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When writing about criminals it is sometime necessary for your fictional bad guys to, for a variety of reasons, conceal their identities. And they do so by wearing disguises, which could be anything from shielding the eyes by pulling a hat brim low over the eyebrows, to wearing elaborate makeup and a wig. These methods are extremely effective when found within the covers of a novel because you make it so. But could it be that easy to trick someone in real life? Do simple disguises work?

Well, obviously they don’t work as well when someone is familiar with the person who’s trying to conceal their identity. But when you’re not familiar with the person who’s attempting to disguise themselves, well, a simple change of hair style or color may be all that’s needed to fool someone, including trained observers, such as police officers.

When writing, keep in mind that people, even untrained observers, tend to look deeper than a friend or close acquaintance’s hair color or style than they would at someone they don’t know. Friends know the facial features of other friends—the lines  and shapes of the eyes, noses and mouths. They know the fine details, the features that can’t be readily or easily altered without major surgery. The same with family. They know those details almost as well as their own.

Strangers, on the other hand, see an overall picture of us. They’re not focusing on the crinkled lines and grooves around our eyes, or even the spattering of freckles on Sally Sue’s earlobes. At least not at first glance. Therefore, it’s easier to fool a stranger such as the character who entered the scene on page 47 of your latest book.

Two methods used by criminals to conceal their identities are impersonation and evasive disguises.

An impersonation disguise is trying to look like someone else, such as the jewel thief who dresses up in the clothing of Poirot’s sidekick, Hastings, to allow him to slip off the ship without being readily detected by police.

An evasive disguise is one that’s used to not look like yourself. A perfect example of this is the undercover police officer who wears clothing to better fit with the target group, change hairstyles (grow it long or shave the head), grow or shave facial hair, etc. Such as the transformation I made when working a longterm undercover narcotics assignment.

Me, working undercover narcotics.

Dig and Cover!

To take your character a step further. Let’s have him alter his looks while at the same time evading a professional tracker. Yes, the bad guy in your book, Squirt Jenkins, is running, and he’s running hard to prevent being captured by the hero of your book, Brute Studly.

So what should Jenkins, and others, do as part of a getaway plan? Well, for starters they must avoid leaving telltale signs that he’s been where he’s been, such as:

  • Don’t leave behind waste—gum, gum wrappers, soda cups, and the scraps of paper that tend to fall out of pockets when you’re digging for that single M&M that you dang well know fell from the bag a week ago when you tore the tiny sack with your car keys.
  • Do not do things in the woods that should be done in the privacy of a bathroom stall at Jimbo’s Truck Stop and Flower-A-Ranging Emporium. No human waste in the forest! If you absolutely must go, use a stick or rock or the heel of a shoe to “dig and cover.”
  • A famous tracker once said (I heard this a police training event) something to the effect of, “Don’t leave honey wells,” or honeypots, or honey-somethings. I don’t remember which. But it had something to do with honey. Anyway, what he was referring to was leaving a ton of evidence behind when making your way through areas where such evidence is really seen. These places are fields and yards filled with tall grasses and weeds, snow covered areas, sandy beaches, mud, etc. If you must walk in the snow, do so only when fresh snow is falling so that your tracks are covered. Hide your tracks!
  • Take care to not overturn leaves and pine needles and rocks and limbs. Don’t scrape bark from trees. And whatever you do, as creepy as they are, don’t break spiderwebs, leaving the sticky trails flopping in the breeze. To an experienced tracker, these things are like flashing neon arrows.
  • Don’t smoke, don’t eat smelly foods, don’t wear perfumes and colognes, and keep your body stink to a level that’s below that of Farmer Brown’s pigs. It would be a shame to go to the trouble of devising the perfect disguise, an oak tree, only to be discovered because you smell like a funky pile of high-schoolers’ dirty gym socks.
  • Stay low to the ground, especially at night. It’s a dead giveaway when you pass in front of a full moon while walking along a mountain ridge. Plus, it’s spooky.

To sum up, disguises work, especially evasion disguises. They’re the most effective.

 

 

 

Imagine that you, the police detective, have just arrived at the scene of a murder. Patrol officers, after their hurried, blue-light-and-wailing-siren response, immediately secured the area and have ten potential suspects standing by to speak with you. And that’s where you shine. You’re well-known for your abilities as an interrogator. But how exactly do you begin an interview or interrogation? What are your first words? How do you know they’ll be the right words?

Well, we all know that no two people are exactly alike, right? Therefore, the ten suspects most likely have stark differences in personalities, backgrounds, physical characteristics, habits, hobbies, and likes and dislikes.

Elaborate Disguises Help to Avoid Arrest!

Image #1 – Sometimes criminals use elaborate disguises (above) to conceal their identities from authorities.

 

Image #2 – Suspect prior to donning the disguise. See how easily it is for bad guys to avoid detection! No one could possibly recognize this man as being the same guy in image #1.

Now, speaking of dislikes, you can safely assume that one of the more common hostilities will be an aversion of police officers. Yes, believe it or not, there are actually people out there who just don’t think too kindly of the men and women who wear badges and uniforms (What a surprise!). And, along with the basic hatred of the blue polyester clothing and shiny shoes comes a huge portion of distrust. I know … more surprising news, huh?

A good interviewer, though, finds ways around all that hatred and lack of trust. And, by possessing the remarkable ability to overcome those obstacles, professional interviewers/interrogators are nearly worth their weight in gold when it comes to crime-solving. How do they do it? Well, for starters, to be a really good interviewer one must be a fantastic listener. I’ll repeat that for the “motor-mouths” out there. A good interviewer must be a good listener. A Good Listener. Good listener. Listen. Shhhh ………… listen. Stop talking and what? Ah, there you go.

Good Actors!

A savvy interviewer is also a human chameleon, a person who’s able to change tactics and topics as quickly as the suspect formulates and weaves new lies and new alibis. Good interviewers are also good actors.

The successful interviewer must possess the ability to detect subtle changes in a suspect’s voice, mannerisms, and attitude. The investigator must also know to never judge a person and their capabilities by his/her appearance. After all, criminals come in all shapes and sizes, and from all walks of life.

This also works in reverse. Investigators should never assume the worst about someone. Shabby clothing and a disheveled appearance are not positive indicators of criminal behavior. Like a suit and tie are not solid indicators of success. And these differences are part of why interviews and interrogation are often extremely important aspects of police investigations.

So let’s try a little exercise to see how you measure up as an interviewer. I think most of you will find that you’re already quite good at it, and you’ll soon see why.

The Crime

The body of 26-year-old movie starlet Iona Porche was found in a walk-in closet, not far from the bathtub in her bedroom suite. She was quite dead, and most definitely squeaky clean and embarrassingly nude. Well, except for the bath towel draped across her right leg.

Ms. Porche’s personal assistant told you that she’d been concerned about the assortment of “weirdos” hanging around her boss in recent weeks. The assistant also stated that Ms. Porche was extremely naive, and that perhaps some of the odd folks had been taking advantage of her boss’s generosity.

The really odd thing, she’d said, was that she’d overheard Ms. Porche involved in what sounded like a bitter argument with at least two males and one female (it was, after all, difficult to make out the voices with her ear tightly pressed to the wall). And, for the life of her, the assistant couldn’t understand why on earth Ms. Porche would allow those people in the room with her while she was taking a bath. “That sort of thing should be kept private,” were her exact words.

Iona Porche on the set of her latest hit movie, “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Attend Psycho Serial Killer Camp for Dumb Teens Who Can’t Outrun Men With Chainsaws and Machetes”

After thanking the assistant for what was basically a gossip-fest, you begin the interviews of the ten suspects. You know it’s important to first establish that you’re in charge, but you’ve also got to make the suspect feel comfortable with you. In other words, you’ve got to be the boss while assuming the role of best friend, mother, father, brother, cousin, and even their drunk uncle, if that’s what it takes to solve the case.

Yes, good investigators must have the ability to “walk the walk and talk the talk.” Finding common ground can definitely help start the dialog flowing. In fact, it’s a must in most instances.

If the suspect is a green lizard-like man with horns, bumps under the skin where eyebrows should be, head to toe tattoos, and a forked tongue, then the good detective could possibly begin to build rapport by speaking about the silly Bugs Bunny tattoo he’d gotten on his right butt cheek after drinking one too many tequila shots the night of his twenty-first birthday. Doing so could be the ice-breaker needed to start the wagging of Mr. Lizard’s tongue.

Now, with a conversation underway, the detective can ease into the real purpose of the meeting by asking simple questions, such as, “How did you know the victim? Was she your friend? A lover? A co-worker?” The idea is to establish a connection between the victim and the suspect, if there is one.

Okay, you have the basic concept. So what could you say to this next suspect that could be the start of a trust-building conversation?

Common Courtesy Goes a Long Way

Did you offer him a soft drink and candy bar because his breath smelled like root beer and chocolate? Sure, that’s a start. And please do look for the little things, not just an overall survey of the person seated in the interview room. There always more than meets the eye. Always. Don’t allow your detective to become mired in tunnel vision..

What you probably wouldn’t want to say to the suspect in the above photo is that you own a plaid cover for your motor home that’s practically the same size as his shirt. Besides, common courtesy goes a long way in police work, and in life in general. A badge is not a license to be mean. If a man, or woman, is thirsty … let them drink. If you’ve held them for many hours without food or drink, send someone to the nearest fast food joint for a burger. Get them some water or a soft drink. Besides, a simple act of human kindness could go a long way to building a rapport. And, well, it’s the decent thing to do. I know, the guy just butchered his neighbor’s grandpa. Still …

A little Fib Here or There

How about this next suspect? How do you get inside his head? Hmm … maybe that was a poor choice of words, but you know what I mean.

A great ice-breaker could be telling him about your cousin Sammy “The Nose” who used to entertain the neighborhood kids by shoving sewer rats up his nostrils. And yes, it is okay to tell a fib at this stage of the game—“I used to have a pet snake who looked just like yours. I named him ‘Slim’ after my dad. His nickname was Slim Jim.”

All of this is solid and basic information for a police detective, but did you notice that it’s also a great tool that could help writers add depth and personality to their characters? Readers want a personal connection to the people who live inside your books. They want to know them. To know what makes them tick. Why do they do what they do? When do they do it? Is it a compulsion? Are they obsessed? And it is the writer’s job to deliver answers to those questions by allowing the reader to follow the characters as they travel their daily journeys throughout a normal and believable world.

Sit the Character Across From You

So, try it for yourself. Have your characters “sit” in a chair across from you and then find that one big thing that defines them—the forked tongue or the candy bar and root beer. Then continue to question your “suspect” until you “know” them as a person. You’ll soon find that with each question comes another layer, until soon you have a very real but fictional character sitting across from you. Of course, you may want to do this when no one else is at home to avoid being carted off by the net-wielding folks who run Nervous Hospitals.

For now, you can practice your interviewing skills with this next potential suspect. Oh, I almost forgot, always remember to watch the eyes. They tell 70% of the suspect’s story. 10% is up to you. The other 20% lives in the imaginations of your readers. It’s up to you, though, to set those minds in motion.