The man of 600 murders: Can we believe our own lies?

P. Riesthuis, H. Ootgaar & G. Bogaard

In the courtroom victims, perpetrators, and witnesses frequently lie for several reasons (e.g., avoid culpability, feelings of shame, or appear innocent). When someone initially lied and then comes forward with the truth, his or her statements can be considered unreliable. However, are these statements truly unreliable? Can lies adversely affect our memory in such a way that we can believe in our own lies? In this article we discuss recent studies that examine the effects of lying on memory. Research in this fi eld has been centered around three types of lies: false denials, feign amnesia, and fabrication. In short, each type of lie affects memory differently. False denials and feigning amnesia typically undermine memory in the form of forgetting while fabrication can provoke false memories.


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In de rechtszaal kunnen slachtoffers, daders, en getuigen dikwijls liegen. Als iemand eerst liegt en naderhand naar voren komt met de waarheid, kunnen de verklaringen van deze persoon als onbetrouwbaar worden gezien. Is dit terecht? Of klopt juist het axioma dat liegen ons geheugen zodanig kan beïnvloeden dat wij in onze eigen leugens gaan geloven? Dat hangt af van welk type leugen er wordt gehanteerd, stellen Paul Riesthuis, Henry Otgaar en Glynis Bogaard.

Op 21 juni 1983 werd Henry Lee Lucas aangeklaagd voor de moorden op twee jonge vrouwen. Hoewel Lucas bekende, verraste hij de rechter door aan te geven dat hij ook andere moorden had gepleegd (Kenner & Oldham, 2019). Al rap bekende Lucas meer dan zeshonderd moorden te hebben gepleegd (Gorney & Taylor, 1985). Er werden echter snel twijfels geuit over de vermeende bekentenissen. Het punt was namelijk dat een aantal bekentenissen bijvoorbeeld fysiek onmogelijk was vanwege onrealistische reisafstanden en tijden tussen de moorden (Lewis, 2010). Lucas had dus een aanzienlijk deel van zijn bekentenissen gefabuleerd.

Lucas trok naderhand een aantal van zijn bekentenissen in. Hij verklaarde dat hij die bekentenissen had gegeven om de politie te plezieren. Tevens had DNA-bewijs aangetoond dat Lucas bij een twintigtal moorden niet betrokken kon zijn (Kenner & Oldham, 2019). Maar hoe zat het met die andere bekentenissen? Was Lucas langzamerhand gaan geloven dat die bekentenissen authentiek waren? Is het mogelijk dat leugens verraderlijk zijn voor ons geheugen?

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