Penfield man finds clues on paper
CYNTHIA BASSETT/Messenger Post Staff September 24, 2002
Handwriting expert Donald Lacy's list of cases includes the JonBenet Ramsey homicide.
PENFIELD - After Donald Lacy of Penfield examined the ransom note that JonBenet Ramsey's parents said was left by the murderer of their 6-year-old daughter, he came to a different conclusion.
He concluded that the scrawled writing, though disguised, belonged to Patsy Ramsey, mother of the young Colorado girl slain in 1996.
Darnay Hoffman, a New York City lawyer, hired Lacy, a certified forensic document examiner, to determine who had written the ransom note when he brought several civil cases against the Ramseys on behalf of the Boulder, Colo. Police Department.
The cases are pending, but Lacy, who has been a self-employed handwriting analyst since 1974, now has a national reputation as one of the foremost forensic document examiners.
His expertise was developed during a long government career that included stints as a forensic medical examiner, special agent and special investigator.
Lacy, 74, has worked in counterfeit detection, counter-intelligence and technical surveillance for the FBI and the Office of Special Investigations.
Born in Chicago, Lacy grew up in Rochester before his work took him and his wife, Jessie, of 36 years, all over the world.
But he's pretty blasé about his international assignments - even when they involved KGB agents under surveillance.
"Everyone thinks of it like a cloak-and-dagger operation," Lacy said. "But sometimes it was pleasant. If the KGB agent we were following stopped for a beer, we'd have one, too."
Lacy was trained to be a document examiner in 1985 by the U.S. Secret Service Document School at the federal training center in Georgia. He said that many people mistake his aptitude with graphology, the study of handwriting to determine possible character traits.
In handwriting analysis, Lacy studies everything from the size and slant of letters, line flow and rhythm to personal embellishments, including where the "T" is crossed, to determine authorship of the writing on checks, titles, wills and other contested documents.
"Although handwriting is not as reliable as fingerprints, it still reveals personal idiosyncrasies," said Lacy.
He uses infrared lights and sometimes chemical analysis of the ink to discover if the writing has been changed on documents.
Fairport Police Chief Brian Page used Lacy's services recently on a criminal investigation.
While Page said he'd never used a handwriting analyst before, Lacy's work certainly proved beneficial, even though the investigation on this particular case is continuing. "Mr. Lacy narrowed our suspects down from six possible to two probable ones," said Page.
Lacy has testified as an expert witness many times over the years in criminal court cases. In one case involving a suspected felon, he determined a man had changed the will of his godmother, naming himself as beneficiary.
Lacy said his findings also led to the conviction of a man in her drowning death, too.
Another peculiar case concerned a man who claimed a check cashed for a large sum of money contained a forged signature, even though the bank manager said the person cashing it looked exactly like the claimant.
As it turned out, an estranged twin brother had forged the signature and cashed the check.
"Even though they looked exactly alike, their handwriting didn't match," said Lacy.
Lacy also said he verified the authenticity of an 1894 antique car designed by Frank Duryea before it sold for $200,000 at Christy's auction house. He matched the writing from just three words contained on the car's floorboard to two personal letters written by Duryea in 1839 and 1842 to determine that both handwritings were his.
A few years ago, during a gas station robbery in Greece, the clerk was shot and killed. The suspected killer was arrested with a note in his possession that he claimed was his writing.
Lacy proved the note's writing belonged to the victim because it matched the handwritten worksheets she wrote at the gas station.
"He took the paper during the robbery because most crooks aren't usually too smart," said Lacy. "That's why we're in business."
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