Inside the Questioned Documents Unit

The unit at the FBI Laboratory is best known for handwriting analysis, but that’s just one of many types of exams it performs. Uncovering bogus sports memorabilia is another.

Video Transcript

Diana Harrison, Unit Chief, Questioned Documents Unit:
I’m Diana Harrison, unit chief of the Questioned Documents Unit. In this unit examiners conduct examinations and comparisons on handwriting, hand-printing, typewriting, watermark searches, printing processes, shoeprint, tire tread, plastic bags, and a variety of other items to determine the authenticity or origin of that item.

It’s one of the oldest units in the Laboratory. It was established in 1932. It starts all the way back to the Lindbergh baby kidnapping where they identified the handwriting of the kidnapper, and ends up to current times with cases such as a the collar bomb, the Amerithrax, the BTK cases.

The unit handles practically every major cases that’s come in, has come through this unit, whether it be for documents or shoe print because every case leaves a paper trail. Everything leaves a paper trail. So we usually see something that we may not think is significant—one part of it that we’ll never see anything in this major case—and we get evidence in the major case.

Pete Belcastro, examiner, Questioned Documents Unit:
Operation Bullpen was an investigation conducted by the FBI that started in 1999 and it ran through 2005/2006 timeframe. And during that time it involved the acquisition of fraudulent sports memorabilia, also fraudulent memorabilia from musicians, movie stars, and presidential items as well.

This particular piece involved Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, and Ted Williams. A framed artifact that contained fraudulent signatures. We often had to determine whether they were fraudulent based on the materials used, such as the ink, the baseballs that were being used, or the bats that were being written on. So a lot of times we had to date materials in order to actually determine if the item was indeed fraudulent.

And in fact many items, like the one you see behind me here, are on loan to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum for an exhibit that they plan on conducting in 2011.

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