When it emerged last week, the handwriting of the young man who murdered 12 and wounded 58 in the Aurora movie theater massacre was no surprise to me. It confirmed what I had suspected after listening to the scraps of his story made available in the undeniably unreliable media.
Although I am not licensed to make a medical or psychological diagnosis, I am qualified to describe behavior as it manifests in handwriting. Before saying anything about the writing sample, however, I have to state very forcefully that no single element, letter, or stroke of handwriting means anything by itself. Just as you see the whole person, not a collection of body parts, the writing must be viewed as a whole entity in order to understand the writer. Secondly, many people share handwriting characteristics with Holmes, but they will never plot mass murder because those characteristics are put together differently. In other words, context is everything.
What Holmes’ handwriting reveals in this small sample is that at the time of writing he was literally going to pieces. His writing is simplified, which indicates good intelligence. It switches between styles—printing/writing/printing—not in itself a red flag for danger, but the way he does it in this sample demonstrates volatility. In addition, the breakdown of forms in the area handwriting analysts refer to as the “middle zone” points to serious problems.
The middle zone is the area where you find vowels, s,m,n, etc., the parts of letters that don’t ascend or descend. It represents, among other things, one’s ego; it’s where you live. When the middle zone breaks down or “threads out,” it’s a symptom of one who is losing touch with reality. The ego is so stressed that he can’t take anymore. (Please understand, these comment are in no way intended to excuse his actions, but simply to describe what was going on inside him when he wrote in his notebook.)
An important element of handwriting is the degree of pressure exerted by the pen on the paper. Although we cannot tell the absolute pressure from a photocopy, the writing in this sample appears to be extremely light-pressured (“extremely” is the keyword). What is true of such personalities is that they have trouble seeing the whole picture. Everything seems to crowd in on them and their perspective is negatively affected. People with very light pressure cannot afford to allow emotional situations to affect them too deeply because they don’t have the emotional resources to deal with them. They skim the surface of life as much as possible, not dealing with problems until they build up such a head of steam that finally, something’s got to give. When the pressure varies a great deal, the writer tends to become carried away by his emotions.
Another area that points to problems is in the lower zone—the strokes that descend below the middle zone: the loops on g,y,p, etc. In Holmes’ writing, these strokes pull to the left, back toward the past, toward mother. People who do this have been shown to have a very strong need for nurturing (“looking for mothering”). But in addition, in the middle paragraph, line 3, first word—not sure what it says, but it appears to start with a “g” that looks like a hook and is badly malformed. This type of form is often used by people who live with a great deal of unexpressed anger and frustration.
In the word “back,” 3rd paragraph, 1st line, the “k” is split into two separate parts that don’t touch. Research has shown that, along with other characteristics, such as mixing certain types of printed and cursive writing, split forms are seen in those who have social problems and who tend to be impulsive and unfocused. That is, lacking the capacity to properly handle stress or make good moral judgments, such a person is likely to do whatever it takes to relieve the pressure.
In Holmes’ case, no one, including a handwriting examiner, could predict that he would do what he did. It’s possible that he is, as the media reports, a diagnosed schizophrenic, in which case, if he was unmedicated, he may well have been hearing voices telling him what to do. If so, that will come out in court. But one thing a handwriting examiner could have said in advance: his handwriting displays definite red flags for pathology.
Sheila Lowe has a Master of Science in psychology and is a court-qualified forensic handwriting examiner. She is licensed by the Board of Behavioral Sciences in the state of California to provide continuing education to marriage and family therapists. She is also the author of the Forensic Handwriting Mysteries and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Handwriting Analysis, among many other works.
*As always, the opinions and views shared by guest bloggers are not necessarily those of The Graveyard Shift.