James Spence: Mail Order Forensic Document Examiner
James Spence recently told a client that he should “run for the hills” any time he saw a report from a forensic document examiner or a board certified examiner “because they don’t know what they are doing.”
This is particularly interesting since Spence’s own website for JSA Authentication has biographies of the “experts” on the team. Spence’s biography states that “Mr. Spence has successfully completed certification in Forensic Document Examination.”
Really? Is he really one of the guys who he says people should “run for the hills” to get away from? Is he really a certified forensic document examiner? Was he suggesting to the client that he should be running to the hills to get away from James Spence?
Let’s look at his resume and see when all of this really happened. When did he get the two years of side-by-side apprentice-style training that is customarily considered the groundwork to be a forensic document examiner?
As a fortunate aside of a lawsuit filed against James Spence, there is a sworn deposition from March 1, 2000. We were able to get a lot of information from this document, but unfortunately were not able to determine when he did the customary two- year side-by-side apprentice-style training. Spence did not seem to think it was worth mentioning, not even he was asked about his training. Did it really happen?
Let’s look at his background and see.
He graduated from Iona College of New York in 1982 with a BA degree in French and International Business. No document examiner stuff there.
After college, from 1982-1983, he worked as a fitness instructor at Club Med in Guadeloupe. It’s not likely that this involved too much handwriting training.
He next worked as a fitness instructor for Cunard Cruise Lines, 1983-1984. They’re not generally known as a hotbed of handwriting training, especially when one is doing jumping jacks and aerobics.
James Spence went to dry land from 1984-1988, working for American Van Equipment. He sold commercial equipment for plumbers, electricians and cable tv. There probably was not much of an opportunity for handwriting training there, although cable tv does broadcast cop shows that, at times, mention handwriting. Does that count?
He left American Van Equipment in 1988 to specialize. In handwriting? Not exactly. He moved on to the Lynn Ladder Company. He now specialized in ladders and ladder equipment. He stayed there until 1991.
He started doing shows part-time sometime between 1989-1991. Since he had been employed in a series of non-handwriting related jobs prior to that and during that period, when did he get his two-year training in? When did he become a forensic document examiner?
According to Spence, his first handwriting training took place when he was fifteen. He was a student at Mount Carmel Preparatory, a boarding high school in Niagara Falls, Canada. Over a couple weeks span, he took a course in “handwriting analysis or something to that degree.” His teacher was Father Norman Whirling. Father Whirling stressed graphology, the purported ability to determine one’s personality through their handwriting. How did that prepare him to be a forensic document examiner? Does he look at signatures and decide that someone would not have been in the right frame of mind to sign the piece?
According to Spence, he received his certificate as a forensic document examiner in February 2000. He received this certificate “from a fellow by the name of Andrew Bradley in Denver, Colorado.”
Ah, so Andrew Bradley gave him the two years of side-by-side apprentice-style training that is customarily considered the groundwork to be a forensic document examiner?
It seems the course was a correspondence course. James Spence received a mail order certificate.
He never even met Andrew Bradley, so the side-by-side training would have been rather difficult to accomplish. He didn’t even know where Bradley worked. “I believe it’s strictly out of his home. Or his place of business I should say. I don’t know if he works out of his home as a place of business.”
What? He doesn’t even know where his “trainer” worked?
According to Spence, his training consisted of paying a $400 or $500 fee and completing the material in a notebook that Bradley mailed to him. He stated that “there was a tremendous amount of reading that goes into it. There are a series of different worksheets which act as an exam. And then after receiving a grade back on that, there’s a final exam.”
We have a copy of Andrew Bradley’s correspondence course training book. It’s a whopping one inch thick. The text is double sided. The text is only printed on one side of the paper. That one inch includes section dividers, the lessons and the worksheets. It includes pages with cute drawings, like the full page drawing of a lady with a light bulb above her head. It includes the appendix.
Approximately 1⁄4 of the notebook deals with typewriting, anonymous letters and matters that will never come to play in the daily work at JSA. For example, there is a section on “writing instruments, erased writing, etc. Use of the ESDA”. Unfortunately, 5 of the 8 pages in this section are dedicated to the ESDA, the electrostatic detection apparatus, a machine that has no practical application in authentication, whatsoever. The ESDA is used to detect indentation on a piece of paper. Indented writing on a piece of paper that had been under another piece of paper when someone wrote on the upper piece of paper. If works if you had a pad of paper and something was written on a page that has since been removed. How would this work on an album? A baseball? A jersey? Not at all.
The mechanics of handwriting section, which should be a major portion of the work Spence currently does appears in the beginning of the notebook. Two 5-page sections. Not exactly extensive, by any standard.
The handwriting characteristics section is split into three parts. The largest is a whopping 61⁄2 pages. One could practically make it through that during a tv commercial break. The smallest of the three sections is 4 pages.
The process of comparison section 51⁄2 pages long. That’s with a 2 inch margin at the top of the page and 11⁄4 margins at the bottom of the page and the left side of the page. This makes the actual size of the area with text on the page 73⁄4x6. To put the size in perspective, that would fit in an 8x10 frame. With a lot of room to spare.
There are more sections, but you probably get there point. There’s not a lot of meat to this one inch notebook.
It would be hard to believe that anyone would be too taxed by anything in a one inch workbook, at least not too taxed for very long. Realy, how long could it take, especially considering a lot of it is filler?
According to James Spence, it was extremely taxing. How long did it take him to complete this one inch thick correspondence course? “A period of four months”.
Spence asserted that he was “very diligent with my studies with it. Certainly more than once a week. In many cases, sometimes I’d work on it from 7:00 in the morning until 10:00 at night.”
Wow. Most people could probably finish a notebook that was one inch thick, with filler material, in – tops – a couple hours. Four months, including multiple 15 hour days? Spence must be either a REALLY slow reader or learner, or both.
Even if one believes that it actually took Spence 4 months of long, grinding days to complete 1 inch of text mixed in with drawings and filler material, it clearly would not constitute the equivalent of two years of side-by-side apprentice-style training that is customarily considered the groundwork to be a forensic document examiner.
In fact, no organization recognizes Bradley’s inch thick correspondence course as a legitimate basis for anyone to claim to be a forensic document examiner, no matter what Bradley titled the course or printed on the certificate.
It’s kind of like drawing winkie on the matchbook and then claiming you were an animator.
So, if Spence’s certificate as a forensic document examiner constitutes nothing more than a mail order gimmick that was designed to make Bradley extra income with very little effort, what is the status of James Spence’s claim that he is a forensic document examiner? Did he receive any other formal training?
Other than the personality traits course with Father Whirling and Bradley’s inch thick correspondence course, when asked if he had any other formal training, Spence said “No.” No other formal training, whatsoever.
According to Spence, he did have some informal training. He said he visited with noted forensic document examiner Charles Hamilton “perhaps five to seven times” between 1994 to 1998.
During each of these “five to seven times” that Spence states he visited with Charles Hamilton, he brought along his friend Alfred Angelo, a CPA who had a large memorabilia collection.
On at least one of the visits, Spence explained, Hamilton took the ten signatures for review. He returned them within one or two weeks. Since Spence was not present, by his own admission, when Hamilton did the examinations, at best there were four to six visits during which he may have seen Hamilton do work. Even if we give him credit for all of those visits, since he testified that he never stayed overnight, there is no way – by any standards – that a handful of visits would constitute the two years of side-by-side apprentice-style training that is customarily considered the groundwork to be a forensic document examiner.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem we can even give him credit for even all of the visits. Spence testified that he and his buddy the CPA visited Hamilton “five to seven times” between 1994 and 1998.
Charles Hamilton died on December 13, 1996.
How many of the “five to seven times” between 1994 and 1998 occurred after December 13, 1996? Were any of them conducted with an Ouija board?
Other than that, James Spence said his only training was on the job. So, a man with virtually no training essentially learned to authenticate by being a lead examiner at PSADNA and then spinning off for his own company, JSA.
Since nobody at PSADNA has had formal training, and nobody at JSA has formal training, Spence’s on-the-job training really amounts to no more than the blind leading the blind.
James Spence has never done anything even remotely close to the two years of side- by-side apprentice-style training that is customarily considered the groundwork to be a forensic document examiner.
Yes, his own website touts him as a forensic document examiner.
There are only two places in the world where James Spence is a forensic document examiner.
The first is in his biography on his own website. The other is in his own mind.
Considering all of this, it’s not hard to figure out why JSA’s submission forms and the JSA website both carry the following disclaimer:
“Certification and authentication involves an individual judgment that is subjective and requires the exercise of professional opinion, which can change from time to time. Therefore, JSA makes no warranty or representation and shall have no liability whatsoever to the customer for the opinion rendered by JSA on any submission.”