So you’ve got yourself a notepad, a comically large magnifying glass, and maybe even a dog with unusual intelligence. You think you’re ready to be a kid sleuth?
Think again, maggot.
You are not a detective. You’re filth. You’re less than filth. You’re nothing. You couldn’t sleuth your way out of a piss-soaked paper bag if you had a trail of footprints to show the way. I bet you’re the kind of sleuth who would investigate a villain in the spooky woods and not even have the goddamn common courtesy to give him a chiding speech.
That changes today. If you finish this article, if you survive sleuth training, you will be a weapon. You will be a master of snooping, praying for mystery. You will not like me. But the more you hate me, the more you will learn. I am hard but I am fair. There is no genre bigotry here. I do not look down on bookworms, adventurers, tech geeks, or the extremely nearsighted. To me, you are all equally worthless.
Let’s begin with knots...
Learn how to tie good ones, because slipped knots are the number one cause of death for kid detectives. If you can’t tie a villain up nice and tight, you might as well hand them your magnifying glass right then and there.
And learn to tie bad knots convincingly, too. You have no idea how often you’ll need the villain to think they’ve escaped on their own, when actually it was your plan all along. But if you accidentally tie a knot they can't get out of, you're screwed.
Oh, and learn how to untie common knots with your teeth. Seriously, this will come up about three times a week.
Don’t Flounce the Landing
"Do you have a warrant for this snooping, Ms. Drew?"
How many times has this happened to you? You’ve just unmasked the bad guy. Snared in his own web of deceit, he goes into a rambling, unprompted monologue in which he ruefully confesses every detail of his crime. But then he gets a lawyer, pleads not guilty at trial, your testimony about his confession is declared inadmissible hearsay, and the case is summarily dismissed.
Don’t be embarrassed. This has happened to every kid sleuth from time to time. In fact, anytime you hear a sleuthing story that ends abruptly at, “and we got him to confess,” you can bet the bad guy either got off entirely or pleaded down to time served and 500 hours of community service. He’s probably out there right now, on the side of the highway in an orange vest, imagining a kid sleuth’s face on every Big Mac wrapper he skewers.
So how do we avoid this?
For one, tape the confession, starting from the moment you pull off the villain's mask. Juries love a good dis-masking, and the perp will find it hard to change his tune when the prosecution has the first verse on tape.
Ernesto Miranda was a Secret Yeti
But even a taped confession may be ruled inadmissible, on the grounds that the villain wasn’t aware of his or her Miranda rights. This one’s easy. Write them down and read them to the villain, before they start spilling their guts.
Carmen Too, I Think
Even if the tape is played for the jury, and especially in light of the fantastic knots you surely used to tie up the villain, the judge—wary of false confessions—may require corroborating evidence. It’s a legal principle called “corpus delecti” or “tasty dead body,” due to its origins in zombie caselaw. Because, seriously, try getting a fair trial when you’re a zombie.
Also, to be admissible, a confession must typically be made voluntarily. This has several implications where kid sleuths are concerned. First of all, while tying the villain up is permissible, you cannot hurt or coerce them in any way while getting their confession. This shouldn’t be a problem, because the villains you’ll run into are strangely eager to detail their crimes once exposed, but too many kid sleuths try to show off by making threats, and thereby ruin their confessions. Don’t fall into this trap.
The second major issue with voluntary confessions is that they must be given while of sound and rational mind. This is the thorniest problem you’ll face as a kid sleuth, because it’s hard to establish rationality when the defendant was apprehended while wearing a fluorescent ghost-pirate costume.
You can never really be rid of this problem, but you can minimize it. When you ask questions, make sure to emphasize the goals of their wicked plan, and not the individual components. Judges can find sound minded rationality in an intricate real estate scam involving straw buyers and stock manipulation through poisoned investor expectations. Not so much when we’re talking about chasing people around in a ghost costume and projecting a sea monster onto a fog bank.
I Got a Message From Johnny Tightlips. Actually, No I Don’t.
Above all, never count on a confession.
In the United States, and even in many lesser countries, the accused are not required to testify against themselves, let alone provide a detailed confession. The villain you just caught is entirely within his rights to say nothing at all. Even if you lay his entire plan out in front of him, he can just shrug and ask for a lawyer.
But you’re not going to panic, are you? You’re ready for this, because you documented the physical evidence, wrote down all the clues, and you're ready to make a compelling narrative of events which tells the story almost as well as the perp himself could.
The most important thing to remember is that you could be called to the stand, so make sure you and your dog get your stories straight before testifying.
The Thin Blue Strike Zone at the Idiot-Ball Batting Cage
Always remember that professional investigators will be stunningly unprepared to help with any investigation you find yourself in. No one knows why the real detectives in your home town are so incompetent, or how they manage to keep their jobs when no one can remember them ever actually solving a case. And yet, if you ever point this out while trying to get them to listen to you, it’ll be you that’s the asshole.
Yeah, life isn’t fair.