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Statement Analysis: What Do Suspects’ Words Really Reveal?

By Susan H. Adams, M.A.
Special Agent Adams teaches statement analysis as part of interviewing and interrogation courses at the FBI Academy.

This Article Originally Appeared in the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, October 1996.

(In statement analysis, investigators examine words, independent of case facts, to detect deception.)

Susan Smith stood outside her burgundy sedan and released the parking brake. The car plunged down the ramp into South Carolina’s Long Lake, with her sons, Michael, 3, and Alexander, 14 months, strapped into their car seats. To cover her actions, Susan told police that the boys were abducted at gunpoint, launching a nationwide search for the victims and their abductor. During the investigation, Susan tearfully told reporters, “My children wanted me. They needed me. And now I can’t help them.”1

Yet, the boys’ father, David, who believed Susan’s story, tried to reassure her by saying: “They’re okay. They’re going to be home soon.”2

Police subsequently arrested Susan for the murder of her children. She was tried and convicted and is currently serving a life sentence in a South Carolina correctional institution. Many investigators use a technique called “statement analysis” to discern the truth in statements like the ones given by Susan and David Smith. In statement analysis, investigators examine words, independent of case facts, to detect deception. They also remain alert for information omitted and question why the suspect may have done so. Investigators then analyze the clues unintentionally provided by a suspect and use this insight during the subsequent interview. Continue reading