I Have Been Given a Lie Detector Test: Could You Pass?


Years ago, I had an interview with a police department for a forensic position. I had already been fingerprinted, interviewed by the supervisor, had an in-depth background meeting with the background investigators trying to catch me in a lie from my thirty plus page application of my background. The investigator even visited my home. I still wasn’t done with the interview process yet!  The final phase of the interview was the lie detector test.

I’m a fairly easy-going, straight to the point kind of person with nothing to hide, but I have to admit I was a little intimidated by the thought that my stress might make the lie detector test blip a bit. Maybe it would make me look guilty for something I did or didn’t do.

Was that possible?

I met with a patrol sergeant who was certified in administering the lie detector test to police department applicants. I was escorted into a small interrogation room. We are talking no thrills, small metal table, two uncomfortable chairs, and a rudimentary sign on the wall that read: check your firearm before entering.  Yeah, it was one of those rooms where the cops questioned suspects with hardcore investigative techniques.


My writer’s brain went through all types of wild scenarios, and I wondered if they had questioned a murder suspect in the very chair I was seated. Now I was sweating and fidgeting in my chair. I expected to be wired up with numerous plastic suction cups with a strap across my chest as shown on television; but instead, my lie detector test was one tiny clip with a microphone affixed to my shirt. The one cord was linked via USB connection to a laptop computer as the sergeant watched the modest size screen. It was a voice stress analyzer that would detect any inconsistencies (or stress) from my voice.

And so it began… I kept thinking that my voice sounded funny, almost hollow, as I answered the routine questions. It was like someone else was talking, but it was most likely my perception inside my head along with my rattling nerves.

Once the interview was over, I asked half-jokingly, “So did I pass?”

The polite cop answered, “I just have a question that I need verified from someone else.”

I just stared at him. Was he kidding? Was it a part of the test?

To make a long story short, I passed all of the tests and was offered a position and began an internship in the forensic’s division.

So what the heck is the standard lie detector test?

It’s actually called a polygraph, which is administered by a certified polygraph examiner.  A polygraph is basically a combination of medical devices that are used to monitor changes occurring in the body. As a person is questioned about a certain event or incident, the examiner looks to see how the person’s heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate and electro-dermal activity (sweatiness) change in comparison to normal levels. Fluctuations may indicate that person is being deceptive, but exam results are open to interpretation (if the subject is deceptive) by the examiner. ­

This is where the whole polygraph thing gets interesting. The questions, answers, and responses are all subjective to the “interpretation” of the examiner. It leaves room for some seriously grey areas in my opinion.

Can people really beat the polygraph?

According to Russell Tice, the National Security Agency whistleblower who blew the lid open on warrantless wiretapping conducted by the federal government on U.S. citizens post-9/11, says a person can trick the tester on “probable-lie” questions.

These are the basic questions that the examiner gives to the recipient before the process actually begins, like “have you ever stolen money” or “have you ever cheated on a test”, etc.

Tice goes on to explain, “to trick the tester, a person should lie in response to these questions like most other people would, but also bite their tongue hard while doing so, which will set off other physiological reactions in the body. The tester’s “needles will fly everywhere,” says Tice, “and he will think, ‘This guy is a nervous nelly. He has a strong physical reaction when he’s lying.’”

What about psychopaths?

If these types of individuals don’t see anything wrong with lying in the first place and have no bodily changes in the process, then this test would deem inaccurate and at the very least highly incomplete.

How accurate is the lie detector?

Some interesting new research published in May of 2013 from an international team of psychologists has shown that people can actually suppress incriminating memories.  What happens when certain individuals do this is that they avoid detection in the brain activity with guilt detection tests. It sounds simple enough, but it’s based on the logic that criminals have specific memories of their crime stored in their brain. Once the criminal is confronted or reminded of these details, then the brain will automatically recognize these details and the bodily changes occur.

Contrary to this assumption, some individuals can intentionally suppress unwanted memories. It wasn’t clear from the article if psychopathy was studied as well, but I would guess that sociopathic and psychopathic individuals would/could be a part of this memory suppressor group.

Dr. Jon Simons, of the Department of Psychology at the University of Cambridge stated, “Our findings would suggest that the use of most brain activity guilt detection tests in legal settings could be of limited value. Of course, there could be situations where it is impossible to beat a memory detection test, and we are not saying that all tests are flawed, just that the tests are not necessarily as good as some people claim. More research is also needed to understand whether the results of this research work in real life crime detection.”

 * * *

Fun Fact:   The polygraph was invented in 1921 by John Augustus Larson, a medical student at the University of California at Berkeley and a police officer of the Berkeley Police Department in Berkeley, California. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, the polygraph was on its 2003 list of greatest inventions, described by the company as inventions that “have had profound effects on human life for better or worse.”


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Katherine Ramsland: What if Jack the Ripper Lived with You?

This is a great article from Dr. Katherine Ramsland that previously posted on The Writer’s Forensic Blog (with D.P. Lyle, M.D.) 9/1/2016. I thought it was an interesting post to reblog. You can check it out below.

The Crime Fiction Writer's Forensics Blog

It seems that after many disturbing crimes, the family, friends, or neighbors, in shock at what happened, often say: “But he seemed so nice. So normal. We had no idea.”

Happens all the time.

My friend Katherine Ramsland addresses this in an excellent new blog post in Shadow Boxing on the Psychology Today site.


What if Jack the Ripper Lived with You? by Dr, Katherine Ramsland

An early Ripper tale depicts the role of denial in reframing the obvious.

I’ve long known about an early fictional story based on the murders attributed to Jack the Ripper, but only recently read it. The Lodger, by Marie Belloc Lowndes, was published as a short story in January 1911 in McClure’s magazine. Later, she lengthened it into a novella that focused on the female landlady. Alfred Hitchcock changed it somewhat to turn it into a film.

Reportedly, Lowndes was inspired by an…

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Evil Among Us: 5 Traits of Serial Killers


Photo courtesy of theodysseyonline.com

For a plethora of alarming reasons, serial killers are a rare breed.

In that regard, one of the most horrific facets of these psychopaths is that these monsters not only possess psychotic and sadistic urges. But, they also have the wherewithal and intelligence to successfully act upon these aggressive and disturbing impulses.

Law enforcement and psychologists have studied these individuals, and have determined that the following five traits are found in most known serial killers.

Desire for Power

Most serial killers have an insatiable thirst for power. When they have a victim in their grasp, the feeling of having control over that person, gives the killer a great sense of satisfaction.

Even after the jig is up, and law enforcement has them in their clutches, serial killers still yearn for that power and control. Their need to exert control over others leads them to withhold small bits of information concerning their crimes.

So, despite being under the control of the police, a serial killer still manages to show some power by not allowing law enforcement to fully and efficiently solve the crimes at hand. Of course, that all changes, when and if, the serial killer decides that they want to cooperate – under their terms.

The Great Manipulators

Appearing vulnerable, and wanting to please others is another dominant characteristic of serial killers. This façade of relative humility and weakness is used to lure victims into a false sense of security.

The serial killer will hide their deeply disturbed personality under the false pretense of being a “nice guy.” These killers have an uncanny ability to read people, and manipulate other’s emotions, in order to get their way.

For example, a medical doctor—Harold Shipman—was able to lure people into the belief that he was an altruistic, caring member of society. Ultimately, this led his victims right into his sinister plot to inflict death upon them through so-called “medical treatment.”


Serial killers often have a difficult time keeping their atrocities to themselves. Whether they are bragging to another victim, an accomplice, or to law enforcement, these psychopaths cannot help but gloat about their horrific crimes.

Some killers take their bragging to an extreme by revisiting sites in which they committed their murders. This action will often lead a serial killer to self-incrimination due to the heightened potential of being followed or seen at the site. Such behavior goes against the criminal code of never revisiting the site of your crime. But, their egos get in the way of common sense.

A British serial killer, Trevor Hardy, once bragged to his brother about the fact that he had brutally murdered teenage girls. Hardy’s ego eventually resulted in his incarceration.


Photo courtesy of fbnoodleman.blogspot.com.

Insincere Charm

Serial killers have an excellent grasp on what makes people tick. Essentially, serial killers use their feigned charisma, wit and charm, along with their manipulation skills, in order to determine their victim’s weakness. And then, they exploit that vulnerability and pounce.

These psychopaths have an excellent aptitude at gaining the position of power over someone by using simple common sense with a dose of flattery, and well-received compliments.

The epitome of a superficial charmer is the infamous Jeffrey Dahmer.  Another example is Ted Bundy, who was widely known as being a handsome and charming man. He would often approach his victims by feigning a disability, so that he could gain sympathy and trust from them. Then he would kidnap, rape and murder his female victims. It is believed that Bundy killed 30 people over a four-year span in the 1970s.

Everyday People

One of the most disturbing aspects of serial killers, is that they appear to be your average, everyday law-abiding citizens. They own homes. Have jobs. Pay their bills. But, unbeknownst to their colleagues, acquaintances and neighbors, these cold-blooded killers are harboring deep, sadistic secrets.

Serial killers use their “average Joe” status as a way to fool people into trusting them. They appear to be normal, well-adjusted members of society, but they are the closest thing to real evil that most of us will ever encounter.

Understanding the psychology of these monsters aides law enforcement in investigating and incarcerating those who wish to do us harm. Are there any traits, other than those mentioned above, that you believe serial killers’ possess?


You can watch fictional vigilante detective Emily Stone track down a serial killer:


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Investigating Cold Cases with High-Tech Forensic Methods


There are more than 14,000 murders committed every year across the United States (on average).  That number averages out to about 38 murders every single day.  This number is based on crime statistical data from 2011 by the FBI Uniform Crime Reports. What is also concerning is that violent crime is trending upward across the United States.

The FBI Uniform Crime Reports are the collection of statistics and data from approximately 17,000 law enforcement agencies including city and town police departments, state law enforcement, tribal authorities and college and university police, on the violent crimes of murder and non-negligent manslaughter, rape, robbery and aggravated assault. It also includes data on the property crimes of larceny, burglary and auto theft.

What is concerning about the number of annual homicides is that there are other violent crimes committed every single day as well, such as forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault, which elevates the violent crime daily incidents.  When all of these types of investigations go cold, these cases pile up exponentially.

clearance_rates2011The clearance rate of homicides, on yearly average , is approximately 60%, which includes clearance by arrest and exceptional means.  I take an exception to clearance by “exceptional means”, which means that they have identified the offender and have enough evidence, but either law enforcement cannot find the person or has run into some type of problem.  I don’t like statistics including an offender that has not been arrested for homicide as a cleared homicide case.  In addition, there is room for reporting errors along with distorted or skewed information from law enforcement agencies.

Based upon the above reported crime statistic for homicide, it means that there are more than 5,000 cold cases every year.  There are many reasons a homicide case turns cold, such as lack of physical evidence and inability to identity the victim.  There just isn’t enough cold case units across the United States to address and investigate all of the cold cases waiting for closure.

I found an interesting forensic article published in October 2012 that addressed the scientific need to identity the thousands of John/Jane Doe cold cases by using a multidisciplinary approach to identifying the remains.

A Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory research team has found a scientific approach to identifying the remains of missing persons.  They use a “bomb pulse” radiocarbon analysis combined with anthropological analysis and DNA techniques.  They used their application to identify the remains of a body from 41 years ago.  The radiocarbon analysis of two teeth helped to determine more of a precise birth date of 4 ½ year old child, which had been thought to be a 7-9 year old child.  The DNA analysis determined the child to be male and a mitochondrial profile concluded a match to a living relative.

Every effort and scientific application should be implemented into cold case investigations, not only to bring the perpetrator to justice, but also to give families closure.


More forensic articles to check out:

Forensics and Criminology: How’d They Do That?

Sister’s DNA Solves Missing Persons Case After 37 Years

6 Mistakes to Avoid at a Crime Scene Straight From a Cold Case Detective


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HAPPY NEW YEAR! Ready and Excited to Jump Into 2017


Photo used by permission from Dreamstime

It’s hard to believe that another year has come to an end. As I look back and reflect on everything, it’s been a bit of a bumpy ride, but there are so many things to be thankful for in 2016. I look forward to the new year. For me, it’s a time to reevaluate goals, stay connected with readers and friends, and move into new challenges. It’s an exciting time!

I want to thank you all for helping me to make BODY OF THE CRIME a success! It would not have been possible without you. I’ve wanted to launch another series with an eccentric forensic guy for a while now, and I’m very humbled that readers and fans have enjoyed it.

2017 will be filled with new books from Emily Stone and Chip Palmer, forensic articles, and, yes, some surprises too!

Wishing you ALL a very HAPPY NEW YEAR filled with prosperity, health, happiness, and love.


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DNA Profiling Solves the Murder: 5 Cold Cases Resolved in 2016

Test tubes laboratory DNA helix model

Photo courtesy of tuuv.tk.

The accuracy of DNA profiling is developing at a rapid pace. And, as a result, the landscape of modern law enforcement is evolving. The accurate results of criminal DNA analysis not only assist in putting criminals behind bars, but it also helps in exonerating those individuals who have been wrongly convicted.

As the end of 2016 is now upon us, here is a roundup of five horrific cold cases that were thankfully solved this year as a result of precise DNA profiling.

The Murder of the Florida Mistress

In 1977, after a rough divorce,  Debra Pentola Clark moved from New York to Florida so that she could get a fresh start in the Sunshine State. Within a short time after arriving in Miami, Debra met and fell in love with a 36 year old married man named Allen Bregman.

Bregman soon bought Debra a swanky South Miami townhome, where he would visit his mistress often, telling his wife that he was out of town on business. In the same year as her arrival, Debra was found beaten and shot to death. No one was ever charged with the heinous crime, and the case went cold.

Then, earlier this year, the case was reopened after investigators uncovered DNA evidence that linked Bregman to the murder. As a result of the newly discovered DNA evidence,  the police arrested Bregman for the killing. In a strange twist of events, the arrest came on the exact 39th anniversary of Debra’s murder.

The Pennsylvania Murder

Over 25 years ago, Louise Talley was horrifically raped and murdered in the Nicetown-Tioga neighborhood of Philadelphia. A man named Anthony Wright was convicted of the murder. His conviction was due in large part to his own confession, and the testimony of witnesses, who are now deceased.

After spending over 20 years in prison, Wright was granted a new trial after a recent DNA analysis uncovered that a local drug dealer was the murderer, not Wright.  The investigation had been reopened in 2013 when Wright had demanded that new DNA testing be conducted, due to the claim that his confession was coerced. After the analysis was conducted, it was determined that a  local convicted crack dealer was responsible for the rape and murder of Louise.

After the results were shown to the court, a judge immediately ordered a new trial. The actual perpetrator died in prison in 2013 on unrelated charges.


Photo courtesy of tes.com.

The Death of Cherita Thurman

In 2002, exterminators found the dead body of 22 year-old Houston resident Cherita Thurman in her apartment. Cherita was found battered, beaten and hog-tied. Investigators never found a suspect, and the case quickly went cold.

In an effort to take advantage of improved forensic technology, law enforcement reopened the case in 2014. Right before the case was reopened, the DNA profile of Craig Porter had been entered into the system after he had been arrested on drug charges. After running a thorough DNA profiling analysis, investigators matched DNA found at Cherita’s crime scene to Porter.

The murderer, Porter, was arrested and is now serving life in prison.

The Killer Real-Estate Agent

As a 48-year old real estate agent, and mother of two kids, Carolyn Heckert appeared to be a well-adjusted member of society. The problem is—Heckert has been carrying around a deep, dark secret for over 27 years. In 1989, she brutally stabbed and killed an 18-year old named Sarah DeLeon in Kansas City, Missouri.

Sarah’s boyfriend used to date Heckert, and it is now believed that the murder was out of jealousy and revenge for “stealing” her boyfriend. Sarah’s murder case went cold shortly after the killing occurred. Recently, however, local Kansas City law enforcement reopened the matter, and took advantage of modern DNA technology. The results of the new investigation, and DNA analysis, led police right to Heckert.

In a rather disturbing twist, Heckert’s DNA has now also been linked to a second murder of another woman, which occurred in 1994. Although Heckert has been charged with Sarah’s murder, no formal charges have been brought against her (yet) with respect to the second murder.

Librarian Charged With Murder

In 1983, a decorated World War I vet was brutally robbed and murdered in his Buffalo home. At 92 years old, Edmund Schrieber was strangled to death with his own neckties. At the time of the killing, law enforcement believed it was a robbery gone wrong by some neighborhood teens. The case was never solved though, and it went cold. Until now.

Recent DNA testing uncovered DNA on the eight neckties used to strangle Edmund. The results led straight to Saundra Adams, a 50 year-old librarian, who was a teenage neighbor of Edmund’s at the time of the murder. Adams has been convicted of second degree murder.

Do you know of any interesting cold cases which have been solved as a result of modern breakthroughs in DNA technology?


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Caught! Domestic Spies Nailed by the FBI

Shadows of two men with briefcase shaking hands, side view

Photo courtesy of tes.com.

There have been, and continue to be—spies among us. These deceitful individuals have (or maneuver their way into) important positions within various American intelligence agencies. Once entrenched into a position of relative importance with high level security clearance, the infiltrators pilfer confidential information for foreign governments in exchange for, usually, a hefty sum of money.

Although the world of international espionage may not be as sexy and glamorous as a 007 flick, the rewards seem to make it worthwhile for a handful of intelligence moles. Here are the stories of a few spies that were rightfully busted by the FBI, and brought to justice for their treasonous acts.

Anna Montes

Ten days after the September 11th terrorist attacks on the US, the FBI arrested a 44-year-old woman named Ana Belen Montes. Although she had absolutely no involvement with the attacks, her arrest still had great value in providing security to our nation during a dark and insecure period.

Montes, a senior analyst for the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) was spying for the Cubans, and in her position, she would shortly have had access to highly classified information concerning America’s forthcoming invasion of Afghanistan.

In 1984, Montes held a clerical position with the Department of Justice. At that time, Montes was very outspoken with respect to her opposition towards America’s foreign policy with Cuba. This led to Montes being covertly contacted by Cuban intelligence, who believed she would be sympathetic to their “cause.”

And Cuba’s instinct was accurate. Because, in 1985, Montes applied for a position as an intelligence analyst with the DIA, and was quickly hired. By that point, she was a full-fledged Cuban spy, who had access to highly classified data at the Pentagon.

Montes was crafty. She never removed any documents or electronic information from the Pentagon. Rather, she memorized the materials, and typed the information on her home laptop. Montes then transferred the data to an encrypted disk, and awaited transfer instructions via short wave radio from her Cuban handlers.

The FBI eventually nailed Montes for her espionage, and in 2002, she was sentenced to 25 years in prison. Outside of reimbursement for travel costs, Montes never received compensation from Cuba for her actions, because she was entirely motivated by ideology.


Photo courtesy of popsi.com.

Brian P. Regan

On August 23, 2001, Brian P. Regan – a former Air Force intelligence officer and father of four – was arrested by FBI agents in connection with his theft of highly classified materials from the National Reconnaissance Office. Regan’s intent was straightforward – he was going to sell the stolen data and documents to Iraq, Libya and China for $13 million.

Regan’s arrest took place at Dulles International Airport, where he was attempting to embark upon a flight from Washington, D.C. to Switzerland. At the time of his apprehension by the FBI, Regan was in possession of contact information for foreign diplomats, as well as encrypted notes.

During its investigation, the FBI discovered that Regan had stolen a significant amount of classified items, which included encoded tactical information and photographs of Iraqi missile sites.

Prior to his arrest, Regan had buried (deep underground) his treasure trove of stolen items in a myriad of locations in and around the Washington, D.C area. He kept track of the locations on a small piece of paper that he hid in a toothbrush holder, which he also buried (underneath an exit sign off an interstate highway.)

Regan was convicted by a jury and sentenced to life imprisonment in March 2003. Interestingly, his life sentence was a plea bargain in exchange for fully cooperating in locating the stolen, buried items.

The Year of the Spy: 1985

According to the FBI, there were a number of significant arrests made in 1985 involving acts of espionage. Here are the stories of two of the offenders.

John Anthony Walker, Jr.

Walker was a US Navy Warrant Officer and communications specialist. He was also a spy for the Soviet Union. Over the course of 17 years, Walker furnished the Soviets with at least one million classified messages.

Walker also recruited three other people into his espionage ring. After a tip from his ex-wife, the FBI moved in and arrested Walker, who was eventually sentenced to life in prison.

Larry Wu-tai Chin

For almost 30 years, Chin worked as a Chinese language translator and intelligence officer for the CIA. During that time, Chin was also furnishing China with classified photographs and documents, which included CIA reports on affairs in the Far East.

Chin was busted by the FBI for his treason, and convicted on November 22, 1985. Chin never served a prison term, because he committed suicide before being sentenced.

Truth is absolutely stranger than fiction in these tales of deceit, treason and eventual justice. Are there are any other espionage stories that you find particularly intriguing?


If you liked this post, you might also like:

INTUITION: An Underused Weapon to Fight Crime
Modern DNA Profiling: Two Infamous Cold Cases Solved
6 Fascinating Advances in Forensic Science


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Latest Book Release: Now an Amazon Best Seller: BODY OF THE CRIME


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