Category Archives: Interview/Interrogation


Interviewing: Witnesses and Victims Who Lie

Welcome to the April 2015 edition of Righting Crime Fiction. Before I get started, I want to mention how much fun I had at the Jambalaya Writers’ Conference in Houma, LA earlier this month. I presented a session on interrogating suspects called “Two Routes to the Truth” that relates closely to what I’ve been discussing here for the last couple of months. In the session, I talked about lying suspects and how to obtain admissible confessions from them. Today, I’ll discuss lying witnesses and victims.


While most witnesses and victims are usually willing to speak to investigators, there will be times when your fictional detectives encounter witnesses who lie or who will refuse to speak with them. There are many reasons why witnesses and victims lie, and the sooner your sleuth can discover the reason behind the lie, the sooner s/he will be able to get to the truth.


Some of the reasons victims refuse to talk to investigators include embarrassment, fear of retaliation, or they want to protect someone. If the crime is of a sensitive or private nature, such as sex offenses, the victim may deny it ever happened out of embarrassment. If it is a crime involving spousal abuse, victims may refuse to talk to authorities because they feel they will be punished more severely when their spouse bonds out of jail. If the crime is of a sexual nature and involves an immediate family member, victims may refuse to speak because they don’t want their loved one to go to jail.

Victims may lie to investigators for the very same reasons they refuse to talk, but there is another very common reason they lie; because they are covering up their own crime. Some of these situations might include lying about being the victim of a burglary to cover-up abusing or selling their prescription medication, or lying about being the victim of a rape to cover-up having consensual sex with a minor.


Witnesses withhold information for various reasons. They may think the information they possess is insignificant, may be afraid of retaliation, may distrust the police, or may be afraid of subsequent publicity. I have interviewed many witnesses who saw things but did not fully recognize the importance of what they saw. Had I not asked probing questions, I might never have gathered the information. I have also interviewed many witnesses after they had already been interviewed by other officers and learned new information. Some of the information was crucial to the cases I was working and, early in my career, I would ask them why they had not divulged that information to the previous officers. Many of them had similar answers: “They never asked the question.”

Witnesses lie for different reasons, such as trying to cover-up for a friend or family member, trying to cover-up for their own criminal activity, not wanting to reveal a moral indiscretion, or they feel they may be implicated in the offense if they talk. I worked a case once where a kid was the passenger in a car wherein the driver was murdered. During the interview, the kid provided details about what happened in the car that only a passenger or the driver would know, but he claimed to have witnessed it from across the street. As I interviewed him, he continued to deny being in the car, and I realized he was afraid of going to jail for accessory to murder. I explained that he could not be charged with murder if he had no involvement in the commission of the offense. I also told him that, as a passenger in the car, he was also a victim. Since he had earlier stated the passenger had tried to steer the car to safety, I also told him he was a hero for trying to save his friend under the threat of gunfire. He nodded and said, “I am a hero.” He then began telling the truth about everything. He was not a bad kid or a lied for some sinister reason—he was simply scared.


Witnesses and victims lie or withhold information every day during real police investigations, and writers can use this to their advantage when trying to create compelling and believable crime stories. It would not be realistic for every witness and victim to tell the truth about everything in crime fiction, so writers should definitely sprinkle in some lies here and there and offer credible reasons for the lie.

Here is an example of how a witness from one of my short stories (MUDDY WATERS, Futures Mysterious Anthology Magazine, Summer 2004) lied to detectives because he was having an affair with the victim and he did not want his wife to find out:

When we were seated in the interview room, I offered Andrew a cigarette. He took it.

“Tell me about your relationship with Cynthia Coleman,” I said.

His brow furrowed. “Who?”

I propped my elbows on the desk and leaned close to him. “Don’t play stupid. You know who.”

Andrew licked his lips and shifted in his chair. “I don’t know anyone by that name.” He fumbled in his pocket for a lighter.

“Andy, you’re fixing to cause yourself a world of grief. Tell me about your relationship with—”

“I don’t know who you’re talking about. And if I did, what business is it of yours?”

Rick jerked a Polaroid of Cynthia Coleman’s body from his pocket. I winced when he threw it on the desk. Andrew recoiled in horror. His cigarette spat from his mouth and fell to the floor.

“It became our business when we pulled her out the bayou.” Rick’s voice was loud. “If this doesn’t refresh your memory, a punch in the head will!”

I put my hand on Rick’s outstretched arm. He jerked it from me and stormed out the room.

Andrew’s face was ashen. “Is that really her?”

I nodded. He buried his face in his hands and it was then that I noticed the gold band around his ring finger. I collected his cigarette from the floor, handed it to him. He stuffed it in his mouth and I held the lighter for him. He nodded his thanks. A couple of drags later he was calm.

“Want to tell me about your relationship with Cynthia?”

“I’m married with three kids. If my wife finds out about this…”


As a writer, you have the power to pick and choose who lies and why they lie. Whatever you do, make sure the lie is well placed, it is believable, and it advances the story or widens the suspect pool. Your detectives must work to determine the reason for every lie, and you can use this to lead them to the actual evidence that solves the case and closes out the story.

Well, that will wrap up the April 2015 segment of Righting Crime Fiction. If any of you have any questions or comments or suggested topics, feel free to contact me and I will reply as soon as I can.

Until next time, write, rewrite, and get it right!

BJ Bourg is the author of JAMES 516 (Amber Quill Press, 2014), THE SEVENTH TAKING (Amber Quill Press, 2015), and HOLLOW CRIB (Five Star-Gale-Cengage, 2016).

©BJ Bourg 2015

Interviewing: Locating Fictional Witnesses

Welcome to the March 2015 edition of Righting Crime Fiction. Last month I defined what an interview is and I discussed “breaking the ice” and building a rapport. Next, I will discuss a few different ways your fictional detective can locate potential witnesses.


As I mentioned last month, every question a detective asks during an interview must have a purpose. This is never truer than when writing fiction, where every word counts. While a real detective can take her time getting to the point in her interviews, your fictional detective does not have that luxury. You need to pick your fictional witnesses and interviews carefully, decide what you want to accomplish with each interview, and then have your detective execute the interview with concision. How and where will your fictional detective locate her witnesses? The same way real detectives do . . .


Law enforcement investigations often begin when people contact the police to report crimes or file complaints. These people may or may not be a witness. They could be an eyewitness to the crime—as in, they could have actually seen what happened with their own eyes—or someone could have simply asked them to call the police. In any event, the person who first makes contact with the police to report an incident is commonly referred to as the “complainant”.

Some complainants might prefer to remain anonymous when making a complaint and this could present a number of questions for your detective. Did the complainant actually witness the incident? If so, does s/he have information that might assist in the prosecution of the perpetrator? Why does the complainant want to remain anonymous? Is s/he afraid of retaliation? Is s/he the perpetrator of the crime?

In order to answer these questions, your detective should attempt to identify the complainant. If the complaint was received via 9-1-1, there should be a record of the number from which the call originated, possibly the name of the caller, and an audio file of the actual call, which might yield some clues as to the identity of the caller. Interviews with people at the scene might also help to reveal the identity of the complainant.


In many cases, detectives are among the last to arrive at a crime scene. By the time they do get there, the patrol officers have usually determined the identities of the victims and witnesses and already performed a walk-through of the crime scene, so it is vital that detectives stop and consult with these officers before diving into their investigation. It can involve a detailed conversation between your characters, if warranted, or it can be a simple exchange.

If you are writing the story from your detective’s point of view, this is easy to convey. What follows is an example from my current work in progress—a follow-up to my crime novel HOLLOW CRIB (Five Star – Cengage, 2016)—that describes a patrol lieutenant identifying and interviewing a witness before the detectives even arrive:

Dawn was already at the edge of the crime scene tape when I walked up. She shot several photographs of the area while I walked over to Lieutenant Jim Marshall.

“Hey, Lieu, what gives?”

Jim Marshall hitched up his patrol belt. His breath was labored and beads of sweat raced down his forehead, but it was not unusual for the three-hundred-pound man. “This lady was driving by and saw something on the highway. She wasn’t real sure what it was, so she pulled over and backed up. Well, I tell you, she ‘bout shit her pants when she saw that bloody mess. She whipped it around in the road and drove like hell out of there. She called nine-one-one and waited by Gretchen’s One Stop until I got there.”

The importance of the patrol officer’s role at a crime scene cannot be overemphasized. They are the first trained law enforcement personnel on the scene and they will get to view it while it is relatively “fresh”—usually long before the detectives arrive. The information they gather is almost always vital to the investigation, and a detective would be foolish to ignore their efforts and proceed without first consulting with them.

In addition to patrol officers, it is important to identify all first responders and interview them to determine what they observed when they arrived. This includes paramedics, members of the fire department, volunteers, etc. These first responders often possess valuable information that can greatly assist detectives in determining what occurred and what the scene looked like at its earliest moment.

While it is important to understand the many sources of information at the crime scene, it is not always necessary to include all of them in your story. If the first responders have nothing to offer that advances your story, you wouldn’t want to fill pages of mindless conversation that leads nowhere just for the sake of padding your word count.

In the earlier example from my current work in progress, the woman who located the “bloody mess” is a witness, but her information is restricted to discovering the body, so I didn’t feel the necessity to have a full-blown conversation between her and my detective, Brandon Berger. It is true that the person who discovers and reports a crime in real life is always important to the investigation, so I felt it deserved some mention. I simply passed the pertinent information on to the reader in a realistic manner—the lead detective stopping to speak to the first responder. Had she possessed more information, Detective Berger would have conducted an “on-screen” interview, such as in the following example from JAMES 516 (Amber Quill Press, December 7, 2014):

Starla threw the door open and stepped back. “Come in, I guess, but I don’t know what good it’ll do. I already told them other detectives that Anthony never got into it with nobody.”

I nodded when I walked by Starla. She nodded back and said, “Your name is…let me see if I remember…London Carter, right?”

“Yes, ma’am, that’s right. Anthony was like a father to me.” I thought I saw Starla’s face lose a few shades of color. I followed Bethany Riggs into the double-wide and we took seats around a small dining room table.

“Want something to drink?” Starla asked. “All I have is milk and beer.”

We both declined the offer, and Bethany opened her notebook and set it on the table. “Can you begin with the night before Anthony was killed and tell us what he did leading up to the last time you saw him or spoke with him?”

Starla propped both elbows on the table and rested her chin in her palms. “He got home from work at about seven o’clock. We ate supper and then he watched TV while I ran to the store. When I got back, he was sleeping on the couch. I left him there and went to bed. When I woke up yesterday morning, he’d already left for work. I ran some errands during the day and then I went to my sister’s in the afternoon. I’d planned to spend the night there because we were going shopping today.

“So…I guess the last time I saw him was when I got home from the store the night before he died.” Tears welled up in Starla Landry’s eyes and rolled down her face. “Had I known what was going to happen, I would’ve stayed home and spent time with him.”

Starla was bawling now, chin trembling, hands covering her face.

Bethany waited patiently until Starla Landry regained her composure and then asked, “What store did you go to?”

Starla wiped her eyes. “Excuse me?”

Bethany glanced down at her notes. “You said you went to the store after you and Captain Landry ate supper. What store did you go to?”

Starla stared blankly from Bethany to me and back to Bethany before she spoke. “I…I went to the store up the road. Um, Food and Stuff Supermarket.”

“What time did you go?” Bethany asked.

“It was after we ate, so it had to be about eight-thirty or nine o’clock.”

“What did you buy?”


“Yes, ma’am. What did you buy at the store?”

Starla Landry began wringing her hands. “I don’t really remember.”

Bethany raised a single eyebrow, fixing Starla with a cold stare. “I understand you’ve been through a lot, but we’re only talking about the night before last. Surely you remember what you bought.”

Starla nodded nervously. “Sure, I remember, it’s just… I’ve been through a lot. Um, I bought some eggs and milk.”

“How did you pay for it?”

“What does that have to do with Anthony’s death?”

“Please, Mrs. Landry, these are important questions. Even though it might not seem like it right now, they all have a purpose and they’ll help us determine what happened to your husband.”

Starla Landry nodded her understanding. “I usually always pay with my debit card.”

“Did you do so that night?”

Starla nodded, then hung her head.

“Okay,” Bethany said. “Do you have a receipt?” Before Starla could answer, Bethany waved her hand. “Never mind. I’ll get that from the bank. It’ll help us establish a hard timeline.”

As Bethany questioned Starla Landry, I studied Starla’s face carefully. I was no detective—well, technically I was, but hadn’t been for long—but I could tell she was hiding something. I was certain Bethany was on to her as well because of the questions she was asking.


How did Bethany Riggs and London Carter identify Starla Landry as a witness? She is the wife of the decedent, so she would most likely possess direct information about the victim’s activities and possible enemies. Anytime there is a murder, interviewing friends and family members of the victim might help to open many investigative doors for the detectives and should lead to other witnesses.

Have you ever watched true crime documentaries on television, where they take you from the crime scene (or earlier) to the courthouse? Other than those involved in the criminal justice process, who do they interview for the program? That’s right . . . family and friends. The reason is simply because those are the people who knew the decedent the best and who can shed the most light on the situation.


I have always said that every interview should lead to another witness or another source of potential evidence, and this process can easily transfer to fiction. Let’s say fictional detective Grace Winston is investigating the murder of a businessman who is married and has two grownup children—a son and a daughter. Grace interviews the wife and she says she suspects her husband was having an affair because he was always working “late”, but she does not have a clue who with. Grace then interviews the daughter, who says she called and spoke to her dad the night before his murder and he told her he was heading home from the gym. Lastly, Grace interviews the son and he says his dad recently told him he wanted to buy a gun for protection and asked his opinion regarding what type to buy.

While the information Grace learned from these family members/witnesses did not tell her anything conclusive, it did give her several directions in which to go. She needs to visit the gym and interview the employees who work there to find out the victim’s habits while at the gym—what time does he workout, who does he workout with, any problems with other members, etc. She also needs to visit his place of business and interview his coworkers and supervisors to obtain work schedules, find out if he really does work late, determine who goes to lunch with him, uncover any workplace gossip about him, etc. Lastly, she needs to check with all the local firearms dealers to see if he purchased a gun for protection.

All of the work and gym interviews should then lead to other interviews or evidence until the case is resolved.


Another technique for locating witnesses is the neighborhood “canvas”. This involves investigators knocking on every door in the neighborhood or location where the crime occurred and obtaining as much information as possible about all of the occupants, whether permanent residents or visitors. Things like names, dates of birth, and contact information for each occupant should be gathered. Investigators should seek to interview every occupant who was in the area around the time of the crime to determine if they saw or heard anything that might assist them in identifying the suspect.

Transferring a neighborhood canvas to fiction is quite simple. Here’s an example from JAMES 516 (Amber Quill Press, December 7, 2014) where a canvas is suggested:

“How about you follow-up on that angle when we’re done here, Gina,” I suggested. “Check the complaint database to see if there were any complaints filed against him that never made it to IA, and canvass his neighborhood to see if anyone saw anything suspicious…”

Since canvasses are a “hit and miss” effort, you can realistically have your detective strike investigative gold during one, or you could have her strike out. Real detectives must report all of their investigative results, even if they turned up nothing, but it is not necessary for writers to do this. In fact, you risk boring your readers if you write pages and pages of canvas interviews and introduce characters that serve no purpose in the story.

In the above excerpt, Gina was asked to conduct a canvas of a particular neighborhood. She turned up nothing valuable, so it is not necessary to take the reader along for the boring ride, but I think it is important to let the reader know what became of that canvas, so they are not left “hanging”. Here is a brief mention of the negative result of the canvas, which appears about a dozen pages farther:

Bethany bit her lower lip as she studied her notes. She glanced up and nodded toward Gina. “Did you ever get to complete the canvass of Captain Landry’s neighborhood?” . . .

“Yes, ma’am,” she said in a strained voice, “I did canvass Anthony’s neighborhood—like I said I would—and I also checked our database to see if there’d been any suspicious person complaints filed. No one from Anthony’s neighborhood saw anything suspicious and the only complaints we’ve had out of that neighborhood over the past six months have been for lock-jobs”—someone locking their keys in their car—“and animals roaming at large.”


For the most part, victims and witnesses will be willing to talk to your detective. However, there will be those who, for different reasons, will either be reluctant to talk to your detective or will downright lie to her. My plan is to explore some of those reasons in next month’s segment of Righting Crime Fiction.

Until next time, write, rewrite, and get it right!

BJ Bourg is the author of JAMES 516 (Amber Quill Press, 2014), THE SEVENTH TAKING (Amber Quill Press, 2015), and HOLLOW CRIB (Five Star-Gale-Cengage, 2016).
©BJ Bourg 2015

Introduction to Interviewing

Welcome to the February 2015 edition of Righting Crime Fiction. I want to begin discussing interviews and why it is important for your fictional detectives to be good at gathering information. For this month’s segment, I will define what an interview is and discuss “breaking the ice” and “building a rapport”.

NOTE: This is only the beginning of a discussion that will cover numerous blog posts (not necessarily consecutively), because the interview process is complex and there are many options available to your protagonists—whether they are police detectives or amateur sleuths—during this important phase of an investigation.


Whether in fiction or the real world, law enforcement officers conduct interviews on a daily basis. Many crimes are solved based solely on the information received during interviews, so it stands to reason that one would have to be skilled in the art of interviewing in order to be a successful investigator. I have often said officers are only as good as their information, and this statement has proven to be correct many times over. Officers who are capable of obtaining confessions from suspects and gathering pertinent information from witnesses are able to solve many more cases than those who cannot.

While interrogating suspects and obtaining confessions might seem challenging, you are probably thinking that interviewing witnesses and victims is a piece of cake. After all, how hard can it be to ask a few questions and gather a bit of information from people who are willing to talk to you? Well, have any of you ever had a bad encounter with a law enforcement officer? One who was rude and talked down to you? If so, imagine how willing you would be to answer his questions and cooperate fully with his investigation. On more than one occasion I have seen victims and witnesses become so frustrated by the officers interviewing them that they shut down and refused to continue talking. Compare that to an officer who is friendly and respectful when questioning you. You would definitely be more inclined to respond in a positive way to that officer.

Let us look at this from a different angle. Think back to your childhood. Have your parents ever yelled at you simply because your room was a mess? Did they threaten some horrible punishment if you did not clean it immediately? If so, how did you respond to them? Did you yell back or say something sarcastic? Did your response escalate the situation? While you would have probably been blamed for the escalation and punished more severely, would you have reacted differently had they asked nicely? As a child, had you ever wished they would have worked on their delivery? Do you think they would have gotten more mileage out of you if they had been more polite?

If you want your fictional detectives to be successful interviewers and effective law enforcement officers, you should have them adhere to that old adage, “You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” Sure, they will have to be firm at times, but there is no need for them to be rude just because they can—unless that is what your story calls for, of course.

While I have focused primarily on law enforcement officers to this point, does that mean interviews are limited to cops? Absolutely not! Anyone in your story can conduct interviews—from the most seasoned detective investigating a brutal homicide to a child protagonist trying to locate her stolen Bichon Frise. Any of your characters can conduct interviews with anyone at any time and any place—well, maybe not while court is in session, but you get my point.


An interview is, quite simply, a conversation with a purpose. It can be formal, but is not an interrogation, and can be casual, but it is not idle chatter. Rather, it is a series of questions designed to gather information from someone who might possess certain details involving a crime or other incident under investigation. Each question should have a specific purpose. That specific purpose can be anything from establishing a rapport with the witness to establishing “who done it”.


Although witnesses and victims are usually willing to be interviewed by the police, it is always a good idea to “break the ice” before delving right into the heart of the matter. It is no different than going on a first date. You don’t meet your date and immediately start making out…right?You have to at least say “hello” first—then you can start kissing.

It is no different when you are approaching an interview with a witness or victim. Your fictional detective might “break the ice” by complaining about the unusually cold winter they are experiencing or by saying something about the horrible season the New Orleans Saints have had. If she is investigating a tragic case, she would not want to utilize this approach, of course. Instead, she would want to inquire about the witness’ condition. As an example, if she is interviewing a man who just lost his wife, she might want to begin by saying how sorry she is for his loss and then asking if he is okay.

The following example from my crime novel JAMES 516 (Amber Quill Press, December 7, 2014) illustrates how this translates to fiction:

The door to the double-wide trailer burst open and a twenty-seven-or-so-year-old woman stood in the doorway. She wore thin shorts and a tank top with no bra. Her eyes were swollen, mascara smeared on her cheeks. “What do y’all want?” Starla Landry’s voice was gruff. “I already talked to the other detectives. I don’t know who did this to Anthony.”

Bethany reached out and put a hand on Starla’s arm. “I want to begin by offering our deepest condolences. As I’m sure you’re aware, your husband was a legend to the men and women of Magnolia Parish and everyone loved him. It’s impossible to think that anyone would want to do him harm, but we’d like to sit down with you and see if we can maybe recreate his activities for the past week or so and maybe come up with something—a lead, perhaps.”

Another thing I always do when greeting a witness or victim is introduce myself by name, rather than title. My title or my job does not define who I am. I am simply a person doing a particular job and am no better or worse than the witness or victim I am interviewing. I do identify my occupation, so interviewees will know to whom they are speaking, but that comes after I let them know I am a human being just like they are. I find this helps them feel more at ease with me. If they feel more at ease, they tend to open up more and reveal things they might not ordinarily reveal. If I introduce myself as “Detective Bourg”, I believe it makes the interview seem more formal and could make the witnesses and victim feel more anxious. I would rather them feel relaxed while we are visiting.

Does this mean that you should have all of your detectives introduce themselves by name only, like I do? No, because that would not be realistic. Most of the law enforcement officers I know introduce themselves by title. When I answer my phone at work, I say, “Hello, this is Billy.” Most officers will answer by their title. I have jokingly asked many of my friends if they changed their first name when they became cops or got promoted, because they would answer their phones something like, “Lieutenant Riggs, how may I help you?”

Bear in mind that there is no right way or wrong way to have your fictional detectives introduce themselves. It is all a matter of personal preference. In the larger scheme of things, it is not a big deal.

In the following excerpt from my crime novel JAMES 516 (Amber Quill Press, December 7, 2015), both viewpoints are expressed:

After talking to the sheriff for a moment, she strode briskly to where we waited. She stuck her hand out to me. “Sergeant Carter?”

I nodded, took her soft hand in mine and squeezed. She squeezed back, and I was surprised at her grip strength. I was also surprised at how blue her eyes were. “You can call me London,” I said.

“London, I’m Lieutenant Bethany Riggs, Internal Affairs. You can call me Lieutenant Riggs.” She glanced at the others, nodded. “The sheriff just informed me that I’ll be lead on this case. I understand Captain Anthony Landry was a dear friend of yours.”

Once your fictional detective makes it through the introductory phase and says something to break the ice, she can begin making small talk to establish a rapport with the victim, as this will help to relax him and put him at ease. When I conduct interviews at work, I walk to the waiting room and escort the witness to my office. As we are walking, I strike up a conversation to get him talking. I want him to know I am friendly and that there is nothing to be nervous about. My goal is to immediately put him at ease and get him talking, so I can obtain as much information from him as possible about the case I am investigating. If I can find some common ground between us, such as our kids attend the same school or both of us are Manny Pacquiao fans, it will be much easier to establish a rapport and gain his trust.

In fiction, I do not believe it is necessary to waste a lot of words detailing the rapport-building stage. However, I think it is important that writers understand what it is and how it happens, so they can make casual reference to it and compose interviews that are realistic and believable.

The following excerpt from my upcoming mystery novel titled HOLLOW CRIB (Five Star Publishing, 2016) illustrates how the rapport-building stage can translate to fiction (it was during an interrogation, but the process is the same for interviews):

“What happened when you met with Mr. Chiasson at his house?”

“I asked him to accompany me to the station and he agreed to do so. When he got in the car with me, I read him his rights.”

“Did you question him in the car?”

“No, ma’am. I just talked with him about fishing, hunting . . . small talk. I was trying to establish a rapport with him.”

“At what point did you question him about the burglary?”

“When we arrived at the office.”

Well, that will do it for this month’s segment of Righting Crime Fiction. As always, thanks for reading and, until next time, write, rewrite, and get it right!

BJ Bourg is the author of JAMES 516 (Amber Quill Press, 2014), THE SEVENTH TAKING (Amber Quill Press, 2015), and HOLLOW CRIB (Five Star-Gale-Cengage, 2016).
©BJ Bourg 2015