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A lesson learned when I was questioned about a murder

Updated: May 17, 2021

Whilst my blog pieces are generally light-hearted, I would like to say that there was nothing humorous about the incident which led to me meeting an experienced member of the FBI a number of years ago.

If you’ve ever had your door knocked on an early morning by the police, then you’ll know it’s a distinctive sound that seems to tap out ‘Op-en-up-its-the-cops’ so you are in no doubt who is on the other side. Nor do you think it’s anything other than ominous.

And so, it was on that Sunday morning around 7.40am, in my alcohol-free campus’ dormitory room that I quickly rose from my slumber; but slowly edged to the door.

Panic started to wave over me, as my eyes darted quickly to the dirty secret in the wardrobe. I pushed against its handle just to be sure it was fully closed before going to the door of my room and opening it ever so slightly.

As feared, two eager beaver members of the local constabulary were standing there. I looked into their faces and then down to the ground.

‘Have you seen….’ I didn’t hear the words after that as the pounding in my heart reached its crescendo drowning them out in a wave of relief.

‘ I haven’t.’ I exhaled.

‘She’s gone missing. Let us know if you do see her.’

‘Ok...’ I said, closing the door, opening the wardrobe on my way back to the bed to verify that the empty 6-pack of beer cans were still neatly hidden in the rear. Safe and sound for now before I’d later discretely take them off the college property and dump in a town trash can.

It’s extremely embarrassing now looking back. It shows a total lack of insight and disregard for another’s safety and wellbeing that, in that moment, with law enforcement officers right outside, that I so quickly got back under the sheets and went to sleep thinking that the only important thing was that I had not been rumbled for drinking beer in a puritanical environment.

It was a few hours later when the body was discovered, about 200 yards away from where I lay, hidden under leaves in amongst the trees.

I didn’t know her. I knew of her. I had seen her once or twice in passing but that was about it. It was still a shock of course, but mostly because thoughts moved on to who did it!

Like any good murder-mystery, there was a host of suspects and a myriad of circumstantial events that would allow for several wild goose chases and even wilder imaginings.

I won’t deal with them now, I’ll save for another time and place, but the investigation of which I was a very small part of did leave with me a number of insights that have stayed with me, the most important of which came at the end of a relatively brief- thirty minutes or so- Q&A with a senior Federal Bureau of Investigation agent.

It was him asking the questions and me providing what limited answers I could.

I had nothing to fear now that illicit alcohol consumption was not on the agenda, but it was still a little tense despite that. The very fact that you are sitting across the table from someone who’s sole mission is to quickly work out whether you are honest or not when we all have some secret to hide does raise the stakes.

It was his ‘Colombo’ moment that threw me. Just as Peter Falk’s character in the eponymous TV detective series did so well and so often to those under suspicion.

As we were concluding the statement giving and we both visibly relaxed, the officer said:

‘Oh... just one more thing…what haven’t you told me?’

My mind melted in what I imagine was something like Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’.

What haven’t I told him? What haven’t I told him? What’s he getting at? What does he know? Is he going to arrest me right now? Am I going to jail for the rest of my life? Am I going to get the chair?

I became a bumbling idiot in a split second.

‘Ahh... well…I…I…you see…umm…I…well…’

It took me a few moments to regain my composure, but I was totally rattled.

‘Nothing… I… no… there’s nothing.’

He smiled and wrapped up proceedings thanking me for my time.

About three minutes later while he was interviewing the next potential witness, I was back knocking on his door having just remembered something that I hadn’t told him, which thankfully he said he already knew.

In my work now as a solicitor I will often use the tactic of summing up first interviews with that killer question – what haven’t you told me?

However, its useful for so many interactions that we have in life where people, companies, politicians are trying to varying degrees to manipulate us to always seek to ask and have answered – what are you NOT telling me?

Stop looking only at what information you are being provided with freely – instead, focus on digging deeper and get the full picture. That’s the only way you’ll know you have the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

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