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‘Catch me if you can!’ Criminal interrogation tactics for the narcissist

Would a narcissist ever waive their Miranda rights and allow law enforcement to question them regarding a crime? Some will because of ego


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Should offenders’ personalities factor into the interrogation? Absolutely.

We are not making a clinical diagnosis of narcissism but rather discussing options to interrogate the criminal who has exaggerated self-worth, is self-centered, possesses little concern for others, and expects special treatment or admiration.

You don’t necessarily need to be a psychologist to recognize this individual. A few come to mind:

  • Robert Hanssen, the FBI double agent serving 15 consecutive life sentences who taunted his colleagues with his perceived superiority in counterespionage and his sense of entitlement to the FBI directorship.
  • Drew Peterson, a former police sergeant found guilty of murdering his third wife who reveled in the national media limelight while smugly dodging accusations for the yet unsolved disappearance of his third wife.
  • The “D.C. sniper,” John Muhammad, who fed his own ego by repeatedly carrying out sniper attacks and eluding an intense manhunt for killing as many as two dozen victims in Washington D.C., Maryland, Virginia, Alabama, Arizona, Louisiana, Washington state, California and Texas.

Would a narcissist ever waive their Miranda rights and allow law enforcement to question them regarding a crime? Some will. Why? Ego. Their primary goals:

  1. Being the center of attention
  2. Having a feeling of control over victims and media
  3. Misleading investigators to other potential suspects
  4. Convincing you they are innocent
  5. Not agreeing to be interviewed might bring suspicion
  6. Interrogating the investigator to see what information they obtained

A non-accusatory interview

Initially, how would an investigator know to consider the subject a narcissist? This may surface during questioning of others during the investigation, the type of crime(s) being investigated, perhaps past dealings with the subject, the subject’s past history, social activities and potential motives.

Generally, these offenders have a history of undetected crimes. The offender should only be questioned on one crime that we have the best case for regarding facts and evidence. The narcissist’s ego will be fed believing we are only focusing on this one crime and not detecting others. This individual’s self-worth would also be enhanced by having the person in charge or a “higher-up” question them and if possible schedule the interview to their convenience further validating their self-importance.

Develop a rapport by asking questions about the subject’s personal background (allowing them to share all of their “successes”), their attitude about the investigation, their relationship to the victim, etc. Allow time for the subject’s answers and give compliments when appropriate. Obviously, ask if they committed the crime, possess knowledge or suspicion. The demeanor of the interviewer should appear to be of sincere interest to the point of admiration rather than any display of cynicism toward the subject.

Case review

Mike is a volunteer firefighter employed at the local community center. Recently there have been a series of fires in his and nearby communities. Mike was instrumental in extinguishing many of the fires. Mike is our primary suspect with the motive of ego gratification for extinguishing the fire(s). It was also learned that he felt underappreciated at the community center, desiring a full-time position in the local fire department soon to become available. Mike should only be confronted on the most recent crime or the one with the best-case facts indicating he is involved.

The interrogation

Following the interview, step out of the room for about five minutes. Return and stand about 5 feet in front of the subject and state: “Mike, we cannot eliminate you from (issue) causing that fire at the community center. There is more to this story and I’d like to sit down and see if we can get this straightened out, OK.”

Sit down approximately 5 feet in front of the subject with nothing in hand, leaning forward, palms up. Immediately develop the themes listed below. Carefully watch the individual as to which themes resonate and expand upon those. It is not which themes we feel are most effective, but rather the verbal and non-verbal response to our individual themes from the subject.

Compliment the subject for:

  1. Challenging the investigation to see if you could “catch me if you can”
  2. Educating the law enforcement community about a truly skilled offender
  3. A unique display of power, dominance and control
  4. The exceptionality of crime
  5. Intention was noble to bring attention to an issue others failed to do – the lack of fire preparedness of the community center and testing response time
  6. For being bold, clever and daring – something most people don’t possess today
  7. For being underappreciated, overworked and underpaid
  8. For never being given the praise and respect rightly earned
  9. Excitement and stimulation of the “chase”
  10. Being demeaned by the victim, society, or others as suggested by case facts

“Mike, as I said, we believe you caused the fire at the community center. Before I go any further, I must say that I don’t condone what you did but totally understand your mindset. Your cleverness in discovering the wooden pallet loaded with roofing shingles stacked next to the community center got your brain thinking. You, and only you, knew how stupid someone was to do that. You have kindling in the wood pallet and the combustible tar roofing material. This is a disaster in the making and only you figured it out. No one in the community realized this was a perfect storm for a fire. This was your way of accomplishing two things; first, testing the response time, and second, educating the center regarding fire safety.

“You were also available to extinguish it. That is why you began extinguishing it because the firefighters just didn’t respond in a timely manner. Being after hours, you knew no kids were in the facility. Think if a fire occurred when kids were in the building? No one with your skillset would have been available to put it out! It would have been a total disaster. Sometimes in life, drastic measures need to be taken.

“Also, a position in the fire department will be available shortly. What the world needs more than ever is competent individuals, someone with a brain! I think your intent was to show your skillset that would have gone unnoticed until this incident. In my opinion, you have the desire, skill and more importantly the competence to be an asset in serving your community on a full-time basis.

“Mike, you are a unique individual who is bold, clever and daring. Obviously, your intent was to educate the community to fire safety.

“I know you are a very good person with the skill and mental toughness to get through this. But others need to know your intentions as I do. You’re are a caring person, right? This was not a sinister move on your part but rather one to demonstrate your uniqueness. However, your intent was to make your community safer using unique unconventional measures. Correct?”

Themes presented in this manner of stroking our suspect’s ego may be difficult for some investigators to develop due to their intimate involvement in the case. Such themes, however, can be very effective in eliciting the truth from a narcissist whose self-esteem hinges upon their perceived sense of superiority in both the purpose behind their criminal conduct and the mastery of its execution.

Louis C. Senese is VP of John E. Reid and Associates and has been employed for over 40 years. He’s conducted thousands of interrogations and volunteered assistance in cold cases. Listen to Lou interviewed on, podcast #4. He is the author of “Anatomy of Interrogation Themes” and has presented hundreds of specialized training programs to federal, state and local law enforcement, military, federal and NATO intelligence agencies. He has taught throughout the U.S., as well as in Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Brazil, Canada, the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, Puerto Rico, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea and the U.A.E. Contact him at