Unsolicited Explanations: How Liars Betray Themselves

Feb 07, 2024

 

It’s no secret that deception creates mental and physiological stress within us.  However, some people are so good at it that they can pass a polygraph test.  It’s as if they are not affected by the stress that betrays the rest of us if we tell a lie.  I once watched a federal agent conduct an interview and accuse the suspect of lying.  The suspect offered to take a polygraph test, which he was allowed to do.  A polygraphist administered the test and… the suspect passed.  That was the end of the interview, no follow up was conducted.

The problem with this is that the suspect displayed elevated sensitivity within his language. In fact, it was enough to indicate that he was not being entirely truthful. The interviewer missed it.  Or if he did recognize it, he disregarded it once the polygraph was passed.  Sadly, this same scenario has been played out over and over again.  That suspect later confessed and admitted that he had lied during the polygraph.  Why he was able to pass is a topic we’ll have to discuss at a later time.   For now, I want to focus on the sensitivity indicator within his language that betrayed him. 

 

First off, let’s talk briefly about what happens when we actually experience an event of any type.  When we experience an event, all our senses are engaged.  What we see, hear, smell, taste and feel; both emotionally and physically, is sent to the brain. Neurons connect and chemicals are released into our body.  If it is a pleasant event, that chemical might be serotonin, dopamine or endorphins.  If it is a stressful or traumatic event, we might experience a release of cortisol or an elevated hormonal response such as an adrenaline dump.  It is an intricate process that occurs in a split second.  Thus, when truthfully recounting an event, it is easy to do.  Not only does our brain remember, but so does our physical body. 

Conversely, when experiential memory is disengaged and replaced by deception, that is inventing or fabricating reality or deliberately withholding words, there is a mental and physiological reaction in the body. The brain knows what is true, and it was designed to tell the truth.  This means that deliberate deception creates conflict within the brain, a cognitive dissonance.  A person who is deliberately deceptive will naturally experience a degree of stress due to the conflict within their brain.  That conflict creates a disruption in the powerfully speedy process of their brain.  That stress creates the physiological responses that can be measured by lie detection machines such as the Polygraph, as well as the Voice Stress Analyzer. 

The great thing about the stress from deception is that it also creates anomalies in speech.  You see, the brain does not like to operate contrary to how it was created.  It will attempt to protect itself from that stress by altering one’s speech in several ways.  Those are the anomalies we can exploit to get to the truth. 

 Once you understand how psychological stress is linguistically manifested, you will realize that deceptive people actually teach you what questions to ask in an interview, and where to focus your investigation.

 

  • Recognize the stress manifested in the language.
  • Exploit the stress... 
  • Now their stress is elevated, which in turn weakens them mentally and physiologically. Utterances, admissions, and confessions naturally follow.

 

It is one thing to believe that someone is lying, it is quite another to articulate how that person is lying and what part of their story might be truthful.  Keep in mind, the best deception is cloaked in truthful information, which often makes it difficult to recognize and articulate. 

The fact is, we are not all equipped with the ability to detect deception.  It’s one thing to discern that what we are hearing or reading is probably deceptive.  We think to ourselves, it just doesn’t seem right, or it doesn’t pass the smell test; it stinks. The real trick is to understand exactly how the person is deceptive.  Since our brain was designed to tell the truth, it makes sense that most deception is simply in the form of withholding information.  In fact, most deceptive statements contain a large amount of truthful information.  Some deceptive statements are entirely true, yet deceptive due to the information left out.  It is easier on the brain to provide partial or misleading truths than it is to tell an outright lie. This is why it is imperative for investigators to understand the varied ways in which deception is manifested.

 

The Unsolicited Explanation – A Core Deceptive Indicator

There are several linguistic indicators we look for to determine if a person is skirting the truth. 

One of the most effective, yet overlooked indicators is the unsolicited explanation.  This is when the subject provides a reason why something happened but was not asked to do so.  These unnecessary and unsolicited explanations are easy to overlook because we hear them and speak them almost daily.  However, the context in which they are used makes a big difference.  In the context of an investigatory interview, these types of explanations are not necessary.  If you understand their importance and focus on them, they will shed a huge amount of light on your interviews and your investigations. 

When someone is asked to tell us what happened, it is easy for them to do when they are telling the truth.  However, when there is any form of deception involved, the stress from that deception will often appear in the form of heightened sensitivity.  In other words, they will offer explanations for the points of their story that are manufactured.  If their story was de facto true, no explanation would be necessary.  However, since the story is not entirely true, an explanation is necessary (in their mind) to make the story believable.   

In class, we learn to highlight the unsolicited explanations in blue.  When we have clusters of blue, we have deception.  Listening, and looking for unsolicited explanations will identify those with guilty knowledge. Answers to questions that are focused around those areas will manifest additional stress and sensitivity. When you ask follow up questions focused around those areas of high sensitivity, it sends a message to the deceptive subject that you are on to his deception.  This will naturally increase his stress level.  

 

Many current and cold cases could be solved by simply recognizing the unsolicited explanations within the language of those being interviewed.  Take for example the Lina Geddes case.  Lina’s disappearance was a mystery for over 20 years.  Her husband, Edward Geddes, told investigators that the last time he saw Lina was when he dropped her off at the airport in Pittsburg.  He said that she took a flight to Mexico to visit her family.  However, Lina never arrived in Mexico and there was no known trace of her anywhere. 

A cursory interview was conducted with Edward after Lina’s family reported her missing.  The interview was five months after Lina allegedly flew to Mexico.  Edward’s interview contains classic examples of how Unsolicited Explanations reveal the stress and sensitivity within his brain. 

 

Below is a portion of Edward’s interview transcript.  You will see several areas in blue font, which are the unsolicited explanations.  The areas in bold red font are the points that Edward is explaining, and therefore most important.  Simply by following the sensitivity in Edward’s language, key pieces of this investigation are exposed.  It’s too bad the interviewing detective did not have the same training you do; this case might have been solved 20 years ago!

 

Edward Geddes: OK on, um, Wednesday morning April 8th, we left ah, I would have to guess at 6:45 am. Ah our place in Austintown, ah, we had Cheekies, the dog with us, OK and ah she had packed cosmetic case, a suitcase, um, I think a hang-up bag, ah and, she had a, ah, ah, a sleeping bag. OK, ah, which was ah, going to be a present for one of her little cousins.  You know he always liked to go out into the backyard, um, you know and play camp.  He had a little hut and things like that.

Detective: So, she had a sleeping bag? 

Edward Geddes: She had the sleeping bagI had rolled the sum bitch up tight. Ha-ha. That’s an odd combination,

Detective: OK

Edward Geddes: ah, to carry. It was, it was going to be a present for ah Paco.

Detective: What color was the sleeping bag?

 

Edward Geddes: Blue, the outside, I guess it was a light color on the inside. I think, yeah. Oh, man, now you are testing my memory.

Detective: That’s in case we, who knows, if we find something down there. You know find a sleeping bag

Edward Geddes:  since I talked to you, I’m going to ah, say one thing. We ought to enter it here. I might have told you this before, because it didn’t come to mind or until about a month or so ago. Um, she got up pretty early that morning cause she had long hair, and she went shampoo and it took a while to dry her hair.

Detective: OK

Edward Geddes: and so I was lying in bed watching her you know. But, so the first thing she would do she would come out of the shower. She would have the towel wrapped around her thing. And she came out nude. She would put on a pair of underpants and bra. OK, then she would you know start working with her hair. I can, I can tell you what underpants and bra she had on.

Detective: OK

Edward Geddes: Ah, she they were white cotton, and the bra, the reason that I remember, is it was my favorite pants and bra. Ah, it was white cotton with pictures of apples and maybe bananas on it. OK, little pictures like this, like the size of a nickel.

 

Detective: OK

Edward Geddes: And, the bra had the same pattern.

Detective: Apples and what?

Edward Geddes: I think Apples and bananas.

Detective: Bananas

Edward Geddes: Unusual. OK. They left, ahh, about 6:45.  Austintown we went down to the Pittsburgh Airport.  Ah, I pulled up to the check in, the U.S. Air check in, she didn’t have a ticket, so the sky cab cannot check something just on your word, you have to have a ticket. So, I gave him $10.00 bucks, and said OK you now take care of all her baggage, make sure she gets to where she is going. OK, and, ah you know I didn’t come into the airport because I had Cheeckie in, in the car. And, ah we hadn’t really broken Cheeckie’s of keeping her in the car. OK, Ah, We hadn’t taught her how to stay in the car and not go pee pee.

Ah, so you know we kissed, I was out of the car, we kissed, ah, sky cab picked up all the stuff and went into the Pittsburgh Airport. That’s the last time I saw her.

 

As you can see, the key areas of focus should be:

  1. The sleeping bag.
  2. The bra and underpants Lina was wearing.
  3. Edward not going into the airport.
  4. His portrayal that he was such a good husband that he kissed her goodbye.

Unfortunately, these key areas were not recognized by the interviewer and therefore not exploited.  Had he recognized the sensitivity and known how to exploit it, this case might have been solved 20 years ago.  Imagine what would have happened if the interviewer had simply let Edward give his version of events, and then revisited the sensitive areas manifested in Edward’s own words.  To exploit the sensitivity, the investigator should’ve asked follow up questions surrounding those areas. 

  • Edward, you stated that Lina had a sleeping bag and that you tied the sum bitch up tight. Describe that to me... Tell me more about that… What did that look like?

 

  • Edward, thank you for all your help and the information you’ve given us so far. You said that you dropped Lina off at the airport.  Tell me about your last conversation with Lina…what did you talk about on the way to the airport… at the airport… what is your last memory of her... describe that in more detail.  

 

By focusing on the sensitivity in Edward’s own words, his stress level will automatically be elevated.  His responses will reveal additional points of sensitivity that should then be exploited in a similar manner.  When Edward answers those follow up questions, he will be raising his stress levels.  All you need to do is focus your questions in the sensitive areas!

 

The rest of the story:

Lina’s body was actually dumped in Utah a few months after she went missing.  However, her identity was unknown for close to 20 years. Her fingers were cut off and she was tied up in… you guessed it; the blue sleeping bag Edward tried to explain away. She was also wearing the same bra and underpants he had described.  In fact, that is all she was wearing.  The sensitivity surrounding the airport story and Edward not going in was due to the fact that he manufactured that story. They were never at the airport.  Obviously, he was not a good husband!

The sleeping bag was actually tied up with ropes and several knots.  Recent advancements in DNA technology helped identify Edward’s DNA on those ropes.  He really did tie it up tight - that part was actually true!  Sadly, Edward shot himself about 10 years after Lina was killed.  He will never get to serve his time in prison. 

 

Moving forward, as you conduct your investigations and interviews, remember that people actually teach you what questions to ask in the interview, and where to focus your investigation.

  • Recognize the stress manifested in the language.
  • Exploit the stress... 
  • Now their stress is elevated, which in turn weakens them mentally and physiologically. Utterances, admissions, and confessions naturally follow.

Recognizing and focusing on the areas of elevated sensitivity will put you way ahead of the game!

 

If you would like more on this topic, check out this YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R15V_o_mxxg