Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Understanding the Word, "Left" In Analysis

Is he a righty or a left?


Two Lefts Don’t Make A Right

By Peter Hyatt

Two lefts may not make a right, but they sure do make for an interesting story.  

Here we find yet another fascinating point for investigative analysis:  the verb, “left” in analysis is an indication of missing information. We highlight the verb, “left” in the color blue, as a color of ‘sensitivity’, when it is used as a connecting verb and find if we have two (or more) “lefts” close together, we are on target for some important information. . 

Principle:  The word left” when used as a connecting verb, is an indication of missing information.


When the word “left” is used as a connecting verb, connecting one place to another, there’s always a missing story.  When it is not used as a connecting verb, it is not to be highlighted.  For example, “I left a message on her voicemail” would not be highlighted for sensitivity. Only when the word “left” is used to connect one place to another, is it to be considered sensitive to the subject.

This is an amazing fact of observation in human language.  It is the same in all languages, and investigators internationally apply the very same principle we do here.

 It is also deceptively simple, therefore, easy to miss.

Here is an example of what appears to be the same thing being said, two different ways, but, in fact, it is two different issues.  First:

I was in my office, and then I went to the bathroom.”

This is a simple, straight forward sentence. There are no issues, and nothing to indicate deception, or withholding of information.  The subject uses the pronoun, “I”, and the past tense verbs appropriately, thus appearing to come from memory.

 Here is the same sentence but said differently.  It appears, on the surface to say the same thing, but is actually something very different: 

I was in my office, and left my office and went to the bathroom.”

What do you think of the two statements?  You should ask yourself, as someone conducting an interview or analyzing a statement for interview questions:

Why is there a difference in language? Why did the subject have the need to use additional words? What caused him to add in that he “left” his office to go to the bathroom, since in order to go to the bathroom, he must leave his office?

Humans often speak in an economy of words.  In fact, many sentences are abbreviated down to acronyms such as AWOL, or ASAP with the internet giving way to an all new way of abbreviating words with LOL, OMG, and so forth. Humans like to economize their sentences, even when they are incessant talkers, they often take ‘the short way’ in a specific sentence.

In an investigation, there is ‘something on the line’; that is, it is not just a casual conversation but one of importance, and as we all edit our words (otherwise if someone asked you, “What did you do today?” you’d never stop speaking), we focus in upon what the subject felt was important enough to say to us. This editing process generally means that in a given sentence, every additional and unnecessary word because highly important to us.


 In fact, we have a saying in analytical work:  The shortest sentence is best. Here is an example often used:

I am happy.”

This has the pronoun, “I”, taking ownership, and it is in the present tense, which is appropriate.  This person is likely happy, without question.

I am very happy.”

This is a bit sensitive. The word “very” is an additional word, that brings in sensitivity.  It is through follow up questions that we will learn why the subject’s internal dictionary chose to lengthen the sentence.  Generally, when someone says “I am very happy” it is, perhaps due to one of many reasons, including:

Statement Analysis of "Brown Bear" 
  1. They were previously unhappy
  2. They never expected to be this happy (reference point)
  3. It could be something else that makes being “happy” sensitive for the subject.

I am very very happy” now has two indicators of sensitivity and it is through follow up questions we may learn why two extra words were added by the subject. Any word which can be removed while a complete sentence remains is “extra” and important to us.

I am very very very happy” now has three indicators of sensitivity making the topic of being “happy” highly sensitive to the subject.  This should lead the Interviewer to wonder if the subject is attempting to persuade (himself or the Interviewer) that he is happy.  People often reference the Shakespearean Non-Shakespearean “Me thinks thou does protest too much” in understanding the additional sensitive language.  How many “very’s” are needed before we learn how unhappy the subject really is?

The shortest sentence is considered best in terms of the odds of being truthful, and the rule of economy of words best highlights truthfulness in speaking. “I didn’t take the money” is such an example. In a theft investigation, if the allegation is known, the innocent will simply say, “I didn’t take the money” often not even waiting for you to ask.

What sentence gives you the most confidence:

A  “I told you the truth.”
B  I have told you the full truth.”
C  I have told you, 110%, the honest to God truth

Statistically, sentence A is the most likely truthful sentence.  B and C attempt to persuade, highlighting the weakness of needing to persuade. In fact, the “full truth” tells us that there is something in the subject’s mind that is less than full truth.  For subject C, there is something more than just 100% truth in their personal, subjective dictionary.  OJ Simpson often used percentages well past 100% in his personal, internal subjective dictionary.  Statistically, those who have truth measurements above 100%, and those who call upon Divinity in this manner, are likely to be deceptive individuals.

 If someone says “I would never, ever take the money” the subject has not denied taking the money, and his additional wording will likely call your attention to the sensitivity attached to the allegation. He states that he only “would” not take it and not that he “did not” take it. That he “would not” future, conditional tense, is likely true, when you hear this in an investigation:  after seeing how it all panned out, if given the chance again, he likely would not do it, but it does not mean he did not do it.

Studies have shown, in fact, that the abbreviation of “didn’t” shows an even more relaxed (and shorter) denial than the emphatic, “did not.”  (Reid Institute)

In this case, he has not only not denied taking the money, but his extra words tell us that there is more to the sentence:  specifically, emotion is in play here. Extra words give us additional information. Extra words are defined as words which, once removed, the sentence remains complete. Let’s return to the example of being in the office, and going to the bathroom.  In the two sentences, the first is the shortest and considered “best” in terms of analysis:  it is likely to be truthful, and there is likely no more to what happened.  The second sentence, “I was in my office, I left my office and went to the bathroom” uses the verb, “left” as a connecting verb, connecting the office to the bathroom.  It is unnecessary.

Principle:  Unnecessary words are doubly important to the analyst.  In its use as a connecting verb, between two places, The word “left” is unnecessary for the sentence to work. It is additional language and it gives us additional information. 

If I am in my office, in order to go to the bathroom, I must “leave” the office to get there. It is, therefore, it is an unnecessary connecting verb.

Objection:  What possible additional information could this give?

Answer:       It is the unknown, and is why our follow up questions are vital.  The information that I do know from the inclusion of the word “left” is that there is more to this story than what he has told me.  According to the subject, he did not simply go to the bathroom, as he did in sentence one, but he “left” the office.  This means that to the subject, his mind was on the office when he spoke this sentence.

You are not to interpret any words; you are to listen. In both sentences, the subject was in his office, and he went to the bathroom.  There is no interpretation involved.

Both statements are truthful statements and have no indications of deception about being in one room and going to another.  We believe the subject in both sentences.   We are to believe what someone told us, and in this case, we should believe that the subject was in his office, and he went to the bathroom; two locations.

It is, however, in the second sentence, that a “story” of sorts exists. This is why the subject chose to use additional words regarding the office.  He “left” the office. It may appear meaningless to you, but it wasn’t meaningless to him:  something happened that caused his brain to tell his tongue:  say these words.

Your job is to simply highlight the word “left” when it is found as a connecting verb, for sensitivity, and if it is unknown why sensitivity exits, follow up questions are to be constructed.

Let’s look at a few examples of the word “left” used as a connecting verb.  It is something we find a great deal in criminal activities but don’t discount its use in personal issues. An investigator wrote:

“I was going to the mother-in-law’s for lunch and stopped to get her a sandwich at the deli.  I left the deli and got to her house and had lunch.”

She said to me, “What does this show?”  I said that it tells me two things:

1.  That what may appear to be an error, is really a missing pronoun.  She wrote that she was going to “the” mother-in-law’s” for lunch and not “my mother-in law’s” which lacks the possessive pronoun, “my”, indicating a poor relationship.

She said that her mother-in-law was demanding, critical, and that she blamed the subject for just about everything.  “There’s just no pleasing her!” she later said.

2.  I also learned that something happened at the deli which is significant enough for her to remember, but it is missing information to me and that if I were to interview her, I would ask her, “tell me about what it was like at the deli…” in an attempt to let her freely talk about it.   She explained that while waiting in line for the sandwich, a co-worker was there and got into an argument with her about work which was “way inappropriate” and “unprofessional” and others could hear the argument. She is a private person and a consummate professional, so this was not only poor timing, in her mind, but also unprofessional.  This is why she “left” the deli and is the missing information found at the point of the word “left” in her statement. For her, the embarrassing few minutes with her co worker at the deli was in her mind when she wrote the statement, so instead of saying that she went to the deli and then off to her mother-in-law’s house, she included the act of “leaving” the deli.  It is so simple that it is often missed. 

Here is another example of the word “left” creeping into a subject’s language.

 A man was talking about his marriage, how beautiful his bride was, and about the time just prior to the wedding.  “I was in New York and then left and came to Boston and got married.  The man was asked about “leaving” New York, since he used the word, it was on his mind.  Oh, that’s another story”, he said, “I was with my ex girlfriend and it is a very long story…” and off he went on a romantic twisting tale of a jealous rivalry for his affections. With the word “left”, there is always a story to be told.  The story could be a simple, short story of rushing, or...it could be something far more interesting.  

In an investigation into a theft of money, a worker wrote in his statement about his work day which was long and dull, and at one point he wrote that his supervisor told him to go get the client’s lunch for him.  He wrote “I left in my truck to go to Wendy’s to get the client lunch.”

Sifting through a long and boring statement of hour to hour chores and his work was not exciting analysis (as you will see in our course), but I continued with circling all pronouns, and using the color sensitivity scale on the paper. After I was done, I held up the written statement and saw a “cluster of blues”; that is, two or more indications of sensitivity, and it was around lunch time that it appeared in his statement. I highlighted the word “left” (color coding is blue on the sensitivity scale) and wondered:

Why did he have the need to tell me he “left” since he can’t go to Wendy’s without leaving?
Why did he need to tell me that he “left” in his “truck”?  Why would it matter?  Did the agency provide a vehicle?  Was it a long drive needing reimbursement?  If it is just lunch and the client would like it hot, it isn’t likely a long drive…why would he have the need to tell me that he left in his truck?

That he “left” to go to the fast food place is unnecessary.  He can’t go there unless he leaves, but for him, it was not just that he “left” but he mentioned how he got there.  This appears to be utterly useless information.  When writing out his statement about theft, why would he need to tell me how he got to Wendy’s?  I would find out soon enough.

By simply highlighting “left” without thought, I stumbled upon a sensitive area in the statement and knew where to address my questions.  I thought on this as the interview progressed and wondered why, during the description of his day, was he thinking about his “truck”?  What was the “story” about the “truck” that was missing?

I kept asking him about lunch, and about his truck.  I noted that he was annoyed with the repeated questions and did some body shifting. His statement was long, and I had constructed questions from it, but kept coming back to him “leaving” and him leaving in his “truck.”  I knew there was withheld information (missing) and I knew the area of “blue” or sensitivity, was around the truck. His statement was missing information and it was only through questioning that I could find out what was missing.

Interestingly enough, his entire written statement, three plus pages long, was 100% truthful.  There was not a single lie in it, sentence by sentence. He did, in fact, go to Wendy’s in his truck and did, in fact, by a hamburger, fries and soda. He didn’t “lie” about anything. This is why we do not interpret anything:  we listen.

It was in the story that the small piece of information was missing:

The stolen money was in a locked box in his “truck” hidden away.  While he was writing out his statement out on what he did at work that day, what was it that he was thinking about?

He was thinking about his truck and where he hid the locked box of money.  It was in his mind and came out in his words.  If not for careful listening, this would never have been known.

I didn’t know he had hidden the money in his truck. I had believed that he had taken the missing money, but that was from another part of his statement, in particular, about his activities at 11PM that night. 

Eventually, he confessed. Had I not known to highlight “left”, I might have missed the major linguistic clue.

In researching this habit of language, the Laboratory of Scientific Interrogation (LSI) found that 70% of the time, the word “left” is used because the person was pressed for time. 

I left work at 5PM and went home.”  Here, the word “left” is sensitive, but 7 out of 10 times, its sensitivity is due to rushing, or traffic, or something due to time pressure. When I find this word entering a subject’s language (or written statement) I often ask if they were feeling time pressure and it usually is the case. Those who leave work early, when they should not do so, often use this as well.

LSI found that 30% of the time, it is missing information that is highly sensitive, or critical to the investigation. These are the indicators that we often find in theft or assault cases. Here was a part of a statement from a sexual assault case:


“I was taking care of her and made her bed, and then left the bedroom to get her medicines” a staff person said, regarding an allegation that he had molested the woman he as taking care of.  He said, “I washed my hands, gave her the medicine for the day and left.  Nothing happened.”

Here was a case of “two lefts” making the information highly sensitive to the subject who spoke these words. In questioning him I would want to ask him to tell me about what “taking care” of her meant to him. Eventually, investigators found out.

He was arrested and convicted of rape. Let’s look at the sentence again.  This was a transcript of his interview:

“I was taking care of her and made her bed and then left the bedroom to get her medicines. I washed my hands, gave her the medicine for the day and left. Nothing happened

If you followed the simple procedure of analysis in preparation for the interview, you would have highlighted the following words:

“her, the, to, washed, left, happened” as sensitive.

  1. Her bed.”  It is her bed, and he recognizes this but then he says he left “the” bedroom rather than “her” bedroom.  Why isn’t it “her” bedroom?  This was something the investigator would seek to answer in his questioning.
  2. “To”.  The investigator knew that when someone tells us what happened, any time they tell us why something happened, it should be considered very sensitive, since it is outside the boundary of simply reported what happened.  Therefore, the investigator, in his analysis, always highlights the words, “so, since, therefore, because, to, “ and so on, showing that the subject has a need to explain why he did something.
  3. Washed” his hands. Remember:  we do not interpret, we listen.  He did wash his hands before he went back into the bedroom.  It is a truthful sentence.  In fact, every word he spoke here is truthful. However, the investigator noted that the washing of hands is unnecessary information and knew that unnecessary information is doubly important to investigations.  He knew, just as social workers know, that there is an association between sexual inappropriateness and water.  For example, a teacher that finds a child suddenly is washing her hands 7 times per day and is now concerned that, perhaps, the child has been a victim of sexual molestation.  It warrants questioning.  Perhaps the child’s skin is itchy and dried out, and that cold water soothes the itch, and it is not related to sexual abuse.  This would be good news, but perhaps it is something else. A trained professional recognizes that there is a need to find out why.  It is the same linguistically.  Why the need to mention washing hands?



In the investigation into the murder of a teen hitchhiker in the Midwest, a trucker was asked to tell investigators about his day.  It was the day the girl was reported missing.

“I drove down Route 80, stopped off to get gas, used the bathroom, washed my hands, left the gas station, got back on 80, proceeded to Route 74 for 4 hours…” and on he went.

Every word he said was true. It was what he left out which was critical:  he had raped and killed her.  Police later estimated the time of death to be just before he pulled over and used the restroom.  In context, we might have dismissed "left" here as rushing, traffic, or time sensitivity.  

It was not.  

This highlights deception, overall.

It is extremely rare for someone to lie outright. Most all of deception comes from information that is left out.

“I heard a gun shot and found my wife, lying in a pool of blood” is truthful; yet it is missing one critical point that came out later in this case:  he shot her.

Before conducting our interviews, we must be prepared.  We begin the interview with setting the pace of the interview by asking, “Name, address, phone number, years employed” and so on.  We then move to open ended questions where the subject enters the free editing process. Then we ask questions from the subject’s own words, and then we ask questions from the previously written statement.

Where, in the written statement, you have found the word “left” used as a connecting verb between two places, you will construct your questions as to why it is present. Most of the time the missing information will be related to time pressure, or traffic, but almost a third of the time, it will be missing information critical to your investigation.

Our final sample comes from a man who came home from work to find that his wife had committed suicide.

“I left for work at 9AM but decided to come home for lunch at noon.  I left the office and got home and found her dead. That’s the whole story.”

Just stepping back from this statement and seeing the blue so close together, tells me to focus my attention on this extreme sensitivity. 

He was eventually convicted in her death. He had come home an hour earlier than he said, got into an argument with her and shot her. Neighbors report hearing the gun shot at 11AM, not noon.  But if you notice in his statement, he does not lie.  Here you have two “lefts” making the information in between these two “lefts” critically sensitive.

He did leave his house for work at 9AM.  They were arguing bitterly over money and his infidelity. He said that he “decided” to come home for lunch at noon, but decisions change.  He may have decided that but after 10:30AM, no one in the office could say they saw him.  It is true that he “left” the office, but he does not say what time he “left” the office. Notice also that when someone uses a phrase like “that’s the whole story” or “that’s all” (or anything similar) it is a signal that they want the flow of information to cease.

While some of these appear to be “amazing” finds within a statement, there really is nothing amazing about it:  as a matter of practice on each and every statement, you take a blue highlighter (blue is indicative of sensitivity) and outline the word “left” (or “departed”) when it is used to connect two places.  In analyzing software, the word “left” is automatically highlighted for you.

Your work comes in asking questions around the sensitive time frame within a statement.  This is a developing skill as you work from the subject’s own language.  It is a discipline that avoids leading and suggestive questions.


Sometimes, two lefts make a right. In allowing the subject to guide us, we follow his directions and if he calls attention to something, we want to know what it is, and why it is important to the subject.

12 comments:

elf said...

Excellent article Peter :)
Lately I've been watching a lot of that TV show 'snapped' and I've been amazed how the principles of statement analysis are so obvious to me now when I'm listening to what the suspects say. 'That's all I know' is a common theme in suspects being questioned by officers. On Sunday they had a case where a mother and son planned the murder of a neighbor (motive-jealousy. Mom wanted to continue affair with neighbors husband) and the mother did state to investigators a reliable denial 'I did not kill ----' but when the officer asked her point blank did she ask her son to kill the neighbor, the mom minimized what she had told the her son, 'I only said I wished she would fall down the stairs and he said she could be pushed' etc. Turns out she didn't kill her neighbor but she did plot and have her son commit the murder.

Anonymous said...

In the maddie mggann case her parents mention"left"thousands of times.

JoAnn said...

Thank you for posting this article. This type of article is such a good learning experience for people like me - who have a whole lot to learn!

Skeptical said...

I hope there is more information forthcoming. I have more questions than answers.

Was he paying child support and wanted out of the payments like DiPetro?

Is he a common, garden variety psychopath? I ask this because of this information from the original analysis - "his younger brother, Roger, who died in a trailer fire in 1989 at age 5." He would have been a year or two older than his brother at the time. Were they playing with matches? Was he somehow responsible for setting the original fire? Was he rescued and his brother perished? Are there any other unexplained fires in his past. Arson, cruelty to animals, and bed wetting are often early indicators for serial killers. If he was a witness to that fire, who knows what it could do to his psyche?

Karen said...

Fascinating!

Nic said...

Thank you, Peter! I found this article really helpful. I was confusing "left"as a connecting verb with the grammar rule (which called *linking* verb). It's not the same thing.




Jen Ow said...

Thanks for another great article Peter!

Red Ryder said...

Thank you for this great article! You've taught about left a number of times but this is the first time where it makes sense to me. I guess I needed to read the material over and over until it finally sunk in! What I find amazing is how these principles cross language barriers and apply, people are people wherever they try to deceive -haha.

john said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
john said...

OT Update.

Mother of missing child remains in jail on probation violation charges

The mother of missing toddler Myra Lewis will remain in jail after her probation revocation hearing was postponed on Monday.

Ericka Lewis, whose 2-year-old daughter has been missing since March 1, was jailed on probation violations about two weeks ago when she was arrested for being a felon in possession of a firearm. Investigators had located some guns inside the family’s home. Lewis’ probation violation stemmed from a felony food stamp fraud conviction.

Officials said Lewis’ hearing was delayed until May 19 because the sentencing judge was unable to be in court.

The Myra Lewis investigation has stymied authorities, who have searched the land around her house and followed numerous leads since her disappearance.

Family members say they believe the child was abducted and asked that the Sheriff’s Department look into sex offenders who live in the area or who might have been in town.

While they have said they hope that Myra will be found alive, officials have also said her disappearance does not show the earmarks of a random kidnapping.

“The investigation is ongoing, and we can’t discuss it at this point,” said FBI spokeswoman Deborah Madden.

District Attorney Michael Guest said hundreds of hours have been put into the investigation by several agencies.

“The sheriff’s office and the FBI continue to follow up on every lead in this case, and there are still individuals devoted solely to this investigation,” he said.

Myra’s father, Gregory Lewis, told reporters Monday that he had not been aware of his wife’s food stamp fraud convictions, claiming his long hours of work keep him from knowing what goes on with his family.

On the day Myra disappeared, family members told police Gregory Lewis was inside the home with the infant. He was, they say, in a back bedroom resting.

Ericka Lewis’ mother, Martha Sanders, said she feels like the arrest was a tactic to pressure her daughter into giving up some kind of information.

“They can pressure Erica, but she’ll never give in. She’ll never give in because she didn’t do anything,” said Sanders.

Myra’s family has been polygraphed, but police won’t comment on the outcome.

Madison County Sheriff’s Department officials did not return phone calls Monday.

http://www.clarionledger.com/article/20140324/NEWS/303240026

Anonymous said...

I don't know why this one is so hard for me. I just don't get it.

I think it is really hard to recount events without using the word left.

"My husband was still at work when I called. After he left he called me back. He asked if I needed anything on the way home."

Is that suspicious/sensitive/missing info? If so I still don't get it.

Peter Hyatt said...

The word "left" is a signal of missing information. Most of it, 70% and upward, is missing information about traffic, time, rushing, etc.

"I left work at 5 and went to the store..."

Instead of:

"I went to the store after work"

I may have been rushing, or concerned about traffic, or the time...

most of the time, it is very little.

Peter