Wednesday, January 27, 2010

No wait! I took the Lindbergh baby…

I am a terrible liar. A few years back I participated in a Psychological study on the efficacy of polygraph machines during criminal interrogations. It was a double blind study in which I was instructed either to sneak into a room and steal an object or leave the building altogether without stealing anything. Ten minutes later I was to return and take a polygraph. I got to steal the fake money and ten minutes later, even though the money was phony and I knew there would be no repercussions for lying to the polygraphologist (!) I completely melted down. After the exam results were compiled the professor in charge of the study said “Inspector, you are a terrible liar.”  

So why bring this up? Turns out this study was in conjunction with The Innocence Project looking at the prevalence of “false positives” in the use of polygraphs. The psychology of false confessions isn’t new. In 1908 Harvard psychology professor Hugo Munsterberg published a series of essays on psychology and crime. He dedicated one essay to “Untrue Confessions” and tried to explain the psychology behind these. He asked; why would a psychologically healthy individual freely confess to a crime they did not commit? Aside from the obvious physical and mental duress caused by investigators there are many instances of confessions being secured without outside influence. Munsterberg mentioned the case of the Boorne brothers who confessed to murdering their brother-in-law, going so far as to describe how they got rid of the body. Trouble was the “murdered” man was very much alive. It is said as many as two hundred people confessed to kidnapping Charles Lindbergh, Jr. from his crib in 1932 and who can forget John Mark Karr’s “confession?”

With regard to the Midwest Murders, in 1917 a preacher from Oklahoma arrived in Red Oak, Iowa with the story of a dying man he couldn’t remember the name of confessing to the Villisca murders four years prior. In 1932 a prisoner in Detroit confessed to killing the Moore family but knew nothing of the Stillinger girls. Another man would confess in 1951 but the most important confession would come from the Rev. Lyn Kelley. My personal opinion, as I’ve said before, is Kelley didn’t do it. I’ve addressed this opinion here.  Aside from confessing to the Villisca murders three times, Rev. Lyn Kelley also confessed to sinking the Lusitania. I do not believe Lyn Kelley was physically coerced into to confessing. I believe he fell into the category of Coerced-Internalized False Confessions, in which a weak minded suspect, usually exhausted by long interrogations, is actually convinced by the interrogator they are guilty of the crime. Munsterberg also suggested that a false confession my come from a person who feels guilty about something else, often entirely unrelated to the crime they are accused of. This certainly would have fit Lyn Kelley who was accused of all kinds of perverted behaviors. I believe if Lyn Kelley were given a polygraph today he would fail miserably on any subject asked of him. This makes it very hard to take any confession seriously, whether it was accurate or not. I do believe his confession was his own. In other words, the interrogators didn’t write something down and have him sign it. It is just my opinion the confession was false. Why I believe this I will discuss in my next post.

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