonstrates not only that John could have copied a font, but more fundamentally, how easy it might be to print a document in such a way as to throw the "experts" off the scent. My real point is that these experts themselves need to be investigated, and challenged to demonstrate that they took all such possibilities into account when they ruled out the principal suspect.

    1. If this was originally typed on a computer, couldn't further analysis of thecomputer prove either way? Doesn't the computer save xopies of written text in memory, whether they are "deleted" or not?

    2. My version of MS Word automatically saves copies of my text every few minutes, yes. But that's an option that can easily be turned off. John was a computer professional so he'd have known about that. In any case, I doubt the investigators even bothered to look for the note in his computer. They were looking for porn, which was not found.

  3. Excellent investigation. From your demonstration, it does seem plausible for the writer to copy the typed note to disguise his handwriting. He was probably right-handed but wrote with his left hand. My handwriting resembles the style of the ransom note when I write with my opposite hand. Also, moving my left hand from left side of the paper to right tends to result with wider spacing between words, as my left hand covers the word I have just wrote.


    1. You know, there has been such a focus on Patsy in this respect and so little on John that I wonder whether anyone in the investigation even bothered to check on whether he might be ambidextrous. I'm not sure whether he's right or left handed. Your point is well taken, though. If he writes normally with his right hand, then using his left hand in this instance might also explain the wide spacing between words. But it doesn't in itself explain the remarkable match with the computer font.

  4. I agree about the spacing. I still think he'd have formed the letters more carefully. Maybe not, but what better way to disguise your own writing? When asked by police to makes some samples there is no way you'd reproduce anything like it. It's a good theory. Might well be true. Like all theories it will have imperfections.

    I'm not sure of the value of questioning the "experts". They aren't going to admit to anything that makes them look bad. It might help people realize that PR doesn't have to be the author.

    1. I'd like to see these "experts" explain their methodology, especially with respect to the criteria laid out in the article quoted in the previous post:

      Whether a theory or technique can be, or has been, tested;

      Whether the theory or technique has been subjected to peer review and publication;

      Whether there is a known or potential rate of error; and

      Whether there are standards controlling the technique’s operation

      I would ask them also to explain on what scientific basis it is possible to determine with absolute certainty that someone so closely involved in the case could not possibly have written that note.

      I would like also to know exactly what went on while they were making their determinations, whether the people hired by John's lawyers were present when the "independent" experts were examining the exemplars and whether they influenced one another or came to the same conclusion independently. If a Grand Jury were called, they could be subpoenaed and forced to testify under oath. They'd have no choice but to comply.

  5. My first thought about the font overlay was John probably wouldn't have been that careless due to hard drive investigation. Then, I remembered that you used the term "word processor". I used word processors for many years before the PC error but I can't remember anything about their document storage other than the fact that you could save documents of course. I don't remember if a deleted document could still be found by investigative means, do you?

    1. MS Word and probably other word processors as well automatically save backups every few minutes. But this feature can easily be disabled. John was in the computer business, so it can be assumed he knew how to disable it. And he certainly would not have saved it to his hard drive! So there would have been no need to delete it from the hard drive after he'd copied it to paper. He could of course have printed it, but was probably afraid the noise might wake Patsy or Burke. Also the investigators might have been able to trace the printout to his printer.

  6. I was just looking at some exemplars of PR's writing. Specifically the "London Letter" that PR wrote for police. The spacing is quite similar to the RN.

    1. Really? Sorry, I don't see that at all. Here's a link, to refresh your memory:

    2. You're right, I got my exemplers mixed up. The sample letter does have some wider spacing, but not as big as the RN. Her London letter has very tight spacing. The Dear Miss Kitt letter has some wide spacing, but not uniformly through the whole letter. The "Hi Bob" letter has normal spacing. But now that I look at the RN I'm really only seeing the big spacing between words on page 1, not so much on 2/3.

  7. It makes total sense to me that John's process, once he had decided to stage a kidnapping and therefore needed a ransom note, would go something like this:

    He knows he's stuck with crafting it from materials in the house.
    A lengthy, meticulous process of cutting letters from magazines is too time-consuming, especially considering all he needs to include in the note to control and intimidate Patsy.
    As a computer guy, his mind probably goes straight to the computer, but he knows better than to print a note from his own printer on his own paper.

    So he's stuck writing it longhand. But his mind has already gone to the computer. It makes sense to him to use a font as a template, just to break up his natural tendencies of letter formation, spacing, margins, etc. Using it as a guide will make the note deviate from things he'd already written or would naturally write enough to at the very least lessen the suspicion.

    I also believe John may have felt he could get out of this thing without anyone besides Patsy ever seeing the note. It would have been a bit more difficult if friends got involved to avoid making a photocopy. But he could easily say the kidnappers asked for the ransom note back, and when LE asked if he made a copy, do what he did about so many other things, and claim panic/exhaustion/grief/confusion/stress. In that case, all they'd have had was a description.

    However, he must have known it was possible that police would see the original or a photocopy, in which case he would disguise his writing just enough to make it look not like his, but not deliberately disguised. Because why would an unknown member of a "small foreign faction" go out of his way to hide his handwriting?

    And of course, he made sure to use Patsy's stuff, not his.

    I've heard people say John would never have left the note on the back stairs because only someone intimately knowledgeable about their daily activities would know Patsy uses that staircase, and it points to an inside job. But John had to take that risk - his plan relied on her finding the note, not him, and on her finding it before she realized JB was not in her bed and went poking around the house.

    As for the change in spacing, maybe he thought he "had it down" after the first page and just winged it from there? Maybe he was running out of time? Maybe a combination of these? Who knows?

    I absolutely agree with you that if he hadn't been so publicly and vociferously "RULED OUT" from the get-go, he would have been indicted for this crime long ago. All the facts point to him.

    This was a very interesting post. Thank you for going to the trouble to experiment with this.