Shopping-Mall Priest Norman Werling Has a Little Sideline: He's the Sherlock Holmes of Handwriting

UPDATED 01/28/1980 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 01/28/1980 at 01:00 AM EST

When police in Bergen County, N.J. call in Father Norman Werling to work on a case, they aren't looking for divine inspiration—merely a little help in reading the handwriting on the wall or wherever else it happens to be. In addition to presiding, with two other Carmelite priests, over a shopping-mall chapel and counseling center, Father Werling, 62, moonlights as an expert in the field of graphoanalysis.

What that means, precisely, is that Werling is licensed to study people's handwriting for indications of their physical appearance and character. "With anonymous letters especially," he says, "police want any kind of clue you can give them. In 80 percent of the cases I can tell whether the writer is male or female, left-or right-handed. Also, I can break the writing into four groups: strong or weak extravert, strong or weak introvert."

From handwriting alone, the priest maintains, he has put together descriptions as detailed as the following: "I think the writer is male, maybe 45 and left-handed. You'll find him to be long and narrow of face, with a sharp nose and chin." Though police were initially skeptical, Werling's surprising accuracy has produced some believers. Last year, for example, a Connecticut gas retailer became convinced that one of his workers was involved in a credit card swindle. Werling examined writing samples from every employee, then prepared a psychological profile of one of the suspects that persuaded a judge to issue a search warrant. Once inside the employee's apartment, police found a virtual phony credit card factory.

Another time, a local university president began receiving what Werling describes as "truly vile anonymous letters." The graphoanalyst sifted through more than 800 writing samples, then picked out a student as the likely offender. The youth promptly broke down and confessed. Later police brought Werling a collection of unsigned letters received by a distraught Bergen County woman. When he described the writer, the victim was thunderstruck. "Oh, my God," she exclaimed, "that's my brother-in-law!"

The son of a mill worker, Werling grew up in Pittsburgh, where a high school shorthand teacher kindled his interest in graphology. Werling studied for the priesthood at Mount Carmel College in Canada and later, at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., wrote an analysis of a well-known medieval religious forgery for his master's thesis. It wasn't until 1963, however, while recovering from a serious automobile accident, that he decided to set up GraphoDynamics Associates, a one-man handwriting analysis firm. Today, working out of a tiny six-foot-square cubicle in a chapel at the Bergen Mall in Paramus, N.J., he and an apprentice serve more than 200 companies a year. Among his clients are banks and jewelers interested in gauging the reliability of potential employees. He has also established America's first campus major in handwriting psychology at Felician College in Lodi, N.J.

Graphoanalysis is an invaluable tool in his first calling, too. "In marriage counseling, once I get some writing from both partners," he claims, "I can see what the problem is in two minutes. Of course, some overzealous people say handwriting analysis is part of devil worship. But it's behavior psychology; it has nothing to do with the occult." Werling hopes that school systems will someday turn to graphoanalysis as a means of diagnosing children's talents and learning disabilities. He is also conducting a study of the handwriting of pregnant women and has predicted with uncanny accuracy the sex of their unborn children. Of 220 tries, he's guessed wrong only seven times, he says. (Werling detects sex-differentiating neuromuscular effects of pregnancy in the mothers' handwriting.) His religious superiors, he notes, are favorably disposed toward his commercial success, for all his fees are turned over directly to the Carmelite order. "I don't worry about being sued," Father Werling says with a laugh. "I don't even own the shirt on my back."

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