Linguist for the Prosecution


  • Robert D. Eagleson


In 1981, a Sydney husband was arrested on a charge of homicide. When originally interviewed by the police, he had produced a six-page letter which he claimed had been written by his wife as a farewell to the children. Among other things the letter explained that the wife was leaving home to live with another man elsewhere. As the police could not find the wife's body, the authenticity of the letter became critical. Although the police were suspicious, any possibility of arguing for its genuineness would have seriously undermined the other evidence. Because the letter had been typed on the family typewriter, and because the husband insisted that the wife had written it, the likely authorship was reduced to either the wife or the husband. As the letter was completely typewritten without even a signature, it could not be subjected to the usual handwriting tests. However, the police were able to obtain a reasonable amount of material that had been written by both the husband and the wife in the months preceding the event. It became a question of comparing the disputed letter with other writings of the husband and wife to see which one was the likely author.