From the archive
II. The Mr. Big Technique: A Noncustodial Interrogation Procedure
Generally reserved for serious cases, a Mr. Big operation involves the use of undercover police officers to lure the suspect into becoming involved in an ostensibly criminal organization. Usually, undercover officers posing as members of a gang befriend the suspect and suggest that he or she join their organization. The undercover officers then involve the suspect in a series of minor crimes, pay the suspect generously for these criminal activities, and often display evidence of wealth (e.g., expensive cars, large rolls of money). Once committed to the organization, the suspect is then “interviewed” for a higher level job in the group and assured that this promotion will produce substantial financial rewards. However, before meeting the organization’s leader (i.e., Mr. Big) and becoming a full-fledged member, the suspect must confess to a serious crime (the one under investigation) for one of several reasons: as a form of “insurance” for the criminal gang, so they have something “on” the suspect if he ever turns against them; so that Mr. Big can draw on his purported influence and connections to make the evidence or “problem” disappear; or both. Undercover officers elicit the confession, which serves as a pivotal piece of evidence against the defendant and usually results in a conviction.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) has indicated that prior to 2004 the Mr. Big technique had been used at least 350 times, with a 75% success rate and a 95% conviction rate (Gardner, 2004). It is unclear how many times it has been used since 2004, but there are no indications it is being used any less than in the past. But one might ask: how does the Mr. Big technique really work? In order to address this, we will describe four relatively recent murder investigations where the Mr. Big technique has been used.
The Mayerthorpe RCMP murders. In March of 2005, James Roszko shot and killed four RCMP officers at his Mayerthorpe, Alberta ranch before turning the gun on himself. Although it was clear he acted alone at the ranch, police were convinced that two of Roszko’s acquaintances, Dennis Cheeseman, and Shawn Hennessey were somehow involved. A Mr. Big undercover operation was deployed. The RCMP used a woman to lure Cheeseman into a criminal organization. [“Mary” was posed with a flat tire, Cheeseman and “Mary” became romantically involved, and “Mary” introduced Cheeseman to “Mike,” who started the criminal organization hoax, which would eventually involve simulating transport of AK-47s, strip clubs, multiple meetings and hand-offs, a makeup artist to simulate abuse against “Mary” and the subesequent “payback” by “Mike,” a shopping spree in which undercover officers advised Cheeseman on his wardrobe, diamonds, multiple trips around Canada in sports cars, and a trail-and-blackmail routine in which Cheeseman burst into a hotel room in which a male and a female undercover cop were naked in bed together.] Ultimately, over 50 undercover police officers were involved in the charade and the cost mounted to more than a million dollars. Cheeseman (and later Hennessey) eventually travelled to Edmonton to meet “Mr. Big” and admitted to giving Roszko a shotgun and giving him a ride back to his property when they knew that Roszko was planning to kill RCMP officers. They subsequently pled guilty to manslaughter, and were sentenced to 12 and 15 years in prison, respectively (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation [CBC], 2009a).