'Mister Big' – A Unique, International Undercover Technique in Homicide Investigations

Before I hand you over to our very special guest, Garry Rodgers, let me tell you a little about his background. Garry Rodgers spent 20 years as a Royal Canadian Mounted Police homicide detective, followed by a second career as a forensic coroner. He also served as a sniper on British SAS-trained Emergency Response Teams and is a recognized expert in firearms.

I’m not going to hold you in suspense any longer. Garry, take it away!

Mister Big – A Unique, International Undercover Technique in Homicide Investigations

Once upon a time, way up in Canada, a killer hoaxed his estranged girlfriend to a house where he beat her unconscious, strangled her dead, and wrapped her in a blanket. Then, in the dead of night, he dragged her body to a nearby cemetery where he exhumed a recently dug grave and buried it on top of the existing casket.

“I planned the perfect murder,” he bragged to Mister Big, when his gang friends finally allowed the killer to meet their crime boss. “I’m the cop’s prime suspect in her disappearance, but without her body, they’ve got nothing. Never will.”

Mister Big called bullshit. He said he wouldn’t trust this guy in his organization unless there was proof about him being a bad-ass. The killer, now comfortable after spending months in the organization trying to prove himself, re-enacted the murder and led Mister Big to the grave where they dug up the body. Michael Bridges, the conned-over killer, is now doing life because ‘Mister Big’ and the ‘gangsters’ in his organization were cops.

This is a true story – one of many true stories where police weave elaborate webs to catch murderers when conventional investigational techniques come to a dead end.

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Undercover work used to be the domain of intelligence gathering and drug interdiction, but today, these clandestine techniques have become so sophisticated that teams of specialized police officers, trained in skills from psychology to acting, spend months and massive sums targeting murders and tricking them to confess and divulge incriminating evidence.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP or Mounties) were the pioneers of the ‘Mister Big’ sting and it’s widely used by Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand law-enforcement agencies within tightly controlled, legal parameters. So far, British courts have ruled against the technique and American courts are reluctant, although they have allowed evidence gained by a Canadian ‘Mister Big’ sting to convict two Seattle killers.

The main concern is that a suspect might be deceived into making a false confession or be coerced into committing an illegal act that he wouldn’t otherwise do. That’s termed entrapment which is an entirely different matter.

I was an RCMP homicide detective when the ‘Mister Big’ technique was being developed. It was controversial at the time, and still is today, despite incredible success at putting killers away and giving closure to cases and families.

The premise is that the murder case has run cold and there are no conventional avenues of investigation left to pursue. Typically there’s no physical evidence to connect the suspect to the murder, there’s no witnesses, there’s no confession – but – there’s lots of reason to identify a prime suspect who, naturally, won’t cooperate. So the ruse begins.

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It’s held that most people will eventually confess to a crime, no matter how hideous, if they perceive it to be in their interest. The trick is to make them believe it’s in their interest while keeping within the rules of evidence which place strict guidelines to the game.

All courts have long held that ‘persons in authority’ can’t threaten or promise something to cause a person to incriminate themselves, but that only applies if the suspect believes that the person they’re dealing with is a cop.

However, statements made to people who the killer feels are not in authority, such as other crooks, are fair game and perfectly admissible as long as it’s shown that the statements are truthful. This is where corroboration of the statement is so vital. Therefore, the technique ensures that something of physical evidentiary value is gained such as when Michael Bridges handed over his girlfriend’s body to ‘Mister Big’.

So, what goes down in these homicide undercover operations is that the suspect is thoroughly profiled, a weak point is identified, and a plan is developed to exploit it. This can take months of planning, dozens of people, and hundreds of thousands of dollars.

It might start with duping peripheral people around the suspect to get a trustworthy introduction and then a progressive manipulation of the suspect’s wants, needs, and ego unfolds. It evolves with the suspect being gradually introduced to a group that the suspect longs to join and wants to earn his way inside by proving his value and trustworthiness.

No murderer targeted at this level will confess out of remorse, so a mindset of betterment is implanted in the suspect. It makes him think that if they can meet ‘Mister Big’, the crime boss, they’ll impress him or maybe ‘Mister Big’ can help him with the problem of being a suspect.

As the sting progresses, the suspect is invited to participate in a series of escalating criminal activities (all of which are faked by the police), including robberies, control of prostitution, and standing guard during gang’s activities. In addition, the ‘gang members’ build a personal relationship with the suspect, through drinking together and other social activities. The goal is to win the confidence of the suspect.

Eventually, the suspect is told that the ‘gang’ has learned that the police have a renewed interest in the original crime and suggest that the suspect needs the protection of the ‘gang’ which can only happen if he gives the ‘gang’ further details. The suspect is told that, if all knowledge of the crime is revealed to the crime boss, ‘Mister Big’, he may have the ability to influence the police investigation. The suspect is warned, however, if he’s not totally truthful with the ‘gang’ about the original crime, the ‘gang’ will kick him out as a liability.

Once in a controlled environment, a safe-house which is video and audio recorded, the suspect is put in a situation which triggers a confession. The suspect is then taken on an evidence collecting ride and arrested.

You might wonder how a crook can get so sucked in and it sounds like something right out of a crime novel. But, I’m here to tell you that it’s worked many times and – as you read this – some killer is about to be stung by ‘Mister Big’.

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Handsome devil. Isn’t he?

 

Garry is the Top 10 Best Selling author of a paranormal crime-thriller based on a true story, No Witnesses To Nothing, and hosts the blogsite www.DyingWords.net, which provokes thoughts on life, death and writing. Besides writing countless legal and forensic pieces, he is considered one of the most knowledgeable scholars on the US President John F Kennedy homicide and is currently working with Wiley Publishing to produce ‘The JFK Assassination For Dummies’.

Garry Rodgers welcomes your questions on death investigations, forensics, and ballistics. Feel free to contact him at garry.rodgers@shaw.ca

Garry will happily answer any questions you may have involving this technique. Just leave it the comment section below. And if you’re looking for a great read, click the cover of No Witness To Nothing, or you can go here.

11 Comments

  1. Pingback: A One-Time Can’t Miss Opportunity For Crime Fans/Writers | Crime Fiction Writer Sue Coletta

  2. Thanks so, so much for hosting me, Sue, and nice to meet you, Margot. You’re right about these u/c operations being fascinating. It’s like living out live theatre with the script being written as the acts unfold. One big difference is that these are very dangerous because the ‘gang’ member are hanging around with killers.

    And they never know what the outcome is going to be despite the best choreographing. Occasionally the suspect never confesses or the cover is blown, but one time we had a guy admit to a second murder that we knew nothing about. He’s now doing two life terms instead of one 🙂

    • Did you ever personally pose as a bad guy? If so, wasn’t your adrenaline racing non-stop? I don’t think I could ever pull it off.

      • I’ve never played the actual Mr. Big role but I’ve co-ordinated and covered a bunch of murder u/c operations. The adrenaline can get running, for sure. The police officer who first came up with the Mr. Big scam is a long-time acquaintance of mine (can’t use his real name here). His character is prominent in my first novel and the title came from him. We were sitting in a car one day covering two other operatives who were buying some black-market machine guns. We were talking about the evidentiary value in using two u/c operators vs. one. ‘Al’ is looking out the windshield and says “You know… I like travelin’ alone.” He turns and looks at me “There’s no witnesses to nothin’ “. The phrase stuck and the book was born.

    • Well done! I think these U/C ops should be legal in all countries. There’s nothing unethical about them if it’s to get murderers. In my opinion, some of the other stuff that police do here (eg spying on activists for years and sleeping/having kids with them while U/C) is far more problematic. Yes, the victims got compensation, but it shouldn’t have happened and the police should’ve gone to court (the Prosecution Service wouldn’t admit the case to court). What on earth is wrong with going U/C on murderers? Keep up the good work 🙂

      • I don’t see anything wrong with it, either. I mean, these guys are killing people. The police should do everything they can to apprehend them, IMO. Thanks, Firenza, for sharing your views with us. I hope to see more of you in the future.

      • In my opinion, the issue is whether the suspect is guilty or not. If the confession is corroborated by factual evidence, then the end justifies the means.

  3. This is really fascinating!! It must be very difficult – especially ‘deep cover.’ But utterly fascinating!

    • I thought so too. I can’t even imagine being away from family/loved ones and having to turn into another person for any length of time, dealing with the people you intend to put behind bars. But I thank God for the ones who do it.

      I’m glad you enjoyed it, Margot!

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