The Art of Double Deception

By | October 6, 2022

[October 6, 2022]  “The facts ma’am, just the facts.”  Audiences herd police Sergeant Joe Friday on the 1950s TV series Dragnet, say this line at least once per episode.  Despite always getting his man, Joe Friday was never involved in a trial by jury where the jury was deceived.  In an article by Jon O. Newman titled The Deadly Art of Double Deception, we learn a bit about crowd psychology that is useful.

Agatha Christie’s 1924 short story, “The Witness for the Prosecution” employs an ingenious double deception that tells us about groups of people and how they might behave, perhaps differently if they were alone.

“Witness” is just twenty-six pages.  Leonard Vole is on trial for murdering an elderly woman whose Will makes him the principal beneficiary. The woman’s maid reports, and ultimately testifies, that she heard a man speaking with her employer at 9:30 PM on the night of the murder. Leonard tells his solicitor that he returned home that night at 9:20 PM, and that his wife can verify the time, providing him with an alibi.

Questioned by Leonard’s solicitor, the “wife,” Romaine Heilger, states that she is an Austrian actress and that they are not married. She astonishes the solicitor by saying that Leonard returned home at 10:20 PM the night of the murder with blood on his coat and confessed his guilt.

On the eve of the trial, the solicitor receives a letter telling him to come to a rented room where someone has evidence that Romaine’s account is false. Accepting the invitation, he meets a mysterious woman who hands him a letter in Romaine’s handwriting. The letter, addressed to “Max,” her “Beloved,” says that she will have her revenge on Leonard by testifying that he came home that night with blood on him and confessed to the crime. “I shall hang him, Max.”

At trial Romaine repeats her damning accusation and steadfastly repeats it on cross-examination. Leonard’s barrister then produces her letter, which totally discredits her testimony. She breaks down on the stand, confesses to her lies, and confirms Leonard’s alibi.

With the accusation of the principal witness undermined, the jury quickly comes to the conclusion that Vole is innocent and acquits him.  Afterward Leonard’s solicitor sees Romaine and realizes that, in disguise, she was the woman who handed him the fake letter.  She explains her ploy: “I know something of the psychology of crowds.  Let my evidence be wrung from me, as an admission, damning me in the eyes of the law, and a reaction in favor of the prisoner would immediately set in.”

The solicitor, appreciating the ploy, says he sees that Romaine knew Vole was innocent.  “You do not see at all,” she replies. “I knew – he was guilty!”

The premise that undermining an accusation will induce a court to believe that an accused person is innocent is not grounded in logic.  Although an accuser is lying, for whatever motive, the defendant may nonetheless be guilty.  But the jury in “Witness” jumped to the conclusion that the defendant was innocent, exactly as Romaine had hoped.

The lesson is clear, do not be deceived by this logical fallacy.


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Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

20 thoughts on “The Art of Double Deception

  1. Wilson Cox

    This line came as a shocker, “The solicitor, appreciating the ploy, says he sees that Romaine knew Vole was innocent. “You do not see at all,” she replies. “I knew – he was guilty!””

    1. Rusty D

      I remember reading the story long ago in High School. I thought to myself, wow, I could never have thought of it ending that way. Maybe that is why my HS teacher in English assigned it to me.

  2. DocJeff

    Hi Gen. Satterfield, I’m just saying that I do love your website and the references, books recommended, regular and daily articles, and also this leader forum. Thanks!

  3. Max Foster

    Well, what can I say, this article by Gen. Satterfield is just another example of his “non-linear” thinking. The double deception is, of course, not new and was written about by the ancients. But it does say something about how we think and how we can be tricked to believe something we would not normally believe. Now, that is something to properly ponder. ha ha. if you get a chance, read more about it and learn that people are rather easily deceived.

    1. Melissa Jackson

      Yes, but I have found that the term is misapplied. In some books, they say a double deception is when a husband has another (unknown) family elsewhere. Now that is not a double deception but a simple betrayal.

      1. Dead Pool Guy

        Melissa, you’re right. So, why don’t they write about a real double deception and make it a proper novel. Maybe you should write one. 😊

    1. 76 Wife

      I’m a regular reader of Agatha Christie and I too watch movies with plots that twist and turn. It keeps my mind sharp and my ideas protected because I know there is always someone trying to find a way around what I want to do and think.

      1. Rowen Tabernackle

        Me too 76 Wife. I also read many other types of books and articles and that makes me a better thinker.

  4. Idiot Savant

    I’m a big fan of Agatha Christie because her writings always have an unexpected twist.

  5. Dale Paul Fox

    Hey folks, take a look at the DAILY FAVORITES on Gen. Satterfield’s blog today. It’s about polygamy making a comeback. Wow, shows the deterioration of the nuclear family – which has been the building block of civilization for two millennia.

    1. Frank Graham

      Yeah, pretty interesting. 😎 And who are the losers and who are the winners. Not kids, that is for sure.

    2. Otto Z. Zuckermann

      Right, and I’m not shocked given the downward tilt of our society, especially as the feminists have taken over and declared all men are both toxic and sexists/racists/homophobes. Men are out. Women are in. That’s the new mantra. May that is why women have been always excluded from any positions of power in the ancient past. They destroy when they are in charge.

      1. British Citizen

        Interesting. Now I’ve not heard the proposition before and maybe you have something there.


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