Submitted By: CJ Bronstrup

The InvestiGator Gazette is written by CJ Bronstrup and published by Atlas
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Trail Issue - Dept NE-7
113 Prince Charles Court
Kill Devil Hills, NC 27948
The art of reconstructing shredded documents can be great for fun for the
whole family if you can convince them it is a new jigsaw puzzle you just
bought. Otherwise, you may be in for a long night. The first step to
reassembling shredded documents is to sort the shreds prior to paste-up.
Look for differences in the angle of each shred, what text each document
contained, which color its paper was, and which weight, and the
identification of individual documents by their shreds is fairly simple,
albeit tedious. Once you have the shreds properly classified, only a few
pages should exist in each little group of sorted shreds. These will submit
easily to careful paste-up and result of reconstruction, since only one or
two hundred shreds exist in a three page group of average size. (This
article assumes you are not dealing with cross-cut, chipped documents, or
ashes; but with strip-cut pieces which are the most popular.) A three page
group only takes an hour or two to completely reassemble once you get the
hang of it. The key to paste-up is proper and systematic comparison of each
shred against as many others as seem to fit. This has to be done
systematically in order to avoid re-comparisons, and to identify patterns in
the reassembled portions.
Place the sorted shreds to one side, and place the first shred on the
paste-up board, anywhere. (I like to use the clear removable tape available
at most office supply stores.) Next, pick up the second shred, and place it
alongside the first in the same orientation. Compare it against one side,
then the other. If it matches, tape it down, and if it does not, tape it
down a little farther away, perhaps an inch or so away, parallel to the
first. Repeat the procedure until you have a partially completed page.
Sometimes, it is not necessary to reassemble the entire page unless you need
a copy. Often, I am only after information or leads. At this point it is a
lot like playing Wheel of Fortune. Once you guess the contents, you may
decide to scrap that page. (Honey, are you positive you don't want to play
this exciting new board game?) When you compare the shreds in this manner,
you are limiting the number of comparisons to a fixed, predictable number.
If you run out of room to paste down new strips, grab a fresh paste-up board
and keep it handy or prepare to recycle the "no-match" pile which will
develop opposite the "raw" pile.
Inspect the reassembled document strips as they grow. Read what develops to
guess which shreds match the open edges. The widening strips are compared as
if they were shreds, and joined whenever possible. If two matching strips
coexist on a paste-up board but remain unjoined, they retard your further
comparisons since two of the available edges will not match any free shreds.
That also wastes time.
When a few documents have been completed, transparent packing tape can be
used to fuse them, or care can be taken to tape only the tops and bottoms of
each document with tape. That way, when the shreds are cut free of their
tape, they are just a bunch of loose shreds again, ready for disposal. Clear
contact paper has been used but it can ruin documents whose shreds will not
lay flat anymore due to dampness or lengthy storage. Tape is easier to
control than contact paper, but both media will pull shreds up with their
static electric charges unless you ground them. Fully taped documents are
much easier to store and preserve, if you need the original. If you want the
data, make photocopies. Press completed documents between plastic (overhead
projector) sheets to keep the copier's glass clean and to align the shreds.
One thing to remember is that businesses and governments use forms whenever
possible to save cost. These can be roadmaps to incomplete reassembled
documents. Thus, it can be invaluable to have a blank form prior to
beginning a project. If need be, clear plastic can be traced over a
completed form to outline just the form boxes. When laid over the partial
document, these give a clue to what information is missing, and what shred
patterns to look for to complete it. (What a great mystery game, let's
invite the neighbors over for coffee and paste-up!)
Speaking of coffee, sometimes you'll have to deal with coffee grounds mixed
in with the strips as well as used cat litter, and even lunch waste mixed
with the shreds. You may run into intentional defenses by the super
cautious. One method that is common; they simply increase the shred volume
to include everything available, and overflow the trash bin. Burning is
best, but is not legal in many urban areas. Even when it's legal, it's
expensive; it requires safety equipment and personal supervision during
every moment of the burn. The military, however, prefers fire and flushing
to any alternative. When it absolutely, positively has to disappear
overnight, fire and water should be your choice, too. Cross cut shredders
are the next best defense.
Anyone who needs the data would have to give up their job or their social
life (or hire you) to have time for reconstruction! Why not let that
expensive computer equipment justify it's expense once more? Feeding the
data in is now easy with a flatbed scanner, and can be easier if you have
thin sheets of clear, stiff plastic to sandwich/mash the shreds down. A
programmer would then want to compare the edges of the images in the
computer's memory. The basic idea is to turn the edge of a shred image into
a "word" according to its pixel pattern. This "word" would then be sorted
with the other "words" and the results would indicate which images are
matches. Only a small portion of each edge would be compared, since a close
match in one area is a good indicator for the whole. A sample size might be
three inches in length, starting one inch down from the top of each shred.
Reconstruction would be accomplished by drawing in the images in their
relative positions and printing the result, or passing the image to an OCR
routine for translation into completed ASCII text pages. This too can be
very time consuming, but if many of the documents are in the same format, it
will become much faster on the second and following documents than the
first. Are you sure junior won't believe this is a new game?
I also would like to send you a subscription to our newsletter if you are
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All I ask in return is the same courtesy and permission. Just put us on your
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CJ Bronstrup
Phone:(252) 449-2903 Fax: (252) 449-2904
Visit: It's time well spent.
113 Prince Charles Court,
Kill Devil Hills, NC 27948
Publishers of:
The InvestiGator Gazette
The Atlas NaviGator
The Skip Trace Resource Book
The Expert's Guide to Information Gathering
The PI Software Power Pack!
CJ's Steam Roller Marketing Course
CJ's Steam Roller Marketing Reports
CJ's Steam Roller Marketing Bullets
Member of:
Association of Christian Investigators (North Carolina Director)
Private Investigators Association of Florida
National Association of Investigative Specialists
South Florida Investigator's Association
Louisiana Association of Private Investigators
Florida Association of Licensed Investigators