The Clay Shaw trial testimony of Charles Appel



CHARLES A. APPEL, JR., a witness called by and on behalf of the Defendant, having been first duly sworn, was examined and testified as follows:

Q: Mr. Appel, for the record would you kindly state your full name.

A: Charles Andrew Appel, Jr.

Q: And what is your address, sir?

A: 3383 Stephenson Place, S-t-e-p-h-e-n-s-o-n, N.W., Washington, D.C.

Q: What is your occupation?

A: Document examiner, by which I mean analysis of handwriting to identify writing, analysis of typewriting to identify the machine, analysis of paper and ink for evidence of authenticity.

Q: Now, how did you start in this work, Mr. Appel, and when?

A: Well, while I was employed as a Special Agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, I was assigned to the employment of experts in our work, and because of difficulties with this I was instructed to study the subjects. I took a course, studied a course at Northwestern University, Crime Laboratory. I discovered a skill in this, and I read all the literature and performed research, experiments, and then acted as an apprentice by examining cases which were later examined by qualified examiners until skill had been developed.

Q: Now, what training have you had in this field, Mr. Appel?

A: I just described it. There are no courses in colleges concerning this.

Q: Now, how long were you with the F.B.I., Mr. Appel?

A: I was employed as a Special Agent in 1924, and I retired at the end of 1948.

Q: And particularly what were your duties in connection with the Federal Bureau of Investigation?

A: Well, after becoming qualified in this work, I was instructed by the Director to examine FBI cases, and this I did, from before the formal opening of the Federal Bureau of Investigation laboratory until I retired at the end of 1948. The laboratory was opened in 1932.

Q: Now, since 1948, Mr. Appel, what have you done?

A: I opened my own private laboratory for the examination of cases, civil cases.

Q: Now have you qualified as an expert in the field of questioned documents, that is, handwriting identification, in any courts?

A: I have qualified and testified in every state of the United States except Hawaii, and in Pakistan and in Puerto Rico in person, and by deposition in European and South American countries.

Q: As a matter of fact, have you qualified here in the Criminal District Court for the Parish of Orleans as a handwriting expert?

A: Yes, sir, also the Civil Courts.

Q: Can you name some of the better known cases in which you have participated as a handwriting expert, Mr. Appel?

THE COURT: I don't think that is necessary, Mr. Dymond. May I suggest you permit the witness to be submitted to traverse, if you will.

MR. DYMOND: Very well, I submit him as an expert in the field of handwriting analysis.

MR. ALCOCK: No questions.

THE COURT: Is it submitted?

MR. DYMOND: It is submitted.

THE COURT: I will rule that the witness, Mr. Appel, is qualified in the field of questioned document signatures, and is qualified as an expert in that field to give his opinion in relation to that particular field.

MR. DYMOND: Now, Your Honor, do you want me to start on this? It is going to be fairly lengthy testimony.

THE COURT: Let me see. It is 5:00 o'clock. I was going to recess at 5:30. If you foresee that this witness may be on the stand for some lengthy period of time as we go through these exhibits, with the cross-examination, so that the continuity of his testimony -- so that the Jury will hear it at one time rather than going from day to day -- does the State have any objection?

MR. ALCOCK: No objection.

THE COURT: All right. I will abide by your request, Mr. Dymond. We will start with Mr. Appel at 9:00 o'clock in the morning. Gentlemen of the Jury, as I have so many times instructed you, do not discuss the case amongst yourselves or with any other person. The proper time to have that discussion is when the case is given to you for your decision and verdict. Let everybody have a seat. Let the security Deputy Sheriffs take charge of the Jury.

Whereupon, at 5:02 o'clock p.m., the Defendant was placed under the rule and court adjourned to 9:00 o'clock a.m. on Wednesday, February 26, 1969.

. . . . Pursuant to the adjournment, the proceedings herein were resumed at 9:00 o'clock a.m. on Wednesday, February 26, 1969, appearances being the same as heretofore noted in the record. . . .

THE COURT: Let it be noted on the record the Prosecution, the Defense, and the Defendant are present, and the Jury is seated. Your previous oath is still binding, Mr. Appel. You may proceed.

CHARLES A. APPEL, JR., having been sworn and having testified previously, resumed the stand for a continuation of the DIRECT EXAMINATION

Q: Mr. Appel, I show you an exhibit which has been offered in evidence and marked for identification as State Exhibit 55. Directing your attention to the signature Clay Bertrand appearing therein under date of 12.14.66, the words, "New Orleans, Louisiana," being written after it, and ask you whether you have received a copy or a photograph of a signature which is identical to that?

A: Yes, I did.

Q: Do you have that in your possession, sir?

A: I have the negatives themselves.

Q: Do you have any prints made from the negatives?

A: Yes, sir.

Q: Will you produce that please?

A: This is a photograph enlargement of the signature portion of that entry together with another photograph of writing by the Defendant.

MR. DYMOND: If the Court please, in connection with the testimony of this witness, we would like to offer, file and produce in evidence the exhibits we have marked for identification as D-30 through D-44.

MR. ALCOCK: No objection.

THE COURT: They may be presented and received in evidence.

(Whereupon, the documents offered by Counsel were received into evidence.)

Q: Now, Mr. Appel, I show you the exhibits which have been marked for identification as D-30 through D-33, and which have been introduced into evidence, and ask you whether you are familiar with the exhibits, whether you have seen and examined them before today?

A: Yes. I examined these. They were submitted to me in connection with the signature appearing in the book that you just showed me.

Q: By whom were they submitted to you?

A: Mr. Wegmann.

Q: Mr. Appel, did you perform any examination or cooperative tests as between the signatures of Mr. Shaw appearing on those documents and the writings of Mr. Shaw which also appear thereon and the writing on the Exhibit D-44?

A: Yes, sir.

Q: What was the purpose of the examinations which you were performing?

A: The purpose of the examination was to determine if there is evidence in the writing motion habits which caused a design of the letters, writing forms, which are present in the entries.

Q: For the benefit of the Jury, will you explain the nature of the comparative examinations which you did perform. You may step down here to the board, if you wish.

A: The first thing I did was to copy the designs of the writings, the questioned writing, so as to make sure I was receiving the pen movements in making these shapes. This was done in the questioned entry in the book, which is the lower one of these enlargements, and also with the signatures written by the Defendant. So as to compare each and every design or letter form as caused by the motion of the pen and the habits of the particular writer. These enlargements were made so that I could demonstrate what I found.

I found in the first place the Defendant writes larger and the proportions of one letter size to another is different in the two writings. The C, for instance, as written by the Defendant, is higher than it is in the questioned entry in the book. It is higher in itself and it is higher with reference to the L which follows it. The proportions are not the same. The slant is not quite the same and the manner of moving the pen in forming the shapes. You can see that in the questioned entry this trigraph form has an appearance of a counterclockwise motion as in a W. This is caused by its curve or arc at the bottom of the C and the L connecting with the next letter. It is different in the writing of the Defendant. The distance between the C and L is much more narrow. The slanting stroke which represents the movement upward is not at the same angle. The C as written by the Defendant slants further to the right in comparison to the other C. This is because in this three-letter combination the motion is different. We see a very clear difference in the A. The Defendant leaves his A's open at the top. The letters are not as wide horizontally and it is higher in comparison with the high top of the L. That is because the motions are different.

The writing act is such a delicate and automatic act or movement coordinating the muscles of the fingers and arms with the direction of the eyes that all these things have to be the same for the automatic motion to produce the same designs. Here they are clearly not the same designs. Part of this is due to the vision, part is due to the automatic speed of motion. The Defendant writes very rapidly in what some teachers would call a scribbling fashion.

The whole word Clay is written as one continuous repeated series of movements of a very delicate nature. At the bottom of the projection forward of the Y the line turns slightly towards the right as the pen is lifted. Where the pen begins to turn backwards the Defendant has rounded the top in an arc form completely different from the angular formation in the entry in the book. The proportions again of one letter tot he other are different, the top of the Y as written by the Defendant being larger than as found in the book. If we go on to the next letter, the B in Bertrand, we see the pen is lifted and the letter is composed of two continuous movements. The left side of B is a vertical or slanting line below the oval of the top. The oval at the top is started to the left in a completely different style of writing. There is no comparison with the beginning of the B as written by the Defendant, which starts below the line of writing with a slight downward movement and moves up to form the left side and continues to form the shape on the right side. You will notice the upper oval of a B as made by the Defendant has a narrowing closure slightly up to the right, whereas the beginning line in the questioned entry you may say the oval is a horizontal figure. The line in the questioned entry comes back and penetrates the vertical line, whereas that written by the Defendant, Mr. Shaw, the line does not close the oval at the top, because the line doesn't come back to the left side. The same is true of the bottom oval as written by the Defendant, that is it is much more narrow because the arc doesn't curve in the same way. The bottom oval in the questioned entry is a different figure entirely. Of course, at the bottom, in the ending of the B in the questioned entry, there is this oval reversing motion to go to the E, whereas the Defendant continues the movement and the oval at the bottom actually slants down from left to right. It has no resemblance to the form in the questioned entry. The line is continued by the Defendant, he wrote the whole name Bertrand in one continuous writing movement, whereas the pen is lifted between the B and the E in the questioned entry. The E's are not similar in height in the two entries. The arc on the left side of the E which continues into the connection of the R as written by the Defendant, forms a perfect U-shape, whereas between the E and R in the questioned entry it slants more to the right. The two lines are not parallel as written by the Defendant. The R itself is a different form. In the questioned entry being like the letter I, simply a movement retraced slightly and then connected to the next letter. The Defendant has a tendency to round the curve to the right side when moving downward, so we have this break at the top which is not found in the questioned entry.

The next letter T is a fixed habit of Mr. Shaw, as illustrated in the upper photograph of his writing, in which the pen is moved downward and not to the right at all, but it is either lifted, the pen lifted off the paper in a cross bar placed on the T, or it moves upward to the left and crosses before going to the next letter. Again we have the complicated shape, shall we say, in the R in the writing of Mr. Shaw and a more conventional design in the questioned entry.

In the questioned entry, the R, it more or less eliminates any top at all, whereas Mr. Shaw still has his left on the upper portion of the conventional R. The A written by Mr. Shaw is open. The repetition of movement is habitual to him whereas it is closed in the questioned entry.

This influence of the anti-clockwise motion is demonstrated in the N in the questioned entry, although the arc curved at the top of the two ends are modified and become pinched together in the questioned entry, the shape of the N is not at all like that of Mr. Shaw who tends to make a counterclockwise U-shape.

The final letter of the name, the D, conventional in the questioned entry, a bottom oval, a rounded circular form, and a long projection upward which is also an enclosed oval and the line comes down. Mr. Shaw has two ways of ending this letter. He has the small narrow or elongated oval as compared with the entry at the bottom. The right side turns upwards and ends there. Sometimes he brings it down, but it doesn't end as the questioned entry ends. You will notice the projection of the upper part of the D with the questioned entry extends beyond the height of the T, so the proportion is not the same. The B projects through the upper line above. That is larger vertically and extends further horizontally. These differences in letter forms extend into the words "New Orleans," which you will notice in the entry of Mr. Shaw is much higher, bigger, as a whole. The N almost touches the two lines of writing and that in the questioned entry is only about half its height. The movement to connect the E is different. As can be seen in the entry of Mr. Shaw the middle of the W has an arc in it, and there is no such form in the questioned entry.

We see the difference in the R's again, and there is a difference in the speed as shown by the complete closure of the E written by Mr. Shaw, whereas it has a loop form in the questioned entry in the book.

Again we have an obvious difference in the A, which is again left open at the top, that is because these lines are retraced, whereas the top of the A in the questioned entry is completely closed. After the N the S has a distinctive difference in the shape at the top and the bottom. This letter is written much more rapidly by Mr. Shaw.

I am sure it can be seen these are distinctive forms in the questioned entry as compared to the writing of Mr. Shaw. This is because of motion habits. Neither of these entries from beginning to end is carefully composed or anything like that. You will see the lines are no movements of the pen of any consequence to the right or left. You cannot make a line like that unless you use speed in the continuous movement forward.

In making copies of these in my notes so as to be accurate, to get the right proportions and shapes equal to these I am studying, it is necessary to use much slower movement, and this is one of the differences between a genuine signature and a forgery. The pen point moves to the left and right in slow motion. You get tremors. These lines, the quality of the lines, show there was a quick continuous writing movement of a different quality in Mr. Shaw's writing from that in the questioned writing, which is more formal, smaller. For these reasons, these differences, I concluded they were not written by the same person.

Q: Mr. Appel, did you confine your examination to this one writing by Mr. Shaw or did you in the course of your examination use other writings by him to determine the consistency of the formation of the letters or other reasons of your own?

A: A good many other writings were submitted, writings of Mr. Shaw in 1966, and then I asked that he be requested to write, and received a bundle of sheets each written independently of the other without any opportunity to see the writing of the other, how they were written.

Q: Did your examination of the other writings reveal they were written by a person other than the person who placed the signature in the book from which this photograph was taken?

A: Yes, sir, the entry in the book was made by some other writer entirely.

Q: Referring you again to Exhibits D-30 through D-43, I ask you whether you used these exhibits for comparison purposes as well as the signature about which you have testified?

A: Yes, I did. In fact the signature I just testified about is D-30, the top one of these requested signatures, but I examined all of them.

Q: Did you find any material differences between the signature appearing on D-30 and the signature appearing on D-31 through 43?

A: No significant differences, just natural variations. This is true as to the 1966 writings also. Some of these were just a signature "Clay Shaw." The open A for instance, the formation of the Y showed the same differences that the questioned signature I have discussed here in that particular enlargement showed.

Q: Now, Mr. Appel, as a result of these tests and the examination which you performed, did you come to a firm opinion, as to whether the name Clay Bertrand, which appears in State Exhibit 55, was written by this Defendant Clay L. Shaw?

A: Yes, I did.

Q: Would you kindly tell us what that opinion is, sir?

A: That the Defendant, Clay Shaw, did not write the entry in the book, the exhibit number I have forgotten, 55, is it?

Q: Fifty-five, that's right.

A: Fifty-five, that's right.

Q: Mr. Appel, are you the same handwriting expert whose testimony broke the Lindbergh kidnaping case?

THE COURT: Now wait; I am not going to allow that. He has already been qualified.

MR. DYMOND: We tender the witness.


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