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).

NB: If anyone has trouble posting a comment, email it to doktorgosh (at), and I'll post it for you.

Notice to readers of my Kindle book: I recently noticed that, on certain devices (though not all), the Table of Contents begins with Chapter One and omits the Introduction and Preface. Since the Introduction is especially important, I urge everyone to make sure to begin reading at the very beginning of the book, not the first chapter in the Table of Contents. Thank you.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The "Experts" See Patsy - Part 6: David Liebman

Cina Wong's teacher and mentor, David Liebman, appears to have excellent credentials indeed, as he is (or was) president of the National Association of Document Examiners. However, there is absolutely nothing in the brief report he prepared for Darnay Hoffman that could not have been achieved by a diligent amateur.

He states his conclusion at the outset: "with a probability of 90-95%, . . . Patsy Ramsey is the ransom note writer."

As with the others, his report begins with a listing of the same questionable Patsy Ramsey exemplars used by all Hoffman's "experts": the same (longhand) letter to Miss Kitt, the same (longhand) greeting card, and the same assortment of random, brief, odds and ends, gleaned, apparently, from a Ramsey family photo album.

The report itself is something of a mess, due either to Liebman's carelessness or a problem with the way it's presented at the ACandyRose website, where I found it. For example, under the heading "Consistencies between the "Ransom" note and the known exemplars," we find the following line: "The dot is placed below the base line." That's it. No attempt to identify the dot in question, where it's found in the ransom note or what it's supposed to match. My guess is that he's referring to the dots under the exclamation points after the word "Victory" in the note and the last sentence of the letter to Miss Kitt. But he makes no attempt to explain why such a resemblance would be significant, especially since he makes no effort to determine whether such usage is a common feature of either the note or Patsy's writing in general.

Equally confusing is the next line: "QP3L 66; KlP2. The center strokes of the capital "W" are retraced." According to Liebman, Q refers to the Questioned Document, P to the page number and L to the line number, while K refers to the "Known Exemplars," i.e. Patsy's exemplars. So, according to this code QP3L 66 refers to page 3 line 66 of the ransom note and K1P2 refers to page 2 of K1, the letter to Miss Kitt. However, there is no capital W on page 3 of the ransom note, and p. 2 of the letter contains four. Moreover, Liebman doesn't bother to explain what he means by "retraced," so even when we try to compare the various capital "W"s from the various documents it's unclear what to look for, especially since there is no visible sign of retracing anywhere. Also Liebman makes no attempt to explain why such a retracing is meaningful or distinctive in a manner that makes it worth considering in the first place.

The line after the next reads as follows:
QL 12; K3. The 2nd downstroke of the "X" is higher than the lst. QL66; KlLl3. The spacing between words in the Q and the other documents is great. The left margin decreases downward. 
Since there are only two "x"s in the ransom note, and, as far as I can tell, only one in Patsy's exemplars, we can ignore the QL12 and K3, which, again, are inaccurate. The first "x" in the note is in the word "exhausting" on p. 1 and the second in the word "execution" on p. 2. And, yes, it does look like the 2nd strokes of both are higher than the first ones. A very prominent "X" is visible in K4, a sign exhibiting the text "Ramsey Xmas" in large block letters. And in that "X" also we find the second stroke to be higher than the first, at least at the bottom.

I'd like to dwell on this comparison for a bit, as it tells us something about the mindset of Mr. Liebman -- and by extension the other members of Hoffman's team, whose methods tend to be similar. Liebman claims to have found "fifty one (51) points of comparison and similarity, which is a very high number," and presumably this similarity is one of them. But should it really count as a similarity in the sense that it might have any significance at all? Note that Liebman does not claim the letters themselves look similar -- and in fact they look completely different, as do the words of which they are a part. The "similarity" consists only in the observation that the second stroke is higher than the first. But what can this mean?

Consider all the various letter "x"s to be found in all the documents written by, say, all Americans during the year 1996. One might assume that in some the first stroke would be higher, in others the second stroke would be higher, and in the rest the two strokes would be about the same height. Assuming there is no American bias in favor of any one type of letter "x," it seems safe to say that literally billions if not trillions of letter "x"s penned that year by Americans resemble the "x"s in both the note and in Patsy's exemplar, in that the second stroke is higher than the first. Since this is obviously such a common point of resemblance among literally millions of individuals, how could it possibly have any significance in linking Patsy to the ransom note, and how could it possibly count as one of his "very high number" of "points of comparison and similarity"?

Moving to the second "similarity" on this line, regarding the spacing of the words, all he says is that it is "great." Since he has apparently not gone to the trouble of actually measuring these spaces, it's clear this is a purely subjective observation, which is in fact misleading. The spacing between words in the ransom note is pretty consistently the equivalent of three letters in width, while the spacing in Patsy's letter to Miss Kitt varies between three and two. In other words, the two documents are not similar in this respect, because the note exhibits consistently wide between-word spacing while the spacing in Patsy's letter is inconsistent, varying between wide and normal.

The third "similarity" noted on this line echoes Cina Wong's blatant error regarding margin drift: "The left margin decreases downward." This is certainly true of both Patsy's letter and her card. Margin drift is a distinctive feature of her style. And as such should be counted as a difference rather than a similarity (assuming Liebman was looking for differences, which clearly he wasn't), since the left margin of the ransom note is perfectly vertical, with no sign of drift in either direction.

So on this one single line we find three points of "similarity" that are either meaningless (as in the "x") or simply inaccurate, as with the line spacing and margin drift.

Need I continue? Through the rest of his report, Liebman is very clearly cherry picking based on anything and everything he can find that's similar in any way, without making any attempt to determine what might be so special or distinctive about such similarities that makes them meaningful. What's especially revealing is that there is literally nothing in any of these comparisons that could not have been done by a complete amateur, picking and choosing among various features for anything of Patsy's that might look in some way like something in the ransom note. As with Hoffman's other "experts," there is no attempt to draw on any specialized knowledge regarding, for instance, the statistical likelihood of certain letter forms appearing coincidentally in the writings of two different people, or any standards for deciding whether any two exemplars should be regarded as significantly similar or different from one another.

What a farce!


  1. I had read this when you first posted it. Looking back over it, as I delve deeper into the handwriting "expertise" it seems clear that QDEs simply offer a subjective non-scientific opinion of no real value.

    I wonder if Hoffman hired so many experts because the sheer number of opinions might seem to carry more weight?

    In reality of course, several subjective non-scientific opinions are of no more value than one.

    1. Yes indeed. Especially if the result is already a foregone conclusion, since nailing Patsy is what they were recruited to do.