The Case of the Digital Deception
It was an ordinary Tuesday morning at Woodlands Junior High and Corey had one thing on his mind: lunch. He couldn’t help it. The smell of spices and warm food wafted through the hallways, making his stomach growl. Corey was so focused on lunch, he didn’t even notice when his friends Ben and Hannah turned and walked into Miss Hodges’s classroom and he kept going straight—toward the cafeteria!
“Uh, Corey?” Ben called to him from the doorway. “We still have another period until lunchtime.”
Corey turned around and grinned sheepishly. He was so hungry that he almost forgot about his favorite class, forensic science with Miss Hodges. But he wasn’t all that embarrassed. If anyone knew how
much Corey loved lunch, it was Ben. Along with Hannah, he and Ben had been best friends since elementary school. And now they were something else, too—members of Club CSI.
It all started when a new science teacher, Miss Hodges, came to Woodlands. Her forensic science class was so fascinating that it had inspired Ben, Corey, and Hannah to start Club CSI. With Miss Hodges as their advisor, the best friends had decided to use what they learned in class to investigate the mysteries and crimes that sometimes happened at their school.
When Corey and Ben entered the classroom, Hannah was already sitting at her desk. “Glad you’re joining us, Corey,” she teased. “It’s going to be a fun class. I think we’re starting a new unit today.”
“I can’t wait,” said Ben. “Any idea what it’s about?”
Hannah shook her head. So far, Miss Hodges had taught her class about securing a crime scene, handwriting and shoeprint analysis, fingerprinting techniques, and many other tools of a crime-scene investigator, but Club CSI had already realized that the more they knew about forensic science, the more there was to learn.
Miss Hodges strode into the room just as the bell rang. All the students quieted down as she stood in the front of the class.
“Let’s jump right in, shall we?” Miss Hodges began. “I’ve been getting a lot of questions about the process of interviewing suspects. So I thought we’d start a unit on behavioral science, which, for our purposes, can be defined as the study of human behavior through observation.”
Miss Hodges paused so everyone could write down the definition.
“Behavioral science is extremely important for Crime Scene Investigators, especially when they’re conducting interviews of suspects and witnesses,” Miss Hodges said. “We’ll spend today’s class talking about what CSIs look for during an interview.”
Under his desk, Corey did a secret fist-pump. During Club CSI’s past investigations, he’d started taking the lead in interviews—and he loved it. Corey was so friendly and easygoing that people really opened up to him. He loved the challenge of asking just the right questions in just the right way. Corey hoped he’d become an even better investigator after learning about how CSIs interview people.
“You all know that one of the most essential elements of the job is interviewing potential suspects,” Miss Hodges continued. “During these interviews, investigators can’t just rely on the suspect’s answers. They must also observe the suspect’s behavior during the questioning. In other words, investigators are paying attention to what the suspect says—and how he or she says it.”
Miss Hodges wrote “body language” on the board.
“Who can tell me what body language is?” Miss Hodges asked.
Hannah raised her hand first. “It’s a way you can communicate without talking,” she explained. “Like, if you cross your arms, your body language might make you look mean or unfriendly.”
“Good,” Miss Hodges said. “And there are some actions or mannerisms that are associated with lying. Now, I’m going to need two volunteers.” A bunch of hands shot into the air. “Let’s have . . . Ricky . . . and Charlie. Boys, let’s step into the hallway.”
A few moments later Miss Hodges returned, with Ricky and Charlie following her. “We’re going to do a little experiment,” she announced. “Ricky and
Charlie will be the suspects. One of them will tell the truth, and the other will answer every question with a lie. The rest of the class will be the investigators. You can ask Charlie and Ricky all about themselves. During the questioning, I want you to observe them very carefully—and then we’ll talk about your observations.”
Corey jumped right in. “What’s your favorite color?”
“Green,” Charlie replied.
“Uh, red,” Ricky said.
“And what’s your favorite food?” Ben asked.
“That’s a tough one,” Charlie said. “Tacos, I guess.”
Ricky licked his lips. “Stew.”
“What’s your favorite sport?” asked Katie.
“Hockey,” Charlie answered.
“Baseball. Definitely,” Ricky said, after glancing out the window to where the gym class was playing a game.
One by one, each student in the class had a chance to ask the “suspects” a question. But Corey had more questions than anyone. His eyes never left Charlie and Ricky, not even when he scribbled notes.
“Okay, I think those are enough questions for now,” Miss Hodges finally said. “Who would like to tell the class about their observations? Corey, you took a lot of notes.”
Corey nodded vigorously. “I think Ricky was lying!” he said in a rush.
“Wait a minute. Are you calling me a liar?” Ricky shot back. “What proof do you have?”
Hannah noticed right away that Ricky’s eyes were twinkling, like he was enjoying himself.
Corey didn’t miss a beat. “Oh, I think I have proof,” he said, staring at his notebook. “It’s all . . . right . . . here . . . . Hang on a second . . . . ”
The class waited expectantly while Corey peered at his notes. Finally, he looked up. “Sorry. I’m having a little trouble reading my own writing!” he said.
Everyone cracked up; even Miss Hodges smiled. “That’s okay, Corey. Do you remember what Ricky said that made you think he was lying?” she asked.
“It wasn’t really anything he said,” Corey told her. “But—here it is—every time he answered, Ricky did something weird. Like, he glanced out the window four times, he said ‘uh’ or ‘um’ nine times, and he licked his lips fourteen times before he spoke. But
Charlie wasn’t doing any of those things.”
“Excellent observations, Corey!” Miss Hodges exclaimed. “Those are all physical signs that someone might be lying. For example, people often say ‘um’ to buy time to think up a lie, or they’ll glance around looking for inspiration.” She turned to Corey. “Were there any answers, however, in particular that made you think Ricky was lying?”
Corey’s eyes darted back and forth as he scanned his notes. “Uh . . . I guess I was so busy writing down Ricky’s and Charlie’s body language that I didn’t pay enough attention to their answers!” he admitted sheepishly.
As everyone laughed again, Ben raised his hand. “I noticed something,” he said. “Charlie said his favorite color was green, right? And his backpack is green. So that made sense. Then Ricky said his favorite color is red . . . but his backpack, shoes, and hat are all blue. If red really was Ricky’s favorite color, I think he’d have more red stuff.”
Miss Hodges nodded. “That’s a good point, Ben, and it shows us that the strongest conclusions are based on multiple types of observations. Now, none of this is hard evidence that Ricky was lying. Maybe
all the red backpacks were sold out that day. Maybe Ricky was licking his lips because they’re dry. But the way Corey and Ben put together their observations to establish a possible pattern of untruthfulness is what any investigator would do.”
“So were you lying?” Ben asked Ricky.
Ricky stared at him for a long moment. Then a big smile broke across his face. “Yeah! I was the liar! Guilty as charged!” he bragged.
“Remember, just because someone lies during an interrogation doesn’t mean that he or she is guilty of a crime,” Miss Hodges spoke up quickly. “People lie during investigations for all sorts of reasons that have nothing to do with the crime. But lying during questioning will definitely influence an investigator to dig a little deeper.”
Miss Hodges returned to the board and started writing a list.
Avoiding eye contact
Stalling or pausing before answering (saying “uh,” “um,” “er”)
Stammering or stumbling over words
Covering one’s mouth while speaking
Touching one’s face, head, or mouth while speaking
Repeating the question before answering or answering questions with questions
Tense or anxious behavior
Answers that are vague or seem rehearsed
“These are some common signs that someone might be lying,” Miss Hodges explained as she placed a stack of handouts on her desk. “Often, they are subconscious—that means that the person who’s lying isn’t even aware that he or she is doing them. And it’s important to remember that someone displaying these signs might really be telling the truth—or that someone might be lying without showing any observable signs.”
Ben raised his hand.
“Yes, Ben?” Miss Hodges said.
“How do you know, then?” he asked. “If the signs aren’t always reliable . . . how can you really know if someone is lying?”
“You can’t,” Miss Hodges answered him. “Life
would certainly be a lot easier for CSIs if you could!”
Miss Hodges waited for the class to finish chuckling before she continued. “Now, for homework tonight, I’d like you to read this article about deception and body language. The most important knowledge you can take away from this lesson is that CSIs must heighten their observation skills, especially during interviews,” she explained as she placed a stack of handouts on her desk. “You never know when a suspect will accidentally reveal a lie that could be the key to solving a case.”
After the bell rang, the students hurried off to the cafeteria with Corey leading the way. He weaved in and out of the crowds like a quarterback rushing to the end zone. By the time Hannah and Ben sat down with their food, Corey was already halfway through his chickpea curry.
Hannah looked a little sick as she watched Corey shovel food into his mouth. Finally, she said, “Um, Corey? You want to slow down a little, maybe?”
“Sorry,” Corey said through a big bite of food, accidentally spraying a few chewed-up chickpeas
across the table. Corey swallowed hard. “Oops. Double sorry.”
Hannah rolled her eyes jokingly, and Ben started to laugh as he passed a napkin to his friend. “Why the rush?” Ben asked.
“Seconds,” Corey explained. He pointed at the dwindling lunch line. “I have to finish eating my first serving by twelve-seventeen so that I can be back in line by twelve-twenty for seconds. If you get there past twelve twenty-five, forget it. There won’t be anything left.”
“Sounds like you have it all figured out,” Hannah replied. “But I still don’t get the rush. The timing never mattered before, did it?”
Corey shook his head. “Not before the menu changed,” he said. Then he took one more giant bite and grabbed his tray. “Back in a sec.”
As Corey strode through the cafeteria, he thought of all the new dishes Mrs. Collins, the cafeteria chef, had served lately. Pad thai . . . margherita pizza . . . grilled corn on the cob . . . It was hard to pick a favorite. But today’s spicy chickpea curry was definitely in Corey’s top five. Maybe even top three!
The truth was, the cafeteria food had always
been tasty—lots of burgers, grilled cheese, and more burgers. But lately Mrs. Collins had been trying all sorts of different recipes, and the cafeteria food had gone from good to great. It started earlier this year when Mrs. Collins agreed to try Miss Hodges’s recipe for meatless meat loaf—but it made a bunch of kids sick! Everyone was quick to blame Miss Hodges, but Club CSI had investigated the case and cleared Miss Hodges’s name. Hannah, Ben, and Corey had solved a few more mysteries since then, each one more surprising than the last. One thing they’d learned right away was that there was no way to know when a mystery was about to unfold.
Suddenly a girl with straight blond hair caught up to Corey, and started walking in step with him.
“Corey,” she said breathlessly. “Corey. I’ve got to talk to you.”
Corey blinked in surprised. Whitney Martino was the prettiest, most popular girl in eighth grade. He was amazed that she even knew his name. For a second, Corey forgot about rushing to the lunch line . . . but only for a second.
“Uh, sure,” Corey replied. “Let’s talk in line.”
But Whitney shook her head. “In line? With
everybody, like, listening to us? No. This is private.”
“Oh,” Corey answered, growing more confused by the second.
“Follow me,” Whitney said, wrapping her fingers around Corey’s wrist as she pulled him over to the corner. Corey took one last, longing look at the lunch line as Whitney dragged him away. There will still be a chance to score seconds in a minute, he assured himself.
“So what’s up?” Corey asked.
Whitney glanced around to make sure no one was nearby. “I have a case for you,” she said in a dramatic whisper. “A huge case. Like, enormous.”
Corey perked up at once. “Oh, for Club CSI?”
Whitney nodded. “I need to tell you what’s been going on. Can you meet me after school at the soccer field?”
“Or we could just talk about it now,” Corey suggested. “Do you want to come over to my table? Ben and Hannah are over there—”
“No, no,” Whitney said quickly. “No, that won’t work. It has to be after school. There can’t be a lot of people around.”
Corey glanced over at Ben and Hannah, who
were staring at him. He knew that he shouldn’t make plans for Club CSI before checking with them first. But Whitney was insistent. And he just knew that Mrs. Collins was going to run out of chickpea curry any second now.
“Okay, fine,” Corey finally gave in. “Soccer field. Right after school.”
Whitney flashed him a dazzling smile. “Thank you soooo much!” she said. “I’ll be waiting for you!”
As Corey walked away, he shook his head. He didn’t get the way girls acted sometimes. But if Whitney had a case for Club CSI, they would do everything they could to help.
When Corey reached the lunch line, he groaned. It was just as he feared: All the chickpea curry, all the spiced rice, and all the naan bread were gone! The only thing left was a bowl of fruit. With a sigh, Corey grabbed an apple and then paid the cashier. The moment he returned to his table, Hannah pounced.
“Did you just have a conversation with Whitney Martino? What did she want? Why was she talking to you?”
Corey gave her a look.
“Not that, you know, it’s just . . . Whitney Martino,” Hannah said quickly. “I mean, she doesn’t talk to any seventh graders. She hardly even speaks to any of the eighth graders.”
“She has a case for us,” Corey said with a shrug, then took a bite out of his apple. “It sounds like a pretty big deal. I told her we’d meet her at the soccer field right after school.”
Now it was Hannah’s turn to give Corey a look. “Wait a second. You set up a meeting for Club CSI without asking us?”
Corey took another bite of his apple. “Um . . . yeah. Whitney didn’t give me another choice.”
“What’s the problem?” Corey asked. “The whole point of Club CSI is to help solve crimes that happen at school. Whitney is a student here . . . . ”
“Look, it’s just that Whitney is—” Hannah paused. “What’s the best way to explain this? Whitney is . . . Well, you guys know she’s the most popular girl at Woodlands, right?”
“Right,” Corey and Ben replied.
“But that doesn’t mean she’s the nicest,” Hannah continued in a quieter voice. “And when Whitney
wants something . . . well, she’ll do just about anything to get it.”
“I don’t know, Hannah,” Corey replied as the bell rang. “She seemed pretty nice to me . . . except when she accidentally made me miss out on seconds!”
Hannah opened her mouth, but she closed it before saying anything. Then she picked up her lunch tray. “I hope you’re right,” she replied as she walked over to the trash cans against the wall.
But both Corey and Ben could tell there was something more she wanted to say.