The Case of Wooden-Legged Michael Sams and His Victim's Cognitive Interview
On January 22, 1992, real estate agent Stephanie Slater arranged to show property to a prospective client in Birmingham, England. But Michael Sams was no client. At the rundown house, he put a knife to Slater's throat, forced her into his car, and drove her to a remote warehouse where he held her, handcuffed, blindfolded, and gagged for eight days. Though Sams had killed before, this time he released his victim after receiving ransom money from Slater's manager.
Now the police had a single eyewitness to the crime—the victim—and needed to find her kidnapper. Through careful questioning that included context reinstatement, Slater was able to recall that during captivity she heard nearby trains and an old telephone ring. She described the smell of the kidnapper's clothes. And she recalled the feel of walking across cobblestones. Sparse though these details were, they allowed police to piece together a physical description of her attacker and trace the place of her confinement. After releasing this information to the public they received hundreds of tips, including one that led to Michael Sams, a wooden-legged criminal who had kidnapped and murdered a sex worker the previous year. This case was a landmark application of the principles of cognitive interviewing.
CRITICAL THOUGHT QUESTION
For what reasons would Slater have been able to remember more when questioned via the cognitive interview than a standard police interview?