Building a rapport with a murder suspect could help locate missing bodies

A new study has identified interview strategies to help murder investigators locate missing bodies.

The study, which was a collaboration between the University of Portsmouth and Griffith University looked at real life murder cases. Researchers interviewed the detectives involved and identified the most effective methods to interview a suspect and gain valuable information.

Investigators were asked about their interview techniques and in particular asked to reflect on their critical decision points, and what advice they might give another investigator, who found themselves dealing with a similar case.

There has been limited research on ways to improve the task of retrieving a murder victim’s missing body

Rebecca Milne, Professor of Forensic Psychology, University of Portsmouth

One of the authors, Professor Rebecca Milne, from the University of Portsmouth explained that, “to our knowledge, there has been limited research on ways to improve the task of retrieving a murder victim’s missing body. In some murder cases the location of the victim’s body is unknown, but there is evidence to establish a crime has taken place and charge a suspect. Police may have information about the general location of the body but haven’t yet narrowed it down to find the body. This can be devastating for the families of the victims. One high profile case was that of 12 year old, Keith Bennett, who was murdered by Ian Brady and Myra Hindley in June 1964.”

In these circumstances, the information provided by the suspect is essential to locating the victim’s body. The interview technique of the investigators is central to the amount of information gained from the killer.

This study starts to provide a research base to inform how murder interviews are conducted.

Rebecca Milne , Professor of Forensic Psychology, University of Portsmouth

The study revealed four main recommendations regarding investigative interviewing:

  1. Establish a rapport – Building a bond with the suspect early in the interview is essential to assisting the quantity and quality of the suspect’s statement.This includes finding common ground and generally trying to make a suspect feel at ease.
  2. Checking accuracy – Investigators can use features of the suspect’s story and the murder scene to check the authenticity of what is revealed by the accused. For example, by getting the suspect to describe the next landmark in the journey, the investigator can discover whether the suspect has been to that site before, and so determine if the suspect is being co-operative.
  3. Deciding whether to interview on or off the murder site – The third challenge for investigators was how to get a reliable account from the suspect regarding the location of the body and whether to take a suspect to the site and carry out an interview there or to restrict all interviewing to off –site.
  4. Legal obstacles – Another consideration for investigators was the legal restrictions that can be imposed on an investigation in terms of timing and application of suspect interviews.For example, in the period that the suspect can be detained, much more than just interviewing needs to take place – time can be a huge constraint.

The strategies we have identified here may help in these investigations and provide a template for future research that may help find more murder victims’ bodies and allow their families and loved ones to find closure.

Nathan Ryan , Griffith University

To date, no one has researched how murder investigators use investigative interviewing strategies to help locate a missing body.  Professor Milne said, “This study starts to provide a research base to inform how murder interviews are conducted in these cases.”

Nathan Ryan of Griffith University said, “The strategies we have identified here may help in these investigations and provide a template for future research that may help find more murder victims’ bodies and allow their families and loved ones to find closure.”

 

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