Her cross-examination was a disaster. Hill’s formal education had gone no further than high school. She had done some secretarial work in a chancery clerk and law office and, while a housewife, taken a correspondence course with the ‘International Graph-Analysis Society Institute’ in Chicago. She was not quite sure whether the answers to all the examination questions were given at the end of her course book.


She had also obtained a ‘Masters Degree’ from this same institution by taking further correspondence courses, the length of which she did not state. When she finished her course, for a fee she went to a graduation ceremony in Chicago to wear a cap and gown.Questioned about other accredited experts, she thought she knew Albert S. Osborn, who had written Questioned Documents and The Problems of Proof. Indeed, she believed he had gone to the grapho-analysis school just as she had, and written a book about it which made him rich. But ‘I don’t know if he knows any more about it than I do’. Osborn had died 20 years earlier.

She was frank about her limitations. Asked if she was keeping up to date with literature and developments in her field, she replied: ‘I don’t intend to. I feel like what I know is sufficient for the amount that I intend to do. I don’t intend to overstep my bounds in the examination. When it gets past what I can do, then I will turn it over to somebody with a higher education.’

At least she was in touch with the people. She was asked about county fairs, where ‘handwriting computers’ would take specimens of handwriting and pop out analyses of the personality of the writer:

Q. Do you know those computers they have out at the fair?

A. Yes.

Q. One where you stick a card in there and it —

A. — I used one of them.

Q. You used one. They analyze your handwriting, don’t they?

A. It’s pretty good, too.

Hooten’s conviction was overturned on the grounds the judge should never have let Hill loose in the witness box.

James Morton is a writer and former criminal defence solicitor