Murder at Cabin 28 – The Suspects, Part I

If you are just joining us we’ve been discussing a gruesome quadruple murder that occurred on April 12, 1982 in Keddie, California. Before reading this analysis you may want to first read the story here.

Now, on to the two main suspects.

First up is Martin Smartt. The following is an excerpt of his statement and Mark McClish’s analysis of the words and phrases Smartt used. Mark McClish is a former Supervisory US Marshall with a background as a Secret Service Agent and FBI. He now runs Statement Analysis to assist and/or train law enforcement. You can find his full bio here.

I have not edited this statement because to do so would ruin its authenticity and voice. As you read notice the language Smartt used. By dissecting the conversation between Crim and Bradley (homicide detectives) and Smartt (suspect) we can mimic the dialogue in our stories. Like I said in my previous post, this is gold for a crime writer, or anyone else who has murder plots in their stories.

I’ve put the interview in color to help separate the analysis from the actual statement.

Here we go…

In this portion of his interview, he [Martin Smartt] is describing seeing an unusual man in the bar the night the murders took place.

Smartt: O.K., we left our house about 10:00, my wife, myself and John and ah, we kept, we were around the bar until about 1:00, like I say it wasn’t real crowded but it was You know, fairly crowded that night, and it was, I didn’t really notice anything unusual except for one pers– one individual came in about oh, I’d say 10:30 or 11:00 that I’d never seen before and nearly the rest of the people you know.

Smartt: But you live here awhile and you see ’em. I used to work in the restaurant here and I become familiar with a lot of the customers and that one individual you know, just the way he carried himself, he looked like trouble. He looked out of place for that type of establishment, is what I mean. He was in a t-shirt and Levi’s and wearing a buck knife, extremely long hair.

Smartt: Ya, like I say about 5′ 7″, 5′ 8, extremely long hair, it was tied in a pony tail and the individual didn’t look like he belonged in the Back Door Lounge, ya know, it wasn’t the type of clientele that they cater to, but he left shortly thereafter. He walked down, sat at the bar where we were, well we went back into the little dance area and went back out and left. As far as I know I didn’t see, notice the guy again. That’s the only person I saw that looked unusual, you know, out of place that night.

There are no synonyms in Statement Analysis. Every word has a different meaning if only slightly different. A truthful person’s language will remain consistent through out his statement. For example, if a person views a firearm as a “gun” he will always call it a “gun.” He will not refer to it as a “pistol” because to him it is a “gun.” When there is a change in language, it is an indication of deception unless there is a justifiable reason for the change. Perhaps when the gun is fired it now becomes a “pistol.”

Smartt used three different words to describe the unusual man he saw in the bar: “individual,” “guy” and “person.” It is unlikely there is a justification for using three different words to refer to a man in a bar. This is an indication Smartt is making up the story about seeing the unusual man.

In describing the unusual man, Smartt states the man had a, “Mustache, dark heavy mustache, and his hair was dark brown and of course it was dark in there, I couldn’t, I didn’t, pay enough attention to him to get a lot of description but I did know he had a mustache but no beard.”

When people use the phrase “of course” they often want us to take for granted what they are saying is the truth. However, we take nothing for granted and only believe what people tell us.

Smartt states, “I couldn’t” as if he was going to say, “I couldn’t tell…” He then changed his statement to, “I didn’t.” There is a reason why he changed his language. Perhaps he could tell what the man looked like. Perhaps the man did not exist which caused him to change his language.

He states, “I did know he had a mustache but no beard.” He uses the wrong verb tense. He should have stated “I do know” because at the time of the interview he would have still known this.

Smartt: Ya, in the area, should be a street light in there, I didn’t notice but I thought it was awful dark in the area. But ah, like I say, we were involved in a conversation and we really didn’t pay any attention.

People use the word “really” to add emphasis and bolster their statement. However, this word weakens the statement. “We didn’t pay any attention” is a good definitive statement. By using the word “really” Smartt is telling us they did pay some attention to what was going on.

Smartt: And likewise, when we came back it was oh, ten minutes later, we had enough time to take off our, we were wearing three pieces, so we had enough time to take off our jacket and vest and then put our jackets back on, came back down and ah, once again, we were in conversation, I can’t think of anything at all during that period, we came back down, that was out of place.

The shortest sentence is the best sentence. Extra words give us extra information. The words “at all” are not needed for us, the reader, but Smartt needed to add them to his statement. These words are usually used to get us to believe what the person is saying is true.

In talking about leaving the bar after it closed, Smartt stated, “We had about enough time to drink one drink, which, about a half hour, must have been, oh, I’d say 1:45 when we left there and started back up. And, again, cuttin up jackpots and talking.”

The word “started” means the act was interrupted or never completed. When he said he left the bar the first time, he stated, “Then we walked back home.” That is what he should have said this second time he left the bar, “We left and walked back up.” The use of the word “started” is a strong indication they did something else before they went home.

After getting home, Smartt states, “I went to bed about ten after two. After, well, we keep the medicine put up because of the kids, I had to get John’s medicine out, and I gave him two phenobarbitals, and a delantin, two phenobarbitals and two delantins, to go to bed on. That’s what the doctor prescribed.”

The word “after” means Smartt has skipped over something in his story. He wants us to believe he went to bed after he gave John his medicine. However, never specifically states that. His language tells us he went to bed after doing something.

Crim: Then you went to bed.

Smartt: Then I went to bed and woke up again around 3:00, stoke the fire.

Crim: Nothing unusual woke you up, you just…

Smartt: Matter of habit. I always wake up around 3:00 or 3:30, stoke the fire. I got up, ya know, checked the house, and ah, stoked the fire, and ah, matter of fact, I opened the door and went outside and got a piece of wood, came back in, I didn’t notice anything.

Crim: Just nice and quiet?

Smartt: Quiet, as a matter a fact, usually about that time, a train is going by, I didn’t notice the train, then go to sleep. Very peaceful and quiet. I can’t think of anything.

Although Smartt does tell us that after giving John his medicine he went to bed, it appears this was suggested to him. The transcription shows Crim making a statement and not asking a question. Even if it was formed as a question, it would be a suggestive question.

When deceptive people have to come up with a number, they often choose the number three. The appearance of the number three (3:00 or 3:30) does not mean the person is lying but it is an indication of deception.

It is interesting that he tells us that he went outside in the early morning hours. He places himself outside of his cabin.

He said he did not notice the train go by which usually goes by at that time. Did he not notice it because he was in Cabin 28 committing the murders?

The word “then” is usually used to transition from one thought to another thought. Deceptive people will use this word to skip over something in their story. This is because the word can mean “immediately” or “soon afterward.” If it is used as “soon afterward,” we have some missing information.

“Go to sleep” is missing a subject. He did not use the pronoun “I” to tell us that he went to sleep. Also, this phrase is in the present tense. It should be, “I went to sleep.” The use of present tense language is an indication the story is not coming from memory but the person is presently constructing their story.

The sentence, “I can’t think of anything” sounds as if it is an afterthought.

This portion of his statement shows a lot of deception.

Bradley: Was your wife still in the sack when you got back? In bed?

Smartt: Yeah, when I got home she was just gone, slept right through.

In Boubede’s interview, we find the following:

Bradley: When you got back to the house, was Marilyn up or in bed or what?

Boubede: No, she was up.

Smartt says his wife was in bed when he and Boubede returned from the bar. Boubede states she was up.

Smartt states that his wife “slept right through.” What did she sleep through? It does not make sense he is referring to him giving John medicine. The implication is she slept through some type of incident such as the murders. His language indicates she slept through it but he did not. This means he was awake when the murders were committed.

Smartt had a 12 year old step-son named Justin who was sleeping in Cabin 28 the night the murders took place. He and two other boys were in another room. They were unharmed and slept through the night. In talking about the possibility that Justin witnessed the murders, Smartt states,“He is quiet enough to where he could have noticed something without me detecting him.”

The murders allegedly occurred in the early morning hours while Smartt was asleep. Since Justin was sleeping in Cabin 28, there is the possibility that Justin woke up and heard or saw something in regards to the murders. Since Smartt was still asleep, we would expect him to say that Justin may have “noticed something without me knowing it.” By saying, “without me detecting him” implies that Smartt was awake and suggests that he participated in the murders. He did not notice that Justin had detected him.

Smartt: Ah, I don’t know, I’d like to see the hammer; I’ve been in Sue’s house. The only hammer I ever knew that come out of there was a wooden handled one. Ah, my hammer is missing.

The victims were struck with a hammer. I don’t know if the hammer used in the murders was ever proven to be Smartt’s missing hammer. However, it is odd perhaps coincidental that he mentions his hammer is missing.

In talking about the missing hammer, Smartt states, “I haven’t noticed it layin about, so we can’t, I thought of that this morning, ya know, cause this guy come right by my house, ya know, geez if that was true, he would have picked up my hammer, why in hell not my hatchet, a lot better.

The word “this” indicates specificity but it also shows closeness. He could have stated, “the guy” which would distance himself from the killer. Instead, he used a word that brings him close to the killer.

Based on his language, there is a strong indication that Martin Smartt was involved in the murders that took place in Cabin 28.

Stay tuned for part II, when we read the analysis from the other main suspect, John “Bo” Boubede.


22 thoughts on “Murder at Cabin 28 – The Suspects, Part I

  1. Pingback: Cabin 28 Murders – Witness or Dream? | Crime Fiction Writer Sue Coletta

  2. Extremely interesting analysis. I always tend to notice body language more than voice inflection and word choice, and just assumed that detectives relied on that too when questioning someone. It really is amazing the multi-faceted dissection that goes into detective work. An intriguing series of posts, Sue. Can’t wait to see the next one!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I don’t know how I missed post number one, but I went back and read it. This kind of stuff keeps me awake at night. I’ve been so wrapped up in my own projects that it must have slipped past me. You ought to take a statement analysis class. They aren’t hard to find, and I think there are even some online versions. It’s really amazing stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is really interesting, Sue. Smartt’s changing terms and tenses certainly indicates deception. Something I find suspicious is his reference to the weapons. Without knowing how the investigation was conducted or having the entirety of the statement, I find it interesting that Smartt knew a hammer was involved.

    A very basic principle of homicide investigation is to guard key-fact or ‘hold-back’ information that is only known to the perpetrator and a tight circle of investigators and it’s usually the murder weapon(s). Additionally, Smartt’s description of the individual / guy / person has him packing a Buck knife. Hmmm… I’m smelling BS and looking forward to the next post 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good catch, Garry! How would he know? I also found it interesting that he immediately stated his hammer was missing. Did he really think that would be an acceptable excuse? I mean, come on!


      • That struck me too, that he offered information about his own hammer being missing. Had the man never watched a crime show? Clearly he didn’t think about the fact that offering that kind of info makes him look suspicious.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Something tells me he wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer. 🙂 It’s funny how guilt makes you say and do stupid things. Clearly, he felt guilty about something. What sickens me is that his son was in the next room.


  5. I love statement analysis, and have had many hours of training in it personally. Have your expert go back to the bar and assess the word “left.” This almost always indicates a stressful situation. Under normal circumstances, we “go” somewhere else. Something unpleasant happened in the bar prior to the murder. There could be a witness somewhere.

    It’s interesting the way he refers to the long haired man. At one point he even uses “it.”

    It find it interesting that he had to drug the kid that night too. Is this to eliminate a potential witness? What do those drugs actually do, and were they the prescribed dosage? This part has nothing to do with statement analysis and is just me being nosy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • This case happened thirty years ago so finding a witness now would be nearly impossible, but I also found “the man” interesting, as if there was some sort of altercation earlier in the night. Phenobarbitol is used to control seizure disorder, but the other drug I have no idea. How sick, if Smartt was truly involved, that he committed this brutal act with his own son in the next room. I’m glad he’s dead. Did you read the story from the earlier post? The victims were ruthlessly slaughtered.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. The language and body movement learned in psychology comes in handy for writing. Hands placed near the mouth or face often indicate a lie also. Word choice is almost always subconscious. Watching the direction of the eye movement (say down and to the right) when you ask a person a question with a known true answer and then having them deflect their eyes (up and to the left) when lying is tell-tale. So much we really have minimal control over unless we’re aware and make a conscious, concerted effort to control. Fascinating stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This is absolutely fascinating, Sue! People are often not aware of the way their choice of words reveals things about them. But it does. Research on language use shows pretty clearly (at least for me) that unconscious speech style and word choice are fairly good reflections of a person’s thinking. That is, this guy-individual-person might not even have been aware of what he was giving away. The other thing that strikes me is that the more skilled a liar you have (and some people are really excellent liars) the less you see of this sort of word choice. But you still do see it if you look carefully. I think sometimes detectives have to know quite a bit about language use.

    Liked by 1 person

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