7 Kids Who Helped Solve Crimes

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Children are messy, hyper, allergic to lots of things, and vomit a lot more often than adults do. Despite these deficits, they can sometimes be counted on to help resolve a crime. Check out seven times kids lent a (probably sticky) hand and brought criminals to justice.

1. THE DRAWING THAT HELPED SOLVE A HIT AND RUN

Let’s face it: Most kids aren’t budding Picassos, and their early artwork is bound either for the refrigerator door or the trash. But two cousins in northwest Germany—one eight years old, the other nine—had enough illustrative talent to communicate to authorities exactly what happened when a driver ran into a parked car in their tiny town of Oer-Erkenschwick in early 2017. The boys showed police the route the offending vehicle took and also provided a description, which led to the errant operator being located.

2. THE GRADE SCHOOL STUDENTS WHO NABBED A VANDAL

Filing into classes on a Monday morning in 2005, 20 grade school students at the Brookstead State School in Queensland, Australia noticed that someone had slashed their tennis court nets. Unfortunately for the perpetrator, the kids had been taking a forensic science class that term and knew how to secure the scene and collect evidence. They photographed footprints on the court and turned them over to police. When the thief returned a second night to steal food from the school, police caught up with him and matched his shoes to the prints. Justice served.

3. THE STICK FIGURE SKETCH ARTIST

Forensic artists typically use eyewitness descriptions to draw composite sketches of possible criminal suspects, a skill that can take years of training to perfect. Alternately, it seems, police can just ask an 11-year-old girl to do it. Cops in Stratford, Connecticut were investigating a rash of burglaries in 2015 and began knocking on doors to see if anyone had any information to offer. One resident, Rebecca DePietro, volunteered to draft a rough sketch of a man she had seen following a break-in at her family home. The doodle was compared to a photo police had of a suspect that helped confirm his identity. His arrest led to a subsequent confession to 10 break-ins. Police honored DePietro at a ceremony for her role in helping curb the crime spree.

4. THE 8-YEAR-OLD WHO SMASHED A CRIME RING

Nashville, Tennessee native Landon Crabtree felt the sting of the morally corrupt when thieves broke into his family’s home in 2012 and made off with his PlayStation and iPad. Insurance covered the losses, but Crabtree was annoyed that the perp had gone unpunished. Incensed, the 8-year-old loaded up an app called Find My iPhone that’s able to locate a device with iTunes on it and pinpoint its location via GPS. Crabtree showed his father exactly where it was, and he shared that information with police. The burglar was found with a trove of stolen materials; the tiny Elliot Ness told the press he plans to be an FBI agent when he grows up.

5. THE GRANDDAUGHTER WHO SHAMED THE COPS

When her grandmother’s home in Atlanta, Georgia was burglarized in 2011, 12-year-old Jessica Maple used skills acquired during a summer camp for aspiring district attorneys to expedite results. Despite police telling her someone would have needed a key to get into the home, Maple found that the attached garage had been broken into. She also discovered some of her relative’s possessions at a pawn shop down the road. The store owner knew the men who had brought in the items, which allowed Maple to confront him directly (which is not recommended, junior detectives) and provoke a confession. Police eventually made an arrest, which is fine, since Maple was probably about to do that, too.

6. THE TYKE WHO SPOTTED A STOLEN BIKE

An unidentified six-year-old in Portland, Oregon was watching the evening news in late 2016 when he saw a story on a stolen bike. The owner, Jason Eland, was distressed that his only mode of transport was missing. Some time later, the boy spotted the bike while out with his parents. He told them and they phoned in a tip to police, who matched the serial number and eventually arrested the alleged thief. It's probably not a cool jail story that the citizen who put you away has only a 50/50 chance of successfully tying his own shoes.

7. THE KIDS WHO FORMED A HUMAN ARROW TO POINT TO SUSPECTS

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It was supposed to be a relaxing Easter egg hunt. But when parents and their kids in Capel, Surrey outside London headed for a field in April 2016, they found themselves caught up in a police chase. As a helicopter buzzed overhead, the kids formed a human arrow large enough for the pilot to spot that it was pointing in the direction the thieves were headed. The chopper relayed the information to police on the ground, who captured the two suspects without further incident. After landing to thank the children, authorities happily accepted some chocolate intended for the Easter party.

8 Tips for Interviewing a Serial Killer, According to Famed FBI Profiler John Douglas

iStock/Kritchanut
iStock/Kritchanut

Over the course of his career, former FBI agent and behavioral analyst John E. Douglas has interviewed criminals ranging from repeated hijacker Garrett Trapnell and cult leader Charles Manson to serial killers Edmund Kemper (a.k.a. the Co-Ed Killer) and Dennis Rader (a.k.a. B.T.K.). In his new book, The Killer Across the Table, Douglas takes readers into the room as he interviews four very different offenders.

In these conversations, “I'm trying to gain [their] trust [to get] information that I'll be able to apply to current cases,” Douglas tells Mental Floss. Here, he outlines how he prepares for an interview with a killer to figure out what makes them tick.

1. Never go into an interview cold.

“Preparation is the number one factor for a successful interview” of this kind, Douglas says. “Before I go in to do an interview, [I] go back into the files and fully look at the case that got him or her incarcerated to begin with. Which means looking at the police reports, the preliminary protocol that the medical examiner did regarding the autopsy, autopsy photographs, and then looking in the corrections reports as well. You want to be totally armed with the case when you go in.”

2. Memorize everything—don’t use notes or a tape recorder.

Early on in his interviews with killers, Douglas used a tape recorder, which he now says was a mistake. “You're dealing with very paranoid individuals. They don't trust you, they don't trust the [corrections] system,” he says. “If my head is down, [they’ll ask], ‘What, are you taping this? Why are you writing these notes down?’” Memorizing the case is key—when he goes in, he won’t have notes or a tape recorder: “It's going to be key [for] me to maintain some eye contact with them.”

3. Make sure the environment is right.

The key in these interviews, Douglas says, is to make the environment feel open so that the killer feels comfortable and like he’s in control. “When you go into a prison, sometimes you're forced to deal with what you've got,” he says. “But if I have time, I try to [make arrangements] depending on the personality.”

Douglas prefers to conduct his interviews at night, relying only on low table lights to create a soothing, stress-free atmosphere. Douglas will even think about seating arrangements. “If I'm dealing with a real paranoid type of individual, I need to put this person near a window—if there's a window—so that he can look out the window and psychologically escape, or I may have him face a door,” he says. Both Charles Manson and Richard Speck chose to sit on the backs of their chairs so they could look down on him. Douglas’s attitude is: “You hate me. I know you hate me, but go ahead and do it. I'm just trying to get a little bit of information now.”

4. Don’t rely on what a killer tells you.

Douglas never takes a killer’s word for anything, which is why memorizing the case is so important. Typically, he knows the answers to the questions he’s asking, and it allows him to call out the offender if he or she lies. “If you don't look deeply into the material, you don't know who in the heck you're talking to,” Douglas says. “You're talking to somebody who's pulling the wool over your eyes … If [an interviewer relies] on self-reporting, they're going to be filled with a lot of lies coming from the person they're interviewing.”

5. Know that this is not an interrogation.

Once he knows who’s committed a crime, Douglas says, his main goal is to find out what motivated them. The best way to get that out of them is to ask his questions “in a very relaxed kind of a format, making the subject—even if it's a guy like Manson or some of the worst killers you'd ever want to meet—feel real comfortable and feel at the same time that they are controlling me during the interview.”

What Douglas ultimately tries to do is have a conversation with the offender. “That means if they're asking me a lot of questions about myself, about maybe my family, my job, and I'm pretty honest with them,” he says. “They will trust me and open up to me as long as they know that I know the case, backwards and forwards. If they start fudging on the case trying to send me down the wrong path, I will confront them, but not in mean [way]. I'll laugh and say, ‘Look, come on. I know what you did. What are you doing here?’ That’s how you gain their trust.”

6. Be mindful of your body language—and the actual language you’re using.

When he’s in an interview, Douglas isn’t sitting there with his arms crossed, looking uncomfortable. “The body language should be just relaxed, not a defensive kind of posture,” he says. “[It should be] very comfortable—like on a date kind of thing.”

Douglas also avoids words like killing, murder, and rape, and, as awful as it might sound, avoids placing the blame on the killer. “I'm trying to get him to talk so we're going to project the blame," Douglas says. "[Some killers] use this projection, never accepting responsibility, not admitting that it was free will, that they had the ability to make choices and they made the wrong choices in their lives, even though they may have come from a very, very bad background.”

This kind of approach is what helped Douglas gain insights from Ed Kemper. When Douglas asked how Kemper—who was 6 feet, 9 inches tall and 300 pounds—would get young women in his car, Kemper revealed that he would pull up next to them and look at his watch, which would give them the impression that he had somewhere to be. “I’ll go with this guy. He’s got an appointment, nothing’s going to happen to me,” Douglas says. “Just a little thing like that was real helpful to me.”

7. Play it cool, no matter what happens.

Being confrontational is no way to get a killer to open up. “In an interview, whether it's a serial killer or any type of violent offender, I'll never challenge them or be negative toward them,” Douglas says. “I'll never do anything like that. If I feel that they're not being truthful, I'll bring it to their attention. But I’m on a fact-finding mission. There are several shows on television right now where celebrity types are going into prisons doing interviews. They get in the guy's face and they call him a liar. [So] the guy, what does he want to do? ‘I want to go back to my cell. Screw you. I'm out of here.’ And you can't hold him there—he's got to go back. So, you never do anything like that.”

8. Don’t be afraid to feign empathy.

Sometimes getting what you need out of an offender means fudging the truth. Sometimes Douglas will tell the killer that he’s earning points with the warden by doing the interview. “There's still always this glimmer of hope that they'll get out of prison one day, even if they're in there for multiple murders,” he says. “The warden doesn't give a damn about him, but I'm just telling them this to try to get him to speak up.”

Sometimes Douglas will play to his subject's pride and narcissism. “They want to be the big daddy,” he says. "'But I'm the main guy, right? You're doing this research and you guys got the real McCoy here. I'm the best and the worst of the worst.'" And sometimes, he feigns empathy—all with the goal of finding out information that will help prevent and solve other crimes.

"Let the person feel they are in control of the interview,” Douglas says. "Be open with yourself. Give them information about yourself to this person and it should go well."

When They See Us, Ava DuVernay’s Central Park Five Series, Is Netflix’s Most Watched Show

Atsushi Nishijima, Netflix
Atsushi Nishijima, Netflix

On the night of April 19, 1989, white investment banker Trisha Meili was attacked and raped while jogging through Central Park. The case made global headlines, particularly after five African-American teenagers who came to be known as the Central Park Five were arrested and convicted of the crime, despite a lack of evidence. (They each confessed to being there, but all have insisted those admissions were coerced.)

The convictions were vacated in 2002 after Matias Reyes, a serial rapist serving a life sentence, confessed to being the perpetrator. Yet the case remains one of the most controversial in American history. Now, more than 30 years after the attack occurred, When They See Us, Oscar-nominated filmmaker Ava DuVernay's limited series depicting the crime and those involved in it, has become Netflix’s biggest hit.

The streaming platform tweeted that When They See Us has been the most-watched series every day in the U.S. since its May 31 premiere. Lucifer had previously held that title.

The series even out-performed the newest season of Black Mirror, including one newly dropped episode featuring Miley Cyrus. Netflix declined to elaborate further on how it tabulated the viewer data, which isn't surprising given how hush-hush the company is with such information. 

As with all retellings, DuVernay's four-part series has created some controversy of its own. Eric Reynolds, a former NYPD officer who arrested two of the Central Park Five, spoke to CNN about what he deemed some glaring inaccuracies in the show. While the show claims the five accused minors were sometimes questioned without their parents present, Reynolds said that the teens's parents were with them throughout their interrogations, and that prosecutor Linda Fairstein was not at the precinct when the investigation commenced. “All you need to do is look at the videos," Reynolds said.

When They See Us currently holds a 95 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and some predict it will be Netflix’s first Emmy win for best series. Despite numerous nominations for series like House of Cards, The Crown, Orange Is the New Black, Stranger Things, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and Master of None, the streaming network has never taken home the top prize for Outstanding Series in either the drama or comedy categories.

[h/t Esquire]

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