Monday, July 30, 2012

Further Murder Mystery Research: Confession Is Good for the Soul

I'm not sure who said the title of this post, but I must confess that I enjoy watching Kyra Sedgwick (as Brenda Leigh Johnson) interrogate suspects on "The Closer." However, as a writer who must be realistic with a murder interrogation, I sometimes wonder if Brenda Leigh might violate a few civil rights or Supreme Court Rulings. (Is "violate" the right word, or "roll over like a steam roller"?) So it's time for some research on real interrogation.
          In my current work in progress, my detective, TJ Sweeney, interrogates a suspect that had means, a doozy of a motive, and opportunity to kill a victim early in the novel. As a result, I've been researching interrogation methods so I can keep my fiction book real. In the United States, an interrogation must stop if the suspect asks for a lawyer or invokes his right to silence; however, as many as 80% of suspects do not do either.
          Many police departments use something called the Reid Technique for interviews and interrogations.  This method was developed in 1947 by John E. Reid in Chicago.  He was a polygraph expert and used his observations to create a curriculum for interrogation. Police departments have been trained in his method to this day, and now the public, as well as private investigators, can take 3-5 day seminars in the technique. 
          The initial steps include interviewing or interrogating a suspect at the police department so he is uncomfortable, nervous, scared, and not on his home turf. The room is set up with a small table, two chairs for detectives, an uncomfortable chair for the suspect, and an arrangement where the suspect has his back to the door. My suspect is well over six feet tall and is feeling the heat as well as a bit of claustrophobia.
          Long before the interview begins, the detective has been gathering facts and information. Once she begins the interview, she uses structured questions to elicit information. She watches the suspect's verbal, nonverbal, and paralinguistic behavior to establish a baseline for determining later suspect reactions. This behavioral observation is very important. If the detective thinks the suspect might be guilty of lying or of the crime, she moves into the interrogation part of the questioning. This becomes accusatory.
          Once the interrogation begins, the detective confronts the suspect with the evidence against him. Here is where the detective can lie. She watches the person's behavior and if it is suspicious, she goes on to the next step. This step involves creating a "theme," or logical explanation about why or how the suspect was involved in the crime. This allows the suspect to agree that his actions might be excused or justified. She tries not to let the suspect deny his guilt, but instead listen to her.
          If the suspect objects--"Oh, I could never do that!"--the detective plays into his objection and agrees with him. She tries to get the suspect to see that she is on his side and is an ally. The next step involves moving into possible reasons for the suspect's motive. She offers several to the suspect, including some that might not be socially acceptable--"You're right. The victim was blackmailing multiple people and deserved to die"--to some that might be somewhat socially acceptable--"You did it on the spur of the moment without thinking." 
          If the suspect agrees with any of these motives, the detective leads him slowly into a confession. Then, in order to make the confession legal, she has him write it out with another witness or has it on videotape with two detectives present.
          It would seem that if you are a suspect in a crime, the moral of the story for you is: Miranda Rights, "Call my attorney," or "I'm not talking in accordance with the Constitution." Fortunately for detectives, a lot of suspects aren't very bright.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Fond, But Sketchy, Memories of the Olympics

It is no secret that I am not an athlete. My sons constantly try to stump me with sports questions, and if I answer them correctly they ask another question that they know I can't answer as a follow up. Sadly, it becomes a self-esteem issue. So, this post is my one attempt at writing about a topic that is foreign to me: sports.
          My total lack of coordination hasn't stopped me from watching the Olympic Games over various years of my life, admiring the way coordinated people use their bodies. And while those games are a blur in many ways, some do stand out in my baby boomer memory. They are intertwined with my child-raising years. When my children were little I used to remind myself that the next time the winter Olympics came along, they would each be four years older (or two years if you count the summer games.) I wasn't wishing those years away, but it sure was tough trying to watch events while feeding or diapering babies. Strangely, over the years of Olympic-watching, my memory got better as my children got older.
          Pre-babies, I loved the 1968 games in Mexico City and the winter games in Grenoble, France. The summer games photo in my mind is of Tommie Smith and John Carlos standing on the podium giving the Black Power sign. That alone should tell youngsters what a wild time we were living through in the late '60s. I had my first teaching job and grading papers halfway through the night made it difficult to watch any games at all. But I remember watching Peggy Fleming win the gold medal in figure skating and the amazingly handsome Jean-Claude Killy of France pick up a sweep in the Alpine events. I love the winter games because skiing is my favorite Olympic sport. In 1968 we had no children, so watching without an additional sound track was easy. Famous last words.
          The summer games in 1972 witnessed the terrifying massacre of 11 Israeli athletes in what was termed "The Munich Massacre." We watched in horror as the Black September group first kidnapped and then killed 11 athletes. The incredible medal count of Mark Spitz would stand as a record until a future Michael Phelps comes along. During the '72 Olympics I was pregnant with child # 1, and since no one knew the sex of pregnancies in those days--let alone if the baby were healthy--we were flying on a wing and a prayer. By the time the 8-pound boy was born that November, the summer games were a 2-month memory. This marked the beginning of a decade of memory loss as I took care of three children all born during the 1970s.
          By the winter of 1976, my son was 3, making it much easier to watch Dorothy Hamill win the gold in figure skating. In fact, this Olympics was a pleasure since bedtime was early and we could settle back sans child to watch the games. Of course I was pregnant with child # 2 during this Olympics so quiet was not in our future.
By the time the 1980 Olympics rolled around in the Moscow summer, the television was simply a blur because child # 1 was 7, child # 2--a daughter--was 3, and a third child had somehow sneaked in, another boy, who was 1.  I remember very little from the summer Olympics, but I was able to see the winter Olympics from Lake Placid, NY, and witness the "Miracle on the Ice." It was probably a miracle I managed to see it with three children, two of them small. I remember thinking during the summer that the next time the summer Olympics rolled around my children would be 11, 6 and almost 4.
Bonnie Blair
          Sure enough, my memory improves by 1984. I watched in the summer as Carl Lewis won four golds and Mary Lou Retton won another four. In 1988 the children were 15, 11 and 9 during the summer. Flo-Jo won four medals, Jackie Joyner Kersee won the long jump and heptathlon, and Greg Louganis won the diving competition. By '92, the children were 19, 15, and 13. Two were in high school and one was in college. That winter it was exciting to watch an Illinois woman, Bonnie Blair, win the speed skating competition and the Dream Team go undefeated in basketball.
          By the following Olympics in '94, the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan fiasco in Lillehammer, Norway, heated up the television screen. In '96, two out of my three children were out of the house and the bombing in Atlanta was the next big thing in Olympic news. This was the last Olympics before the nest was empty.
          Now that the child-rearing days are over, it's easy to look forward to the Olympics and watch them without wailing interruptions. Since multi-tasking is getting more difficult, that's probably a good thing. (I knew there was some practical reason that multi-tasking is reserved for those of child-bearing age.) I can concentrate better on the games.
          But somehow it seems as if something is missing during these Olympic games...probably the giggling of a baby on my lap or the sound of a burp after a bottle is done, and a tiny head lying asleep on my shoulder.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Peyton Place: A Guilty Pleasure

        This afternoon I indulged in a few hours of guilty pleasure. I watched the 1957 movie Peyton Place on the classic movie channel. I felt like I was going back in a time capsule to the 1950s, my formative years before I was in high school. Although the story takes place in the late 30's and goes through WWII, the social mores and fashions were still very much in place in the 1950s when I was growing up in a small Midwestern town.
Grace Metalious
        In 1956 Grace Metalious wrote the novel Peyton Place and it was scandalous because of its subject matter and its thinly veiled characters. I remember my parents talking about it in whispers. [No letting the kids in on this dirty book.] Since scandal sells books, Peyton Place was on The New York Times bestseller list for 59 weeks. The following year it was made into a movie and then spawned a second book, Return to Peyton Place in 1959. That too was made into a film in 1961, and later the books led to two television prime time soap operas by the same names in 1964-1969 (on ABC) and 1972-1974 (on NBC.) The first soap was a springboard for such actors as Mia Farrow and Ryan O'Neal. In 1985 an original television film called Peyton Place: the Next Generation was the final installment. These films, books, and television shows were proof that scandal, incest, adultery, murder, and illegal abortion sells, especially in the repressive 1950s and the changing 1960s and 1970s.
        I watched the original Peyton Place today and read that the film's producers hired Metalious as a consultant on the film, but in name only. She stated that she hated the film because it was a highly censored version of her scandalous book. In the 1950s the Hays Code (an early set of motion picture censorship guidelines), was in effect and films could not include certain subjects if they wanted to get out of the can and into theatres. That repressive code was in effect from 1930-1968, and it later led to the more lenient film labels we have today [amazingly more lenient.] The film was nominated for nine Academy Awards and the ticket sales increased exponentially when one of the film's actors, Lana Turner, was involved in a real life scandal. Her daughter killed Turner's abusive mobster lover, Johnny Stompanto.
        So what is the story about? It follows the lives of three women in a small New England mill town. Constance McKenzie (Lana Turner) is a sexually repressed "widow" who is trying to keep her daughter Allison (Diane Varsi) from following in her footsteps. Constance is the single woman all suspicious married women keep their eyes on and she owns a dress shop. It later turns out that she had an affair with a married man, resulting in Allison. Her daughter Allison chafes at the constraints on teenage girls at that time and vows to become a New York writer and publish a book about Peyton Place. She hates the small town gossip and atmosphere that suspects all teenagers of having sex outside of marriage. In fact, she has to order a book about sex that is mailed in a brown wrapper in order to find out anything about the subject. The third woman is Selena Cross (Hope Lange) whose stepfather rapes her, an act resulting in an unplanned pregnancy. The kindly Dr. Swain (Lloyd Nolan), who knows most of the town's secrets, is put in a position of lying about Selena's miscarriage and calling it an appendectomy. [Believe me, the Hippa code is not in effect at this time!] Most of the scandals come out when Selena goes on trial for killing her stepfather and burying him under the sheep pen. And this is the sanitized version.
        My interest in the film was largely in watching the time capsule of my early years. My own children could not begin to understand those repressive times. Women wore dresses, high heels, and white gloves everywhere. They were homemakers and as such were in charge of the children and putting meals on the table. When Allison finds out she is a "bastard" (a word not used because of the Code), she leaves home rather than face the embarrassment. Then there is the elderly spinster teacher who is passed over to be the school principal. Instead the school board, consisting of all business men and one woman [a shock], brought in a "progressive" young man to run the school. He bargained them up to $5,000 from their initial salary offer of $3,000 because he couldn't support himself on a $3,000 principal's salary. Kind of makes you wonder about the teachers' salaries, doesn't it? Of course the main business of adults in town is to have affairs, go prayerfully to church, present a hypocritical face to their children, and--oh yes--worry that their children might get pregnant out of wedlock.
        Another theme of the movie was very much in keeping with the 1950s too. Class divides and privilege are main themes and the mill owner is a benevolent employer who takes care of his workers. But he forces his son to stop dating the senior class's "loose girl" because she is not acceptable. Selena Cross' drunken father works as the school janitor and lives with his family in a "shanty town." Selena's boyfriend wants to go to college to become a lawyer but college is very expensive and, unlike the mill owner's son who is going to Harvard, he isn't sure he can afford to do that.
        Watching this film was truly a trip back in time. Since my father managed a drive-in theatre, I saw a lot of these theatrical movies when I was in my teenage years. I still remember Where the Boys Are, A Summer Place, and Parrish. They had common themes with Peyton Place: (a) parents are hypocrites (b) teenagers should not touch each other until safely married (c) a woman's only goal must be to become a good homemaker (d) white men rule the universe. No. Don't want to go back to those days anytime soon.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

A Real Life Mystery: The Search for Amelia Earhart

        Sometimes the most fascinating mysteries are the ones that make up real life historical events. An expedition from The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery is currently on the way to check for remains of the Lockheed Electra aircraft that carried Amelia Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, across the Pacific before it disappeared from sight. This enterprise is one of six that have attempted to solve the mystery of what happened to Ms. Earhart and her plane. Perhaps six will be a charm.
        Seventy-five years ago--1937--Earhart set off to become the first woman to fly solo and circumnavigate the globe. Already a huge presence in the minds of Americans, she had accomplished great navigational feats in a male- dominated industry that captured the public's imagination.
        In 1937, she and Noonan flew from California to New Guinea and then began a difficult leg of the trip to Howland Island in the central Pacific. Her plan was to use the equator, but the navigational maps were not always clear and radio communication was sketchy at best. When her plane did not arrive at Howland Island, a wide ocean search began but turned up nothing. Thus began the mystery of what happened to Amelia Earhart.
        The current expedition is centering on an island called Nikumaroro in the Republic of Kiribati. The searchers are attempting to locate, identify, and photograph any wreckage.
from the TIGHAR.ORG website
        Over the years a numbers of items of interest have been found on this island. Explorers have discovered fish and bird bones, eaten as if Westerners were dining. Bottles wrapped with wires that might have been used to boil water to make it safe are also part of the discoveries. Most recently a 1930's U.S. makeup compact, a flight jacket zipper from the 1930's, and a jar of freckle cream (Earhart was known to have freckles) are all products found on the island. 
        The new expedition--at a cost of $2.2M--is hoping to find wreckage of her plane that could possibly have slipped off the reef near the island. The group left Honolulu on July 3 and should arrive at Nikumaroro on July 9.  They are banking on the possibility that Earhart and Noonan may have been alive for several weeks or months on what was then an uninhabited and largely uncharted island. Skeptics, however, believe the plane would have broken up from the ocean waves. Sonar will be used to determine whether the new theory is correct. You can follow their daily reports here.
Earhart and Noonan
        Earhart's life and her disappearance have been celebrated in books, movies, and even on the website, Pinterest. If you are a member and put her name in the search box, you will find pages of photos of Ms. Earhart. Her navigational feats remain a story for the record books and her untimely disappearance may forever be a mystery--unless the newest expedition's theory turns out to be true. That happened with the discovery of the Titanic; perhaps the Earhart disappearance will be one less mystery after this summer.