Thoughts about the Goldman Sachs Threat Letters
by
Ed Lake
(Started July 8, 2007)
(Last Update: January 7, 2008)
If you see any errors on this page or have
any additional information, 
please contact me at detect@newsguy.com
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In the summer of 2007, while waiting for some news about the Amerithrax investigation and the Hatfill lawsuits, I found myself becoming intrigued by the Goldman Sachs threat letters which were in the news.  I don't believe the letters have anything to do with the anthrax attacks, nor do I think al Qaeda was behind them, but they present an interesting puzzle.   And they became even more of a puzzle when the culprit later sent two more letters explaining why the first letters were written.

THE GOLDMAN SACHS THREAT LETTERS

In late June of 2007, using mailboxes in the boroughs of Manhattan and Queens in New York City, someone mailed "at least 31" (but most likely 70) letters to a very odd assortment of newspapers around the country.   They were mailed on June 26 or 27 and postmarked on the 27th.  They began showing up at their destinations in early July.  The letters were all handwritten in red ink.  They apparently all looked similar to this one postmarked on Wednesday, June 27, and sent to a newspaper in Indiana:

By digging through news articles about the letters, I tried to assemble a full list of the newspapers.  But the information is far from complete.  I have the names of some newspapers, I just have cities or towns for others and I just have states for others.  Here is what I have found so far:
 

NEWSPAPERS

The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette in Indiana.
The New Jersey Star-Ledger in Newark, New Jersey.
The Idaho Statesman in Boise, Idaho.
The Caller-Times of Corpus Christi, Texas.
The Peoria Journal Star in Peoria, Illinois.
The Knoxville News Sentinel in Tennessee.
The Bayonne Community News in New Jersey.
The Glendale Register in Queens, New York.
The TimesLedger in Queens, New York
The Bay News in Queens, New York
The Downdown News in Brooklyn, New York
 

CITIES

Seattle, WA

STATES

Arizona
North Dakota
Ohio
Vermont

That is a very odd assortment of newspaper locations.  Here's a map of the cities (X) and other locations (?) identified so far:

When the Peoria Journal Star was added to the list of newspapers on July 9, it seemed to confirm that the assortment was NOT random, even though the article contained this paragraph: 

"There seems to be no pattern regarding which newspapers are being selected to receive the letters," said Marshall Stone, FBI spokesman for the Springfield division. "We're aware of several newspapers receiving letters containing non-specific threats, and we're working with other agencies, including the U.S. postal inspectors, to determine who is sending the letters."
I see a pattern when I see that Fort Wayne and Peoria are at about the same latitude as the cluster in New York and New Jersey: approximately 40.5º. 

I see a pattern when I see that newspapers in cities at the far edges of the continental U.S. were sent letters:  Corpus Christi, Newark, Seattle and possibly the papers in Arizona, Vermont, North Dakota, and maybe even the one in Boise, Idaho.

To me, this initially seemed all very reminicent of the mail box bomber from back in mid-2002 who was drawing a connect-the-dots "smiley face" across a map of the U.S. with his pipe bombs.  So, there was a precedent.  It was not a totally off-the-wall idea.

That's why I notified the FBI about these observations on July 7. 

The main pattern I saw was a "circle" or "border" or the outline of a "writing space" along the edges of the continental U.S., and I saw the start of a horizontal line through the center of that defined space at 40.5º latitude.  The odd ball was the newspaper in Knoxville.  It didn't fit.   But that is most likely because I didn't have enough information to figure out how it fits.  The other newspaper locations and more specifics about the ones only identified by state could help with that (or they could show I'm totally wrong).  Boise may also be an "odd ball."  It's pretty far from the "edge".

On July 10, AP reported that a letter had been found somewhere in Arizona.  In earlier versions of this page, I predicted a letter would be found in the Far Southwest.  Now I'm looking for another in some place in the Far Southeast (like Jacksonville).  That would seem to confirm the circle or border. 

If the letter that went to some unidentified newspaper in Ohio went to the Lima News in Lima, that would definitely confirm the horizontal line at 40.5º latitude.  The Akron Beacon Journal could be close enough, too.  But, does the horizontal line stop at Joliet?  Salt lake City is at the same latitude.  So is Redding, California.

And where does the Knoxville News Sentinel fit in this game of "connect the dots?"

Looking at the map a few months later, I realized that, except for the cluster in New York and New Jersey, there was only one letter per State.   If 70 letters were sent, it's possible that, except for the New York and New Jersey letters, he simply sent one threat letter to one small newspaper in each of the 50 States.  But, did the 20 extras all go to New York and New Jersey weekly newspapers?  And why write 70 letters?  If he sent one a newspaper in each State, the 20 extra could be key to understanding the culprit's motivation. 

Since I couldn't find any obvious symbol or writing in the locations identified so far, there may be a totally different (or additional) explanation for the "pattern" in the way the culprit picked small newspapers

"SPECIALIZED KNOWLEDGE"

Another idea, which resulted from a discussion on a FreeRepublic forum, was that the pattern behind the letters was an indicator of someone with "specialized knowledge."  This idea rapidly gained more credence by the minute.

The idea was that the person behind the Goldman Sachs letters could be someone familiar with sending out press releases.   Since he clearly wanted his "threats" to be printed in newspapers, he may have picked this odd assortment of newspapers because that's where his press releases got printed.  Although the idea initially seemed absurd to me, it soon made a certain amount of sense, since minor press releases are more likely to be printed by small newspapers looking to fill space.  It might also mean that he'd have some kind of a list of these newspapers handy and wouldn't have to look them up on the Internet or elsewhere.  It could also explain why he sent  a bunch of the letters to weekly newspapers in Queens and Brooklyn.  It would explain why there didn't seem to be any "normal" pattern to the the assortment of locations. It wasn't about the locations, it was about the how small newspapers handle press releases.  (I sent this idea to the FBI, too.)

If the culprit is familiar with sending out press releases, he may not realize that he has some "specialized knowledge" which makes his thinking in this area very different from the "average" person.   He might have thought he was doing what was a "normal" way for sending a large number of threatening letters to the media, but, in reality, he did things in a way that not one person in a thousand would even have thought of. 

On July 13, I received an unconfirmed e-mail report stating that authorities believe the culprit used The Gale Directory of Publications to locate his newspaper targets. This very expensive book is available at many libraries, but a person who does frequent press releases as part of his profession might have his own copy.  (The "explanation letters" discussed below suggest that this is indeed where the letter writer got the addresses.)

With luck, some of his press releases may be on file at newspapers like The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette or the Corpus Christi Caller-Times.   It's probably too much to hope that he hand-addressed the envelopes containing those press releases.

ANALYZING THE MESSAGE

It's also possible that the text of his letter contains more than what immediately appears. 

GOLDMAN SACHS.

No letters were sent to Goldman Sachs.  That is very unusual if the letters are supposed to be a threat upon Goldman Sachs. 

Strangely, the culprit put a period after Goldman Sachs.  If the name was the subject of the letter, there would be no period, and there would probably be a wider space below it.  If the letters were addressed to Goldman Sachs, it should have been a comma.

Goldman Sachs could just be a symbol of something.  Or "Goldman Sachs" could just be the attention getting code-phrase that would be needed for authorities to identify and locate all the letters in order to properly decode his entire message.

HUNDREDS WILL DIE.

"Hundreds?"  One would expect al Qaeda to say "thousands" or "millions."  "Hundreds" seems just too realistic and manageable.  That's a bit worrisome.

WE ARE INSIDE.

"We are inside" does not have to mean inside Goldman Sachs.  It seems more likely to me that the culprit is saying that al Qaeda is inside the U.S. 

I do not believe al Qaeda had anything to do with the letters.  It's all just too childish and convoluted for them.  But, like the person who sent the anthrax letters, this guy seems to want people to believe the letters were sent by radical Muslims.  The person who sent the anthrax letters killed 5 innocent Americans.  This guy could be dangerous, too.  He could be mentally unstable.   He has something on his twisted mind.  There's got to be some motive behind what he did.

YOU CANNOT STOP US.

This sentence probably means just what it says.  But why is there no date mentioned for when "hundreds will die"?  Do we have to connect the dots on the map to find the date?

A.Q.U.S.A.

Only the signature "A.Q.U.S.A." truly implies the threat is from al Qaeda (A.Q.)  It's probably another attention-getting device.  It seems highly unlikely that the rag tag collection of al Qaeda wannabees and genuine sleepers in the U.S. could organize into a true fighting group.   The grandiose name seems intended to make the threat more scary.

HANDWRITING

The culprit didn't seem to have a problem writing a large number of letters by hand (possibly as many as 70) and addressing the same number of envelopes by hand.  A group would most likely have distributed the writing chore among its members, but all the letters I've seen so far were written by the same individual.  Here are images of the letters he sent to three other newspapers, which you can compare to the letter sent to The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette above:
 

Glendale Register
Bay News
The Downtown News

The letter sent to the Knoxville News Sentinel is also available for viewing, but it's in .pdf format, and it's a very bad copy (probably because it was written in red ink which doesn't copy very well on copy machines).  You can view it by clicking HERE

When you include the "explanation letters" discussed below, he has provided an unusually large number of samples of his handwriting for comparison.  This may indicate that he wants to get caught, or it may indicate that he thinks he's smart enough to avoid getting caught no matter how many clues he provides. 

There may have been some attempt to disguise his handwriting in addition to writing in block letters.  But even when writing in block letters, his handwriting actually shows some very distinctive characteristics:

1.  The most distinctive characteristic appears to be the way he draws the letter "D" with flair and a droop to the curve.

2.  It is very distinctive the way he sometimes draws the letter "Y" differently when it is in the middle of a word (Fort Wayne) or sentence versus when it begins a sentence (You). 

3.  He appears to draw the letter "N" by first drawing the left vertical line downward, then tracing back over it in one continuous stroke to the top again to start the rest of the N.   He does something similar with his "A's", first drawing the left side downward, then retracing it back to the top where he starts drawing the right side.  That seems to me to be very unusual.  It looks like he may be doing something similar with his "M's." 

4.  His way of drawing the letter "G" in one stroke is also distinctive. 

5.  His way of sometimes drawing the letter R without the curved loop is very distinctive.  Note how different his R's are from his P's in the Downtown News letter.  At other times, however, he does draw the curved loop.   He also shows that he uses the Catholic school, not the public school, way of drawing the letter R.  Check out the letter sent to the Knoxville News Sentinel for examples.

There are probably only a few people who write with all these handwriting characteristics.

It's also worth noting that I began analyzing the information about the threat letters on my web site on Sunday, July 8, 2007.  First I put the information as a "comment" on the main page of my web site www.anthraxinvestigation.com.  Then, as things became much more interesting, I started this separate page. 

This is worth noting because a couple days after I started writing about the Goldman Sachs threat letters on my site, the person who wrote them suddenly found a need to admit that the threat letters were hoaxes and to provide an explanation for why they had been sent out.  One of the two "explanation letters" he mailed was postmarked on Wednesday, July 11, 2007.  The other was probably postmarked on that same day.

THE EXPLANATION LETTERS

In a bizarre twist, the New York Daily News reported on August 6, 2007, that in July they  had received a 4-page letter explaining the reasoning behind the Goldman Sachs threat letters.  The new letter claimed the whole thing was a hoax "conceived by three misguided teenagers."

Here are pages 1 and 3 from the letter:

On August 7, 2007, Newsday reported that they received this same letter, a different handwritten copy.  Newsday provided images of all four pages:




The handwriting definitely seems to match the handwriting on the Goldman Sachs threat letters.  However, that isn't any reason to totally accept what is written in these new letters.   According to The Daily News:

"The investigators believe the latest letter may have been written by the same person, but they're not convinced the underlying story in the letter is the truth," said [FBI] spokesman James Margolin.
....

Investigators' interest was piqued by the claim that the letters were wiped with furniture polish to erase forensic evidence, which was confirmed by tests.

I'd be very intrigued if the furniture polish was silicone-based instead of wax-based.  It would almost certainly be the letter writer's attempt to show how silicon and oxygen showed up in the anthrax spores mailed in October of 2001.

The "explanation letters" say on page 2:

THEY GOT THE NEWSPAPER NAMES AND ADDRESSES FROM A DIRECTORY AT THE LIBRARY.
That confirms what I was told via an e-mail on July 13, 2007.

The explanation letters say a total of 70 threat letters were mailed.   Unfortunately, it appears that many of the letters were simply thrown away by the recipients, because the newspapers which received the explanation letters both report that only 40 were found.

MORE ABOUT HANDWRITING

It appears that the New York Daily News letter was written first, and the writer then copied it when writing the Newsday letter.  The Newsday letter contains a couple errors which are almost certainly the result of copying errors.  The first error seems to clearly indicate he was looking at the first letter while writing the second.  In the first paragraph on the first page of the Newsday letter, he wrote the letter P in "PRINTING" in a very unusual way:

About the only explanation for that kind of error is that he was looking elsewhere when writing that P.  To confirm that analysis, I looked for other copying errors, finding a few, but another very clear one on the third page of the Newsday letter.  The Daily News letter contains this:

In the Newsday letter below "THESE" becomes "THERE", which makes no sense.  It happens when someone is copying without thinking about what he is actually writing:

Note added January 7, 2008: Someone pointed out that the writer might have just failed to lift the pen from the paper when he connected the bottom of the E to the start of the S.  The fact that there appears to be a connector between the end of the extender on the R, making it look more like a B than an R, could indicate that the writer started to draw an R and then tried changing it to an S.

The way he wrote that P in PRINTING also made me wonder how he normally writes the letter P.  In the letters, he wrote the capital letter P in two basically different ways:

The P in PLEASE is written with 2 strokes, the vertical line and the curve.  The P in PRANK was written with 1 stroke, drawing the vertical line downward, then tracing over it back to the top and continuing with the arc.  He did a better job of tracing over the vertical line with the P in STUPID.

Here's a better example of drawing a P with one stroke:

And here's an example of drawing the letter P with one stroke but in two slightly different ways within a single word:

There's no way to be absolutely certain if he normally draws the letter P with one stroke or two, and it's totally possible that he normally switches back and forth as he did while writing the explanation letters.  But since there are no examples of him writing the letter P with two strokes in the threat letters, 1 stroke could be his normal method.  Writing with 2 strokes could be part of an attempt to disguise his handwriting.  Or vice versa.

I also noted that in the fourth paragraph of the "explanation letters" the writer used the word "deemed."  That's a somewhat uncommon word.  If it is used frequently by someone you know, and that person's handwriting is similar to the writing in the Goldman Sachs letters, you should consider notifying the FBI .

ANALYSIS

Just like the anthrax mailer, this guy could have assumed that the newspapers would all treat his threat letters as genuine threats.  But, like the anthrax letters, many of the Goldman Sachs letters were thrown away by busy clerks who paid little or no attention to them.   So, we may not be able to fully decode his message -- if more decoding is needed.

If, on the other hand, locations aren't important because the "pattern" relates to the  newspapers which he found were most likely to publish his previous "press releases," then finding the names and locations of all 40 (or 70) newspapers could be just a waste of my time.  The "pattern" cannot be found that way.  Still, I'd like to verify whether there is or is not a pattern to the locations.

If he sent a letter to one newspaper in each of the 50 States, it may have been just another way of saying "WE ARE INSIDE" the United States, "WE" meaning al Qaeda.

I don't want to scare anyone, but I don't think this guy should be dismissed as a total crank, even though there are indications the guy seems to want to get caught.

There's a certain lack of logic to all this.  The original threat letters were supposed to be from a group, "A.Q.U.S.A."  Yet, all the letters were handwritten by just one person.  Why wouldn't they divide up the writing chores if there were 70 letters and envelopes?  The "explanation letters" just add to the unbelievability of the situation.  They say that three teenagers were behind the letters, but only the girl actually did any writing -- because her handwriting was deemed "prettier."  Is it really believable that a supposedly intelligent teenage girl would write 70 letters and address 70 envelopes while 2 teenage boys just sat around watching?  To me, the "explanation letters" seem like another attempt to make it appear that there is a group behind the letters.  Things make much better sense when you think of one obsessed man being behind behind all this. 

And why would anyone wipe down 70 envelopes and 70 stamps with furniture polish?  Did they wipe the wax or silicone furniture polish on the envelopes before writing the addresses with red ink?  Does that make any sense?  Even though he used a felt tip pen, wouldn't there be some sign that the ink couldn't soak into the paper?  Or did they wipe the furniture polish on the envelopes after writing on the paper with red ink? Why didn't the red ink smear?  There's no sign of smearing on the two images of the envelopes that we have.  According to the reports in the media, however, furniture polish was used.  If so, then the polish could have been applied to the INTERIORS of the envelopes.  That would indicate that the application of furniture polish had absolutely nothing to do with wiping away fingerprints.

(I did some tests using in-house supplies.  A spray furniture polish like "Favor" soaks through the paper.  I couldn't even write on it.  And if I wrote first, then sprayed and wiped, the ink smears very badly.  I also tried the same tests using "Pledge Wipes", which don't soak through the paper.  Writing then polishing still causes the writing to smear.  Wiping the paper first, then writing on it seems to result in the ink being thinned out.) 

What concerns me most about this matter is that the letter writer doesn't appear to believe he did anything wrong.  He seems to feel that if those Muslim doctors in England and Scotland hadn't screwed things up for him with their bungled car bomb attempts, everything would have been okay.   He says his childish plot "unfortunately" coincided with those events.  So, it wasn't his fault that his plan didn't work out.  He confirms that later when he calls it a "childish prank gone wrong."   And, if any further confirmation was needed, he seems to believe that he can just beg for forgiveness, and the police and the media will simply forget about what he did.

Since the guy doesn't believe he did anything seriously wrong, and he blames those nasty Muslim doctors for screwing things up for him, he could try some other way to send out his message and to make his point -- if he's given half a chance.

The explanation letters, however, definitely show that he is frightened of being identified and arrested.  So, maybe he'll at least think twice before doing something else.

UPDATE HISTORY:
July 8-11, 2007 - Many changes and updates as I constructed the page.
July 12, 2007 - Added the Glendale Register version of the letter, added new references, etc.
July 13, 2007 - Added 2 new versions of the letter and new references, expanded the handwriting analysis, etc.  Added this "Update History" section.  Removed the "Under Construction" sign.  Changed the "Another Idea" section to "Specialized Knowledge" and altered different things on the site to make this a key idea.
July 14, 2007 - Did some polishing (rephrasing and expanding things to make them more clear).
July 21, 2007 - While comparing the handwriting on the Goldman Sachs letters to someone's handwriting, I noticed the unusual way the writer of the Goldman Sachs letters drew the letter R.  I added a comment to the handwriting section.
July 26, 2007 - The Knoxville News Sentinel published a copy of the letter they received.  I added a link to it and made comments about it in the handwriting section.
August 6, 2007 - The New York Daily News reported that a new letter had been received which explained why the letters were sent.  I updated this page to include that new information.
August 7, 2007 - Added information about the "explanation letter" received by Newsday, and put their images of the letter on the site.  Changed the wording on my analysis of how the letter writer writes the letter Y.
August 8, 2007 - I noticed that the writer of the "explanation letters" used the word "deemed."  That's an uncommon word.
August 9, 2007 - It occurred to me that there is a lack of logic to the two attempts to make it seem that a group was behind the letters.  I added a new paragraph to the "Analysis" section.
August 12, 2007 - It occurred to me that the application of wax or silicone furniture polish will affect writing on paper or will smear writing that is already on paper.  Plus, it occurred to me that the letter writer believes he didn't do anything wrong.  Added comments about that to the "Analysis" section.
September 12, 2007 - Added an article about an "anthrax scare" at another financial institution -- Standard & Poors.
November 11, 2007 - Overhauled the site to put things in chronological order and to make minor changes.  Plus I added comments about how the culprit wrote the letter P in the "explanation letters," and  I wondered if 1 letter was sent to 1 newspaper in all 50 States, with the 20 extras going to newspapers in New York and New Jersey.
January 7, 2008 - Added a comment about how the R in THERE in the Newsday letter actually could be an S.

REFERENCES:
CNN - July 6, 2007 - "Goldman Sachs targeted with death threats"
The Peoria Journal Star - July 7, 2007 - "Journal Star received note targeting Goldman Sachs"
USA Today (AP) - July 10, 2007 - "Ex-workers eyed as suspects in threats against Goldman"
The Bayonne Community News - July 11, 2007 - "Goldman Sachs threat not considered credible"
Queens Ledger - July 12, 2007 - "Register Receives Threat Letter"
TimesLedger.com - July 12, 2007 - " Threat letter sent to TimesLedger"
The Brooklyn Graphic - July 12, 2007 - " ‘Hundreds will die,’ note threatens - Newspapers get ‘terror’ note"
The Brooklyn Paper - July 13, 2007 - "Paper gets ‘Qaeda’ threat"
The Knoxville News Sentinel - July 25, 2007 - "Sentinel, other papers get threatening letter"
The New York Daily News - Aug. 6, 2007 - " Teens behind terror 'hoax,' sez new letter"
Newsday.com - Aug. 7, 2007 - "Letter to Newsday claims Goldman threat a hoax"
The New York Post - Sept. 12, 2007 - "WALL STREET 'THRAX SCARE"

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