Police Psychology | Becoming a Psychological Investigator When No One Asked Me To

Posted: October 24, 2016 in Stories
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Police Psychology | Becoming a Psychological Investigator When No One Asked Me To

by Marla Friedman Psy.D.,

I just finished watching Detective Gary Traver’s video, The Joy of a Missing Person Case.  I know exactly what he means.  I am a police psychologistdetective who has a full-time therapy practice, trains chiefs of police, FTO’s and rank and file officers as well as publishes articles nationally on mental health and suicide prevention.  I love all that I do with law enforcement.

However, my secret wish, when I heard there was such a job, was to become an FBI profiler. Too bad, so sad.  I was too old, and I don’t run fast or jump high.  So I decided to create my training program to learn how to investigate crimes.  How happy was I to find that some of the top investigators from the FBI, NYPD and other departments and associations were teaching during their off time or their retirement.  At the time I didn’t realize that some of these people were the developers of profiling at the FBI behavioral unit.  I learned so much from Robert Ressler and Roy Hazelwood.  I took the basic and advanced courses in “the Reid Method.”  I learned how to detect deception from Avinom Sapir, and did a 24-hour training with Vernon Geberth forcing myself to look at all kinds of nasty pictures until I could read his book and eat my lunch at the same time (not easy and a wonderful weight loss method.)  I did ride a-longs, field interviews, went to jail to talk to bad guys, watched interviews through the two-way mirror, wrote up psychological analysis on cold cases; you name it I did it.  I attended everything I could, even when told, “no psychologists allowed!”  I found a way to talk myself in.  So, my adventure began!

I talked a detective nearing retirement to accept me into his private investigations business and train me top to bottom.  We have worked together on private and police department cold case homicides and missing persons for 15 years or more.

The Case

So, the following case is sanitized to protect the identity of the family.  This is the one that relates to Det. Travers case.

A 21-year-old Asian female was reported missing, and after two years the PD declared it cold as no further leads were producing any useful information as to her whereabouts.  A call was placed to Bob Stachnik who is the Private Investigator I work with when cases have a psychological overlay.  The family of the female called the PD, and they were given Bob’s name, as he has an excellent reputation in the state, to see if he was able to work it as a private case.

Bob called me in, and we went to work.  I believe besides physical evidence; the interview is GOLD.  We separately interviewed everyone we could, family, friends, coworkers, etc.  We have different styles as he is a 30-year law enforcement professional and I have been doing clinical work since 1979.  Psychology and investigations combined.

Facts of the case:  A 21-year-old female with a history of depression has a relationship with an abusive male with a criminal history of assault. Could this be a murder?

She is estranged from her family except for her grandfather who is pushing for information about her whereabouts.  Could she have just ” walked-away?  Adults can do that.

The female gives away her belongings including her car and 20 thousand dollars to a close friend, raising the question of suicide.

What would be your guess?  Three viable options.  Murder, walk-away or suicide?

The Profile

Extensive interviewing by both Bob and myself of friends, family and coworkers reveals information that allows me to develop what I call a “psychological profile in absentia.”  I have done psychological autopsies, but unless I see the autopsy report and or photos of the body, I like to leave the family with some sense of hope.

I develop a picture of a depressed woman in therapy, a physically abusive boyfriend and a family history of physical abuse.  The missing woman becomes very religious and essentially devotes her life to serving others at church.  She is known for helping the needy and those in distress.  Her friend said she wanted to join the Peace Corps. She is self-sacrificing of her time and money.  She speaks ill of her family or nothing at all depending on whom she is speaking.  She is very private.  She takes antidepressant medication and complains of difficulty sleeping and lack of appetite.  She displays no anger but often appears to be in pain.

I contact her psychiatrist who listens to what I have developed as a profile, but she is frustrated because she cannot speak to me because her client owns the “privilege,” which exists in Illinois whether the patient is alive or deceased.  “Privilege” is sort of like confidentiality but a lot stronger and with more legal ramifications if broken.  I respect her position, and as a result, I develop a form called, “Release of Information-Special Circumstances” which many of my patients sign early in treatment which allows me to release information to law enforcement only to help solve a crime.  I can limit what information leaves my office, as I want to protect the client regardless of their eventual situation.

Bob had contacts he has made over the years and explored those avenues.  I finally decide that the woman has not committed suicide, or has not been killed by the abusive boyfriend.   My data collected through interviews and Bob’s data pulls us together to believe that she has walked away as a defense against an unhappy childhood and adult life.  We know she has hyper-religious tendencies, so we start exploring churches and other charitable organizations.

The Resolution (Sort Of)

Bingo!  We find her alive and living in a homeless shelter and volunteering at a church about 50 miles from her home. She was using a false name and had destroyed her credit cards.  The relief, excitement and elation I felt were overwhelming.  Without the years of training and the goodness of the different chiefs of police and the excellent skill of a highly trained detective, Bob, she may have remained hidden.

Here is the conundrum. The woman does not want to reunite with her family but has agreed that we can tell them she is alive. She does not want them to know her location, so we had to simply inform them that she’s alive but desires no further contact.

We were hired by and are paid by the family.  So it was a sticky ending, but the family accepted the outcome.  I think the combination of retired cop and a psychologist make an excellent team. And that’s just one of our stories. The others are even more incredible!


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  1. Bruce Sokolove says:

    Dr. Friedman is Chicagoland’s premier cop shrink. Exceptional insight in the complex world but most important to frontline guys like me, someone who shares practical information on police wellness and mental health strategies with my Master Police Coach Candidates (aka Field Training Officers). Thank you so much! Coach Sok (Bruce A. Sokolove, Field Training Associates)

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