Tulsa PD: A suspect (let’s call him Wilbur) sits in interrogation; we’re observing via video link in the conference room. The arresting officer’s approach is friendly and relaxed. ‘The more relaxed the better,’ Mike says. ‘You want to keep them talking, because that’s most likely to cause them to let their guard down.’ For some reason a lot don’t invoke their Miranda rights straight away. ‘So, until they say they want to go home, or want a lawyer, you just keep them talking.’ There’s a grease stain against the wall, marking the passage of a whole penitentiary of suspects who’ve leaned back against it. Arrogance? I speculate – a ‘Screw you, Detective – you can’t touch me’ kind of attitude? But Detective Mike Nance, who was our guide and facilitator throughout the ten days we were in Oklahoma, shakes his head. You can place that chair three feet away from the wall and by the end of an interview, even the real hard cases will back it up and back it up – till they’re literally in a corner. Sometimes Mike will quietly point out the stain, say, ‘See that? You’re not the first person to be in this room – and this isn’t the first interview I ever took.’
The arresting officer, who doesn’t want to be named, comes in and talks us through the process. He’s in his early twenties, and the weapon at his hip looks over-large on him, but he already has the poker face of a seasoned cop. He’ll check the two alibis Wilbur just gave, and charge him if he thinks there’s a good case. It looks like there is: Wilbur got caught burgling a house, but was stupid enough to do it when someone was home, and that someone was in the military. Wilbur is average height and of slight build, pale and blond and bespectacled – he looks like a bank teller. But Wilbur has never been gainfully employed – he steals, and deals in drugs and violence.
An older cop drops by. It’s not unusual for uniform cops and detectives to observe interviews; the interviewing officer will take a break from time to time and ask for opinions and advice. As the older officer chats, he’s keeping a close eye on the CCTV monitor. He stops mid-sentence, leans in to the monitor, says, ‘What the hell is he doin’?’
Wilbur is bending down, almost to the floor, hands still cuffed. At first, I think he’s taking off his shoe. But that’s not it – he’s dug in his pocket and taken out his wallet. (At this stage in the process, it’s standard procedure for a suspect to be patted down for weapons, but not asked to empty his pockets.) By now, the arresting officer is back in the interview room. Still polite, he says, ‘What’re you doin’?’
Wilbur mumbles something unintelligible.
‘I’ll take that.’
‘No, I’ll take care of it.’ The officer looks in the bill fold and tucked in a corner he finds a tiny, 1cm square resealable baggy. ‘Is this meth?’ he asks.
‘Yes it is.’ Wilbur hadn’t had an attack of honesty – he just knew that the arresting officer would do a presumptive field test on the white powder – a simple matter of taking a tiny sample from the baggy, and doing a ‘pop and shake’ test. He would have the results in seconds – and if Wilbur lied, it wouldn’t look good in court.
Mike tells us there are three stages to most interviews: 1. I don’t know nothin’. 2. I was there, but I wasn’t involved. 3. Okay, I shot him, but it was self defence. He calls them The Three Lies. This is only the third day of our research in Oklahoma, and I’ve already filled a notebook. Ask a question here, often the explanation will begin with a story, and as a storyteller, that made me feel right at home. Stories give context and as Prof. Fennimore is fond of saying, context is everything. Which is why we’re here.
That was May 2012. Dave Barclay and I were researching US Law Enforcement protocols for Believe No One, the second in the Fennimore & Simms series. Set largely in the United States, Believe No One finds DCI Kate Simms on a ‘method exchange’ placement, working on cold cases with police in St Louis, MO. Fennimore, meanwhile, is advising a Sheriff’s Deputy in rural Oklahoma on the abduction-murder of a mother whose child is still missing. As the two investigations converge, we anticipated that an Interstate Task Force would be set up, and St Louis Major Case Squad (MCS) would play a major role, sharing information and resources with the Sheriff’s Office in Oklahoma. So, we needed to be clear how interstate investigations worked, and to find out all we could about the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) and its partner organisation, Team Adam. A tall order in just under three weeks, but Dave had contacts through his work on the Advisory Board of the International Homicide Investigators Association (IHIA), and has reviewed or consulted on cases across the United States, including the infamous Lisk-Sylva murders, in which three children were abducted from their homes in Spotsylvania and murdered. He has also delivered investigative training to officers in a number of States, most recently Oklahoma and Missouri – which made these two states the natural choice of locations for Believe No One. He contacted Homicide Detective, Mike Nance, in Tulsa, OK, and Bill Baker, Director of the Major Case Squad in St Louis, MO, giving them a brief outline of the story as it stood. They did the rest – and they could not have been more accommodating. Not only setting up meetings, but taking time out to introduce us personally to key people, including homicide detectives, CSIs, District Attorneys and Assistant DAs, Medical Examiners, pathologists, anthropologists, and Team Adam consultants. Bill Baker had retired as a senior homicide detective just weeks before our visit, though he remains Executive Director of the Major Case Squad to this day. Joe Burgoon, known in St Louis PD as the Godfather of Homicide, is now retired but works tirelessly both as a consultant to Team Adam, and as a cold case investigator for St Louis County PD . Bill Baker and Joe Burgoon were our main contacts in St Louis, talking us through procedures, arranging meetings, making introductions – one of which was to Chief Medical Examiner Dr Mary Case, whose advice on our killers MO caused us to radically revised the killer’s methods.
Three things resonated though every aspect of our trip and informed the background narrative of Believe No One: methamphetamine; poverty; and the sheer size of the country. It’s impossible to underestimate the logistical challenges of policing a country which stretches 3000 miles from east to west. RAND stats say that methamphetamine abuse cost the US around $23.4 billion. In some rural counties of Oklahoma over 30% of the population live in poverty. In the past, poor folks in the backwoods might have brewed hooch – now, they cook ‘meth’. And to put it in perspective, Oklahoma, with its population of around 3.8 million, could fit the whole of England neatly inside its state borders, with room to spare. It’s a case of catch me if you can… These details informed character, and helped me to understand the victims and those who seek justice for them. The tales we were told by those in law enforcement were often rambunctious and hilarious, but they were tempered by stories of dedication, quiet humility, and a deep compassion for victims and their families that I hope resonates throughout this novel.
Believe No One, by A.D. Garrett, is published by C&R Crime
Visit www.adgarrett.com for more about the books, & a 17 day blog of the USA research trip