The “Mr. Big” technique is a tactic used by some law enforcement officials to attempt to coax a confession from suspects in a criminal case – often murder-related.
The technique has proven to be highly-controversial, and has gained new-found interest in recent years, due to its role in many documentaries, among them Netflix’s “The Confession Tapes”.
At its simplest, the technique uses a fuctional criminal organisation to gain the trust of a target/suspect, before carefully trying to elicit a confession from them.
Ethical concerns, entrapment and exploitation are all among the areas that have led to this technique to attract controversy.
In most cases where the “Mr. Big” technique is used, the Police or law enforcement officials that are investigating a case will have a clear prime suspect.
Crucially though, the investigators will lack enough evidence to make an arrest. But they are so sure of that person’s guilt, that they believe any means to achieve a conviction can be justified.
The Mr. Big technique does have an impressive conviction rate, though the means of securing this conviction have been criticised.
The technique was created by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police during the 1990s, and has largely only been used in Canada, though variants exist that are used in other nations.
How does the Mr. Big technique work?
The Mr. Big technique has been called an ‘elaborate sting operation’.
As mentioned above, the technique usually begins with a case that the Police have a suspect for, but only have limited or even no evidence to support their hypothesis.
For a few weeks, the Police place the suspect under surveillance – trying to learn everything they can about him/her.
Then, the Police develop a scenario which sees an undercover officer interact with the suspect – with the impression given that it is a chance meeting.
During the meeting, the officer will strike up a friendship with the suspect, and normally pay them a fee for some sort of favour, such as a short car journey.
Contact is kept between the two, and eventually more tasks are requested, resulting in further money being paid to the prime suspect – who remains unaware throughout the process.
The impression is given to the suspect that he is working for a criminal organisation, which he is gradually exposed to over time.
This is achieved by the suspect seeing “criminal” activities taking place, such as document forging, large quantities of cash being counted, or talk of gang hits.
Once the suspect has supposedly earned the trust of the group, he is introduced to the leader of the criminal organisation – “Mr. Big”. The suspect is unaware that Mr. Big isn’t a criminal, but actually a highly-skilled and experienced Police interrogator.
Upon meeting, Mr. Big tells the suspect that the group have recently received incriminating evidence or information about them.
This supposed incriminating evidence relates to the recent crime case that the Police are investigating. This situation apparently puts the entire gang in danger, meaning Mr. Big – as criminal enterprise leader – needs answers from the suspect as to what happened.
Mr. Big will typically tell the suspect that the gang can exert its influence on the case by utilising a “mole” in the Police, or that the gang have another way of making key evidence in the suspect’s case disappear.
Eventually, the skilled interrogator tries to secure a confession from the suspect – usually through endless and often aggressive questioning.
All meetings and conversations are recorded on camera, and in the majority of occasions, a confession is secured. As soon as the suspect confesses, the Police swoop and arrest the suspect.
If the Police are unable to obtain a confession and start to believe that the suspect is innocent, the entire criminal gang will suddenly disappear.
Criticism of the Mr. Big technique
Clearly, there are problems with this technique. The technique normally preys on an individual who as a result of their association with a crime, is unable to secure any employment.
Therefore, when they are paid well by the fictitious crime organisation – all of their problems appear to be solved. To keep this up, the suspect might make a confession to try and “fit in” with the gang.
Those who have fallen to the sting operation often say they were put into a position where they were forced to confess.
Other criticisms revolve around the ethical issue of an abuse of trust. The Police effectively prey on an individual, earn their trust, and then betray them.
Many confessions obtained from the Mr. Big technique have been considered to be “false”, while some cases have been thrown out of court.
This sort of technique also needs a lot of time and money to make it work. These operations usually last around 9-12 months, and will cost huge amounts to setup. An unsuccessful Mr. Big operation can be a costly failure.
There have been a number of famous cases where the Mr. Big technique has been used. The techniques has been able to secure many convictions.
Fans of Netflix’s “The Confession Tapes” will be familiar with the Rafay Murders – a triple-murder case. Atif Rafay – whose parents and sister were killed, and friend Sebastian Burns – were the Police’s prime sispects.
However, the duo were believed to be at the cinema at the time of the murders, and were seen in numerous places throughout the night in question.
Burns, and later Rafay, were the target of a Mr. Big sting, which eventually secured a confession from both Burns and Rafay.
Strong evidence tied the murders to a terrorist organisation, but despite this, the duo were sentenced to prison – where they remain decades on. Many consider them to be innocent.
Another notorious case involves a man named Andy Rose – who was the Police’s prime suspect in a double-murder case. While on bail, Rose was befriended by investigators posing as gang members, and Rose was eventually introduced to Mr. Big.
Mr. Big promised Rose that the criminal organisation would be able to change the evidence against Rose. Rose – who was an ex-alcoholic – engaged in a heavy drinking session with Mr. Big, with a “confession” eventually secured. Yet two years later, DNA evidence acquitted Rose.
But the technique can work, as seen in the case of a man named Dax Mack – who was a suspect in a murder case.
Within four months of the Mr. Big operation being used, Mack confessed to two murders, and also told Mr. Big where he had burned the bodies.
Human remains were found, along with gun casings – exactly where Mack had told investigators they would be. Mack was subsequently arrested.
The Mr. Big technique is without doubt a controversial tactic used by law enforcement officials. It has a mixed record, the true extent of its success rate remains unknown.
Its ability to elicit a false confession has been criticised, and the case of Andy Rose does appear to have damaged the reputation of the technique.
How effective and ethical the Mr. Big technique is can be questioned – it is simply up to each individual to decide whether or not they find the technique fair and just.