It's elementary, dear investigator

By Mike Evans

Night scene in old street

In this article Mike Evans of the Australian Security Academy explores some time honoured investigation techniques and theories by Author Arthur Conan Doyle, for the Character Sherlock Holmes, and discovers some interesting comparisons with today's investigation teaching methods.

Mike writes:

"In a recent Victorian Investigation training program one of my senior instructors told his students:

"There are no Sherlock Holmes' in the world. Investigation is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. Don't let any one tell you they are master investigators. In investigation work if you don't learn something new everyday you are not doing it properly."

The instructor had investigated crimes including murders and major frauds over a career spanning 27 years in Victoria. I must say I agreed with him, fictional stereotypes with condensed 60 minute TV or 100 page Paper Back solutions do not exist in the real investigation world. It made me wonder what other interesting comparisons may be drawn from the "Holmes " example that senior instructors have said in the Academy's training? I found the answer was full of significant and valuable contemporary learning comparisons which could be described as: Elementary dear reader!"

On an open mind about facts
"It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts." Sherlock Holmes A Scandal in Bohemia

"To catch these fraudsters - how do you think? You think like them.
Think and keep an open mind. Sometimes you might get tunnel vision; I have done it myself. Don't make things out of one fact, don't make five facts out of one thing." Peter Spence Tasmanian Fraud Control Conference 2004

On details and trifles
"You know my method. It is founded upon the observation of trifles." Sherlock Holmes The Boscombe Valley Mystery

The very first lie demands an investigation.
When a person lies to you; go deeper, go to a new level, go harder.
Play dumb and take notes - they will hang themselves on the details they give you. Russell Ames Suncorp Metway Seminar June 2004

On Evidence
"It is a capital mistake to theorize before you have all the evidence. It biases the judgment." Sherlock Holmes a Scandal in Bohemia

 "Put all your evidence in and let the court decide.
It is difficult to predict how or where the evidence will be used in the future. Bringing it down to its most basic - evidence is logical." Patrick Flynn PWC Seminar September 2005

On investigating the obvious
"There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact". Sherlock Holmes The Boscombe Valley Mystery

"People do admit to things they did not do, thus - A confession is a good start to an investigation." Peter Spence:  Suncorp Metway Seminar Brisbane September 2004

On the little things
"It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important". Sherlock Holmes A Case of Identity

"A failure to seek is a failure to find, the most minute detail can be very relevant. A failure to ask is a failure to proceed." Anthony Hodgkinson Korean Conference Melbourne October 2004

On scene inspections
"You see, but you do not observe." Sherlock Holmes a Scandal in Bohemia

"The most important thing you can do is observe, and take notes.
What can you see?" Peter Spence Korean Conference Melbourne October 2004

On common investigations
"It is a mistake to confound strangeness with mystery. The most commonplace crime is often the most mysterious, because it presents no new or special features from which deductions may be drawn." Sherlock Holmes A study in Scarlet

"Regarding motor vehicle accidents, as the term "crashes" indicates they are seldom accidents and fault can usually be found with someone or something." Michelle Atkins Queensland Fire and Rescue Conference June 2004

On facts and relevance
"It is of the highest importance in the art of detection to be able to recognize out of a number of facts which are incidental and which vital. Otherwise your energy and attention must be dissipated instead of being concentrated." Sherlock Holmes The Reigate Puzzle

 "Always keep in mind that information gained must be relevant, admissible and legally obtained to be of any investigative value." Anthony Hodgkinson Suncorp Metway Conference Brisbane September 2004

On evidence
"There is nothing like first-hand evidence". Sherlock Holmes A Study in Scarlet

What is evidence? It comes down to issues that need proving.
Substandard evidence in an escalated court matter is not acceptable in court. The better the evidence the greater the chance of success. Patrick Flynn Government Brisbane Conference June 2005

On ex servants & spouses
"There are no better instruments than discharged servants with a grievance, and I was lucky enough to find one " Sherlock Holmes The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge

"Seek out and find the ex wife, ex husband or ex employee, if you can locate those people you have a wealth of relevant information provided to you." Noel Leigh Department of Emergency Services Conference Brisbane February 2003

On discovering the truth
'What one man can invent, another can discover.' Sherlock Holmes The Adventure of the Dancing Men

"Say "I want to talk with you," indicates "lets talk about it" Talk to you "Indicates fraud" Invite the person to part of the conversation. People will tell you just about anything if you make them feel comfortable, get used to letting them finish, establish a rapport by saying, "What happened then?" Use How, what, when, where, why, who. People who are being deceptive can't think fast enough to answer." Ron Davis Fraud Control Conference Melbourne July 2005

On emotion in investigations
Detection is, or ought to be, an exact science and should be treated in the same cold and unemotional manner. Sherlock Holmes The Sign of the Four

Get emotion out of it; look to see if the language changes from "I" to "We", in the crucial description of the circumstances. Russell Ames Suncorp Metway Conference Brisbane June 2004

On danger
It is stupidity rather than courage to refuse to recognize danger when it is close upon you. Sherlock Holmes The Final Problem

When attending the scene of an accident (at the time of the accident and or sometimes after) it is important to be aware of potential dangers to yourself and others.  Do not rush in without thinking, stop and look for obvious dangers, it is far better to wait a few seconds and avoid becoming a casualty yourself.  Michelle Atkins Queensland Fire and Rescue Conference June 2004

On challenges
There is nothing more stimulating than a case where everything goes against you. Sherlock Holmes The Hound of the Baskerville's

"The reason we get an investigation is because it is too complex for the claims manager or legal representative to sort out by correspondence or over the phone, consequently what we are asked to do will mostly be of a challenging nature. Thrive on this, don't think you can't do it because you can!" Mike Evans every opening address at an investigation conference since 2000

Did you confirm something you already knew or learn something? Want more?

Mike Evans is a prolific writer of investigation training articles you can receive his most relevant and informative articles for free. Just contact Mike via his website and ask.



We support

We support

Donate to Amnesty International