The Importance of Pursuing Communication With Others When Mentioned During an Interview

Written By: Reid
Mar 01, 1999

Frequently, when an investigator asks a subject to recount the events of a particular date, the subject will include a telephone call, personal conversation or letter received. These communications can be gold mines of information in resolving an investigation. As such, they should always be pursued during an interview. Communications brought up by the subject during an interview provide:

1. A possible witness to verify the subject's alibi

2. A possible accomplice

3. A possible motive for committing the crime

4. Possible indications of deception, when no such communication really took place.

Perhaps because acknowledgment of a communication does not appear incriminating, we find that deceptive subjects will often include reference to communications within their accounts. For example, in a case involving a tavern that was burned down to collect insurance money, we asked the suspect to relate everything he did during a six hour time period which incorporated the time in which the fire was set. In his response he mentioned receiving a telephone call approximately three hours before the fire started. Following up on this telephone conversation revealed that it was from the owner of the tavern that was burned. While it was known that the two were friends, the close proximity between the call and the fire was suspicious. Later during the interview the subject was asked about his reaction to being a suspect in the investigation. His response included another telephone conversation with the tavern owner that occurred shortly after the owner was questioned by the police. When asked about that conversation, the subject said that the owner asked him, "We didn't do it did we? to which the subject responded, "Remember, I didn't even see you that night." By the end of the investigation, the subject confessed that the owner promised him a portion of the insurance money if he started the fire, which he acknowledged doing.

When a subject's response includes communication with others, whether it be telephonic, personal, an electronic message, or written communication, a door has been opened for further insight to the subject's possible guilt, or innocence in the crime. Too often, however, an investigator will simply note that the communication took place and perhaps the time of the communication but not pursue its contents. At a minimum, the subject should be asked who the communication was with, and what was said. In a recent consultation involving a possibly fabricated crime, the husband, who discovered the crime, called his wife before reporting it to the police. Unfortunately, the investigator did not pursue this conversation. Obvious interview questions would have been, "What did you tell your wife?"; "What was her reaction?" "How long did the conversation last" and, "Why did you call your wife before the police?".

As a final example of the importance of pursuing conversations, consider the common situation in which an individual, who becomes a suspect, is close to the crime ( a victim, the person who reported the crime, an individual who was initially questioned at the scene). When that person returns home he has a choice of either sharing his experience with family members and friends or keeping it a secret. When this subject is subsequently interviewed, the investigator should ask, "Who did you tell about (incident)?" Considering that it is human nature to share emotional events with loved ones, it is very suspicious if the subject states that he told no one about the incident. It is rare for us to interview an innocent person who has not shared the crime experience with a loved one. Keeping the crime a secret is much more often observed from the guilty subject, usually accompanied by some excuse, "I didn't want to upset my wife", "My parents are real busy and I didn't want to bother them with this", "I figured this is my problem and I should handle it on my own."

Sometimes, however, a guilty subject, out of necessity, will tell loved ones about his predicament. When the subject acknowledges telling a loved one about the crime, that conversation should be pursued: "When you told (loved one) about this, what was his/her reaction?" or another similar question to draw out the content of the conversation. We have found that innocent suspects speak in depth and openly to loved ones about the investigation and that it is obvious from their conversations that they freely discussed the issue and impact it could have on their life. The deceptive subject, on the other hand, is much more likely to describe the conversations in a shallow, unconcerned matter. For example, "When you told your wife about this sex abuse allegation, what was her reaction?". "Not much, really. She was curious about what was said and everything. But we really haven't discussed it that much."

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