Class Notes Profiles
Chasing the paper trail
By Nicole Sweeney Etter
Was it truly a suicide note — or just a clever cover-up? Investigators turn to forensic document examiner Jane A. Lewis, Dent Hy ’77, to uncover the truth.
For more than 20 years, Lewis’ carefully trained eyes have analyzed bomb threats, ransom notes, forged credit card receipts and thousands of other questioned documents.
After earning a master’s degree in forensic sciences, Lewis worked for the FBI and Secret Service in Washington, D.C. Now she works for the Wisconsin State Crime Laboratory in Milwaukee and is a guest lecturer for Marquette’s forensic science class.
To validate one signature, Lewis might examine 20 known handwriting samples. A case could involve a single piece of paper or, for embezzlement or identity theft, whole boxes of evidence.
“It’s objective truth seeking,” Lewis says. “No matter what the case is, whether it’s a bomb threat or bank robbery note or identity theft, it’s still a comparison between a questioned document and a known document.”
As technology changes, so does her work. Where she once relied on observing striation patterns of used and new ballpoint pens, now she also knows the intricacies of ink jet and laser printing.
“I like new technologies,” she says. “It’s good to have a niche job where it gets very specialized and the experience and expertise become richer every year, and I get to apply that to every case.”