Altbeker Answers

In due course we will reply to some statements made by Antony Altbeker during the Franschhoek Literary Festival (May 2016) during the debate between him and Thomas Mollett. For now we’ll look at some other issues.

In the Rapport of 25 May 2014 and Marie Claire of 18 August 2014 Antony Altbeker said a few things – most notably that:

1. We could never reproduce something “similar to Folien 1”, and that “all the defence experts could do so”.

2. Some (only 5%) of our work may be interesting but not convincing (“not persuasive”).

3. Our work on the hammer and bloodmarks is not worth the paper it is written on.

4. There were experts “ready to testify” that the headwounds were not “the type of wounds that a hammer would make”.

For now, we will largely deal with Point 1.

We invite and challenge Mr Altbeker to show us the lifts produced by Zeelenberg, Bekker and Dixon. We know Pat Wertheim forced and fabricated a result, and we’ll get back to this soon, but we invite him to show us the lifts by the others.

Please take note, that in a personal email we asked Mr Altbeker that he provide us with these lifts, but he could not do so.

Wertheim tried to produce such a lift, this we know.

But, let’s look at it, and we suggest that this experiment is repeated in order to fully grasp the issues.

This is the (positive ‘mirror’ view) result after Wertheim tried to reproduce something similar to Folien 1.

Let us quickly look at the method he prescribed:

‘Hold the glass in the left hand and fill it with water from a pitcher in right hand, put both down, pick it up with right hand and drink from the glass.’ Got it?

We challenge Mr Altbeker to do the same and ask that he send us his lifts.

In the meantime the following questions should be considered:

– Why are his left fingers and right thumb so close to each other? Sure, you can rotate the glass before you pick it up with the right hand, but he did not declare such rotation.

– How is it possible for his thumb print to intersect the lip print in this one-time action?

– How is it possible to get all your fingers so conveniently spaced on a 83 mm high glass, with your little finger so high up?

We await Mr Altbeker’s lifts and his answers.

We grant that there are different ways to handle a drinking glass. That is not the point here. The point is that Mr Altbeker is trying to flaunt a dishonest attempt by Wertheim to favour his argument.

The thing is, anyone that has the smallest understanding and appreciation for the role variables play, will know that “reproducing” something is not essential in proving something. Primarily you must be able to explain the basic scientific principles at stake.

Can we ask Mr Altbeker for example to reproduce the “lip print” for us? Or even better, since he is adamant it is a lip print and that his experts were right ( suggesting that it is Fred’s lip print), that he ask Fred for his lip print so that we can test it against the “lip print” on Folien 1.

We would like to have Mr Altbeker’s own opinion on why this can be considered to be a lip print, and why he would disagree with at least three international forensic experts that it is not a lip print? (Experts that were not involved in this case and that were not paid for an opinion.) And despite demonstrable evidence that the texture of it is more consistent with wet latex on plastic than lip on glass. And that the size and shape fit Mariaan Booysens’ finger perfectly. Is it absolutely impossible that Wertheim and Zeelenberg could be wrong on this? And: if they were so sure it was a lip print, and thereby suggested it was Fred’s, why did they not ask for his lip print during the trial? Or was it because they knew Fred’s lip will never match that print on the glass.

Let us talk about variables.

Looking at for example random sample of covers from The Video Place (the actual store where Inge rented the DVD), which we have (which by the way is the same type Inge rented) then one will note that not all sleeves are attached at exactly the same place. We’re not going into long explanation here because we deal with it elsewhere, but what is important to note is that the sleeve is a significant variable when it comes to understanding how the top line was possibly formed. Other variables include the action of the lifter, the powder, the type of brush, the state of the cover, etc. We can very easily explain the prints on Folien 1 as DVD cover prints. Folien 1 as a drinking glass lift dismally fails on all levels.

Above are two “similar” covers from The Video Place – the same type Inge rented. Look at where the sleeves are attached. The one on the left has a huge gap between the sleeve and the ridge. The one on the right, not. The sleeve is right up against the ridge. These two covers will give you significantly different lifts, especially considering rubbing towards the ridge.

It is really important to have a proper understanding of the concept of variables.

Just remember, it is not about the overall look of the lift, but rather about the nature of what is ON the lift. For a very long time now we have had these (above) photos on our website, and they also feature in our book. Since there is no evidence that Mr Altbeker ever lifted one single print from either a drinking glass or a DVD cover himself, it is important to allude him to this: there would be a difference in a print that was deposited on a round, weighted drinking glass as opposed to one after touching or holding a light, thin, flat object. For one, the print on the flat surface will be closer to the length of the flat known print. The print on the drinking glass will be foreshortened and there will be evidence of friction in it due to gravity. Friction may differ due to the weight of the object but gravity is not a variable. When you pick up a glass friction WILL pull on the skin, influencing the ridge pattern. If you look at the above picture it is clear that the flat print is much more reminiscent of the Folien 1 print than of the glass print. The overall appearance of Folien 1 is not our concern here – since you can really put the fingers where you want them (like Wertheim dishonestly did) – it is more about what is happening on the lift. For example what the drops tell you, and here doing some practical test will help a great deal. More so than simply believing what experts tell you based on their visual interpretation and “it-is-consistent-with …” memory.

Please do the following: Put your left index finger flat on a piece of paper, as you would when the police take your exclusion prints on a ten-print card. Now measure the print. Now put the same finger on another flat surface, such as a DVD cover. Now measure that print. Now put it on a round drinking glass, and measure the print. Please compare the lengths of the prints and see what you can deduce by logic and by plain common sense geometry. In the process, please also look at the shapes of the prints. (Just a hint as to where we are going with this, as a fact, the index fingerprint on Folien 1 is the same length as Fred’s plain impression, which we know is a flat print.)

Mr Altbeker’s comment about our opinion on the lines are somewhat bizarre. He said something to the effect that we lifted differently than Swartz, and that Swartz did not lift in a controlled environment. Please note, we did not build our argument on curves that we produced from a lift from a glass, we looked at Folien 1’s curves and investigated and gave opinion on them, based on simple geometry. We also looked at lifts by Wertheim and Zeelenberg themselves, which all yielded concentric curves – which Folien 1’s lines are not. We are more than happy to concede some margin of error in any lift, but the fact remains that the edges of a glass is hard and fixed, and thus not a variable. And the averages of their lines need to give you circular and concentric curves.

The fact that someone refuses to acknowledge this, does not change the fact that the bottom line is not a curve, like Wertheim and Zeelenberg claimed it to be and which premise they used to support their arguments. It is not a curve by eye or by regression analysis. (Whatever it needs to be – or even is – the fact is that they were wrong to simply assume it is a curve.)

But for those that do not have an appreciation for the hard science behind this, let’s leave it aside for now. Visibly the top line as a whole can be conceded as a curve, it may not be circular, but it has the overall appearance of a curve. At the very least the bottom line’s median should then also be curve of some sorts. It is not. But let’s leave even that aside and look at the internal nature of the lines.

What do you see here in the top line? We are not going to mark it as it is clearly evident.

Please note this: If we consider the smudging in the line and we look at the very visible straight hairline running through it, which would suggest a edge of something, then we need to remember this very important point too: when you rub a folien over the top edge of a drinking glass, the smudging will only be BELOW the edge line. There is nothing on the other (top) side of the glass’ edge to cause friction (thus smudging). This is not the case when you consider the line being the edge of the plastic sleeve of a DVD cover. There is still a ridge to the top of the sleeve’s edge which may cause smudging. This all being as it may, the fact remains that you see a straight line here, which is not possible when you take a lift from a conical drinking glass.

At the very top is the top line of a drinking glass lift by Zeelenberg. Note that is has no significant smudging in the line. It is a thickish but relatively even line. Same with Wertheim’s lift’s top line (in the middle above). Compare these two lines with Folien 1’s top line (bottom of above photos). Folien 1’s line clearly has a lot of smudging in it, and it lacks the circular and line-weight consistency you would expect had it come from a glass’ rim. Surely you may argue that maybe Swartz lifted differently than these two ‘experts’. But, the question that arises, is: Why would you have significant smudging in a drinking glass lift? What exactly do you need to do to get this type of smudging in a line? When you apply the folien, the most comfortable and practically sensible way is to smear and rub the folien from side to side around the glass, not upwards and downwards over the top and bottom edges. Also, a folien sits very tightly on a glass and the folien will not move around relative to the edge of the glass. There is not really any reason for any significant smudging. And if you really rub hard on it upwards, smudging, if any, will happen towards the bottom, not towards the top.

For the sake of the argument, considering rubbing upwards and downwards on a drinking glass, if you have significant smudging in the top line, why is there absolutely no smudging or flaking in the bottom line? (We deal with it more extensively further below.)

Above: This is part of the top line, about the middle part. Apart from that the fact that it is clearly straight, the question we’re rather asking is: Where is the rim of the glass? And why is there smudging to the top of the line?

Let’s compare it with Wertheim and Zeelenberg’s lines. One can see the glasses’ rims here. On closer inspection (since it may roughly appear like it) one simply cannot see a rim in the top line of Folien 1. And there is no smudging towards the top of what can be considered as the median (or essence) of the line.

We are not going into this in great detail here, but there is also no absolute reason to get a bottom line on a glass lift. The bottom edge of a drinking glass is mostly roundish and not a sharply defined feature. However, if you get a bottom line, it will not be such a sharp line as the line of Folien 1. The bottom line of Folien 1 is clearly a ripped line.

We are going to leave it here for now, but the point were trying to make here, is that visual interpretations can be deceiving. Reproducing two lines does not mean anything – it is about the nature of those lines. Ditto for the prints on Folien 1. Reproducing something visually similar to Folien 1 means nothing.

But let us get to the “reproduction” of Folien 1. Imagine yourself picking up a book to look at the cover, and to then turn it around to look at the blurb.

Look at the front holding with right thumb as shown (left) – then turn the DVD cover around, flipping it over to your left hand. The left index finger will now hang over to the front side (which is now facing away from you) where the right thumb print already is. This will give you a front look as shown below.

We just want to make it clear, we do not suggest one clinically executed action (like Wertheim did). Thus, there may be variation as to where exactly the fingers (and resulting prints) are positioned, and more than one left finger can touch the DVD cover – but is is not necessary. Flipping around and holding a thin, light object does not require all fingers to hold it (unlike holding a drinking glass full of water, where it is unlikely not to have the other fingers supporting the index finger). And it is not about forcing a result, we simply looked at feasible handling scenarios in order to look at the types of prints and positions you may get. Pat Wertheim suggested an action to support his argument, we are doing the same.

This will give you an idea of the print such a hold on a flat surface will give you.

The method and result shown in this video may not be perfect, but we simply wanted to show that a similar lift is very attainable after a very reasonable handling method. It is based on Swartz’s explanation of a double lift. (What is interesting, picking up and handling a cover like this, does not necessarily result in leaving many prints on it.)

Above left is the scanned result of the video. Please note, this was done hastily and simply to show the actions and positions of prints, and, as explained previously, there are many variables, but this lift clearly shows the main elements of Folien 1 being attainable. Admittedly the top line in this very example is not curved – but this may depend on variables (powder, action, etc, and we have at least one previous lift of Swartz showing curved line is attainable on straight edge) – and the bottom line is not that visible here – but the position and nature of the prints are attainable, and in fact, are more in line with the Folien 1 prints. (The folien was scanned and some detail is not as clear as on the original.)

Without making a video of each, we have done a similar exercise on three other covers. This is very important to note: It is easy for us to do many lifts and present you with the best one. But this would be defeating the objective of showing you the principle of variables. As you will see on the lifts below, in one instance you may get a better bottom line than in the others. In another one you may get a better top line, or more reminiscent prints than in the others. The left fingers can go around the back any length or height, or the thumb can be further inwards. Considering smearing of the folien from left to right you will in most instances get the smudging in the top line towards the right, but that may also vary according to the action and lifter. To keep it simple now, we did not bother with the “lip print” – we dealt with that extensively elsewhere and we know (and have shown) it is possible that it is a finger in a wet glove. What is more important in these lifts are the shape and length of the prints, and the fact that a bottom line is attainable. Even for 9 year old covers these covers still yield remarkably clean backgrounds (in any case, nothing more or less than a glass would yield – the background doesn’t mean anything – we know for instance that Folien 2 – which is a glass lift – has a very white background.)

 Above: Three covers handled as we showed in the video. This is after proper dusting.

Above: Here are the results of the three lifts (in no particular order). What we can see here is that apart from obvious minor differences here and there, there is a consistency in the size of, for example, the thumb print – which shows good correspondence with Folien 1’s thumb print. Also, look at the tips of the index finger (as if pointing upwards) – utterly reminiscent of the tip in Folien 1’s index finger’s print. You simply do not get that tip on a glass lift, even if you try.

Above: One of the DVD cover lifts in positive view (flipped horizontally).

Above: Another DVD cover lift. Something that we have found, is that if you do not smear properly towards the right, you may cut part of the thumb print off, as is visible in Folien 1. What it comes down to, is that much of a lift depends on how you apply and smear the folien.

Let us look at a drinking glass lift.

What is noticeable, is a fairly consistently thick top line. You can “see” the rim (as you also do in Wertheim and Zeelenberg’s own lifts). There is also no significantly defined bottom line. The background is much the same as on the DVD cover lifts. But most importantly, this is how a an index finger’s print will look when it was dragged down by friction due to gravity. As a fact, this index print (of the same finger) is about 5 mm shorter than the flat prints’ (due to round nature of glass). Also note the much smaller and more horizontally angled thumb print. Folien 1’s thumb print is very big and in a more upright angled position.

Even if we disregard everything else – let us only look at the index and thumb prints. To the far left we have the glass lift, and to the far right a DVD cover lift, with Folien 1 in the middle.

Folien 1’s top line.

Top left: Our top line from a DVD cover lift (from the lift we took in the video). Top right: Our glass lift’s top line.

Folien 1’s prints above.

Our left index prints on a DVD cover lift (left) and on a drinking glass (right).

Until and unless Mr Altbeker “gets” the difference between a round surface and a flat surface and how this plays out in prints (e.g. that they will be shorter on a round drinking glass), and also realise the effect of gravity and friction (e.g. influencing the pattern and shape) – he will not be able to understand Folien 1. We suggest he thinks a bit about these aspects, and it would even better if he can do some lifts himself. We know that Mr Altbeker wants and needs the police to be liars, but unfortunately this desire and need (and even if some of them lied) will not change basic geometrical and scientific facts. It’s all about plain common sense, actually.

Regarding the rest, we are also still awaiting from Mr Altbeker the names of the experts who were “ready to testify” that the headwounds could not have been caused by the suspect hammer.

We suggest he reads more about the hammer and the marks found on the towel.

Mr Altbeker, if you have any more queries or opinions, please take it up with us. And of course, we will debate you anywhere, any place, any time. In fact we would welcome and love that. Since you have always made Mrs Lotz the “liar”, we would especially like to debate with you Fred’s version of the night of the 16th, so that we can see who the real liar is.

Some of Mr Altbeker’s other comments deserve attention, but we’ll reply on them in due course.