Case 2 - Pathological Lying, Accusation, And Swindling - A Study In Forensic Psychology

Case 2 - Pathological Lying, Accusation, And Swindling - A Study In Forensic Psychology


Summary: A girl of 19, under partial observation for three years, was during all this time a great mystery. Brought at first to us by her family as being insane because she was such a great liar and unreliable in other ways, we never could find the slightest evidence of aberration. No satisfactory explanation was forthcoming until the remarkable denouement when we learned that the mother, whom we had come to know herself as an extreme falsifier, was not the mother at all. It seems clear that the girl's behavior was largely the result of mental conflict about certain suspected facts, and psychic contagion arising from the world of lies in which she had lived.

Beula D. has been known in several cities and in more than one court as the ``mystery girl.'' She has appeared on the scene in various places, giving a fictitious name and telling elaborate stories of herself which always proved to be without foundation. She ran away from home on several occasions, but except in one instance which we know about, has never been seriously delinquent. We saw her on many occasions and tried to get at the truth of her stories of ill treatment and the like. Investigators found there was unquestionably some truth in her statements, but never from first to last in the many interviews which we had with her was there ever any possibility of separating truth from falsehood.

The girl simply did not seem to know the difference between the two. What was more, we found that the mother presented the same characteristics. She also, by her most curious and complicated fabrications, led even her most rational sympathizers into a bewildering maze. A woman of magnificent presence, tremendous will, and good intelligence, she nevertheless was soon found to be absolutely unreliable in her statements. This woman's numerous inventions, so far as we have been able to ascertain, have been quite beside the mark of any possible advantage to be gained by her or her family. Naturally we here thought heredity played an important role, until our final discovery that the two were not related. The details which we know about this case would cover scores of pages. In summary it stands as follows:

On the physical side Beula at 17 was a striking looking young woman, but of very poor development. She was only 4 ft. 7 in. in height and weighed 102 lbs. Expression was quiet, pleasant, and responsive. Unusually clear and pleasant voice. Typical Hutchinsonian teeth. All other examination negative. Menstruation first at 13 1/2, normal and regular.

Notwithstanding the mother's report of her being subnormal mentally, we found that she had fair ability. Her range of information was good. She was always desirous of writing compositions, she wanted to be a story writer, she said, but her diction was very immature and her spelling was poor, making altogether a very mild production. Never did we see any essential incoherency in her mental processes, or any other signs of aberration. A series of association tests given in an endeavor to discover some of the facts which her mother maintained she herself was desirous of knowing (but really could not have been), failed to elicit anything but the most normal reactions, even to ideas about which we considered there must be some feeling-tone.

On the ``Aussage'' Test only ten items were given from the picture upon free recital. On questioning twelve more details were reported correctly, but no less than seven of these alleged facts were incorrect. Only one out of the five suggestions offered was accepted.

No purpose would be served in recounting the details of falsehood which were told by this girl about family affairs, about the places she had worked, about the facts of home treatment, etc. Her lying was not done cleverly, but it served to create much confusion and gave considerable trouble to a number of social agencies that came in contact with the family. Even when she was applying directly for help her lies stood greatly in the way of achieving anything for her. The confusion was vastly added to by the many vagaries of her alleged parent, but, even so, one of the chief accusations of the prevaricating mother was that the girl herself was a terrible liar. The whole situation was rendered completely absurd and needless by the behavior of both the woman and the girl.

After we had known this case for about three years and the truth about Beula's antecedents had come to light as the result of a new person stepping in on the scene, the girl's tendency to falsification seemed quite inexplicable. No one who came to know the circumstances, even as we previously had been acquainted with them, felt they could blame Beula much for her attitude of dissatisfaction and her tendencies to run away. We felt, too, that the mystery which had always hovered about this girl was sufficient to have led her to be fanciful and imaginative and that the fabrications of the self-styled ``mother'' did not form an atmosphere in which the girl could well achieve respect for truth. But Beula's almost confusional state concerning the facts of her family life seemed quite explicable in the light of what we at last ascertained.

Soon after we first saw the girl the woman had told us a most remarkable tale of how it was she happened to be the mother of the child, and the attempt was then made by several to straighten out the apparent doubt in the girl's mind. But it seems that the clever and tragic tale of the mother, although well calculated to do so, did not entirely cover the points remembered by this girl of her earliest childhood. Evidently for a time Beula tried to correlate the two, but doubt grew apace. It seemed almost as if her doubt as to who she was led her to say first one thing and then another. It was particularly at a period of stress of this kind that she was figuring in other cities as the ``mystery girl.''

The earlier facts of the case probably never will be known. Of the many details known by us it is sufficient to say that the woman adopted Beula as a young child and proceeded by devious methods to weave a network of lies about the situation of their relationship. Who Beula's parents really were neither she nor any one else of whom we have heard, ever knew.

Beula showed such delinquent tendencies after a time that she had

to be sent to a corrective institution. After coming out she

made off in the world for herself before we could give her the

information soon afterwards obtained by us. At her last visit we

felt that her report in a terribly tragic mood on the family

conditions was totally unreliable. She went forth to weave, no

doubt, new fabrications.


Early experiences: Peculiar treatment Case 2.

and excessive misrepresentations Girl, age 19 years.

in home circle.

Mental influences: Contagion from long

continued untruthfulness at home.

Mystery of antecedents.

Mental conflict about the above.

Heredity and developmental conditions (?)

Hutchinsonian teeth only clew.

Delinquencies: Mentality:

Lying. Fair ability with

Running away. poor educational

Sex. advantages.


Excerpt From Pathological Lying, Accusation, And Swindling - A Study In Forensic Psychology By William Healy, A.B., M.D