Scripts

manuscript: B n 1: A book, document, etc. written by hand; 2: A person’s (style of) handwriting

script: n 5c Psychol. The social role or behavior appropriate to particular situations that an individual absorbs through cultural influences and association with others. The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary


There is no description of the crime and what [Duane Frye] saw. Captain Moomaw stated that his opinion is that this information was omitted because the author already knew the questions and answers. Progress Report by Investigator Bruce Isaacson, 2005


Shortly after he found Betty’s body in 1973, Duane gave the cops a written statement. It is printed but barely legible, contains three sets of parentheses, and is riddled with cross-outs, misspellings and inserts. It refers to Betty as “my wife”, and his sons as “oldest” and “younger”. The only person named is daughter Lynn, spelled as both “Marilyn” and “Merilynn”. 

Duane’s statement is 26 lines. Seven lines recite his pre-Boulder itinerary. (Chevron to check on his car, Safeway to buy charcoal lighter fluid, the liquor store for a six-pack, Cinderella City “to get some sunglasses because I had forgotten mine. I discovered [crossed out and changed to ‘didn’t’] miss them until I got to Hampden”.) The next six lines recount his visits to the karate studio and Doug’s and my flat, and the following nine are checking out wedding banquet rooms, having a snack at the Pancake House, and dropping Lynn off at her apartment in Boulder. The statement ends with, “We then drove home where we found my wife & called the neighbors who immediately called the sherrifs. We arrived a little after 5:00 P.M.”

In 2005, the cold case cops gave Duane’s statement to their in-house expert, Brice Moomaw. Moomaw wasn’t concerned with where Duane said he went or how many cross-outs, misspellings or parentheticals he used. He focused on how balanced the statement was. To Moomaw, truthful statements devoted roughly equal space to before, during and after the key event of discovering Betty’s body. (Others think the ratio should be 20-60-20.) Deceptive statements tend to spend the fewest words on the key event and relegate it to the end. 

Moomaw broke Duane’s 26 lines into three chronological sections. The first 24 lines dealt with what happened before Duane found Betty. Five words described what happened when he found her. Two lines said what happened after. Moomaw diagrammed the key sentence:

↑ [Before] “We then drove home / where we found my wife [During] / & called the neighbors who immediately called the sheriffs.” → [After]

Duane devoted almost his entire statement to before he found Betty and two lines to after. The key event—discovering his wife’s body—was five words sandwiched between before and after clauses in the next to last sentence. He said nothing about how he found Betty, where she was, or what he saw. To Moomaw, the statement wasn’t just deceptive. It was cold. 

But Duane devoted 26 words—more than any other part of his alibi—to replacing his sunglasses. He changed “discovered” to “didn’t” and specified when and where he realized his sunglasses were missing. Cops found a pair of clip-on Raybans in a garbage barrel at the crime scene, apparently dropped by the killer while he was filling it with loot. On that white hot day, Duane needed his shades.

Forensics have come a long way since 1973 and 2005. In 2019, text analyst Wendell Rudacille offered to put Duane’s statement under his psycholinguistic lens. 

Which matters most: words, how they are used, or how balanced a story is?


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