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The Word Left In Analysis

Learning the basics of Statement Analysis was exhilarating for me, and still is.  I would even say it is addicting.  Some of you have experienced this, and like me, you feel like a kid at Christmas time when you recognize deception or profile traits within a statement.  You have also experienced that it is not easy, and requires repeated practice.  For those that finally feel they are a good analyst, I say congratulations, you have just conquered the tip of the iceberg!  That is the exciting thing about what we do, there is always more to learn – the fun doesn’t stop!    

As fun as breaking down a statement is, not all the principles are easy to grasp.  The principle of the word left, used as a verb for departing a place, is one that seemed a little confusing at times.  Some of you have probably pondered this principle as well, and asked the same questions I did.  Does this principle include other words?  Why is the word left – departing a place, always indicative of withheld information?  And what about the 30% rule?  Thirty percent of the time, the word left is not only withheld information, but critically withheld information.   If the use of departing a place isn’t applicable 70% of the time, why do we highlight it in blue as one of the two highest sensitivity indicators in analysis?  The #1 sensitivity indicator is providing a reason why, without being asked.  That one is easier to understand.  What makes departing a place, 30% of the time, so important?  When we understand the psychology behind its use, it makes sense. Let’s explore the word left

 

A detective recently posed some of the questions above as he was analyzing a transcribed statement from a missing person cold case.  The female victim, a wife and mother, disappeared and was never found.  She is presumed dead.  The statement below is part of her husband’s transcribed interview.  During his account of the last day he saw his wife, he talked about his wife needing time and space and him going up the street to his mom’s house, which meant, leaving his own house.   He later spoke about how he couldn’t stay away from his kids, so, he came back.  This seems to bolster the fact that he left his house.  Does the departing a place principle apply here?  Let’s look at the statement:

She packed her lunch, put it by the door, uh, she put it by the door. I did, anyway, uh, she got her lunch ready uh, she was telling me about she would still need time and space, and uh, time to herself, and I went to went up to my mom’s or went, went and drove up the street, and went up to my mom’s and I was just up there a few minutes. The weekend, the weekend before, we, I’d stayed the weekend before. I had stayed up at mom’s a couple days and I just, I just, I just couldn’t stay away from the kids, and uh, so I come back…

One of the questions I posed above was, does the left principle include other words?  Most of the time, it does not include other words within the English language.  However, on rare occasion it might, such as the word, departed, in lieu of the word left.  When analyzing statements in another language, the psychology behind this principle is certainly crucial.  The psychology is this; the leaving a place is more important than where one is going.  Or, in other words, the subject’s focus is still on where they were at, rather than where they were going.  It’s that simple. 

In 70% of statements utilizing the word left, it is due to the stress of being rushed, or short on time.  In those cases, we likely will not find a lot of sensitivity within the statement.  We always highlight the word left in blue, but reserve the right to remove the highlight once we discover the departing a place was due to being rushed for time.  Sometimes that requires a follow up question of the subject in order to clarify.  The statement itself will often answer the question for us.  When the statement leaves us scratching our head, my rule of thumb is, if there are several other sensitivity indicators within the statement, the use of the word left is more than likely indicative of critically withheld information. 

In the example above, his focus is actually where he was going, not on departing from his house.  In fact, there is a high level of sensitivity regarding where he went demonstrated by the word went repeated five times.  There is deception within the statement and he is withholding critical information that we will seek to discover, but we do not highlight this particular part of the statement in blue.

 

Now let’s look at another case regarding a suspected arson.  In this case, a mother and daughter were moving out of their house, which went up in flames within an hour of the daughter coming home from work.  Both mother and daughter wrote a statement as to what happened.  A handwritten statement usually gives us the most reliable information for analysis.  The reason it is more reliable than a verbal statement is that every word written is deliberate.  There was more brain processing involved in writing the statement.   The daughter began her statement with the pronoun I, and continued employing the pronoun throughout her statement.  Therefore, we know that she is psychologically in the statement and she is giving us reliable information.  When I say she is giving us reliable information, it does not mean she is necessarily telling us the whole truth.  It means that by following the principles of analysis, we will know the truth from her own words, and we will likely know what happened and when it occurred.  Let’s take at how she used the word left.     

I got off work around 9:15 and drove straight home.  When I got home I went into my room, the bathroom, the laundry room, the garage, the guest room and the kitchen to assess how much we had left to move.  I went into the living room where my mom was dead asleep on the couch snoring a shook her awake.  She was groggy and half-awake sat up to talk to me.  I told her I was going to my friend Lisa’s to talk to her about her and her boyfriend waking up, and that I would be going to drop stuff off at goodwill. I left and then turned around and went inside to put some empty boxes from my car inside. I saw my mom lay back down and I shut the door and left.  (I got)   I left around 9:35.

 The statement began with a focus on the element of timing.  She asserts she got off work at 9:15 and drove straight home.  We note the word straight is an extra and unnecessary word. There is always a reason for every word used.  In this case, it is an emphasis on the timing.  In fact, she is attempting to persuade us that she did not do anything else but drive home.  We know from analyzing thousands of statements, that unnecessary persuasion such as this, indicates she likely made a stop on the way home.  This is definitely something we would want to address in the interview! 

In the next sentence, we find the first use of the word left.  However, it is not used as a verb for departing a place, so we do not highlight this left in blue.  What we do note, is that this left was used when the subject gave a reason why she went into six rooms in the house – to assess how much we had left to move.  We analyze not only what one says, but what one does not say.  Therefore, we would want to ask the subject about the rooms she did not mention. 

You will see that there are five uses of the word to, used as a reason why.  They are all bold font so we can easily see the cluster of sensitivity within her statement.  These are normally highlighted in blue. When we have blue clusters like this, there is deception in the statement.  But there is more to unpack in this statement.

The first use of the word left as a verb for departing a place, is highlighted in the last two lines of the statement. She wrote, “I left and then turned around and went inside to put some empty boxes from my car inside. I saw my mom lay back down and I shut the door and left.  (I got)   I left around 9:35." 

This is a classic example of the departing a place principle.  We must highlight the left, and then ask ourselves if it appears the use of the word left was due to being rushed or other time constraints.  In the prior sentence, she told us why she was leaving, which appears to be going to Lisa’s, and dropping stuff off at Goodwill.  Neither appear to be time critical.  I also have outside information that the Goodwill and the friend are only minutes away from the house. 

We see that she used the word left three times.  She is very focused on the house, rather than where she is going!  Her brain is also focused on what is inside the house.  It is so sensitive to her, that she actually wrote a reason why she went back inside.  Did you see the repeated use of the word, inside? The repetition adds to the sensitivity; the critically withheld information, which is the deception. 

There is also an interesting phenomenon seen in this statement.  It is the double left.  In fact, we have the double left twice in this statement!  The significance of the double left is that the subject is so focused on leaving the scene, that her brain is effectually waiving double flags that catch our attention.  The subject has just laser focused our attention to that particular time in her statement.  When we see the double left, it is typically at that time, between the lefts, that the crime was committed.  This makes the information between the lefts, very important to us.  It should also be the major focus of the interview.  This subject gave us a reason why she went into the house, a highly sensitive topic for her, between the two lefts.  She also provided an alibi for mom.  She wrote “I saw my mom lay back down and I shut the door and left.”  This is her verbalized perception of reality.  What she is saying is that since I saw my mom lay back down, she could not have been involved.  The “sleeping” alibi is probably used more than any other.  For us, it is a red flag.  That sentence also tells us that there is critical information that she is withholding.   

If we were filling a container with sensitivity indicators, we would be at or near the top by now! 

What of the 3rd left?  Note that the 3rd left marks time; “I left around 9:35."   To our author, timing is important for her story to be believable.  She began with the element of timing, and now we have it once more.  She also started to provide more information, (I got) but then self-censored and crossed it out.  This should also be a focus of our interview.  When addressing those sensitive points in the interview, take the subject back in time, about an hour prior and have them speak to more details going forward.   Use their own words to clarify and ask follow up questions.  Their words are as comfortable to them as sleeping in their own bed.  

With all the blue in the statement above, there should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that our author is deceptively withholding critical information regarding the fire.  By utilizing the word left, she actually put a frame around the time the fire was started!  With this information, the investigator can now confidently enter the interview knowing the subject is deceptive and has critical information to give. 

Tethering ourselves to the principles of analysis will always lead us to accurate conclusion.

Steve Johnson