4 interrogation techniques to try on fictional murderers (or how to torture it out of them…)

Ok. So I’ve written the climatic moment of my novel — the goodies have caught the baddy. But now what?

My fictional murderer (for the sake of this post, let’s say it’s a he) is waiting as we speak in the interview room — tattooed arms folded, mouth set hard in an unwavering line, an arrogant smirk glinting in his eyes — and quite within his rights not to answer any questions whatso-friggin-ever from my detective protagonist, Ryan Price.

What the hell. I need the murderer to talk. I need him to reveal to my reader how the mysterious Jane Bardot met her abrupt and unfortunate end. But he just. ain’t. opening. his stoopid, smirky face. He’s about as silent as my mountain spring of inspiration, and I’m frustrated… insanely frustrated. In fact, I want to reach into my page and give the murderer a slap across the cheek.

Take that! Now are you gonna talk? Are you? Are you? Well… are you…? *trails off*

It seems not. My interrogation technique isn’t working. And indeed, one must never resort to violence. Even with a murderer… unless of course, he’s trying to murder you…

I wonder what the cops on Law & Order would do in this situation? Ah yes, of course! The ol’ good cop, bad cop routine. I decide to recap — without actually putting myself through the torture of watching the show.

The “Good Cop, Bad Cop” Routine

Good Cop,  Bad Cop

So who’s gonna be the bad cop? Credit: s3aphotography on Flickr. Under creative commons, some rights reserved.

Wikipedia describes the “good cop, bad cop” routine as one involving two interrogators who take opposing stances. One takes the “bad cop” role — aggressive,  negative, and just plain mean — and one takes the “good cop” role — sympathetic, supportive, and as two-faced as a politician with a mirror. Together they hoodwink the criminal into trusting the “good cop” and hence confessing freely to his crimes.

I think of my detective’s partner in my book, Kate Miller, who is currently taking a statement from a witness in an adjoining room. Can I knock on the door and ask her to help out, I ponder? She would only be too willing to play the “bad cop,” I’m sure.

The only trouble is, my murderer has absolutely no respect for female detectives and would doubtfully be affected by her act. And the chance of Ryan taking the “bad cop” role instead would be negligible to none. Bugger.

I reject the “good cop, bad cop” routine and turn to my friend, Google, for some help. I look up police interrogation techniques and immediately stumble on this little beauty.

The Reid Technique


We can tell yer lying! Credit: Urbanicsgroup on Flickr. Under creative commons, some rights reserved.

For many years, law enforcement agencies in North America have turned to The Reid Technique for extracting information from suspects. It’s what you see in American movies and television.

The primary idea behind this method is that the suspect is presumed guilty from the outset. The interrogators offer two scenarios and outcomes, one of which is worse than the other, but both of which involve the suspect confessing to the crime. The technique also involves watching the suspect’s body language to identify anxiety.

The technique is manipulative in essence — lying is permitted and, in fact, encourage. It also supposes an innocent person would not be manipulated into confessing something they did not do. Of course, this is not always the case, and there are many instances where innocent people have confessed to another person’s crime, primarily to get out of the often traumatic interview process.

However, this technique is not used by police in Australia, and therefore, I cannot expect my fictional detectives to engage in something that just wouldn’t happen in real life. I do have some credibility as an writer, you know.

My suspect stares back at me with menace from the computer screen. I get angry and decide it’s time for payback. I can write what I like, can’t I? I’m an author. It’s my right!

Chinese Water Torture


This dripping is driving me crazy! Credit: Brad Smith on Flickr. Under creative commons, some rights reserved.

Now I know this may be slightly extreme, but I figure my murderer deserves it. After all… he’s a murderer… and I know that he’s guilty. It’s not like he can keep it from me.

But what I actually need from him is a confession of how he carried out the crime. I need him to open up and let the rest of the story flow. Talking of water (oh dear!)… here’s the rundown on Chinese Water Torture.

This well known tactic invented by Hippolytus de Marsiliis involves subjecting the victim to repeated droplets of water striking the exact same spot on the forehead as they watch each and every drip advance threateningly towards them.

The method’s psychological powers have been known to drive a person clinically insane. People become convinced they have a hollowed out forehead. As a form of torture, it’s ingenious (and very disturbing!) and could quite easily be used as a way of torturing out a confession, I think.

Right! Sorry mate, but you’ve asked for it.

I turn on the tap, and within a few hours (it’s not a quick process), my murderer is screaming for it to stop. The unfortunate thing is, he’s also now rambling like an idiot and he’s wet his pants. I’ve gone too far. And my detectives are not much help. Ryan’s too squeamish for this kind of stuff and has buggered off for a coffee. Kate got bored after ten minutes.

I’m running out of options. I need to find an answer fast.

I stumble across an Australian online article entitled Police learn the art of gentler persuasion, and I finally see the light.

The Art of Gentle Persuasion


Let’s be friends. Credit: Lee Haywood on Flickr. Under creative commons, some rights reserved.

Now I know thisapproach

might sound as boring as Sunday night T.V., but let’s face it, I’ve exhausted all other options. And although my book primarily seeks to uncover the murderer and the mystery of Jane Bardot, it also deals with themes such as storytelling, uncovering the past, and finding truth beneath the layers. This idea of developing a rapport with the suspect, being friendlier to them, and listening to what the suspect actually has to say, ties in pretty well with what I’m hoping to achieve.

My slightly wimpy detectives are also going to have a much better chance of succeeding. So I’m going to give it go.

I call in Detectives Ryan Price and Kate Miller. Ryan’s still finishing up his coffee, and he’s looking a little anxious. But Kate’s finished with her witness and is keen to get things moving. She whacks Ryan on his back in friendly greeting; Ryan spits out brown liquid over the table, which is moved aside with an awkward scrape.

The murderer looks up and smiles.

Have we finally got your attention? Heheh… *chuckles under breath*

And he’s not looking quite as fierce as when I first came in. I can even see his mouth twitching, as if he wants to speak. Yes! I have a good feeling about this. So I quietly shut the door and leave them to it.

And if you want to know what my murderer has to say to my detectives, then you’ll just have to keep following my blog while I keep beavering away until the finish line. And then you can buy my book 😉


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