The detective told me I really had him fooled.
When the caper came down I worked on the school newspaper as both photo editor and critic-at-large at a small college in Southwest Minnesota.
Whatever you have heard about Minnesota winters is a lie. They are much worse. Weeks of sub-zero weather are typical. There was only wind between my college and the Arctic Circle. It was always a race to get to my destination before freezing to death.
The college was built subterranean to save heating costs. As an unanticipated side effect of this strategy, a bunker mentality creeps into everyone’s psyche and keeps company with the cabin fever.
If you have never heard the phrase, ‘nothing to do but drink and brood,’ you have never been to Minnesota in winter. Closely following the low temperatures were the six weeks of leaden grey skies. April showers may bring May flowers but March was known as suicide month. It paid to stay busy.
Being a college student, I tended to keep odd and long hours. I was at the editorial office at almost any time. I might come out of the photography dark room and not know if it was a.m. or p.m. in this windowless, subterranean world.
Every few weeks I needed to get out of town. Friday, I would bundle up and hitchhike to Minneapolis. I usually made it in three or four hours.
I got back Sunday night. Monday morning I heard that the French instructor’s purse was stolen from her office down the hall from the newspaper.
I got a call from the police asking what I knew about the robbery. I only knew what I had heard, but offered my assistance. They asked me to come in for an “interview”. I was never part of a police investigation before. This would be interesting.
I was offered a chair and introduced to two officers and a detective. They offered me coffee. They were nice guys. I told them what I knew. Nothing.
I felt the camaraderie evaporate into something more interrogatory. The detective asked my location when the robbery occurred. “I visited friends in Minneapolis over the weekend.”
They watched me in silence. I was just a hippy to them.
“Wait a minute. You think I did it?” The room had cooled. I was perspiring. I asked for an attorney.
Later, the detective told me, “That was when I knew we had you. Why ask for a lawyer if you haven’t done anything wrong?”
The lawyer advised me to submit to a polygraph test. “It’s not admissible in court, but if you pass, they probably won’t charge you.”
I spent the two hour drive to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, for the polygraph test, staring out the window. There was nothing to look at. There was less to say.
The polygraph operator was all business. He attached a series of electrodes to me while I examined the list of questions he provided. He assured me those were the only questions he would ask and the test’s accuracy depended on my answering them as truthfully as possible. Okay.
The list was pretty mundane; name, address, nothing ambiguous, no trick questions. This would be easy.
He asked me each question in turn and would jot a notation after each answer. Then he asked me, “Were you alone during the robbery?” This wasn’t on the list. It was jarring. My adrenaline surged. “Wait, that wasn’t…” Was this all a trick?
The tester apologized for the “mistake”. He returned to the list. A few minutes later he announced, “This man is no more guilty than I am.”
The tester didn’t make a mistake. He threw in the curve ball question to determine if I was gaming the test. My unself-conscious reaction proved the results were genuine. I thanked him.
The detective was casual on the return trip. He said I broke all his expectations. “Everyone lies. They start out with a good story and then, at some point, they need to change it. We catch them in the lie. But you told the truth from the outset. I’ve never seen that before.”
It was ironic that I should have “fooled” them by telling the truth. He said everyone lies. I wasn’t trying to fool him.
The courts are held to a presumption of innocence. But in practice, everyone’s biases effect which facts are noted. Telling the truth forces them to note all the facts, not just those convenient to their cause.
Or, as that philosopher, John Gotti said, “I never lie because I don’t fear anyone. You only lie when you’re afraid.”