'Sex, Lies and Handwriting' by Michelle Dresbold

Expert shares what our handwriting says about us

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If this review were in my handwriting and not type -- and you had read Pittsburgher Michelle Dresbold's informative and entertaining book about handwriting analysis -- you'd know a lot more about me than I would likely otherwise reveal.

Take that "I" in the preceding sentence. Dresbold, a nationally known handwriting expert from Pittsburgh's East End, says it's the most significant letter in the alphabet because it reflects the writer's self-image.

Among the examples she provides:

An "I" that looks like an "X" shows a self-destructive writer; variations in writing it show an identity crisis; and a bold one indicates an intense, aggressive person.

Furthermore, it can reveal even more personal and intimate characteristics such as the writer's relationship with his mother and father.

And that's just one letter. Elsewhere, she explains how letters have three zones -- upper, middle and lower -- that correspond to our head, heart and physical needs, respectively.

Dresbold shows in detail that how we write letters, words and sentences -- their shape, size, slant and slope -- reveals so much about us, including whether we're liars and disconnected or honest and grounded.

Kurt Weber, Post-Gazette
Michelle Dresbold
Click photo for larger image.   

By Michelle Dresbold with James Kwalwasser
Free Press ($24)



"The truth is," Dresbold writes, "appearances can be deceiving, but handwriting never lies."

Because we write with our brain and not with our hand, handwriting actually is "brainwriting," she says.

Dresbold, who holds a degree in psychology and fine arts and is an accomplished artist, took up the craft almost as a lark, but discovered she had a gift for analysis, so good that she's the only civilian ever to receive advanced training by the U.S. Secret Service.

Locally, her clients have included city of Pittsburgh police, the Allegheny County district attorney's office, the county elections division and private attorneys, among others.

In the book, she discusses her work in some local cases, including one in which she told Pittsburgh detectives that printing with purple crayon on a greeting card found in Squirrel Hill and including a printed message deciphered as "please rescue me'' was that of a child between 5 and 7 years old and not an adult trying to write like a child.

After a story and the note appeared in the Post-Gazette, the father of a 6-year-old came forward and told detectives his daughter had written the card while playing with her stuffed animals.

The Post-Gazette has often called upon her, most recently in October to analyze the handwritten suicide note written by Charles Carl Roberts IV before the Lancaster County man committed his slaughter in an Amish schoolhouse.

Dresbold notes in her book, co-edited by James Kwalwasser, also of Pittsburgh, that handwriting analysis is considered so accurate that the FBI, CIA and Mossad, Israel's intelligence agency, use it to build detailed profiles of some of the world's most dangerous individuals.

Readers won't likely be doing that, but they will find themselves using her section, "A Fun Super-Condensed Mini-Course," to analyze their own handwriting and that of their friends and family.

But that's just the first section of the book. Part II teaches about the handwriting signs of "a dirty rotten scoundrel and a lying lover," and such dangerous traits as weapon-shaped letters, shark's teeth, club strokes and felon's claws.

The third section, "Forensic Files," shows how handwriting of the world's most notorious criminals provides insight into their backgrounds, psychological needs and behavior.

Part IV includes Dresbold's engrossing analysis of the writing in three major unsolved murder cases -- JonBenet Ramsey, Lizzie Borden's parents and Jack the Ripper's victims.

Her analysis in those cases and her conclusions about who killed JonBenet, whether Lizzie Borden was guilty in her parents' slayings and the true identity of Jack the Ripper make for compelling reading.

The final section deals with Dresbold's analysis of people who wrote to her for help in her role as "The Handwriting Doctor," her newspaper column that is syndicated internationally.

The cast of characters she introduces in the book, along with their handwriting, is vast. Among them:

Adolf Hitler, Woody Allen, Charles Manson, Michael Jackson, Bill Clinton, Monica Lewinsky, Andrew Carnegie, Osama bin Laden, Ted Bundy, Scott Peterson, Elton John, Timothy McVeigh, Albert DeSalvo, the alleged Boston Strangler, other serial killers and even her mother and herself.

The prose is bright, conversational, witty and not bogged down by technical jargon. And the book is filled with clear handwriting examples of the famous, infamous and regular folks. When Dresbold makes a point about the slant or curve or stroke used to form those handwritten examples, arrows helpfully point to exactly what she's referring to.

This book will have you excitedly minding -- and analyzing -- your "P's" and "Q's" and all the other letters, too.

Richard Nixon's signature, from legible at the time of the 1968 presidential election to a despairing "X" at the time of the Watergate crisis in 1974, from the book "Sex, Lies and Handwriting."

Michael A. Fuoco can be reached at mfuoco@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1968.


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