« | Home | »

Policeman’s Register

Tags: | |

Once upon a time, the only way to tell that a suicide note had been faked was by matching its faded e’s and crooked g’s to the keys on the murderer’s typewriter. Not any more. You might think that these days you could just text ‘goodbye cruel world’ to everyone in your victim’s phone book before chucking their mobile off the balcony after them – a perfect crime, so long as you didn’t forget to wear your rubber gloves. Except that John Olsson, ‘the world’s only full-time forensic linguist’, could well, even then, be able to bust you.

In his latest book, Wordcrime: Solving Crime through Forensic Linguistics, Olsson documents a couple of dozen of the hundreds of cases he’s worked on over the years: analysing, for example, the text messages sent among a gang of teenagers who beat a middle-aged cyclist to death in an underpass in Luton; scrutinising witness statements accusing a former mayor of a town in Rwanda of complicity in the genocide; or more banally comparing The Da Vinci Code to the novels of Lew Perdue, one of several people to have accused Dan Brown of plagiarism.

Olsson acknowledges Jan Svartvik as ‘the “father” of the discipline’ for the part he played in the posthumous pardoning of Timothy Evans, John Christie’s neighbour at 10 Rillington Place. Evans was hanged in 1950 for the murder of his wife and child, which Christie was almost certainly guilty of. More than a decade later Svartvik showed that Evans’s ‘confession’ was largely written in ‘what is known as “policeman’s register”’.

But Olsson is otherwise fairly protective of his turf, and ruthlessly scathing of the part-timers. He doesn’t so much as mention Don Foster, for example, and devotes one of his chapters to exposing the incompetence of ‘Professor Willerby (not his real name)’, an expert witness for the prosecution of a man falsely accused of anonymous libel. No prizes for guessing whose evidence led to the case being thrown out of court.

Comment on this post

Log in or register to post a comment.


  • Recent Posts

    RSS – posts

  • Contributors

  • Recent Comments

    • Ouessante on Stoke and Copeland: Stoke: Cons+UKIP 49.1%, Lab 37.1%. Saved only by a split vote. Hardly cause for Lab rejoicing I think. They should be very worried.
    • streetsj on Stoke and Copeland: As in all votes there are a multitude of reasons why people vote as they do but it seems unlikely that Nuttall's contribution was anything other than ...
    • piffin on Stoke and Copeland: That Labour could beat off Ukip's anti-immigrant challenge in Stoke but lose to the Tories in Copeland suggests the latter result was informed by the ...
    • suetonius on Remembering Seymour Papert: Oh my, flashback inducing. I remember being an undergraduate right when the book came out, physics student at the time. Several of my professors wer...
    • fbkun on Justice for Théo: Polls show that more than half of French police(wo)men vote for the Front National. Quelle surprise...

    RSS – comments

  • Contact

  • Blog Archive

Advertisement Advertisement