Solving Crimes By Hypnosis (Apr, 1960)

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Solving Crimes By Hypnosis

By George J. Barmann

TWENTY YOUNG POLICEMEN were sitting in the bright, comfortable classroom of the County Coroner’s Building, on the campus of Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, listening to a lecture on methods of questioning witnesses to a crime.

A psychotherapist, Dr. Dezso Levendula, was conducting the lesson in scientific law enforcement, one of the regular courses given by the university’s noted Law-Medicine Center. He was speaking that morning about the difficulty of getting witnesses to recall accurately what they have seen. Behind him, on a sofa facing the class, were two stenographers, busily taking notes on the lecture. The audience of patrolmen and several guests was attentive, but relaxed. Only the occasional hum of an automobile outside the windows cut into the professor’s talk.

At a desk near the stenographers sat Dr. Samuel R. Gerber, the county coroner. Now and then Dr. Gerber glanced around the room and scribbled on an envelope.

Suddenly, there was a commotion, and Dr. Levendula turned to see what was happening.

The stenographers were arguing and getting up from the sofa. In a second, they were grabbing at each other’s hair and tussling over a handbag.

“Stay out of my purse!” the blonde shouted. “You’re stealing my money!”

“No, I’m not. I’m only after your cigarette lighter,” the brunette snapped. “You keep your hands off me!”

The women struggled. Something red flashed in the hand of the dark-haired one. She swung at her opponent, who screamed, clutched her left side and doubled up on the sofa.

“Oh, my God, what have I done?” the brunette cried, and ran out of the door.

Quickly, before the stunned audience could move, Dr. Gerber rapped his desk for attention.

“All right, class,” he said, “let’s all take it easy. What you just saw was only an act. This was a fake murder. We staged it, we’re doing an experiment. Now, if you’ll sit back, we’ll have something new in our lesson.”

After everyone had calmed down, Dr. Gerber, who is a physician, attorney and co-director of the Law-Medicine Center, which counsels in legal, medical and police problems, told the lecturer to go on. Dr. Levendula resumed his talk where he had left off—the questioning of witnesses with the help of hypnosis.

Dr. Levendula explained that the “crime” followed a carefully rehearsed script. He wondered how many details of this “murder” the class could recall. The psychotherapist, who is president of the Cleveland Society of Clinical Hypnosis and an authority on the medical uses of hypnotism, suggested that hypnosis might sharpen their memories.

Five of the patrolmen volunteered for a unique test which may add significantly to the science of criminal investigation.

First, the policemen were asked to write down all they had seen, just as they would for any routine police report. After this, they were hypnotized by Dr. Levendula; then, upon awakening, they made their observations orally to a tape recorder. They were hypnotized a second time, and now gave oral statements while under hypnosis. Finally, they were brought out of this trance and requested to write new reports.

As the patrolmen moved along in the four-stage test, their ability to recall events improved surprisingly. Dr. Gerber and Dr. Levendula compared the two written reports so there would be no chance of a mix-up, the one before hypnosis had been written on white paper, the other, after hypnosis, on blue paper. The doctors found that the results were remarkable.

The first reports were all matter-of-fact, somewhat sketchy. But in the last reports, even some of the fine details of the classroom incident were vividly described. And, as law enforcement authorities know, those little details often break a baffling case wide open.

The violent scene—the two stenographers arguing on the couch, one rifling the other’s purse and removing the lighter and a $5 bill, the fight ending in the stabbing with the phony ice pick—took only ten seconds.

In the reports, the patrolmen reveal how hypnosis helped them to recall this event.

Before he was hypnotized, Patrolman Foster Lockhart wrote that the weapon “looked like a screwdriver.” But after hypnosis, he remembered that the instrument had a red handle—which was correct. He also was able to recall another important fact that he hadn’t before — there was a faint scar on the blonde’s upper lip. He now remembered, too, that when she collapsed, “she put her head on the arm of the sofa.” That was right.

Patrolman Anthony R. Lutz, in his first try, said the crime was committed with an “unknown instrument.” However, when he awoke from hypnosis, he wrote: “The dark-haired girl pulled from her purse an object that looked like it was rounded on the end and circular throughout, because the cap which fits over the end of the wooden handle appeared to be round. I did not see the blade, but I caught a reflection of light, which leads me to believe that it was either highly polished, or plated. This object looked like it was about seven inches in overall length.” A pretty good description.

The patrolman also said that the pencils the stenographers used were yellow and had erasers—details he had missed before. And, most important, he wrote, “This fight lasted about ten seconds.” He hit the time right on the nose.

In first discussing the women, Patrolman Joseph Pokrandt gave what Coroner Gerber calls an “adequate” description. Later, the policeman listed camera-eye details— the blonde had “long hair touching the shoulders;” the brunette’s hair was upswept, “with loose ends about the region of the upper ear.”

Another patrolman, Lloyd J. McKenna, Jr., was able to reproduce some of the fastest dialogue just before the stabbing occurred, almost as if he had been the author of the script. And the fifth patrolman, James Painter, in his final statement, added a footnote about the killer’s shoes. He said, rightly, that they were toeless.

“The results of our work offer a strong argument for the use of hypnosis in police investigations,” says Dr. Gerber, who has lectured on criminology to physicians and Scotland Yard men, in London. “Everybody knows that one of the big problems in checking a crime, or just a simple traffic accident, is in getting full and accurate information. You get skimpy and conflicting accounts of what happened from eyewitnesses. Even from the honest and most intelligent ones.

“Many times, people would really like to recall events to help the authorities, but they can’t. The power of human beings to remember precisely is, at best, rather faulty. In fact, after witnessing violent and tragic happenings, a person usually tries to forget, because it pains him to remember. Actually, the subconscious mind suppresses such pictures; it tries to bury and hide them. We all choose to recall nice, pleasant things in this world; that’s why we like to think about the ‘good old days.’ ”

Dr. Gerber believes, therefore, that hypnosis could be used to unlock many secrets for police and detectives.

Dr. Levendula, who uses hypnosis successfully in his own private medical practice, says that many persons who themselves have been victims of a crime often are poor witnesses. They are shocked psychologically, for example, by fear, excitement, horror, grief. “In such cases,” he remarks, “hypnosis could be very helpful, permitting the person to relax and remember.”

The doctor explains that men and women may be entirely innocent of any wrongdoing, yet they are hostile to inquiring police “merely because authority to them means force. He thinks that hypnosis could help to unburden this kind of witness, also.

“There’s no doubt in my mind,” he says, “that hypnosis, by stepping up the brain’s ability to recall, could be most valuable in solving crimes.”

Dr. Levendula says that hypnosis today is still surrounded by “mysticism, misconceptions and misunderstandings.” It is not an unconscious state. It simply releases the subconscious mind, the storehouse of memory. The hypnotist puts you “under” by concentrating on some repetitive stimulus —”You are so sleepy, so sleepy, so sleepy” —and then makes you act by suggestion. Hypnosis, in itself, is harmless. And almost anyone can be hypnotized.

“By its very nature, hypnosis is a logical tool for the criminologist,” says William Mayers of Washington, D. C, a consultant to the Department of Defense in World War II. “It amazes me that more has not been done in the field.”

In the quarterly magazine, “Hypnosis,” the official journal of the Association to Advance Ethical Hypnosis, he tells of instructing Army Intelligence investigators on how to use hypnosis in questioning Japanese prisoners and recommends it, not only for witnesses, in police work, but also for crime suspects, if the law allows.

“Possibly one reason why hypnosis has not been more widely used by detectives and other investigators,” he writes, “is the belief that a suspect can resist being hypnotized. While this is generally true, there are methods for hypnotizing people without their knowing it. This still does not mean they can be hypnotized against their will. It simply means the trance can be induced in an indirect or disguised manner.”

This “intense inter-personal relationship between two people” is brought about most readily when the subject is willing. But a person can be put into a trance before he realizes what is happening.

The experts say, too, that a suspect might try to fake a trance. He could pretend he was hypnotized and go right on lying. But he would not often fool a skillful hypnotist.

In Cleveland, Dr. Gerber feels that the time is coming when police will rely on hypnosis as frequently as they now lean on the lie detector. He thinks, however, that it will be used exclusively on witnesses to develop cases, to uncover “leads.” The courts may never approve it for suspects. “If you hypnotize someone suspected of a crime, get a confession, then take it into court,” he says, “you’d be stopped right there. They’d say you were taking unfair advantage of him, that you got your evidence illegally from him when he had a constitutional right to say nothing.”

A confession, obtained under hypnosis, was knocked out of the recent “Lady in Red” murder case in Miami, Fla. In the county jail, the 20-year-old suspect, Rudolph Valentino Herring, had written a note to detectives: “Help me to remember.” At their instruction, he had been put in a trance by a Miami teacher of hypnotism, Julian A. Arroyo, Jr. He admitted the crime.

This unusual procedure was immediately attacked, and defended, by Florida authorities.

The prosecuting attorney, Richard Gerstein, denounced the method of obtaining the confession as “most irregular,” and went on to say: “Any statement extracted under hypnosis is unorthodox and might be viewed with suspicion by a jury.” Dr. Bruce Alspach, president of the Greater Miami Society of Psychiatry and Neurology, cautioned that such stories told during hypnosis may be completely false.

On the other hand, Dr. Ben J. Sheppard, who has been Dade county’s medical-legal adviser, and Sheriff Thomas J. Kelly both asserted that the confession was valid. Dr. Sheppard, who had been present when the prisoner was hypnotized, said he believed that Herring had amnesia and that hypnosis “opened the door” to his memory.

The youth was indicted by the grand jury, but before his case, and the hypnosis controversy, could be tried, he was sent to a mental hospital. Anyway, the homicide squad obtained a murder warrant for him if he is released.

The question of whether a person can be hypnotized and forced to commit a crime also has been before the courts. Some authorities say that it can be done; others insist that it can’t.

Perhaps the most dramatic case of this kind occurred in Copenhagen, Denmark, a few years ago. An ex-convict robbed a bank and killed two employees. He was caught, and pleaded guilty. But he testified that his former cellmate had hypnotized him and told him to commit the deeds. He was sentenced to a home for psychopaths. Then the cellmate was tried, found guilty of inciting the crime, through hypnosis, and sent back to prison for life. The legal-medical battle lasted more than six years.

You don’t need to know medicine or psychiatry to hypnotize; neither do you have to be Mandrake the Magician. Hypnotists, of one kind or another, are teaching the art these days to Americans of many occupations. The American Society of Clinical Hypnosis, and the organizations in the field, are constantly warning against any misuse of hypnosis. Several communities have been considering regulatory laws.

Dr. Gerber, who is one of the few coroners with both medical and legal degrees, says that police departments will want to use only the best men, properly trained medical people, either those on the staff or on call, as hypnotists. To be truly effective, they must know a great deal about law and the problems of evidence, as well as about medicine and human behavior. “I would wish to see only those of the highest ethics and competence in this work,” he says.

An instance of a hypnotist’s skillful work is related by Harry Arons of Irvington, N. J., executive secretary of the Association to Advance Ethical Hypnosis.

A man whose mind was blanked out by amnesia walked into the sheriff’s office in Orlando, Fla., and asked for help in finding out who he was. Deputies summoned a hypnotist, who put the man into a deep trance. He then revealed his name and age and said he had come from Hattiesburg, Miss. He had lost his memory when he was struck by a small foreign car. Under hypnosis, he not only identified himself but went on to recall minute events several years back. He returned to his family.

Valuable as Aid to Recall Hypnotism creates, as one of its characteristics, what doctors call “hypermnesia,” which is the power to recollect seemingly forgotten incidents and details. Apparently the deeper the trance, authorities say, the better the recall.

In the experiment at Western Reserve University, the five policemen were put into a shallow trance, since the event they were trying to remember had happened only moments before. Dr. Gerber believes that they could have gone into greater detail about the “murder” if the trance had been deeper. When these patrolmen were hypnotized, they were simply told that, upon awakening, they would recall more about the case.

Dr. Gerber is not ready to say that any quick way has been found to help solve crimes. Much more research is ahead.

“I am certain, though, that our studies, and those of—200—others, are going to contribute importantly to hypnosis and criminology,” he says. “I can see the time when the science of hypnosis will become just as valuable in our fight against crime as fingerprinting is today.”

  1. Eliyahu says: June 11, 20089:28 am

    Hypnosis has subsequently been barred from courtrooms, and cases have been reversed where witnesses were hypnotized. This was done because it’s been demonstrated that hypnotized subjects are extremely suggestible, and they tend to recall whatever the questioner suggested to them.

    “The hypnotic suggestion to relive a past event, particularly when accompanied by questions about specific details, puts pressure on the subject to provide information for which few, if any, actual memories are available. This situation may jog the subject’s memory and produce some increased recall, but it will also cause him to fill in details that are plausible but consist of memories or fantasies from other times. It is extremely difficult to know which aspects of hypnotically aided recall are historically accurate and which aspects have been confabulated.

    Orne, THE USE AND MISUSE OF HYPNOSIS IN COURT, 27 Int’l J. of Clinical & Experimental Hypnosis 311, 317-18 (1979).

    See also, State v. Martin, 101 Wn.2d 713, 684 P.2d 651, holding, “Absent general scientific acceptance of hypnosis as a reliable means of refreshing recollection, the dangers and possibilities of prejudice should preclude admission of evidence based upon it.”

  2. TJ says: August 27, 20083:05 pm

    Crime solved – the two men on the left are indeed Nazis.

  3. Brig says: April 17, 20091:29 am

    Hello, I need help. For some reason my memory recall over daily things was on an off. Like my pin number, id forget it, but next day id remember. Im 42 years old this was not to bothersome. Till my father died and my memory failed me on an off daily. I was losing daily memory an retrieving it a day or two later. My whole week at his house exposed to toxins in the air, chemicals, my stress an grief….. my memory recall was slow an this caused confusion. I had a will in a metal box, daddy told me to protect. I remember hiding it, I also remember the places, one of them several months later. I also remember consenting to take it to a relatives house an picking it up. They then told me in a few days, what box? Also I starred at a bank statement a long time, which the executor lost an I have no proof of the number of account though i remember starring at the number it is familiar. Also my dad showed me the will a year before he made me read the date on it an the attorney. There was so many names an dates of the few wills Id seen in the past floating in my head…..I see the paper but not the names anymore. I verbally spoke these dates an names. I cant find the will in the vault if i dont have the date. He filed it under the date according to what he was telling me, which i had no clue,…i was like….nothing is going to happen to that will an box. meanwhile I had it in my hands an my memory forgot where I last had it an or someone is telling me a dirty lie an taking advantage of my circumstantial amnesia. My head felt very clouded an i felt high, tired an I also had some paranormal experience where my whole body went icycold. Can hypnosis help me find out any of these answers? I need someone to search what i really knew an forgot. The will is gone an a very large investment that i ws to use to save my dads house, our house. I want to keep it as a for of income an for my hearts desire, because i have no career raising my kids an with the future so unpredictable i have alot riding on trying to come up with 70,000. to save that house an without that will ive lost almost 250,000. over 100,000. of that is a investment that was a big surprise for me someone drew up papers for the will though he usually did not do wills, how can i find this guy? I need my memory. I need some kind of investigative hypnotist to ask me the right questions to get the truth, can you direct me on this matter?

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