Fitzgerald – Uncovering staged suicide

The FORGE is delighted to announce our first ever external guest speaker: James R. Fitzgerald. Jim is a retired FBI Supervisory Special Agent who, during his long career in the FBI, worked on high profile cases such as those of the Unabomber, Jon Benet Ramsey, and the D.C. Sniper. Details of his talk are below:

Uncovering staged suicide: Case studies in authorship attribution

Although the academic analysis of suicide-related communications often centers on attempting to identify indicators of victim intent (e.g. actual suicide vs. ‘cry for help’), it is more important to first determine whether such communications were indeed authored by the victim or whether the apparent suicide and related communications were staged in an attempt to cover up a murder or attempted murder. Hence, alleged written suicide communications should never be assessed in isolation but rather in comparison with known writings of the victim and, if the investigation dictates, with the known writings of others who may be suspects in the authorship of the communication and/or the actual death.

In 2007, three separate homicides/homicide attempts in the United States, in Pennsylvania, New York, and Virginia, were initially handled as suicides, as each crime scene included an alleged suicide communication. However, in each case factors emerged that suggested homicide (and, in one case, attempted homicide). In each case, forensic linguistic comparison of the alleged suicide communication with documents known to be authored by the victim and by suspected perpetrators yielded invaluable evidence indicative of inconsistency of the ‘suicide’ notes with the victims’ known writings and/or consistency with those of the suspects. Each case resulted in an arrest for the charge of homicide and the eventual successful conviction of each.

In this presentation, I outline the forensic linguistic analyses conducted in connection with these cases, demonstrating the efficacy of qualitative and quantitative forensic stylistic methods of authorial attribution focusing on such features as punctuation, orthography and lexical usages.

Jim Fitzgerald remains an active criminal profiler and forensic linguist with The Academy Group, Inc., even after retiring with 20 years in the FBI, as well as 11 years before that as a police officer/detective/sergeant. During his law enforcement career he successfully investigated numerous homicides, sexual assaults, and other violent crimes, as well as matters of international notoriety to include the Unabom, Anthrax, and DC Sniper cases as profiler and/or linguist. Jim serves as adjunct professor at two U.S. universities, lectures at others both nationally and internationally, is one of two technical advisors for CBS-TV’s Criminal Minds, and is co-host and executive producer of A&E’s Killer Profile. Jim’s memoir of his early years, A Journey to the Center of the Mind, Book I, was published in September 2014 by Infinity Publishing, Inc.

1600-1700, Mon 03rd Nov 2014, Management School Lecture Theatre 1

Lancaster University staff members and students, and invited external guests are welcome to attend.