Q & A With A Real Undercover Operative– Part III

If you missed part I or II of this post you can find them here and here. For those of you just joining us please read the disclaimer on part I about no reblogging unless reverting readers to the original content. Thank you.

Note: when he says ‘above’ he’s referring to the previous posts. You can refresh your memory by clicking the above links.

Back to the interview…

I’m very curious about what undercover work does to one’s psyche. I would think spending long stretches with criminals would begin to wear, or at least weigh heavily, on someone’s true self. After all, you became a cop for a reason, to uphold the law, protect and serve. So, how do you deal with the repercussions of undercover work? Is there a period of counseling afterwards, or do you just bite the bullet, sort of speak? 

I think this one is answered above for the most part…  Most police policies require a UC Operator to visit the shrink after a major operation.  We called it ‘going to get your head read.’

One thing I will say, is that when you get out and begin police work in another police unit, it may haunt you.  I have heard many off the cuff remarks from other police members.  Things like, “Because you’re a UC I can never tell if your telling the truth.” Or, “You’re mind fucking us because you’re a trained UC.”  So, in policing circles you carry the stigma of being a UC with you.  Most people look up to you because of your experience in UC work, but lots think they need to be leery of your ability to persuade and manipulate.  Frankly, they are right…  UC work changes you.  You learn how to manipulate.

Part of the training done in UC work involved dropping a candidate (in a UC course) off in another city.  They would leave you with no money, tell you that you cannot call for help or assistance, nor can you tell anyone you are a cop (including other police officers).  Then, they would say, “See you in 24 hours.” You may be with a few other candidates on the course and you would look for ways to raise money for food and a motel room.

This involved manipulating people– begging for money, coming up with schemes to get money, etc.  The goal was to get enough money for pizza and beer and get a motel room.  However, if you did too well (obtained too much money), you would find yourself arrested (for no reason) and thrown in jail.  At no time could you break your cover (give your real name or that you’re a cop), or you would be kicked off the course.  This type of training, when you are forced to perform or go without the necessities can obviously change a person.

I understand that undercover operatives aren’t allowed to break the law. So, how do you get around that? What measures do you take to ensure you’re not crossing the line? Again, I bet it’s difficult. After all, your life is on the line. 

As mentioned above, the actions of the police are usually on trial– not the accused.  So, we are mindful of all of our actions at all times.  And, much of what the target ‘thinks happened’ isn’t the case– it’s all in their perception.  For instance, you may have the target witness what he thinks is a shooting.  But in reality the UC shoots another UC with blanks. This can be problematic, and has to be controlled to ensure the target doesn’t join in with his .38 he has in his jacket. Scenarios like this are done after careful planning and consideration for the safety of the public and UCs.

There is allowance in the criminal code that lets the police break the law, but only minor offences that do not result in injury.  Again, the actions must be proportionate to the crime being investigated.  So, for example, we can have a minor (without causing injury) car accident, fender bender, with a target to initiate contact.  This is generally a file starting scenario.  But, you would be highly scrutinized in the courts for taking this action on a theft or minor criminal offence.  It would have to be a serious offence– i.e. homicide.  To use these types of tactics, that allow for breaking the law, it has to be approved by a designated official.  And that person is authorized by the courts to make that type of approval.

Years ago, when I owned and operated a hair salon, I had an undercover DEA agent who used to have me color and cut his hair according to what sting he was running at the time. Sometimes he needed a full beard, other times a goatee, mustache, or Fu Manchu. Sometimes he’d need blond highlights to blend with the beach crowd, other times I’d have to bring him back to brunette. I was honored to be the one to help him get into ‘disguise’. And it was a lot of fun knowing I did my part. Did you have a go-to girl/guy that helped with your undercover looks, or did you always look the same? 

I changed my look all the time.  Again, it was based on the likability from the target.  And, sometimes the role.  For instance, I have played the role of a photographer scouting movie shoot locations; a skin head; a biker; a crack addict; an executive; a business owner, and the list goes on.  However, I never ever disclosed to anyone outside of my UC Team that I was undercover.  My neighbours did not know I was a cop.  My friends knew I was an Undercover cop, but I never disclosed a role or anything about what I was doing.  I would usually say that I just do boring surveillance work.  Not even my wife would know the file details or even where I was at times.

But, being a DEA Agent and working a drug file is (for the most part, but not always) less risky than a long term file with a killer.  Your comment brings up another point.  Lots of new UC Operators brag…  This can be problematic.  They mostly do it to get laid frankly, but if the bosses found out they would be disciplined and possibly kicked out of the team.

Ha! Oh, getting laid was definitely his motivation. I wasn’t that naive to presume otherwise. Please continue.

Being a UC is being the role of an unsung hero.  Frankly, even after the takedown you receive little in the way of praise, given that you need to keep a low profile.  Also, keeping a low profile means staying out of social media.  Almost all UCs have nothing you can find online, or they shouldn’t.  A bad guy will look.  And if he finds the picture of you from 1996 arresting a robber in uniform you could be next on his hit list.  Training in the way of personal safety for UCs is something that needs to be scrutinized and looked at from the police agency perspective.  But, in my opinion, the department just doesn’t want to pay the money or put the resources into this.

I bet in this digital age you’d need an entire background story with documentation and records that go back years. How do you remember all of that information? Did you always have the same background and name, or did you keep switching it up? 

My identity and cover story was somewhat similar with every file.  The role I played was what changed, depending on the target.  I would usually use information that was somewhat similar to my own life, to make it easier to remember.  But, different enough as to not leave slivers of information that would lead back to my old life.  For instance, I would say I have one sister (which I do), but I would give a different name and age, etc.  I would build on the information until I could talk for hours about my cover story (fictitious life).  In terms of credibility with your cover story I would have identification (different name, age, etc) to back up my story.  I would also have a credit history, job history, etc…  These could all be checked and verified by the target.

Can you walk us through a typical arrest once the suspect confesses? I’m not looking for specifics here, just the general idea that gets us from the confession to the bad guy in cuffs. For instance, you probably didn’t make the collar, right? I would think uniformed officers would swarm in and bust the criminal once you gave the signal. Am I right? If so, what did that look like? Were you arrested, too, to make it look good? 

Yes, to all the above.  Generally on homicide files the arrest happens a few days after the confession.  This allows time for the investigative team to put together an initial arrest/disclosure package for the crown prosecutor.  And, at times after the arrest the target is sometimes not told that he was arrested as a result of an undercover operation.  For instance, I got a confession from a killer who, after he was arrested, got a message to his girlfriend to pass to me.  That message was to kill a woman who could refute his alibi.  So, at that point we had another file of conspiracy to commit murder– and another charge to ensure that the bad guy got potentially more jail time.  Sometimes the UC will be involved in the post-arrest interrogation to prompt a full statement where the target confesses again, while under arrest, for the crime.

Generally speaking, the act of arresting the target is based on the likelihood they will be armed, the chance that they will flee, the seriousness of the crime, and any risks to the public that may exist upon executing the arrest.  For instance, if the target is known to possess a gun, a swat team would be deployed to affect the arrest.  In all cases like this, the location of the target would be identified and containment would be in place.

This means that officers (sometimes in plain clothes as to not alert the target) would be in strategic locations surrounding the target.  This would be in the event the target fled with a gun or weapon– the last thing the police want is a hostage situation.  Then, the entry team in full tactical gear (body armour and machine guns) would quickly and quietly enter the location by battering ram.  They then may deploy a ‘flash bang’ to disorient the target, so they can enter and restrain the target while he is disoriented– the tactic of surprise/tactical advantage.

I have been arrested on several occasions, and then throw into cells with the target.  This certainly stims conversation.  In most cases as a UC you just sit back and let the target talk about why they think they have been thrown in jail– confession without the UC saying a word.  I have spent lots of time in jails, holding cells, etc…

In almost all cases mitigating risk to the public is paramount.  So, we would never want to arrest in a crowded public area if at all possible.

Everything is taped, I assume. How do you ensure the cameras aren’t spotted? You can’t possibly being wearing a wire, I wouldn’t think, so there must be tiny cameras in existence. Can you elaborate on that? 

This is a bit of a sensitive question.  I have had wires on me, but it is dependant on the target.  If they are ‘hinky’ and likely to check the Operator a for a wire it may not be ‘on the person.’  More likely hidden in a vehicle or a room.  Wires are concealed in all types of locations.  The devices used are all over the map from pens to cell phones to laptops and the list goes on.  Some cameras are so small that they can be hidden to look like a hole on a pepper shaker.  I have seen small holes in lamps that conceal a camera to a small camera in a wall plug.  The sky is the limit on this one.

In several policing departments they have units like a Security Engineering Section.  This team is the one that you would use to bypass electronic door readers (like in buildings or hotel room, without leaving a record of being there), to building video cameras out of a calculator, lamp, light switch, etc.  The unit that installs this type of equipment are the techie geek types (who are police officers), but they are a different section than SES.

Smart criminals will go to extremes in checking for wires/transmittable signals.  There are lots of devices on the market that are readily available to legally buy.  They can discover wires, tracking devices, etc.  You need to know your target, and predict or know if they will be this hinky…

Thank you so much for joining us, and for this candid look into the life of an undercover operative.
A few of you wrote in and asked questions. Here’s what you asked…

Do you know of any instances of a Mr. Big scheme exonerating the suspect?

He answered, yes, to this question, but didn’t elaborate. I’m assuming he couldn’t because of the sensitive nature of discussing innocent parties.

What aspects of a killer’s personality have you found almost charming or endearing? I like to see protagonists from two sides, one almost innocuous while the other, a malevolent creature.

He answered this one in the interview. Here’s what he said: Something I would add is that with all the killers I have spend time with, all have something (even if it’s very small) about them that is likable.

For him to give a more precise answer would mean identifying a specific person– something he is not able to do.

Now,  as a special bonus, I will take a few questions from you! Anyone curious about something you’ve heard over the last few days? Leave it in the comment section and I’ll see if I can get ‘Mr. Big’ to answer.
As a side note: He’s a super nice, extremely intelligent and kind man, who has worked his tail off so we can feel safe. If nothing else, he deserves our appreciation and support. So why not take a moment to show him some love in the comments.  Thank you, all!

Next up for Murder Blog– 50 Ways To Murder Your Fictional Characters, how to get the .pdf and what it’s all about.

Q & A With A Real Undercover Operative– Part II

If you missed yesterday’s post, Q & A With A Real Undercover Operator – Part I, you really should go back and read it to get the most from this interview. You can find it here, or click on the title above. Reminder: please no reblogging unless you revert your followers to the original, as permission was only granted for this site. Full disclaimer on Part I.

While you’re reading this interview (including Part I & III) I want you to notice his ‘voice’– his word choices and sentence structure. I did very little editing so this could shine through. It gives us an extra advantage when creating characters of this type. In our lives it’s not likely we’d ever come across an Undercover Operative, and if we did we’d never know it. So take advantage of this.

Okay, here we go…

How do you go about convincing someone to confess? I would think this must be handled with finesse. Most people probably aren’t willing to reveal their darkest secrets, especially murder. So when playing ‘Mr. Big’ or one of his ‘gang’ members, what do you say that makes a killer want to open up and tell you the whole story, or where the bodies are buried?  

This is my favourite part– the psychology of persuasion.  Doing an undercover operation is like creating acts in a play.  In fact, we even call each act or exposure to the target a scenario.  The goal of each scenario is to develop rapport and credibility.  This leads to trust and eventually a confession.  But, the other part that is important is ‘pressure.’  Under stress or pressure, people will react without deep thought– it’s referred to as peripheral thinking.  Someone under pressure will react without fully evaluating the information or consequences.

This is a real murder file:  In the disappearance of a woman who was presumed deceased (no body) I was primary UC on a suspect who was believed to have been last seen with the woman.  At some point during the file, the suspect and I were out of town doing a scenario.  I had a cover story of being a smuggler– bringing contraband, liquor and cigarettes, over the border.  The target had not revealed to me anything about the murder at this point, other than being questioned by the police.  When we were approaching a City, driving in a rural area, he told me that if I ever needed to bury a body he knew a good place.  So, I made note of where he mentioned this on the drive.

A month later we designed a scenario were we (UC Team) drove out in this area again and met a contact that I was dropping contraband off to in exchange for cash.  We had a concealed video camera watching the target’s reaction as I drove in this area.  We noticed upon review of the video (I actually also noticed by watching him) that he leaned forward and looked down a road toward the river (while we were driving in this area).  His reaction was strange and he seemed concerned and happy at the same time.

This made me believe that he had possibly disposed of her body in the river.  So, I designed a scenario where I was driving with the target and we were cued listening to a news radio station.  I had the head of the homicide unit give a news release saying that the police were going to search this area of the river for the missing woman (creating pressure/stress).  Depending on the target’s reaction (if positive), I would then signal the team to have the head of homicide call the target on his cell phone and say that they had new evidence and needed to talk to him immediately (again, pressure…).

The target’s reaction was perfect– he was stressed to the max, swearing and freaking out.  I told him that I had committed some armed robberies in my past and my ‘boss’ (Mr. Big) had hid me so that the heat (from the police) could die down.  But, that he would have to come clean so we knew how what he did could affect our crime group– bring heat on us / our illegal business.  I also said the ‘boss’ was only in town until tonight (more pressure because he had little time to decide), so he better talk now or he would loose his chance.  Well, out it came…

I then set up the meeting with the ‘boss’ (all captured on video) where he graphically described how he killed this woman and dragged her body onto the ice of the river.  Then, picked her up several times and smashed her into the ice until she went through.  I might add that at trial the judge’s face dropped when he watched the video.  The calculated and feelingless look on the target’s face as he bragged about killing her.  I spent 5 ½ months with this guy leading up to the confession.  He was also a potential suspect in the murders of two other women– this led several members of the investigative team to believe he may be a serial killer.  He is currently serving 25 years with no chance of parole– and, also said he would kill me when he gets out.  Lol, get in line…

The best persuasion information I have found, but it’s theory and not specific to undercover work, is Dr. Cilidini– ‘Persuasion and Influencing.’  I have actually taken the theories from this book and designed scenarios in undercover operations and the recruitment of agents and informants in organized crime groups.  And, even taught Influencing courses to the military.

I would imagine keeping the Mr. Big character in check would be crucial in your everyday life. After all, most people don’t want to sit down to dinner with a criminal. So, after a long stretch undercover work did the Mr. Big personality ever slip out at the wrong time? And how did you handle it? 

Not really.  The Mr. Big role is usually very short.  It’s generally near the end of the file, like the above file explanation. Mr. Big is generally brought in for the finale only.  He may be seen a few times through the file by the target, but we (UC team in planning the scenario) would intentionally not let the target have face time with Mr. Big.  It made that finale meeting very important, as the target felt privileged to get an audience with the big man.  This developed respect for Mr. Big with the target, and more easily led to a confession.  As the target would want to impress Mr. Big when he got the chance to meet– they frankly just give more detail that we assumed existed.

This reminds me of a tactic called environment manipulation.  That is, you create or control the environment that you expose the target to.  For example, if the target killed the victim and disposed of their body in the ocean it may at some point benefit the file to take the target ocean fishing.  This may stim conversation that may lead to gaining evidence– an ‘Evidentiary Scenario’.

What can you add so we, crime writers, can make our undercover characters more believable? For instance, what temperament does an undercover operative need to have to be successful? What character traits are necessary and which ones hamper the investigation? 

Undercover members are a different breed.  They have a zest for adventure and definitely have egos– big ones!  Lol.  As I mentioned above– alpha males, risk takers, and most have an edge.  I would also say, that most of the really good ones (there are bad ones) can talk their way out of anything.  To do this you have to be quick thinking and ‘read people’.  Picking up slight body language is imperative– you need to see it coming before it comes.  You need to anticipate a target’s reaction and be two steps ahead.  You would pretty much ‘funnel’ the conversation with a target in the direction you wanted, without the target detecting you’re doing this.

And, very important, you have to be believable!  Trust me, having a gun to your head and being asked to ‘prove your not a cop’ is all about believing it yourself.  You truly have to close your eyes and then open them believing you’re a different person.  It’s acting, but with a twist– in a movie you would get a bad rating from the critics, in a file you could end up with a bullet in your head.  In terms of personalities, I saw them all in UC work, both outgoing and introverted.  In some cases one would out perform the other, but it was mostly dependent upon the target.  And, a good UC who was an introvert could pull off being an extrovert with complete ease.

Traits that hamper a UC operation were UCs that were fearful or not confident.  I recall one UC where I was Primary with a new member on the UC Team taking a secondary role.  At some point a few weeks into the file, the target told me that he didn’t like my secondary UC.  He said, “I just don’t feel comfortable around that guy.”  In looking at the video, I noted that the UC looked scared.  I didn’t pick up on it at the time, but the target certainly did.  We ended up cutting the UC from the Team shortly after– in fact, he admitted it wasn’t his thing.  It’s truly not for everyone, in fact it’s hardly for anyone.

I always got a kick out the new and old UCs.  The new ones (6 month – 2 years) are more like the above– cocky, overly confident, risk takers, and frankly too new to know how much danger they are really in.  The old ones are crusty and confident– with an even bigger ego!  But, the big difference is that they look at the risks differently– they have more to loose (family, kids, etc.) so they don’t take the same chances.  But, the old timers also carry huge skeletons.

I have to say, the results of years of undercover and informant/agent handling makes you look at the world through a different lens.  The results manifest in many ways from what I have seen.  I was involved in numerous Undercover Files and recruited and handled some of the highest levels of Informants/Agents in Organized Crime.  During all this I slept with a gun under my pillow (I seriously did).  Every time I came home from work, I would conduct counter surveillance to ensure I wasn’t followed.  Then, once I got inside I would search my house at gunpoint.  Sleeping was something I dreaded.  More often than not, I would wake up swinging if I heard a slight noise.  I have assaulted my wife and kids from being woken up– they don’t even consider trying to wake me now.

I still struggle with sleeping and probably always will.  Some of the guys I worked with are full-on alcoholics– some have even been kicked out of the force.  Almost all lost their first and second marriages…  And, you truly don’t realize what this work does to you until you’re out for a year(s).  There’s lots more I could say on this, but the reality is that to do this work and be healthy it must be short term.  Long term exposure to the minds of killers makes you more and more confused and lost.

I stopped questioning why killers murdered and just did my job, it helped me to get through.  I just think if you try to understand the why, you will get caught up in an unhealthy cycle, because every time you complete a file you get further away from the answer.  Not sure if that makes sense, but to me I never really got the answers I was looking for.  I felt a sense of accomplishment with every confession, but I also believe that exposure in this type of work is like being exposed to small quantities of radiation.  It doesn’t kill you, but it changes you.  And the damage is irreversible.

What kind of documentation do you need before you can begin a sting operation? Meaning, what kind of warrants, wiretaps, etc., and how do you secure them so they do not become public? 

It depends on the file.  For most all files you need a ‘one party consent.’  This is a document/affidavit that I (a UC) would sign, and it gives permission to record me while in conversation with anyone else, such as the target.  This information can then be used in court proceedings.  A wiretap, or a ‘Part 6’ Authorization is recording conversations without the consent of the target.  So, a target talking on the phone to another target, or a listening device hidden in the target’s car or house, etc.  In most UC homicide files you will likely need both.

A Part 6 Warrant is very difficult to obtain.  You have to prove to a judge that you have exhausted every other investigative avenue.  And that the seriousness of the offense justifies the invasion of privacy for the target.  I have seen documents in excess of 2000 pages.  So, these documents would be created and given to a Judge to review and authorize.  The UC Team would not write the Warrant, it would be the investigative team on the file (i.e. Homicide Detectives).  These documents are very research intensive and require information from multiple police resources:  surveillance observations/notes, statements for witnesses, statements from investigators, CSI forensic evidence, etc.

By securing (preventing disclosure) the Part 6 Authorization, it is done by a Sealing Order.  Essentially, it’s a document that a Judge also has to ‘approve/sign’ which gives the police permission to not disclose to the public or the accused.  It would eventually be unsealed and disclosed.  But, only if:  it will not jeopardize an ongoing investigation– many investigations take a turn into another and by disclosing you could jeopardize the ones that stem off the original;  it doesn’t jeopardize the identity of an informant– many wiretaps have numerous information sources to establish the grounds, including information from confidential human informants– in the courts the identity of these persons is protected (under certain circumstances); and is in the public interest– this is an interesting statement, at times the actions of the police can bring the administration of justice into disrepute (i.e. discredible conduct, etc.).

In cases like this the file would likely not be prosecuted.  In many cases the document is vetted by the Investigative Team (some information is removed or covered up) and disclosed.  So, some information which may be considered sensitive would not be made public, or given to the defence.

I am frankly not an expert on wiretaps, as the investigative team (not the UC team) would create and author the document.

If I was writing a character who knew someone was guilty of murder, but he had nothing but his gut telling him so, how would he go about gaining the evidence he needed to secure the proper warrants? 

This is a tough one to answer.  If you provide me a ‘for instance’, I could tell you how I would start and perhaps were it could lead.  Some of the above tactics and documents may be my starting point.

Okay, let’s say a drug dealer, for instance.

The gut feeling may be a starting point, but in court it has to be evidentiary.  So, if I saw a guy who in my gut I believed was a drug dealer I would have to articulate that he looked like a drug dealer because of similarities I had noticed about him in working files involving drug dealers.  Then, build a prosecutable file. For instance, I then checked his license plate and noted police files where he had been stopped in an area of town known for drug trafficking.  Then, I noted that he is associated to a person who has been convicted of drug trafficking.  And, this led me to conduct surveillance.  And, from the surveillance observations, I developed a UC to purchase drugs from him, etc…

That’s all for today. Tune in tomorrow when we’ll continue this riveting interview. I don’t know if you realize this, but by doing this interview an Undercover Operative risks his life and family’s well-being. That’s why interviews of this type are so rare.
So please, take the time to show him how much we appreciate him and the work he’s done, and that he was willing to sacrifice to help us with our writing. That’s a big ask– one he was incredibly generous to grant.

Q & A With A Real Undercover Operative– Part I

The time has come, folks!

Since Mr. Big’s answers are so informative and candid I’ll be breaking this up and continuing the interview over the next three days. I don’t want you to miss anything. In its entirety the interview is 8K words long! Don’t worry, each day there will be plenty for you to sink your teeth into. Also, minimal images will be used to save space.

Disclaimer: Because this is a sensitive subject there is no reblogging allowed for this series without having your followers read the original content here, as permission was granted for this site only. You may share, and I hope you do, as long as you direct your followers to this site. By abiding by these rules people who work covertly might be more apt to allow us a look into their lives. Thank you for respecting my wishes.

 

Let’s begin…

First let me say, thank you for allowing us this peek into the life of an undercover operative. For crime writers this is a huge opportunity, and one that doesn’t often come along, if ever. In my eyes, you are a true hero, Mr. Big. Thank you for all of the difficult and dangerous work you have done so that we, the public, can sleep soundly at night. It’s men like you that make this world a better place.

Okay, enough schmoozing. Let’s get down to it, shall we? If ever there is something you don’t feel you can or should answer please do not hesitate to tell me. We don’t want any lives compromised. Our intention is only to help crime writers better understand the dynamics of what goes on inside the mind of an undercover operative and how he does his job for the betterment of our stories.

Mr. Big

Let’s say the police know the identity of a killer, but have no corroborating evidence to secure an arrest. You’re called in to get the ‘confession’. How do you go about mentally preparing yourself? In other words, how does an undercover operative get into the right mindset?

I would start answering this question by first saying that psychology is the over arching factor in all Undercover (UC) operations.  Here is what I mean – when a ‘target’ (or suspect) is identified a decision is made on who will be the ‘Primary UC’.  That decision is made sometimes collectively by the UC Team or the Team’s supervisor.  The factors in making the decision are for the most part based on the information known about the suspect (this is obtained by ‘Lifestyle Surveillance’ and available background information – I can explain that in more detail later). 

The objective in making this selection is to pick a UC Operator who is similar to the suspect.  The psychology behind this is the Persuasion Tactic of ‘similarity.’  Essentially, “people like people who are similar.”  So, to my point:  the UC Operator is selected because it is deemed that they will be liked and accepted by the target.  We would create ‘Cover Stories’ that are also similar to the target (i.e. the target has a 2 year old child, so I would have a 3 year old, etc.).  We may also dress similar, similar mannerisms, and the list goes on.  Essentially, the Operator would generally act the part and walk the walk in a similar way – as the target.   

Now to your question:  Right from the beginning, the Primary Operator is set up for success because history has taught us that the success in obtaining a confession is more likely if the Target will ‘like’ the Operator.  So, as an Operator I always had confidence beginning a file knowing I had this advantage.  This gave me a psychological edge.  The rest of the prepping process is not as formal. 

In fact, police agencies do conduct ‘after investigation’ psychological briefings, but not pre-psychological briefings.  The post file psychologist briefings involve a UC Operator meeting with a psychologist, who may decide to provide you with ongoing counselling, if needed..  But, frankly this was taboo by all the operators I worked with.  Even if we were psychologically affected by a file, we would ‘UC’ the psychologist and tell them we were just fine. The UC culture is an interesting thing… more about that later.   

Some of the prepping in terms of mindset that I would do to prepare for a file would include role playing and studying the target’s profile.  Without getting too in-depth, I have certainly gone through the motions of making sure my affairs were in order before starting a few files. Frankly, the danger/fear factor is always there– it’s something you just overcome with believing you are invincible– confidence and good training also goes a long way…. 

For me, I just had more guts than smarts.  That mindset had changed with age.  The personal sacrifices are probably the bigger issue as a UC Operator gets up in age..  Most of the officers I worked with who were UC’s were alcoholics, cheating on their wives (and going through divorces), and bit of a destructive personality type.  I believe this has gotten better, as there is more scrutiny and checks and balances on conduct and the mental health of an Operator.

How do you then detach from the ‘theatre of crime’ and return to everyday life, like doing dishes, making the bed, and hitting Walmart? I would think it’s extremely difficult to go back to “normal living” after being surrounded by killers/criminals for extended periods of time.

You ask good questions.  At times it is hard to detach.  I recall once having obtained a confession from a target who raped and murdered a woman (by the way these are the hardest confession to get– a  murder of a woman or a child will get you killed in prison, so target’s rarely confess to these). 

A day after that file ended I went to the grocery store and waited at the deli counter to place an order.  While I was standing there the two clerks continually overlooked me and helped other customers.  At first I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t being waited on, when it hit me… They saw a guy with long shoulder-length hair and a scraggly beard.  I wanted to yell at them and say something like, “Do you realize the risks and sacrifices I make to keep you safe?”  But the reality was that they thought I was a bum.  This is an example of how even when I was on my personal time, I was affected by my job and look.  Frankly, the UC work has many sacrifices that you don’t fully realize until your in it. 

I also found it a bit precarious to go out in public.  If I was with my son or wife, I would have too carry a gun in the event I ran into a target of a current or previous file.  The risks to family are something you, as an operator, don’t really consider at the time, and frankly the chances of harm to them is very rare.  But, there is always the possibility.  I have a few stories about running into targets at the wrong time, including being out one night and running into a former target, who at the time was ranked very high internationally in Organized Crime– long story for another time.  But, suffice to say it was a dicey and risky moment.   

Other things that really helped me was changing into ‘my clothes.’ And, some solitary hobbies.  At the time, I was really into fishing, and other solitary hobbies.  I would also say this, it is very hard a times to drop the ‘act.’  I recall one day I came home after days of contact with a target.  I walked in the door and greeted my wife.  Before I got to the kitchen she said, “Can you walk out the door and have the man I married walk in please.”  She said this because in a period of 5 seconds I used the word ‘fuck’ in every sentence.  If you knew me, you would be shocked– I wasn’t raised that way.  As a side bar, we are no longer married…  can’t blame her.

The key in general for me was to put my ‘regular’ clothes on, look in the mirror and try to look as much like myself as I could.  Also, to do the things I used to do.  You definitely at times loose your identity, and need to focus on who you were before going into UC work.  Some guys can’t do this… booze and destruction follow if you can’t find yourself.  I’ve seen it lots. 

What about the wives of undercover operatives? How do they deal with their husbands job? And what about cheating? After all, you’re playing a role, so would sleeping with another woman be allowed, and is that legal? If so, I bet there’s some angry women out there whose heart you broke.

Simply put, most ‘successful’ UC Operators are in general charismatic, alpha males, and know the psychology of persuasion (in practice that is).  While married over a period of about 3 years, I slept with over 40 different women– I was out of control!  BUT, this was in my spare time, not while working.   

Sex in a file is not a reality.  The actions of the UC Operators are highly scrutinized by the courts, and for that reason it could jeopardize the file.  These days its not the bad guy on trial, it’s the “integrity of the investigation.”  The test in the courts is to look at how ‘shocking’ the actions of the UC Operator were in achieving the objective of the file– this becomes the focus for the defence at trial. 

Now, on a side note, we can fake someone’s death and do other shocking tactics– but, importantly the shocking nature of the tactic must meet the shocking nature of the offence committed by the target.  That is, if a target is a suspect in a murder, it may be acceptable to use a tactic where the target witnesses what looks to be a murder in the presence of the UC Operator– this is done to create credibility and trust with the target…  We call this a ‘stim’ scenario– a scenario designed to ‘stimulate’ conversation about murder– thereby leading the target toward talking about the offence they committed.  

Okay, back to wives and your question…  first, it would not be illegal to sleep with a consenting woman during a file.  But, it would likely be highly scrutinized if the woman did not know you were a police officer and it came out in court.  A UC Team generally uses women UC’s (police officers) as eye candle in file.  And, we may pretend they are our girlfriends, and kissing and touching may occur– but that’s as far as it would go. 

I would frankly not tell my wife about scenarios where I had female UCs working with me.  It would just make her jealous and worried.  I can’t count how many times I came home smelling like alcohol and perfume, so my wife at the time certainly had her doubts.  But, in the time I was undercover we frankly just grew more apart everyday– being undercover is destructive on relationships– period, full stop!  It takes a strong and confident woman to be with an Undercover Operator.   

What happens if someone from your “real” life recognizes you while on a sting? Do you ignore them? Tell them they’re mistaken, that they must be confusing you with someone else? Or, do you walk away and pray the suspect didn’t hear? When this happens your heart must beat out of your chest.

All the above.  I was once doing an undercover operation on a ‘hit man’.  He murdered a male who he thought was the head an organized crime group.  What he didn’t know was that he actually ended up killing the brother of the intended target. 

Anyhow, while on this file we met the target at a hotel, where we had done UC operations before.  In fact, the manager of the hotel occasionally gave us a room as a prop for scenarios– this was a bad idea.  Ideally, no one should know except the UC Team Members.  But, the reality is that policing budgets are slim and we always looked for ways to cut costs.  The downside is that it also increases risks for the Operator.  When we went to check out, after the meeting with the target, the manager put two loaded magazines, or clips, on the counter and said you guys forgot these last time you were here.  The target of course hears this and began questioning… 

The back story is that the drug unit had used a room at the same hotel a few days before and some idiot member (police member) from the unit had left his magazines in the room.  The response was a ‘quick think on your feet’ thing– we convinced the target that the manager knows us and is supportive of our criminal operation (cover story), and that he was also getting his cut.  He bought it, but at some point did say, “If you guys aren’t who you say you are I am going to do my time, then come hunting.”  He’s currently serving 25 years for first degree.  We will see if he comes through on his promise– this is not the first time I heard those words… 

Can you tell us a little about the mind of a killer– what makes them tick? Crime writers need to nail the bad guy just as well as the good guy. So it would help a lot if you could elaborate on what makes someone want to kill. I understand a lot of killers were abused as children, but so were many others who never chopped someone’s head off. What ideology makes someone turn to murder? And I’m talking about cold-blooded murder here, not an abused wife or someone who’s only a danger to one specific person.

This is a tough question, and I have been asked this before.  I have to be honest and say I really don’t know, as in each case it is different.  I have seen killers who appear to me to have some form of mental illness (either diagnosed or not diagnosed), and others who have had a strange or sad upbringing.  There are sometimes small pieces of information that come out and give slivers of reasons as to why– but not a full understanding that would help people sleep at night.  For instance, I was Primary UC on a murder file where the target was a tall red-haired man. 

About 3 – 4 months after getting the confession (the file had completed and he was incarcerated), I was driving down a busy road.  I noticed a very tall woman on the side of the road with very long white hair standing beside a large man with reddish hair.  They both looked like they were from a circus freak show.  It was like a twilight zone moment…  I also caught a glimpse of the truck they appeared to be from (which they were standing beside) and noted it was from the same province as the target. I turned around and noticed they were actually manning a fruit stand. 

It was then that it fully hit me– some information on the file revealed that the killer’s uncle, who owned an orchard, had molested him (the Killer) as a child. I turned back and drove by again, this time I obtained the license plate number of the truck– it was registered to the killer’s parents.  My reaction to this was much like how you would feel watching a horror movie at the moment that you realize the killer’s background– the why behind the killings if that makes sense.  I almost felt like he didn’t stand a chance.  Obviously, the parents still had an association with the man (uncle) who molested their child.  What the target must have experienced growing up… 

Motive plays a big part, at times it’s money and other times it’s just out of interest.  I did a file on a male who at a young age (14-15) murdered a homeless man.  Actually, the file I was investigating was the same male some 8 years later.  At 14 this boy, abducted a homeless man and held him hostage in an abandoned building.  After torturing the man in several ways– cigarette burns, throwing rocks at close range, cutting him, beating him– the target took a hammer and struck the homeless man’s head with enough force to collapse his skull.  Then, the target took the claw part of the hammer and pulled back the skull, exposing the brain. 

The target later revealed that he did this because he was ‘interested’ in seeing the victim’s brain.  My involvement with this target was 8 years later as he was a suspect in a series of violent robberies. I believe at that point he was definitely a sociopath who enjoyed the risk/excitement/power in robbing people.  Incidentally, as a young offender he only received some 6 years for the murder offence– what a criminal justice system! 

Something I would add is that with all the killers I have spend time with, all have something (even if it’s very small) about them that is likeable.  Now, this is not to say that they don’t deserve to spend the rest of their life in prison, or be sentenced to death.  With the exposure to the target, you see all sides– I guess this is what I am trying to say here.  As an Operator, it’s hard not to see the good side as well.  I would always focus on the goal and remind myself of the consequences of the target’s actions to keep me on track.  It’s a mindset almost like saying, ‘its only business.’  Although, my business was taking the freedom away from a person for dozens of years.  The target certainly did not see it that way at the time of takedown.

That’s all for today. Tune in tomorrow when we’ll continue this interview. Let’s all show Mr. Big some love in comments. It took guts to do this– something he has in spades!

 

A One-Time Can’t Miss Opportunity For Crime Fans/Writers

I told you 2015 was the year for change, and I meant it. Exciting things are happening on the blog already. Murder Blog has gotten a total makeover. We’ve had guest posts and writing tips. And it’s only January.

Nothing beats what’s coming next.

Are you ready?

Remember my recent guest post entitled “Mr. Big– A Unique Undercover Technique in Homicide Investigation“? If you haven’t read it yet, click on the title or go here. You are never going to believe who granted my request for an interview.

The real Mr. Big!

Mr. Big

Since I want this piece to be as special for you as it for me I’m asking for your input. Is there anything you’d like to ask Mr. Big?

Since many officers are still in the field we need to remain respectful of the sting and not ask any specifics that might endanger lives. But, if you’d like to ask something that relates to homicide investigations so you can get your facts straight– ask away. If you’d like to ask about how an undercover officer deals with living among criminals– ask away. If you’d like to know about the mind of a killer– ask away.

I’ll be working on the piece today and tomorrow so please get your questions in soon.

Mr. Big asks that we limit our questions to something other than the complexity of the sting. This sting still exists today. They need to protect it, not advertise it. So, please refrain from questions of this nature. Undercover officers’ lives and future arrests must remain our main priority. We certainly don’t want to cause any harm with our inquisitive minds. And you know as well as I do that writers can be very inquisitive, right? After all, it’s how we create realistic plots.

Everything else is fair game. This is a one-time opportunity, folks! Don’t squander this chance. Take advantage it. This Q & A could make a huge difference in your crime fiction. By getting your facts right you’re gaining credibility and, therefore, the reader will believe everything else you say, even the bizarre. They’ll be willing to take the ride with you all the way to ‘The End’.

I’m only allowed a certain number of questions so I’ll be choosing the ones that directly relate to the examples earlier in the post. If suddenly you all get very quiet on me I’ll just have to think of them myself. Which is fine, too. I thought I’d at least offer you this opportunity.

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I’m also working on a special gift for you. All you need to do is leave your name and email on the sign-up sheet when it becomes available. No email addresses will ever be shared. What do you receive? A .pdf entitled “50 Ways To Murder Your Fictional Characters”, a handy reference guide to help spark creativity in your crime scenes. Once it’s finished I’ll give you all the details.

50 Ways to Murder...

 

Mr. Big is coming to Murder Blog, folks, so get your thinking caps on. I’ll wait…

*whistles, hands stuffed in pockets, rolls back on heels*

*checks watch.*

Okay, got your questions ready? Leave them in the comment section below.

‘Mister Big’ – A Unique, International Undercover Technique in Homicide Investigations

Before I hand you over to our very special guest, Garry Rodgers, let me tell you a little about his background. Garry Rodgers spent 20 years as a Royal Canadian Mounted Police homicide detective, followed by a second career as a forensic coroner. He also served as a sniper on British SAS-trained Emergency Response Teams and is a recognized expert in firearms.

I’m not going to hold you in suspense any longer. Garry, take it away!

Mister Big – A Unique, International Undercover Technique in Homicide Investigations

Once upon a time, way up in Canada, a killer hoaxed his estranged girlfriend to a house where he beat her unconscious, strangled her dead, and wrapped her in a blanket. Then, in the dead of night, he dragged her body to a nearby cemetery where he exhumed a recently dug grave and buried it on top of the existing casket.

“I planned the perfect murder,” he bragged to Mister Big, when his gang friends finally allowed the killer to meet their crime boss. “I’m the cop’s prime suspect in her disappearance, but without her body, they’ve got nothing. Never will.”

Mister Big called bullshit. He said he wouldn’t trust this guy in his organization unless there was proof about him being a bad-ass. The killer, now comfortable after spending months in the organization trying to prove himself, re-enacted the murder and led Mister Big to the grave where they dug up the body. Michael Bridges, the conned-over killer, is now doing life because ‘Mister Big’ and the ‘gangsters’ in his organization were cops.

This is a true story – one of many true stories where police weave elaborate webs to catch murderers when conventional investigational techniques come to a dead end.

Click the cover to buy Garry’s book. You won’t be disappointed!

 

Undercover work used to be the domain of intelligence gathering and drug interdiction, but today, these clandestine techniques have become so sophisticated that teams of specialized police officers, trained in skills from psychology to acting, spend months and massive sums targeting murders and tricking them to confess and divulge incriminating evidence.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP or Mounties) were the pioneers of the ‘Mister Big’ sting and it’s widely used by Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand law-enforcement agencies within tightly controlled, legal parameters. So far, British courts have ruled against the technique and American courts are reluctant, although they have allowed evidence gained by a Canadian ‘Mister Big’ sting to convict two Seattle killers.

The main concern is that a suspect might be deceived into making a false confession or be coerced into committing an illegal act that he wouldn’t otherwise do. That’s termed entrapment which is an entirely different matter.

I was an RCMP homicide detective when the ‘Mister Big’ technique was being developed. It was controversial at the time, and still is today, despite incredible success at putting killers away and giving closure to cases and families.

The premise is that the murder case has run cold and there are no conventional avenues of investigation left to pursue. Typically there’s no physical evidence to connect the suspect to the murder, there’s no witnesses, there’s no confession – but – there’s lots of reason to identify a prime suspect who, naturally, won’t cooperate. So the ruse begins.

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Subscribe to Garry’s email list and get this .pdf free! Click the cover.

 

It’s held that most people will eventually confess to a crime, no matter how hideous, if they perceive it to be in their interest. The trick is to make them believe it’s in their interest while keeping within the rules of evidence which place strict guidelines to the game.

All courts have long held that ‘persons in authority’ can’t threaten or promise something to cause a person to incriminate themselves, but that only applies if the suspect believes that the person they’re dealing with is a cop.

However, statements made to people who the killer feels are not in authority, such as other crooks, are fair game and perfectly admissible as long as it’s shown that the statements are truthful. This is where corroboration of the statement is so vital. Therefore, the technique ensures that something of physical evidentiary value is gained such as when Michael Bridges handed over his girlfriend’s body to ‘Mister Big’.

So, what goes down in these homicide undercover operations is that the suspect is thoroughly profiled, a weak point is identified, and a plan is developed to exploit it. This can take months of planning, dozens of people, and hundreds of thousands of dollars.

It might start with duping peripheral people around the suspect to get a trustworthy introduction and then a progressive manipulation of the suspect’s wants, needs, and ego unfolds. It evolves with the suspect being gradually introduced to a group that the suspect longs to join and wants to earn his way inside by proving his value and trustworthiness.

No murderer targeted at this level will confess out of remorse, so a mindset of betterment is implanted in the suspect. It makes him think that if they can meet ‘Mister Big’, the crime boss, they’ll impress him or maybe ‘Mister Big’ can help him with the problem of being a suspect.

As the sting progresses, the suspect is invited to participate in a series of escalating criminal activities (all of which are faked by the police), including robberies, control of prostitution, and standing guard during gang’s activities. In addition, the ‘gang members’ build a personal relationship with the suspect, through drinking together and other social activities. The goal is to win the confidence of the suspect.

Eventually, the suspect is told that the ‘gang’ has learned that the police have a renewed interest in the original crime and suggest that the suspect needs the protection of the ‘gang’ which can only happen if he gives the ‘gang’ further details. The suspect is told that, if all knowledge of the crime is revealed to the crime boss, ‘Mister Big’, he may have the ability to influence the police investigation. The suspect is warned, however, if he’s not totally truthful with the ‘gang’ about the original crime, the ‘gang’ will kick him out as a liability.

Once in a controlled environment, a safe-house which is video and audio recorded, the suspect is put in a situation which triggers a confession. The suspect is then taken on an evidence collecting ride and arrested.

You might wonder how a crook can get so sucked in and it sounds like something right out of a crime novel. But, I’m here to tell you that it’s worked many times and – as you read this – some killer is about to be stung by ‘Mister Big’.

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Handsome devil. Isn’t he?

 

Garry is the Top 10 Best Selling author of a paranormal crime-thriller based on a true story, No Witnesses To Nothing, and hosts the blogsite www.DyingWords.net, which provokes thoughts on life, death and writing. Besides writing countless legal and forensic pieces, he is considered one of the most knowledgeable scholars on the US President John F Kennedy homicide and is currently working with Wiley Publishing to produce ‘The JFK Assassination For Dummies’.

Garry Rodgers welcomes your questions on death investigations, forensics, and ballistics. Feel free to contact him at [email protected]

Garry will happily answer any questions you may have involving this technique. Just leave it the comment section below. And if you’re looking for a great read, click the cover of No Witness To Nothing, or you can go here.

How To Get Away With Murder– You Don’t Want To Miss This!

In my last post of the year I told you big changes would be happening on Murder Blog and I’ve already begun the process. The last few days I’ve been hard at work redesigning my website/blog. When I started my main goal was to get rid of the black background because I’d read many times that white on black hurts people’s eyes– something I never intended or wanted.

Mind you, I knew nothing about CSS programming but was smart enough to know it was the only way to get the look I wanted. So I banged my head against the wall, pulled my hair out, swore like a long haul trucker cracked the books and studied all I could. Little by little it started to come together. And voilà!

Keeping with this theme I had intended to write a post about branding, but honestly, my heart just wasn’t in it. Instead, I’d like to repost something from Garry Rodgers’ site, DyingWords.net. He’s the special guest who’s coming Friday. And this is one of my favorite posts.

HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER

Are you planning on murdering someone, but your only stop is the fear of getting caught?

MurderOr are you plotting a thriller where your serial-slayer stays steps ahead of that dogged detective who’s also top-tier in her trade?

Maybe both? Well, I’ll give you a cake and let you eat it, too… if you’ll follow me on how homicide cops investigate murders.

Think about it. There are only four ways you can get caught. Or get away with it. All seasoned sleuths intrinsically know this, and they build their case on these four simple pillars. Let’s take a look at them.

What not to do

Fingerprint# 1  Don’t leave evidence behind that can identify you to the scene.  Such as fingerprints, footwear or tire impressions, DNA profiles, ballistic imprints, gunshot residue, toolmarks, bitemarks, handwritten or printed documents, hair, fiber, chemical signatures, organic compounds, cigarette butts, spit chewing gum, toothpicks, a bloody glove that doesn’t fit, or your wallet with ID (seriously, that’s happened).

Smoking Gun# 2  Don’t take anything with you that can be linked.  Including all of the above, as well as the victim’s DNA, her car, jewelry, money, bank cards, any cell phone and computer records, that repeated modus operandi of your serial kills, no cut-hair trophies, no underwear souvenirs, and especially don’t keep that dripping blade, the coiled rope, or some smoking gun.

Video Cameras

 

# 3  Don’t let anyone see you.  No accomplices, no witnesses, and no video surveillance. Camera-catching is a huge police tool these days. Your face is captured many times daily – on the street, at service stations, banks, government buildings, private driveways, and the liquor store.

Confession# 4  Never confess.  Never, ever, tell anyone. That includes your best drinking buddy, your future ex-lover, the police interrogator, or the undercover agent.

 

So, if you don’t do any of these four things, you can’t possibly get caught.

Now… What To Do

Humans are generally messy and hard creatures to kill – even harder to get rid of – so murder victims tend to leave a pool of evidence. Therefore it’s best not to let it look like a murder.

Writers have come up with some fascinating and creative ways to hide the cause of death. Problem is – most don’t work. Here’s two sure-fire ways to do the deed and leave little left.

A.G.E.# 1 Cause an Arterial Gas Embolism (AGE)  This one’s pretty easy, terribly deadly, and really difficult to call foul. An AGE is a bubble in the blood stream, much like a vapor lock in an engine’s fuel system. People die when their central nervous system gets unplugged, and a quick, hard lapse in the carotid artery on the right side of the neck can send an AGE into their cerebral circulation. The brain stops, the heart quits, and they drop dead.

Strangulation is an inefficient way to create an AGE and it leaves huge tell-tale marks. You’re far better off giving a fast blast of compressed air to the carotid… maybe from something like that thing you clean your keyboard with… just sayin’.

Poison# 2 Good Ol’ Poison  Ah, the weapon of women. Man, have there been a lot of poisonings over the centuries and there’s been some pretty, bloody, diabolical stories on how they’re done. Problem again. Today there’s all that cool science. The usual suspects of potassium cyanide, arsenic, strychnine, and atropine still work well, but they’ll jump out like a snake-in-the-box during a routine tox screen.

You need something that’s lethal, yet a witch to detect. I know of two brews – one is a neurotoxin made from fermented plant alkaloid, and the other is a simple mix of fungi & citrus. This stuff will kill you dead and leave no trace, but I think it’s quite irresponsible to post these formulas on the net.

So there, I’ll leave it with you to get away with murder. But if you have some crafty novel plot that needs help, I’m dying to hear your words.

Oh, and watch out for what’s in that cake that you’re eating.

Now, that’s just a taste of what he has in store for us on Friday. I’d so love to tell you more but… As all good fiction writers know, the best way to keep your readers coming back for more is with to withhold information, suspend the tension, and then show the conflict unfolding later in the book. This way gives the biggest impact and readers will love you for it.

So let me ask you, are you getting exciting for Friday? Do you have a question about this post? I’m sure Garry would be happy to stop by and answer them for you.

If you enjoyed this post why not share it on your favorite social site. It’s only a click or two. To show my appreciation leave me a link below and I’ll gladly return the favor, if I haven’t already.

 

How To Romance Your Readers – And Sell More Stories

With us today is Dr. John Yeoman from Writers’ Village. He has an impressive resume, including being a successful commercial novelist for 42 years!  I’m honored to have him with us today, and to have his personal email in case I ever have a question.  Whoops, did I say that out loud?

Anyway, I’ve mentioned before that his blog is one of my favorites.  If you haven’t checked it out yet go here.  Just recently John created a new form of fiction.  At the end of this post I’ll give you a link that further explains what he did.

Take it away, John!

Thanks, Sue!

Here’s a fabulous tip for making sure our readers love your stories and want to read more. But first, let me ask you a question.

As fiction writers, do we always write about ourselves? Our character may be a mafia don, nun, pearl fisherman or – in a sci-fi novel – a thinking blob of mud but, however we camouflage ourselves, it’s us. Isn’t it?

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