My Big Lie
One of the big myths in child abuse validation is that children never
lie about child abuse. Very often little attention is given to the
subtle effects of the interviewing techniques which produce a
description of events which simply never happened. Sometimes the
person is just trying to help the child make a difficult revelation, and
sometimes the person has already made the judgment of abuse and merely
wants to rehearse the child until the child is able to recite a version
which will be believable.
As an example of the former, I am reminded of my own experience and
how I came to tell a lie of significant proportion. It was not
that I clearly fabricated a false story. I was too young to make
something like that up. But that doesn't mean that the story told,
at the prodding of my mother, was not as if I had created a most
The year was 1942. I was five years old, living in Simsbury,
Connecticut. We were at war with Germany and Japan. Bradley
Army Air Force Base was located not too far from my home. Westover
Airfield was also located nearby. It was not unusual to have
military flights over our home.
It was a hot summer afternoon. I was playing, by myself, in the
back yard. Unbeknownst to me, a military plane, a B-17, had
crashed in Simsbury. The route of flight would have taken the
plane near our house. Since it had crashed less then three miles
away, it was likely that I had seen it. I hadn't.
My mother came running out of the house. "Louis, Did you
see a plane flying low?" she asked.
I thought a bit. I had seen planes flying low. As a
matter of fact every plane I had ever seen had to have been flying low
enough for me to see it. Also the question was not worded to ask
me about a particular plane. The question was about "a"
plane, "any" plane not "the" one that had
The answer was therefore "Yes." I had, in the past,
seen a plane. In fact I had, in my short life, seen many planes,
all flying low although some were flying lower than others.
The next question was "Where was it?"
My first inclination was to say "I don't know" but it was
apparent that my mother wanted some information from me. As a
child I seldom was asked informational type questions, except to either
accept responsibility for a wrong deed or to point the finger at my
sister for something she had done. The other type of question was
those asked of an instructional nature, such as what number comes after
four. This was clearly a situation where I was suspected of having
knowledge that was wanted, so I decided that I would cooperate as best I
I thought a minute. If it were a plane and if it were flying,
it could only be up, so I pointed up. (I 'was not aware at that
age that a plane could have a position over a geographic location.)
My mother quickly interpreted this gesture as "Over Talcott
Mountain?" the name of a small mountain to the east of our
Without knowing at that time that the mountain had a name but knowing
from the tone of voice that my mother would be satisfied with a yes, I
"Did you see anyone parachute?" she asked.
I had seen people parachute in the movies so I knew what my mother
was talking about. But I still was not aware that she was talking
about specific airmen bailing out of a specific flaming plane.
Instead I believed she was talking generically. Yes, I had seen
people parachuting at least in the movies, and Life
magazine. I told her I had seen people parachuting.
"How many?" she asked.
Up to now the questions were simple true/false tests. In future
years I could come to love that type of a test because it required no
hard knowledge. Only an ability to guess. But now my mother
had asked something that required real narrative type information.
What would be a good answer? I thought to myself. One,
two, three, maybe a zillion. My older sister used to talk in terms
of zillions and I was all set to say "a zillion" but before I
did, my mother said "One or two?"
Next to true/false exams, multiple choice exams would become my
favorite throughout life.
I said, with all the certainty I could muster, "Two."
With that my mother wheeled around and dashed into the house where
she promptly called the chief of police, Edward F. Fellows. She
proudly reported that her five-year-old son had seen the plane, flying
low just before it crashed and he saw two people bail out over the
Talcott Mountain and their chutes had opened.
Now, you will recall that what I said was "Yes,"
"Yes," (I pointed up) and "Two."
When I heard my mother on the phone making up this story, I had an
uneasy feeling that things were getting out of hand.
In a few minutes, a black 1939 Ford sedan, with the red lights and
long 10-foot whip antenna drove into the driveway. It was Chief
I remember those long brightly polished brown boots setting foot in
our driveway. Chief Fellows appeared to be a giant. His
brown belt was worn like a sash across his chest, the huge revolver in
an even larger holster scared the dickens out of me.
"Where is the kid who saw the plane crash?" asked Chief
Fellows as he alighted from the police car.
My mother had quietly moved in back of me and started shove to me out
in his direction.
Before he spotted me, a radio message came to him. He turned
back to the car and sat in the driver's seat. The message stated
that the Army had verified that there were only two on board, and both
had died in the crash.
With that Chief Fellows got back in his car and without a word drove
I did not intend to lie only to please. My mother did
not seek to get anything but the truth from me. Had she not asked
leading questions, I would have said nothing because there was nothing
Was I able to describe a unique event that I could have only known
through personal experience? Not really. Did I feel
guilty? Yes. Not because I had participated in something
that should cause guilt or because I had witnessed something terrible,
but merely that I had failed to please.
* Louis Kiefer is an attorney and
can be contacted at 60 Washington Street, Suite 1403, Hartford,
Connecticut 06106. [Back]