How Well Does Your Family Know You? An Experiment
One of the most eye-opening things I came to realize during criminal investigations is that family members can make lousy “witnesses”. Whenever someone is murdered the police will interview family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers in an effort to better understand the victim’s habits and character. The more we know about the victim the better able we are to understand the conditions of the crime scene. What is normal, what looks out of place? How would they react to a stranger? Do they have any “blind spots”? A blind spot is a weakness or condition in which they would let their guard down. For example, if they are an animal lover they might be more willing to open the door to a stranger seeking help in finding their lost dog?
Over the years I have found that almost all family and friends believe they know the victim quite well but few actually do. The fact of the matter is that everyone has secrets. Some are old and some are new but they are there. When I wrote The Scent of Fear some of my family members were shocked to learn that the story was inspired by real cases in my career. Some had no idea I’d been involved in such cases and most will never know the full extent of my involvement and case work. It’s just not something I talk about.
In some ways, perception of a victim is like an eyewitness account. There are parts that may be true and other parts that aren’t. Some family members project experiences from years past and presume that the same conditions are true today. For example, the victim may have loved cats when she was 13 but now can’t stand them. But the parent or sibling only remembers the victim loving cats. It’s normal for friends and family to grieve a death. At times they feel remorse or guilt for not being closer and then they feel a responsibility to help “solve” the mystery for the police. This can be beneficial but more often than not it introduces a lot of misinformation that we have to deal with.
Because this misinformation affects real police investigations I thought it would be insightful to conduct your own experiment as an author. It can be kind of fun too. So here is what you do. Make a list of ten or twelve general questions about yourself. I will make a general list below that you can use to get the ball rolling. Once you have completed it send the questionnaire to at least a dozen family, friends, even neighbors or co-workers if you can. Ask them to take it seriously as if they were talking to the police. Then take a look at the answers and see what, if any, differences you might find.
This is basically the same thing the police will do (in person). We will interview all these people and sometimes we get answers back that are completely contradictory. It can be a real challenge to try and figure out which “witness” should be trusted more. Anyway, try it out and have a little fun with it. If you want, please comment once you get things back and tell us how they all did. If you have the time try answering the same questions about your family members and then see how many questions you get right.
- Do I normally lock my windows at night?
- Do I own a gun or know how to shoot one?
- What kind of beer/wine do I normally drink?
- Describe my daily routine. Do I have a predictable schedule?
- If unmarried, am I dating anyone serious right now?
- Do I have any phobias?
- What are my favorite hobbies?
- Wold I open the door to a strange woman?
- What did I do last weekend?
- Have I ever had any major surgery?
- Have I ever been arrested?
- What time do I typically go to bed? Get up?
Posted on July 14, 2012, in Characters and tagged crime, Crime Scene, csi, detective, eye-witness testimony, fiction, forensics, murder, mystery, police, thriller, tom adair. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.