One of my favorite movies is Cool Hand Luke. Set in the 1950s, it stars Paul Newman as Luke (Lucas Jackson) and Oscar award winning George Kennedy as his side kick “Dragline”. Strother Martin is the prison camp Warden and is known for having one of the most famous lines in movie history: “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”

The movie is set in a Florida prison; there are many rules and the Warden and guards are extremely strict in enforcing them. Failure to follow the rules results in an assortment of punishments.

Luke is a free spirit and rebels against the system, its rules and authority figures. There is one scene where he manages to escape. Prison guards track Luke with blood hounds who are known for their extraordinary sense of smell. The dogs are closing in on Luke when he arrives at a run down shack in a rural area. Luke knows he will get caught if he doesn’t take immediate and drastic action. He has a stroke of genius and gets a young boy to run in the house and bring him a couple cans of spice. Luke proceeds to sprinkle one can of pepper and another of paprika over the ground around the house and then sprints away from the house. The dogs show up a few minutes later. All they smell is cooking spices. They start sneezing and become completely discombobulated. The chase if off. Luke makes a clean escape.

Interviewees often will use what I call the Cool Hand Luke technique. Instead of using pepper and paprika, they use unrelated topics and commentary to deflect the scent and get the blood hounds off their trail. The goal is to move the investigator in a different direction, one that has nothing or very little to do with the investigation. It’s deflection at it’s best. Only if you let them do it.

I was working with Loss Prevention on an investigation into delivery driver theft. We were interviewing a driver who was caught on video performing a number of non-work related activities: smoking dope, buying dope from a dealer, cleaning his dope supply by picking out unwanted seeds and plant stems, counting his cash (which he stored in a white gym sock he was wearing), and goofing off. He was also allowing non-company personnel into his vehicle, a serious no-no.

You could tell this wasn’t the driver’s first rodeo. His strategy in the interview was to avoid answering our questions by engaging in long-winded, complicated stories that had little or no relevance to the investigation. Wherever he could, he would try to take us down the famed rabbit hole. (This expression was created in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. It refers to a place of chaos and confusion.) He didn’t hesitate either to lie; he frequently denied video captured by covert surveillance. There were a lot of bald-faced lies.

We tried all sorts of tricks to get the interview back on track. We tried to be polite. We would listen for a while then comment that while his story was interesting it was not related to the meeting. We asked him to kindly come back to the question and answer it.

When this didn’t work, we tried interrupting. This didn’t work either. So, we reverted to being blunt. We tore a page out of Judge Judy’s playbook and asked the interviewee to just answer the question. If the question, required a simple yes or no answer, we would say: “Yes or no. What is it?” We became very aggressive. None of it worked.

The interview lasted several hours; it was draining and frustrating. It was like trying to catch a greased pig. You spend a lot of energy running around and catching nothing but air.

The problem with lying is that the more you lie the more you had to remember. We eventually caught him contradicting things he had said earlier in the conversation. And, we caught him in several lies. The problem with telling multiple lies is that the more you lie the more you have to remember. The interviewee didn’t have a good enough memory to remember all the lies he told. As well, he was unable to remember all the “stories” he told us. He contradicted himself on many occasions.

Three things really helped us in this interview. What I forgot my partner remembered. In addition, we took copious and excellent notes during the interview and referenced them frequently to recall facts and challenge untruths. Thirdly, we were really persistent in keeping the responses focused on the matter at hand. We didn’t take the Cool Hand Luke bait.