When a cable-news show host asks whether a particular character should be a suspect in a crime we're discussing, I talk about behavior, traits, or circumstances that might draw the attention of police. Sometimes I get mail from people who believe someone I or the police have named as a possible suspect is being unfairly targeted. Others want to know why I don't jump to name someone they're sure committed the crime. And sometimes I'm just playing devil's advocate when I see red flags being ignored or getting too much attention.
Red flags -- certain behaviors or traits of a person or the circumstances surrounding them, are just that: indicators that the person should be looked at more carefully as a potential suspect in a crime, but not considered guilty unless other evidence supports the accusation and the accusation is proven in court.
Four cases come to mind as examples in this class of How to Become a Suspect 101: The Quantico Marine case of 1983, the bizarre Madeline McCann case, the Haleigh Cummings saga, and the recent Balloon Boy case.
Bad Luck:This is the No. 1 issue that will get you in trouble and connect you to a crime, whether the bad luck just happened to you or you created it by actually being the perpetrator. Richard and Miyumi Heene called 911 in a panic because their six-year-old son, Falcon, was supposedly aloft in a balloon Richard made, drifting across the skies in a silvery flying saucer-shaped airship. Later, the child was found to be hiding in the house and ignoring the shouts of searchers. The police say they are filing charges because the spectacle was a publicity stunt and the child was never in the balloon.
The incident occurred at the Heene residence. There was no one around but the family, and the balloon belonged to them. Either the kid was being a naughty boy and the parents got in trouble because of him, or the parents are lying.
Cpl. Lindsey Scott was in investigations at Quantico Marine Base (book about his ordeal available at Amazon) at the time a young woman was raped and her throat cut. His bad luck: the victim described her attacker to a sketch artist and when the drawing was complete, Lindsey Scott's workmates said, "Wow! That looks just like Scotty!" Scott also drove a gold Buick; although it didn't have the white top the girl saw on her attacker's car, it was still the color and make she described.
When Haleigh Cummings (on left below with the various suspects) and Madelaine McCann went missing, they disappeared from locations where their parents were supposed to be. Misty Croslin, Ronald Cummings's underage girlfriend who watched his kids while he worked, claims she was asleep when someone came into the house and snatched the child from the bedroom she shared with the children. Maddy McCann supposedly was taken while her parents left the child alone with her younger siblings and went off drinking at the resort restaurant.
In all these cases, particular individuals are now linked with each crime. These persons-of-interest could have been involved.
Okay, so they could have done it, but did they? Do they have alibis which will clear them? Lindsey Scott admits he wasn't at home when the victim linked to him was attacked. Scott was out and about, going back to his recently vacated apartment to clean an oven (no one saw him) and looking for a foot bath to buy for his pregnant wife (no one really remembers seeing him in the store).
Misty Croslin claims she was sleeping, which isn't much of an alibi; Ronald Cummings claims he was at work, but there is no proof the crime couldn't have been committed before he went to work.
The McCanns (pictured left with Madeleine in the red circle) were the last people to be with their daughter before they supposedly left her unattended and available to be taken from their room at the resort. The Heenes were home with their children when the boy supposedly climbed into the balloon, or the boy pretended he went up in a balloon and hid in the house. No one has a particularly good alibi.
The Heenes are publicity seekers who have already done one reality-TV show: an episode of "Wife Swap." Richard Heene, who met his wife in acting school, was pitching producers for a new show for his family just before the balloon incident, suggesting he might have been trying to get attention. But Heene has behaved so bizarrely in raising his children -- chasing tornadoes with them and letting them be extremely adventurous and curious -- that on this particular day maybe the kids just outdid themselves.
Misty likes to use drugs and party. She hooks up with an older man, Ronald Cummings, and plays Mommy to his two little children. Cummings has a questionable history of drug involvement and a controlling nature. So it's easy to think Misty may have been out partying, the child ingested drugs, or Misty might be covering for Ronald if he beat the child to death before he went to work.
The McCanns left their three children alone in a hotel room so the couple could have fun. Automatically this awakens suspicious of what else they would do, such as give the kids prescription medicine (both parents are physicians) to make them sleep while the parents were away.
Lindsey Scott is the only one who doesn't have any questionable past behaviors.
The Heenes were more than eager to do television appearances. Richard Heene said, "Wow!" and then hung his head when his son Falcon blurted out on "The Today Show" that he hid because "They were doing a show." No longer so hungry for the public eye, Heene became angry at the cable networks for asking questions and insisted all future questions be in writing.
The McCanns never showed remorse for leaving their children unattended. They dressed nicely every day and continued normal routines such as jogging. Kate McCann said she never had problems sleeping after Maddy "was taken."
Misty Croslin couldn't keep her story straight about the night Haleigh went missing. Ronald Cummings boldly told reporters he has never been involved in drugs despite his long list of drug arrests. Ron and Misty married soon after Haleigh went missing, as if this were a time to celebrate. No one can tell me they had to get married at that time: they were already living together, so the sanctity of marriage doesn't seem to be an issue.
Lindsey Scott's behavior remained credible after the crime.
The Heenes will be charged with more than one crime, possibly including contributing to the delinquency of a minor and making a false police report. I will be curious what actual proof police have that the balloon episode was a hoax. Richard Heene's behavior sure looks squirrelly, and the kid rather outed him (As Art Linkletter said, "Kids say the darndest things."), but Falcon may not have meant what he said exactly as it sounded. That's why police must have more evidence: conflicting stories, something on the computer, maybe even notes detailing a "story" of a little boy going off in a flying saucer balloon.
Neither the McCanns nor the Croslin/Cummings duo have been charged with any crimes, yet no evidence in either case points to abduction by a stranger. Because the parents have no alibis and their behavior is questionable, both in the past and after the crime, they remain suspects to some degree. So until evidence shows up to convict them or someone else, we will have to continue to wonder about their guilt.
Poor Lindsey Scott. He got convicted of the crime and spent four years in Fort Leavenworth until he got an appeal and was freed for lack of evidence. Truly, he got a bad deal. He became a suspect because the victim's info matched him and his car and because he couldn't account for his time. Nothing was questionable about his behavior and no physical evidence linked him to the crime. Since his release, another suspect has come into view: he is a drop dead look-alike to Scott, he was driving a gold Buick with a white top during the time of the crime, and he had a cousin who maintained the usually locked area on the base where the victim was taken.
I don't have a problem with the Heenes, the McCanns, or Misty Croslin and Ronald Cummings being suspects; they should be. However, the investigation of Lindsey Scott should have been downplayed until there was more evidence that made him look a whole lot worse. Of course, none should be convicted without substantial evidence proving that they, and only they, could have committed the crime.
Some say the possible involvement of these people shouldn't even be discussed, because we are in effect convicting them without a trial in the court of public opinion. This is ridiculous; we can't convict someone with an opinion or a speculation. Of course, we must be careful not to slander or libel someone by making claims about the person (creating "facts" that do not exist based on guesswork) or stating they are guilty instead of hypothesizing that they might be guilty. People are responsible for their behavior, and it's not illegal for someone to discuss it in public, (even if it is somewhat gossipy). We all make choices in our lives, and our choices follow us. If they lead the public and the police into suspecting we are involved in a crime, we are responsible.
Good behavior won't always protect us (look at Lindsey Scott's unfortunate incarceration), but it should give us better odds of avoiding becoming a criminal suspect -- and the talk of cable television.
in Women in Crime Ink