The Case of the Bue Hen

For JWG, CID's master detective.

by John Davis Collins..... 2001 by John F. Clennan, All Rights Reserved





"Mankind's search," my polygraph instructor opened the first class, "for scientific certainty in the quest for the truth began with the obscure English case of the Little Blue Hen."

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In my first major polygraph, as a CID agent at Fort Gates, Texas, I thought of The Blue Hen, as the accused dragged out of the stockade in a drab utility uniform entered my air-conditioned lair. The accused was, described to me in a whispered warning from his street-talking lawyer as a "bozo." Military records gave the accused a less-than promising 70 GT (IQ). The lawyer in the tan uniform of the age shuddered as the cool breeze turned sweat to ice. The accused showed no reaction.

"At the boundary of modern scientific detection," my instructor in Army CID's polygraph school taught, "is faith, belief and superstition." Looking down at the machine with its needles, rolls of paper and wires, the instructor added, "After you complete this course, you will find that, despite our gadgets and dials, we have truly advanced little."

It was a hot dusty day at Fort Gates, Texas, when I rose from my desk to explain the polygraph to the accused. I was truly blessed. In this torrid climate, only my sound proofed office had splendid air conditioning. The creak of my stiff dark blue business suit echoed off the walls. The accused brown eyes followed my movements around the white paneled room. I pointed to the lined graph paper, needles and blood pressure cups. "Let me explain what polygraph is and how it works."

Despite the accused's dull look, he had a lot at stake: ten years in a federal penitentiary. Yet it was no means certain I would have run this test or even remained at Fort Gates. I had been scheduled for a transfer somewhere else to run routine employment polygraphs. "Lawyering - up!" Was my excuse to my supervisors. "The Army gives each defendant a lawyer. The lawyers at Fort Gates won't sanction the test."

The accused looked at me with the dumb expression of the poorest student in the class blessed with the attention of a pretty teacher.

"The theory of the machine," I spoke directly into those blank brown eyes, "is that the body gives off involuntary responses when you lie." I smiled and waived my hand across the machine. "You mouth bull jive and your body's vibes says it ain't so."

"And," my instructor would have complimented me on my style of presentation, "polygraph has its origins in that obscure English case handed down at the juncture between superstition and pseudo-science: The Case of the Blue Hen."

Despite all my knowledge from a witty instructor and capability, no subjects were wired to the machine in my first year at dusty Fort Gates, the very epicenter of the Army's criminal caseload in the mid 1970's.

I could not so easily fail in my assignment. I needed to recruit work - - from the servants of evil themselves, the defense judge advocates.

Of the twenty defense JAG's, only one in the area defense office, would see me - - the busiest. He had a waiting room full of people. "Command policy at Fort Gates," I looked outside at the gallery, "if your client passes the polygraph, charges are dropped."

Carefully applying the blood pressure cuff and the strap across the belly, I reassured the accused, "your lawyer is beyond that one way mirror. If you want to talk to him before the test, I'll call him in."

I signaled to the lawyer to tap on the one way mirror to confirm his presence.

In my first meeting, even this defense JAG had been negative on the concept of polygraph.

"The way CID reads the graphs, everyone fails. So why bother?" The lawyer called out to the throngs waiting to see him in the area defense office. "Hey anybody out there INNOCENT?" A chorus of hearty "HELL-yeahs" thundered in reply.

"In the case of the Blue Hen, the detectives had no bar charts," the polygraph instructor moved to sit on his desk facing the class, "no statistical comparisons, no standard deviations - - the detectives relied on a feel - - a feel for the situation."

"Fort Gates ain't some little old west outpost, with a sulter and a miller." I explained to my bosses. "Fort Gates is a medium-sized city with twenty defense lawyers, who distrust both lie detectors and examiners and won't accept findings as an objective truth."

My polygraph instructor had taught that art of listening, like a good salesman, not only to what people said, but how it was put. Behind that neat khaki and shiny brass was a New York boy, a wheeler-dealer and a pork-barrel democrat at heart.

The case of the Blue Hen, my instructor taught was the first time a polygraph device was ever used, " - - one without digits and dials. The police presented each subject with the Blue Hen, an ordinary egg-layer colored blue."

I had more than eggs among my wares to peddle. "My wife likes Fort Gates - - she's president of - - The Officer's Wives Garden Club - - if I get transferred. . ." I told the lawyer.

Looking out his window at the parade grounds bleached white by the unforgiving Texas sun, the lawyer's reprise crackled like heat lightening, "in a wetter climate, something might grow for your wife."

I cringed in the New York accent, "better" and "wetter" are homonyms. The people who ran CID from some glass tower in Northern Virginia accused me of ineptitude for inability to charm such people. To stats driven armchair theoreticians, I should be inundated with work.

"Better for her, but not for me," I snapped. "CID'll send me some place where I give AEFES (NAFI) employees, ie department store clerks employment polygraphs. How will that look when I come up for promotion?"

The lawyer looked at me with annoyance. "Why didn't you say so in the first place? You need some work to keep your job. That I can live with - - it's not like I expect you to find anybody not guilty!" He sighed. "I have a few trashy cases - - they're up in the stockade. You can polygraph them - - before I plead them out.

"Too obvious," I looked to the waiting room. "What about the people outside?" I asked. "Can I do them?"

"They're here for command discipline," the lawyer paused and thought, "Article 15's, mostly pot smoking." The lawyer shrugged. "These stellar troops probably just have to mop up latrines."

"Marijuana is a federal felony. Can I run my tests?" I'm sure I was begging with hands out stretched.

"Sure why not? Knock yourself out," came the reply. "I have to prepare for a trial. I could use the time these pot-heads waste."

My dull accused easily passed the first test. Most do, but usually not quite so high. I'm sure some examiners might have given him as high +12!

"The subjects - - excuse me, then, the police called them, suspects, in the cozy Victorian era of the Blue Hen case were each told," my instructor informed the class, "that the Blue Hen could tell who lied and who told the truth, by a touch. Each suspect would be invited to touch the Blue Hen."

Where the first test in polygraph ended, a game began. The accused was asked if he liked ice cream and then told to lie. The graphs were shown to the accused for comparison. "You can't argue with science." I carefully taped the chart to the wall. "There it is: absolute truth! Proof positive! You do like ice cream!"

The accused smiled deliciously.

"All those pot smokers passed!" The lawyer leafed through my reports. "Heck the troopies usually sneak a toke right before they see me. You're going to get in trouble with CID headquarters."

"Test results were approved and reviewed by higher headquarters." I chuckled. "You see polygraph works on two principles: (A) the subject's belief in the machine and (B) the subject's belief that what he did was wrong."

"Heck," the lawyer grunted, "our volunteer Army, if it believes one thing, it believes in pot as a necessary good - -" The lawyer looked at me suspiciously. "- - the enlisted people - - at least."

I left the results of the game taped to the wall so that the accused could see it while the second series of tests were administered. At the same time, I carefully watched to see if the accused closed his eyes or tried to look away. The one way mirror is such a useful device.

My instructor continued, "The Blue Hen was placed on a table and each subject was told to approach it, hold the hen with both hands and then leave the room."

My work on the marijuana command discipline cases continued for the most part with favorable results. I did press 'my friend,' the lawyer for better work, more significant cases.

"Interesting contraption, that lie detector." Counsel snapped. "Problem is: will it be read fairly in a case that matters?"

I did get the opportunity I prayed for and now, as I tabulated the score on the second test, there had been a remarkable drop. Some examiners might have placed the accused at a plus 3, barely clinging to the no-deception indicated range. I wanted to be sure to clinical perfection.

"Outside, the room where each suspect was to have handled the blue hen, waited a police constable who inspected each suspects hand's." My instructor recounted the tale.

Before accused was tested, the JAG defense counsel leaned toward me with a street-wise swagger and whispered confidentially, "polygraph is not admissible. I understand - - if you have to spill some ink, move the wavy line, to keep your coop."

I looked back at the lawyer in shock. "Your coop- - " the lawyer laughed, "N.Y.C. police slang for your piece of the pie, your bite of the apple, your set-up, your job on the job."

"Fudge, Counsel?" I was aghast. "Not me! I will be objective and impartial, favoring no side but the truth."

The lawyer snickered as he walked away. "I'm just keeping you in a job. If the accused gets lucky - - that's grand. If not, there are no tears."

But I did have to be positive.

After noting the precipitous fall between tests, I would be sure. My test was simple. "Crowley," I addressed the accused by name, "you're not guilty, right? What would you like me to do - - if I ever catch the guy that really did this crime - -?"

"Well, sir," the accused looked at me with soulful eyes, "it'd depend."

"Depend, Crowley?" I asked. "You're facing ten years. You're in the stockade. You're sitting here in the CID office under guard strapped to a machine. That's very decent of you to say that 'it would depend.'"

My third and final test, sent the accused so far into the deceptive zone, a doctor looking at the graphs speculated that the accused might have taken a heart attack.

I did not tell the accused who was whisked away to the stockade.

As the MP's with their polished air born boots led the accused away, I hesitated before I called the lawyer in. I had made my pact with Satan to keep this job. As I looked at my graphs, I knew some, if not, many examiners would accept the first two tests and reject the third. Would I be accused of finagling just to confirm the police report? Hadn't that been the lawyer's less than subtle implication before hand?

I slammed my palms on the desk and invited the lawyer in.

A whiff of the heat of Hades snuck in with the defense counsel, reminding me of the soaring temperatures outside my enclave.

I did carefully explain the test results to the attorney with a comment that "Some examiners might throw out the third test, but I'm convinced and I say the accused guilty."

"Yeah, sure," came the gruff reply. "You asked for warm bodies to keep yourself in a cushy seat and I delivered. I never asked you to clear anyone did I?" The lawyer offered his hand asking, "still friends?"

I uneasily grabbed the hand offered. "Who tests whom or knows what truths may be found?"

"When all," the instructor noticed, "but one pair of hands bore the dye with which the police had coated the poor silly hen, the police inspector knew who the culprit was."


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