Monday 30 November 2009


At 6:30 P.M. on December 30, 1975, a powerful bomb
exploded in one of the baggage lockers at New York's La Guardia International Airport, instantly killing fourteen unsuspecting travelers and airline workers and injuring seventy more.

No one claimed responsibility and the Palestinian Liberation Organization actually condemned the act. Despite a rigorous investigation, the police had no leads. Then a man came forward and told the investigators that he did see something a bit strange. He said that he had seen a man walking towards the lockers with a suitcase resting on his arms as if he was carrying a cake. He also said that he saw the man place the suitcase into one of the coin-operated lockers.

The bomb experts agreed with the police investigators that a terrorist might carry a suitcase like that if he had placed a bomb in it and didn't want to accidentally set it off. As an aside, it may have been the same kind of bomb used by Colonel von Stauffenberg when he attempted to kill Hitler on July 20, 1944. He used a small capsule of acid to burn through a thin wire that, when severed, would release the striker that would activate the bomb.

There was very little that the witness could remember other than the unusual manner in which the bomber carried his suitcase and the approximate locker the suitcase was placed.

The investigators asked Detective Sergeant Charles Diggett of the New York Police Department to assist in the questioning of the witness. Diggett was a forensic hypnotist, one who uses hypnotism as an investigative tool for investigating a crime. The witness was a very good subject in that he could be easily hypnotized. Once in a deep trance, he was able to go back into the depth of his mind and recollect the actual event.

With careful probing, Diggett was able to learn from the witness' recollection of the event, greater detail of what he saw. The witness remembered every detail of what the suspect looked like, what he was wearing and the size, colour, material, and type of suitcase he was carrying and equally important, he was able to pinpoint the exact locker that the bomb had been placed in.

Alas, having a description of the bomber is not the same as having him in your hands. To this day, no one has ever been arrested for that crime. But what this particular incident shows is that forensic hypnosis is a valuable tool in the fight against crime.

To the uninformed, hypnosis may seem like a lot of hocus pocus about nothing but as a former practicing hypnotist, I can assure you that it is anything but a lot of hocus pocus.

Diggett was able to probe into the recesses of the witness' mind because he knew that the memory of the event had not been erased from his mind. To understand why, one must have an inkling of what memory is all about. To do that, let's go back to the witness’ mind while he was at the scene of the bombing.

The witness is watching a man walking with his suitcase in his arms as if he is carrying a cake. The image of what he is seeing is shooting its way along one million nerve fibres leading to the optical lobe at the back of his brain. The image splays over the region of the optical lobe 5000 times larger than what the image was when it first entered the 100 million light-sensitive cells in the retinas of his eyeballs.

Instantly, his mind begins questioning the logic of what he is seeing but at the same time this is happening, a copy of that image is sent directly to the amygdala (almond shaped semi-brain which regulates 'fright and fight') and from there, to the cerebrum (which is also a semi-brain) situated at the rear and top of the brain. It is in the cerebrum that the memory of the event is stored. There it rests amidst both notable and non-descript events in his life, such as his first love, his last meal, graduation day, the man carrying the suitcase in his arms. It is stored in his memory with fifteen or more trillion separate bits of information. Actually, there can be more bits of information stored in the human brain than there are actual brain cells to receive them.

Space doesn't permit me to go into the complexities of how the memory works but it is suffice to say that unless the witness had suffered from amnesia, everything that happened to him relating to his five senses, and his thoughts on each of these events, was recorded in his brain. All the hypnotist has to do is to delve through trillions of memory bits to piece them together so that the bits and pieces make a better picture of the event that the witness remembers. If you think that is easy, try looking for a paragraph in a book in a library that has all the books randomly stored in hundreds of shelves with no titles on the books and do that in less than an hour.

What the hypnotist does is to get his subject to reorganize his thinking in order to get his books (memories) organized not unlike the Dewey System used in libraries so that he can get easy access to them. Then the hypnotist gets his subject to go directly to the right book, (year, month, and day) the right chapter, (event) and finally to the actual page, (particulars as to what is happening) where the paragraph can be found. (what he saw, heard, and felt at the time)

To get the subject to look for a particular aspect of an occurrence (book, chapter, page and paragraph) in his library of memories, the hypnotist must put the subject into a trance-like-state where the subject can then concentrate on the search for particulars without his subject’s conscious thoughts interfering with his search. The subject has to be put in a semi-conscious state.

I am often asked if there are some special words needed to put someone asleep or if a hypnotist can put someone under his spell by getting that person to look into the hypnotist's eyes. Hypnotism really doesn't work like that. That's the stuff movies are made of. It should be said however that there are many ways of bringing about a hypnotic trance in someone. Many methods involve fixing one’s eyes on a moving object such as a pocket watch, the end of a pen or a small light but these methods must of course also incorporate verbal suggestions. Many hypnotists (myself included) prefer to have the subject close his or her eyes although I have induced people into a light trance while they were walking down the street with their eyes wide open and they weren’t even aware as to what was happening to them.

In reality, hypnosis is really the power of suggestion that influences the human mind. For example, if someone begins telling you about spiders crawling up your back, (and you fear spiders) you will begin experiencing a itchy feeling up your spine. If someone begins describing the food at a banquet, (and you are hungry) you will in all probability begin salivating. This happens because you can relate to what is being described to you. And that is because somewhere in your library of memories, are the memories of similar-like experiences which, when recounted, come to your consciousness and you subconsciously react accordingly.

For this reason, if a hypnotist drones on that you are getting sleepy and he tells you that your eyes feel as if there is sand in them and that you feel sluggish and tired, you will experience these things because you have done so many times in the past through the natural process of sleep.

Of course, this will only happen because you are prepared to let it happen. If you don't want to be hypnotized, it is almost impossible for the hypnotist to put you into a trance. I use the word, 'almost' because he can do it if you are forced to undergo listening to his suggestions on and on to such an extent that natural sleep inevitably comes to you. A good example of this is listening to a boring homily by a priest or church minister who drones on and on.

Hypnosis is so incredibly easy that a talented child can be trained to do it. Most people have a longing to be lulled to sleep and the hypnotist takes advantage of this yearning. The hypnotist talks to his subject in a rhythmic and soothing manner, the cadence of his speech almost mimicking a lullaby. An accomplished hypnotist is very much aware that his manner, rhythm of speech, and emphasis on certain words are as important as the actual content of the words he uses.

There has always been the perpetual myth that only weak minded people can be hypnotized. Actually it is the converse that is true. Weak minded people are extremely difficult to hypnotize. That is because they cannot imagine in their minds what the hypnotist is trying to tell them.

The best subjects for hypnotism are children, (because they are trusting) people who have had stern parents or stern teachers, (because they are accustomed to obeying) and religious people (because they accept dogma so readily). Of course it helps when the subject is motivated by the desire to search for the truth or because he is in need of help. Incidentally, men and women are equally hypnotizable and about 95 percent of us are susceptible to hypnotic suggestions to some degree, and 5 percent are susceptible to the most difficult hypnotic suggestions.

The hardest subjects (aside from the weak minded and impaired) are those who consciously and subconsciously fight hypnosis because of real fears (such as having their inner-most secrets accidentally discovered) or unreal fears (such as being raped). I can also say that it is very difficult for a hypnotist to be hypnotized by another hypnotist because he would have his mind on the latter's techniques rather than on going to sleep. I speak from experience.

The witness in the La Guardia bombing was a good subject because he was of normal intelligence, he wanted to help in any way that he could and he wasn't afraid of hypnosis.

This is a good time to go into another case where Detective Sergeant Diggett was called upon for the purposes of delving into the lost memories of a witness. Only in this case, the witness was also the victim.

Martin Kruger had been married to his wife Paula for a number of years but by October 1979, they had been separated for eleven months. Then one evening in that month, he showed up at their home in Westchester County (just north of the Bronx in New York) at his wife's insistence to pick up his record albums. No one answered the door so he went inside the house. It was dark and the light switch didn't flick on when he entered the living room.

Suddenly he heard a noise behind him and as he turned, he felt a sharp crack across the top of his skull. He had been hit with a baseball bat. He slumped to the floor and while in a daze, he called out, "Help me to my feet." Unseen hands helped him up and just as he was propped against the wall, the baseball bat came down on his head again.

Someone placed the cold end of a pistol to the back of Martin's head and then he heard a popping sound, followed by a ringing in his left ear. Miraculously, he lived even though a bullet had entered his head.

Then he heard two male voices, one asking what they should do with him and the other saying that they had to get him out of the city. They put him in the trunk of his own car and drove him to a deserted junkyard where they then tossed his 'lifeless' body onto a pile of junk. He came too but waited before tring to escape (good thing he did because they returned to to the car to pick up the quilt they carried him in) so he finally managed to escape and get help. He was then rushed to the hospital.

The police suspected his wife as the prime mover in the attempt on her husband's life and the fact that she was the beneficiary of a one-hundred-thousand dollar life insurance policy, didn't allay their suspicions.

In the course of being questioned by the police in order to get as much information as possible about who might have carried out Paula's wishes, Martin remembered something that had happened several weeks earlier. It seems that Paula needed the unlisted phone number of a male friend who would lend her a thousand dollars to pay for her Mexican divorce. Since Martin was an employee of the phone company, he had access to unlisted phone numbers and could get it. Paula gave him the name of the man and when Martin got the man's number, he passed it onto his wife.

This information was significant because he remembered that the first name of the man his wife was searching for was also the first name that one of the would-be killers called the other. The name was Joe. But try as hard as he could, he couldn't remember the last name nor could he remember the phone number.

It was at this juncture of the investigation that the hypnocop, Diggett was called into the case. It was hoped that he could jog the memory of Martin Kruger.

Because Martin was distracted by his injuries, (the bullet was still in his head) he was a difficult subject to put under, but nevertheless, Diggett managed to put him into a medium level trance.

A person in this kind of trance can easily regress into his subconscious mind in his search for particulars of an event in his past. It should be mentioned at this time that almost all persons can be placed into this level of hypnosis. It is in this state that there is automatic obedience to commands (providing that the hypnotist doesn't make demands upon his subject that the subject wouldn't ordinarily obey while in his waking state. This is useful when searching through the depths of a person's mind for forgotten clues of an event.

With careful probing, Diggett was able to help Martin search in his library of memories, and pull out the first three digits of the phone number and the first two letters of Joe's last name. It was enough to locate the missing 'Joe' and from that, they were able to convict Joe, his confederate and Paula of attempted murder.

You may well wonder why the search didn't uncover the full last name and the entire phone number. The information was there alright but who knows what condition that particular page in that particular book in his library of memories might have been in after being shot in the head? Sometimes the memory of an event is so painful, that no amount of hypnotic probing will uncover the facts hidden away in the depths of the human mind. That can be a good thing because often the mind deliberately hides an event so as not to haunt the person with recurring memories of it. A sort of guardian of our sanity so to speak.

One night on October 19, 1980, a young woman in Hawaii was raped and beaten and she only had a spotty recollection of the event. Months after the suspect was arrested, she was still having nightmares so her therapist hypnotized her and in the course of regressing back to the night she was raped and beaten, she discovered that she had been raped by a second man also. He was arrested and both men were convicted.

In San Francisco, two young girls were raped and one of the girls while under hypnosis, remembered distinguishing rust spots on the car they were carried in and even remembered the location of a service station where the abductor had the car repaired. He was arrested and convicted.

Cases like the aforementioned have made hypnosis a very important investigative tool because without the use of hypnosis in these cases, the memories of these events would have been buried too deep in the minds of these subjects to ever bring them to the surface.

Unfortunately, there have been striking cases where witnesses and victims who have been hypnotized for the purpose of bringing to their conscious minds, the descriptions of the criminals, and they have been wrong in who they perceived as the criminals.

A case in point is the one in Philadelphia where a sailor in 1975 was shot but not seriously wounded. The police had a suspect but the sailor couldn't positively identify him. It was suggested that he be hypnotized so that he would have a better recollection of the event. After he was hypnotized, he described the suspect as the man who shot him. It turned out that the suspect was totally innocent. The wrong man had been identified by the victim.

It is fairly easy to see what went wrong here. The victim presumed that if the suspect was in a line-up, he must be the one who shot him. That rationale carried right on into his subconscious mind. The sailor had already seen the suspect in a line-up when he was in a conscious state so after he was hypnotized, he was able to describe who he thought the suspect was by simply describing who he perceived to be the suspect.

There is always a danger of this because when a person is in a hypnotic trance, he is very susceptible to suggestions. Imagined events can seem as authentic as reality and the images can be extremely vivid resulting in a heightened level of fantasy.

Kenneth Bowers, a psychologist at the University of Waterloo in Ontario says that the image becomes so compelling that subjects 'can no longer discriminate between what they made up and what actually happened.'

Strangely enough, hypnotized subjects are more apt to guess at what they saw than those who are conscious and asked to state what they saw. You may recall that I said earlier that everything we see, hear etc., is recorded in our memory banks. However, studies have shown that we have a tendency to use those memories of those events as a foundation of what occurred and then begin building our fantasies on top of the foundation until the event becomes a mixture of reality and fantasy. No amount of hypnotic digging will be able to separate the reality from the fantasy.

Bower and Jane Dywan, psychologists at McMaster University reported in Science that although hypnosis increases recall, it also increases errors. In their study, hypnotized subjects correctly recalled twice as many items as as a control group but also made three times as many mistakes.

What this means is that people under hypnosis can inadvertently alter their memories of a past event by omitting certain occurrences or by adding details to the occurrences that were never there.

If anything, this certainly points out the danger of relying entirely on the testimony of a witness who had been earlier hypnotized into recalling an event in his or her past. It certainly points out the need to have such a hypnotic session recorded on a video tape for careful scrutiny by all parties concerned.

This is why the statement of a witness that has been obtained under hypnosis isn’t accepted in court. Its use is more of an investigative tool.

Many years ago, I was retained by a criminal lawyer in Toronto to look into the conduct of a woman who claimed that she had been kidnapped and then set free in a large ravine behind her home. A kidnap note had been found by the police but after they interviewed the woman, they concluded that she must have written
it herself and then walked to the ravine in the middle of the night on her own. They intended to charge her with public mischief and that's when I was called upon to interview her. Her lawyer, her doctor and the police were all very anxious to know what really happened. But none more than the woman, because she was convinced that she had been kidnapped and everyone believed in her sincerity, albeit she didn't completely allay their suspicions.

After several visits, I told her that the only way that we could learn the truth was for me to hypnotize her and get her to relive the 'kidnapping' while she was in a trance.

I put her into a deep somnambulistic state and while she was in that state, I had her regress back to the early morning hours when she was 'kidnapped' and relive it. As to be expected, she got up on her own and went through the motions of getting dressed. (she was already dressed at that time) Then she went to the kitchen and wrote on a pad (which was left where she usually left it) the kidnap note. Then she left the building and walked to the ravine where she promptly awoke.

I didn't attempt to rationalize as to what prompted her to act in this fashion because her doctor was far better trained than I was to look into the hidden causes of her sleepwalking but it is suffice to say that she never sleepwalked in that particular manner again and the police chose to let the matter drop.

Forensic hypnosis is undoubtedly a useful tool when used to refresh the memories of victims and witnesses of crimes they have experienced or seen.

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