Breaking The Alibi
by John Bowden
“He who has not a good memory should never take upon himself the trade of lying.”
Michel de Montaigne 1533-1592

When we arrive and begin to investigate an incident, starting our investigation, we
gather the facts; determine the victims, witnesses and suspects.  We try to eliminate
the people that were not involved in the incident.  One of the tools we use to help
eliminate possible suspects is to ascertain their alibi.  An alibi is defined by Encarta
Dictionary as, “An accused’s claim of having been elsewhere; a form of defense
against an accusation in which the accused person claims or proves that he or she
was somewhere else at the time that a crime was committed.”  

True alibis are usually easy to verify; a witness, a video or other concrete information.  
The harder alibi to prove or disprove is where the subject was alone or at a function
where no one would remember them; a movie theatre, hiking in the woods or jogging in
the park.  In these cases, we would talk to the people there; look for video or other
information to prove the alibi.  Unfortunately, a failure to disprove the alibi is not proof
the subject committed the crime.  Our goal is to break the alibi.

The basic principal of breaking the alibi is simple; it is getting the subject to change
their story.  When a truthful person tells you their story, it is the only story they have to
tell.  When we challenge them, they will not change the story.  They may give us
additional information, but it will not conflict with their alibi story.  If we continue to push
a truthful person, insinuating they are not telling the truth they will become angry.  A
truthful person has no place else to go.  Their story is the only one they have to tell.
“Ask enough questions and the man who is lying will eventually change his story.  But, the man who is telling the
truth cannot change his story; however, unlikely his story is, it is true.” (Author unknown)

A person that has constructed a false alibi has to put together a fictitious story about where they were or why it
was not them that committed the crime.  The problem with this is, it is very hard to construct a story that takes into
consideration every possible element surrounding the event.  When the subject is presented with an unknown
element that challenges their story, they have to make up more lies to accommodate the new information.

A critical element to making these techniques work is the establishment of a rapport.  The use of rapport here is to
gain the subject’s trust, to convince them that we are on their side.  We give them the impression we are trying to
eliminate them from suspicion. We want the subject to feel comfortable in talking to us.  We want them to feel we
believe they were not involved and we are working under that premise. This will allow the perpetrator to feel
comfortable enough to lie to us when we present our possible evidence.

There are two ways to present your challenging information.  One is possible evidence that will put them at or near
the scene, when they have specifically stated they were not there. The other is to present information reference
the alibi location where they claimed to have been.  It is fictitious information the subject would easily be able to
challenge, if they were really there.

A valuable tool is the popularity of police shows on the television today.  There is probably a police, lawyer or
crime show being broadcast nearly 24 hours a day.  The fascination with the crime drama works in our favor; it
educates the viewer to the vast resources available to the criminal justice community in solving crimes.  When we
present our evidence to break the alibi, the most important element is the belief and acceptance on the part of the
subject that our story is true.

Before you can introduce your conflicting evidence, you must pin down the subject’s alibi.  Lock in where they
were, what they were doing and what they were not doing.  Once you have established their alibi, you can present
the possibility of conflicting information and ask them to explain the conflict.

Lead in by telling the subject about the possible evidence; emphasize you have not as yet had an opportunity to
examine the evidence.  Take the time to explain the existence of the evidence; it is something the subject would
not be aware of.  It is important that you convince the subject of its existence.  The evidence can be one of many
possibilities.  The video camera is one of the best candidates to put the person at the scene.  In today’s world
there are cameras everywhere, including one in almost everyone’s pocket in their cell phone.  Make sure your
evidence is possible.  For instance, if you use the existence of fingerprints, insure the subject was not wearing
gloves.  For DNA evidence you will need the possibility that a substance containing DNA was left.  Whatever
evidence you present, insure it is a possibility.

When you present the evidence and ask the person if it will put them at the scene, use an off-hand demeanor, as
if you believe the subject is not the perpetrator and there is a reasonable explanation for the evidence that shows
the subject was there.  

For example:  in a case where the subject states he was nowhere near the location of the offense, you present the
fact there is a camera that is positioned to capture the location where the suspect was seen.  Ask the subject, is
there any reason why they would be on the video.  Whatever your evidence, do not state, “It will show they were
there;” this will turn them off and short circuit their answer.  Ask the subject in a fashion that you are open to a
reasonable explanation for them being there.  After you ask the question, pause and give the subject time to
think.  You have just changed the dynamics of their lie and they will have to fabricate a reason why they were
there.  They will have to adapt their story to include the new facts you have just introduced.

If the person is telling the truth and was not involved in the offense, their answer should be fairly quick.  They will
probably state the evidence will show they were not there.  

The second example is where you introduce false information at the location where the subject claims to have
been, instead of at the crime scene.  The buildup to the presentation is the same; rapport, establish the alibi, and
the casual presentation of the false evidence.  In this case you will fabricate an incident at the location where the
subject claimed to be.  After presenting the fabrication, ask a question the subject should be able to answer, if they
were really there.  Here are a few examples:

They were watching a movie on TV, present to them that during the movie there was an interruption for an
emergency broadcast. Ask, ”What was the broadcast about?” If they remember the broadcast but not the subject,
they are lying.

During a showing of a movie at the theatre they claimed to have been attending, a person started having problems
breathing.  The house lights were turned up while the person was being escorted out.  Ask, “Was it a man or a
woman?”  If they claim to remember the incident, but not the sex, they are lying.
Remember the fact that if the subject does not change their story, does not mean they are innocent.  It merely
means they did not change their story.  When the person does change their story to accommodate your new and
fictitious evidence it means they were involved.  This would single them out as a suspect for your investigation and
ultimately an interrogation.

This process and additional examples are included in my book “Interview to Confession, The Art of the Gentle
Interrogation.” By John C. Bowden & Michael E. Lane.  It is available at,, Ebay