In Illinois in the mid-1980s, a hand-written ransom note was left on the doorstep of an abducted juvenile’s home; one week after the 9/11 attacks, anthrax-laced letters were sent to news media and two U.S. senators; in 2013, three ricin-laced letters were sent to President Obama, NYC Mayor Bloomberg, and ‘Mayors Against Illegal Guns’ Director Glaze.
In such anonymous threatening situations as these, there are three primary questions asked by investigators in their assessment of the threats: 1) is it a threat? 2) how likely is the threatener to carry it out? 3) who wrote it? This talk will focus on the third question, one in which linguistics can play a key role.
First, in situations where there is no immediate suspect, an examination of the linguistic evidence may reveal potential demographic information about the threatener. Second, in situations where there is a limited set of suspects, a comparison of the language in the threat and in known documents from each suspect may help narrow down the suspect pool. We will review a variety of sample profiling cases in which information and disinformation play a key role in the analysis of the language evidence.