Dave and I were in the USA researching law enforcement for Believe No One (#2 in the Fennimore & Simms forensic thriller series). We were in a Tulsa PD conference room, observing an interrogation via video link: the two-way mirror favoured by TV cop shows isn’t used much anymore.
The suspected burglar was handcuffed with his hands behind his back. He was slight and fair, with pale, almost milk-white skin. He wore glasses, and could have been mistaken for a bank clerk, or a librarian. The young officer conducting the interview was friendly and relaxed. ‘The more relaxed the better,’ Mike Nance, our guide, said. ‘Until they say they want to go home, or want a lawyer, you just keep them talking.’ The suspect spoke softly: he wasn’t burgling the house; he broke in purely out of concern for the dog locked inside. It was his friend’s dog – he was doing the guy a favour; people will vouch for him.
The young cop came through, and as he explained that he needed to check the suspect’s story, a second cop came in; he’d known the suspect since he was a kid. He came from a good family – hard-working people. But our ‘librarian’ was bad from the off: back when he was just a teenage kid he was suspected of almost killing a dog by beating it with a plank with a nail in it. Cruelty to animals from a young age is still regarded as an indicator of Borderline Personality Disorder – what most of us would call the psychopathic or sociopathic personality.
This got me thinking about the ‘born bad’ debate, the hoary chestnut, ‘are psychopaths born, or made?’. In physical appearance, this fellow put me in mind of Dennis Nilsen, the British serial killer who confessed to murdering fifteen young men and dismembering their corpses. Nilsen was puzzled by people’s horror at that last detail. After all, his victims were already dead – what could it matter?
The older cop kept one eye on the video screen as we discussed what would happen next – checking the suspect’s alibis, talking to the house owner. Suddenly he stopped . ‘What the hell is he doin’?’ We all swung round to look at the monitor. The suspect was bent down almost to the floor, his hands still cuffed behind him. At first it looked like he was taking off his shoe, but no – he’d dug in his pants pocket and taken out his wallet.
By now, the interviewing officer was back in interrogation. Still polite, he said, ‘What’re you doin’?’ The suspect mumbled something. ‘I’ll take that.’ Another mumble. ‘No,’ the officer said, ‘I’ll take care of it.’ The officer remained in the interview room while he checked the suspect’s wallet. Tucked in a corner he found a tiny, 1cm square sealable baggy. ‘Is this meth?’ he asked. Pointless lying; the suspect said, ‘Yes it is.’
A presumptive field test confirmed that it was indeed methamphetamine. Possession of meth in Oklahoma is a felony crime: he was looking at serious jail time.
Was this man a psychopath? Who can say? Certainly not me. But experts say that a psychopath can be identified by a set of traits – and those traits will be the subject of my next blog.