911 Homicide Calls and Statement Analysis: Is the Caller the Killer?

By Adams, Susan H.; Harpster, Tracy | The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, June 2008 | Go to article overview
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911 Homicide Calls and Statement Analysis: Is the Caller the Killer?


Adams, Susan H., Harpster, Tracy, The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin


Afrantic young man called 911: "Get an ambulance to 168 Birch. My friend's been shot!" In another instance, the father of a 1-year-old boy reported, "Yes, ma'am ... my, my son can't breathe."

Do 911 homicide calls contain clues that could help investigators identify the killer? In these two examples, the first caller demanded immediate medical assistance for his friend and did not commit the crime. In the second instance, the father politely reported his child's condition, never asking for help for his son or expressing any urgency. He had shaken the boy, who later died.

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Such calls provide invaluable clues to investigators because the caller, in fact, may have committed the crime. It is not unusual for homicide offenders to contact 911 without revealing their involvement in the murder. (1)

Homicide calls are unique. They originate from distressed callers confronted with urgent life-and-death situations. These initial contacts can contain the most valuable statements--those least contaminated by suspects' attempts to conceal the truth, attorneys' advice to remain silent, and investigators' leading questions. (2) In these instances, the dispatcher simply asks, "What is your emergency?" and the caller responds with insightful, uncontaminated verbal and vocal clues.

Fortunately, 911 calls are recorded. Therefore, investigators have access to a transcript, the actual call, and, thus, important evidence. They can examine both the words and the tone of voice. An analysis of the calls can provide investigators with immediate insight and interviewing strategies to help solve homicide cases.

The authors analyzed 100 homicide calls from adjudicated cases to examine the differences between innocent and guilty callers. (3) Innocent individuals made 50 of the calls, and guilty persons who either committed the homicide or arranged for another person to do so made the other half. Specific differences appeared that helped distinguish innocent callers from guilty ones during an examination of the answers to the following three questions: 1) What was the call about? 2) Who was the call about? and 3) How was the call made?

WHAT WAS THE CALLABOUT?

Request for Help

When analyzing a 911 homicide call, the investide call, the investigator's primary question should be, Was the caller requesting assistance? If not, why not? Was the individual simply reporting a crime? Almost twice as many innocent callers (67 percent) in this study asked for help for the victim than did guilty callers (34 percent).

Relevance of Information

During the dispatchers' questioning, few of the guilty 911 callers actually lied unless forced to. Most of them deceived by omission, rather than commission. In lieu of offering the complete truth, such as I did it, many provided rambling information, instead of concise points; confusing, rather than clear, details; and extraneous information, instead of relevant facts. These details, although, irrelevant to the dispatchers' questions, frequently related to the criminal act. People who provide more information than necessary may be attempting to convince someone of a deceptive story, rather than simply conveying truthful information. (4) In this regard, investigators must listen carefully to the complete call because the caller may have provided information that reveals vital clues to the homicide.

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Dispatcher: What is your emergency?

Guilty caller: Um, I ... I need someone out here right now for my little daughter.

Dispatcher: What's going on?

Guilty caller: She threw up water. She ... um ... when she ... when she got off the stool ... she was drinking water, and we told her to get down, and she threw herself down off the floor ... off the stool.

The caller, the father of an adopted 4-year-old girl, mentioned water twice.

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911 Homicide Calls and Statement Analysis: Is the Caller the Killer?
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