Analysis of David Swain’s interview with reporter Troy Roberts

Shelley Tyre and David Swain

Shelley Arden Tyre, a middle school principal at prestigious Thayer Academy outside Boston, died in March 1999 while scuba diving with her husband David Swain in the sea of Tortola, British Virgin Islands.

After Shelley die, David called his daughter, Jen.

Jen Swain: And he said, I’m so sorry. I went with her. I don’t know what happened but Shelley died today.

Note that David in his first phone call to his daughter said “I’m so sorry”. “I’m sorry” usually enters the language of the guilty. “I’m sorry” is often an indicator of a form of regret; for some, for what they have done (or failed to do) and for others, for being caught.  

What we look for in the following interview with reporter Troy Roberts is for David Swain to issue a reliable denial, to say “I didn’t kill my wife Shelley” not simply parroting back the interviewer’s words but in the free editing process and we look for him to show the protection of the “wall of truth”.

The “wall of truth” is an impenetrable psychological barrier that often leads innocent people to few words, as the subject has no need to persuade anyone of anything.

We begin every statement analysis expecting truth, and it is the unexpected that confronts us as possibly deceptive.

David Swain: Swam our course that we had all agreed upon. Got to the wreck, and we went our separate ways, as we always did.

In “Swam our course” and “Got to the wreck” the pronouns are missing, these sentences are not reliable, Swain is not telling us who “Swam our course” and who “Got to the wreck”. A dropped pronoun means no commitment to the action described. He is counting on us to assume and interpret. This is a technique used in deception.

Troy Roberts: You said you split up during the dive, what you say that’s what you normally do, but doesn’t that go against standard practice?

David Swain: How many time…

Note that Swain is not answering the question.

Troy Roberts: I’m a diver.

David Swain: I understand that.

David Swain: How many times have you broken the speed limit? Every diver at one time or another is diving alone.

David first answers with a question, to take time, then he says what divers sometimes do. Note that the question is avoided. This is what deceptive people often do. They not only divert attention, but they go beyond the answer. 

Troy Roberts: Do you think is possible she just panicked?

David Swain: Sure. Panic is the end result of something else. I don’t know what factor got Shelley, but I think some factor got her started, who knows what it was.

David is telling Troy that something happened before Shelley panicked. The “factor” that “got Shelley” is sensitive to him, he repeats the word “factor” twice.

David Swain: Because they’re not divers. Unless you’re a diver, this is gonna be so foreign. It would be very foreign.

David is speaking of Shelley’s parents. He is telling the reporter that her parents believe he killed Shelley because they are not divers. 

Note that Swain is unable to deny the allegations. He doesn’t say “I didn’t kill Shelley” which was expected. 

Note that David Swain not only is unable or unwilling to deny his involvement in Shelley’s murder but he accepts a possible guilt, something that is not expected from an innocent. 

David Swain: I’m just not an outwardly warm, fuzzy guy.

Troy Roberts: But your wife just died and your behavior didn’t seem appropriate for a man in mourning.

David Swain: My daughter saw it, my son saw it. People who know me know that I’m a private person.

Troy Roberts: Even when you’re in pain?

David Swain: Probably more so when I’m in pain.

Troy Roberts: Was Shelley Tyre’s death a horrible accident? A mystery?

This question is good to allow David to say “I didn’t kill my wife Shelley” and “I am telling the truth”. This would be the “wall of truth”.

David Swain: I don’t have the answers.

This is unexpected because usually everybody has an answer for everything. And what is more unexpected is David not to say: “I didn’t kill Shelley”.

Troy Roberts: How did that make you feel, knowing that your in-laws thought you had killed their daughter?

This question is good too to allow David to say “I didn’t kill my wife Shelley” and “I am telling the truth”. This would be the “wall of truth”.

David Swain: Sad. I mean, it made me sad.

He only says that he is “sad” and he incredibly feels the need to specify that he is “sad” for what Shelley parents think, he doesn’t allow his audience to think that he could be sad because his wife had die.

There is no consequence to issue a reliable denial about any false allegation but again, Swain is unable to deny the allegations, he is unable to give a reliable denial, he is unable or unwilling to say “I didn’t kill Shelley” which was expected. Swain accepts the blame on himself, something not expected from an innocent.

Troy Roberts: Not angry?

David Swain: They didn’t know diving.

He is unable to give a reliable denial but he accepts a possible guilt, again.

Troy Roberts: How long did you performed CPR?

David Swain: Mmm… that’s the big, magic question. Minutes. Was it 5 minutes, was it 10 minutes? Was it 4 minutes? I don’t know. It was minutes.

The question is sensitive to Swain, he starts answering with the non word “Mmm” and makes a pause to think.

The word “minutes” is sensitive to him, he repeats “minutes” 5 times.

David Swain: There was nothing left to do. Nothing. If you are performing CPR on somebody that is responsive, sure. I would’ve gone until hell froze ove but she was not responding to anything.

“There was nothing left to do. Nothing”, ”Nothing” is sensitive to him, not only because is in the negative (double important) but because is repeated twice. When Swain says “If you are performing CPR on somebody that is responsive, sure” he is speaking of somebody else “performing CPR on somebody”, not about himself performing CPR on his wife.

The use of “you” is distancing language that indicates a form of deception in which the subject wishes to make a statement, but cannot do so without lying. In avoiding the internal stress of a direct lie, he subtly distance himself from the reality. 

After this, when David says “I would’ve gone until hell froze over but she was not responding to anything“, he doesn’t say that Shelley was not responding to CPR but that “she was not responding to anything“. 

 “I would’ve gone until hell froze over” represents a virtue signallingoften a signal of projected guilt. The desire to appear a “good guy” in language is an indicator of guilt. David Swain shows a need to persuade through an hyperbole rather than truthfully report because there is no “wall of truth” standing to protect him.

Troy Roberts: Did you kill Shelley Tyre?

This is a “Yes” or “No” question.

David Swain: Did not, would not, could not. This thought, this craziness that I would do something like that to Shelley is just… is just so revolting.

Swain is unable to say “No” and to give a reliable denial.

A reliable denial has 3 components:

1. the pronoun “I”
2. past tense verb “did not” or “didn’t”
3. accusation answered

If a denial has more than 3 or less than 3 components, it is no longer reliable.

“No, I did not kill Shelley” followed by “I told the truth” while addressing the denial, it is more than 99% likely to be true.

A deceptive person will alter his denial to avoid a direct lie. Swain dropped the pronouns to avoid the stress of a direct lie.

“Did not” is not a reliable denial because the pronoun “I” is missing and the allegation too.

“would not” is not a reliable denial as “would not” is not a substitute of “did not”.

“could not” is not a reliable denial as “could not” is not a substitute of “did not”.

When Swain says ”I would do something like that to Shelley” he says it freely, he is not parroting Troy Roberts’s words, that’s why we recognise in these words an embedded admission. 

David Swain: Everybody keeps thinking that I’m doing all this for money. I’m just as happy being flat broke as I am when I’m fat rich, probably happier flat broke. Less hassle.

“I’m doing all this for money” is an embedded admission. Deceptive people often give embedded admission.

Hyperboles are used as intensifiers. David chooses to speak in hyperboles rather than deny the allegation because there is no “wall of truth” to support him. The use of hyperboles generally relays feelings or emotions from the speaker.

Note that David Swain is using energy to defend himself not by denying but by claiming “I’m just as happy being flat broke as I am when I’m fat rich, probably happier flat broke”.

David Swain is speaking about a woman he met before his wife die:

David Swain: Mary Basler came along, a bright, happy woman willing to talk.

David Swain: I’m as guilty of being curious beyond what I should have as anybody.

“I’m as guilty” enters Swain’s language, this is unexpected and sounds as an embedded admission again. He also sounds manipulative.

Troy Roberts: You invited her to Killington for the weekend. Wasn’t that going to be the beginning of something?

David Swain: No.

Troy Roberts: It was just going to be a friendly weekend in Killington?

David Swain: You make it sound like a guy can’t have a girl friend.

He doesn’t answer the question.

Troy Roberts: Did your wife know you invited her?

David Swain: No.

Troy Roberts: You made a reference, a mess that you need to get out of (in a letter to Mary).

David Swain: Well, I think I made a mess by letting my curiosity get the best of me.

He sounds manipulative.

Troy Roberts: You weren’t describing your marriage to Shelley as a mess?

David Swain: No.

Troy Roberts: You thought Mary was your soulmate?

David Swain: It’s a nice word, isn’t it?

He answers with a question not to answer.

Troy Roberts: Did you envision a future with Mary Basler?

David Swain: At that time, no.

Troy Roberts: Your father was abusive to you. Is that right?

David Swain: As best I can dredge up.

Troy Roberts: What happened to you at the hands of your father?

David Swain: Horrible things.

Troy Roberts: Can you share some of them?

David Swain: No, I’m not going to share those.

David Swain: They had to come up with some kind of scary story that would make the jurors, who are not divers, all say, ‘Oh, that’s what happened’.

He again defends himself not denying his involvement but saying that people who are not divers cannot understand.

His defense attorney, Hayden St. Clair Douglas, questions him during the trial:

Hayden St. Clair Douglas: Did you kill Shelley Tyre?

David Swain: I did not, could not, would not dream of taking the rock of my life out of the world. No… I did not.

A reliable denial has 3 components:

1. the pronoun “I”
2. past tense verb “did not” or “didn’t”
3. accusation answered

If a denial has more than 3 or less than 3 components, it is no longer reliable.

“No, I did not kill Shelley” followed by “I told the truth” while addressing the denial, it would more than 99% likely to be true.

A deceptive person will alter his denial to avoid a direct lie.

“I did not” is not a reliable denial because component number 3 is missing.

“could not” is not a reliable denial as “could not” is not a substitute of “did not”.

“would not” is not a reliable denial as “would not” is not a substitute of “did not”.

dream of taking the rock of my life out of the world” is an embedded admission.

“No… I did not” is not a reliable denial because component number 3 is missing.

Douglas: Did you in anyway deprive Shelley Tyre of air?

David Swain: The last thing in the world I would deprive Shelley of anything. So I certainly don’t want to deprive her of air.

He is evasive. He doesn’t answer the question. He is unable or unwilling to say “I didn’t deprive Shelley of the air” but he speaks at the present So I certainly don’t want to deprive her of air”. He is telling us that at the present he wouldn’t deprive her of anything, not of the air too, because he is in trouble for what he did.

Prosecutor Williams: You held her down!

This is a “Yes” or “No” question.

David Swain: I did not.

David is unable to say “No” and “I did not” is not a reliable denial because component number 3 of the reliable denial is missing.

Prosecutor Williams: And made her become unconscious.

This is a “Yes” or “No” question.

David Swain: I did not.

David is unable to say “No” and “I did not” is not a reliable denial because component number 3 is missing.

Analysis Conclusion:

David Swain is unable to deny his involvement in his wife death. 

The absence of a denial, it is a concern. If someone is unable or unwilling to say that he didn’t do it, we are not permitted to say so for him. 

Swain accepts what the de facto innocent doesn’t accept: he allowes people to believe he is involved. There is no “wall of Truth” within David Swain. This is why he allows blame to be put upon him.

Swain shows deception, manipulative self-serving behaviors, no sense of guilt or remorse, no empathy, signals of a a personality disorder called Antisocial personality disorder (ASPD or APD).

David Swain has guilty knowledge of what happened to his wife Shelley.

Ursula Franco, MD and criminologist

Analysis of Gabe Watson’s first interview with police

Tina and Gabe Watson

Christina “Tina” Watson was 26 year old when she died while scuba diving with her husband Gabe on their honeymoon in Queensland, Australia, on October 22, 2003.

On October 23, 2003 Gabe Watson was interviewed by an australian detective about his wife Tina’s suspect drowning, during the interview his mother was close to him:

Gabe Watson: Tina’s gone down, I need help. Tina’s gone down, I need help.

When Gabe says “Tina’s gone down”, he is telling the truth, he just doesn’t say why she went down. 

When someone is speaking of an event in the past, and the memory is in play, it is expected that the subject will use past tense language. Present tense language is deemed “unreliable”.

We know that Gabe can speak of the event that took place in the past tense because he first said “Tina’s gone down”, so when he says “I need help”, he is telling us that he needs help for himself, right now, at the present, during the interview with the investigator. We often find these words in the language of the guilty.

Gabe Watson: The doctor said, you know, I did everything I could to save her but we lost her.

This is another indication that Gabe knows how to use past tense verbs.

“You know” shows an acute awareness of the interviewer at this question.  

Gabe Watson: I just can’t help but think that… that the fight against the current is what allowed whatever thing took place that caused her to either blackout or whatever and sink.

Note that he doesn’t call her by her name nor even refers to her as “her”.

Note “I just can’t help” is in the negative. Deceptive people often tell us what did not happen to avoid telling us what did take place.

Note that when Gabe says “I just can’t help”, he is speaking at the present tense. He is right. Right now he “can’t help” Tina anymore. His psychological need to avoid the internal stress of a direct lie is evident.

The word “just” is a dependent word used in comparison. He says “I just can’t help but think that” to compares “help” with “think” and to think is not very helpful for someone that is drowning.

“that… that”, note the presence of a pause to think that shows that the question is sensitive to him.

Note the word “fight”, an example of leakage. Leakage is the inadvertent release of information relevant to the investigation. He opens to the possibility that a “fight” took place before his wife drowned.

A commitment to a past event is found in past tense verbs, since we knows that Gabe is able to use the past tense and does not use present tense language as a habit, we don’t believe him when he says “the current is what”. He is unable to say “the current was what” because he is unable to lie.

In “whatever thing took place that caused her to either blackout or whatever and sink” not just the word “whatever” is sensitive because it’s repeated twice but Gabe is deliberately vague to be able to explain later to the investigator what doesn’t fit forensically or logically.

Gabe Watson: There is nothing in our thing about how to get somebody.

Gabe Watson is vague, again. When he says “nothing”, “our thing”, “to get somebody”, he speaks like someone affected by dementia, this will allow him to eventually correct what he said.

Gabe Watson: I started to go down just a couple of feet under the water, my computer beeped at me uhm (…)

This is another indication that he knows how to use past tense verbs.

Gabe Watson: He got me a coin, I pulled the battery out, swapped it around, hooked it back up and I said, you know, don’t tell anybody, but I had my battery in backwards.

This is another indication that he knows how to use past tense verbs.

“You know” shows an acute awareness of the interviewer at this question.  

Due to the context, “don’t tell anybody” is suspicious.

Gabe is lying, if the battery was in backwards, the computer couldn’t beep at him.

Gabe Watson: So I knew without any doubt that that was the problem.

Gabe Watson: She had both arms up, she was looking up before I realised she was going faster than I can catch up with her, you know, is then that I decided well I’m going to go get somebody that maybe knows what to do.

Note that he doesn’t call her by her name, he refers to his wife as “She”.

“You know” shows an acute awareness of the interviewer at this question.  

Gabe at first is speaking at the past tense “She had both arms up, she was looking up before I realised she was going faster than” but unexpectedly he adds something at the present tense “I can’t catch up with her”. This is true, he “can’t catch up with her” right now. Gabe Watson is unable to say “I couldn’t catch up with her” because he is unable to lie.

Humans often speak in an economy of words. To say “You know, is then that I decided: Well I’m going to go get somebody that maybe knows what to do” goes against the law of economy, “I called for help” was expected. His language reflects his behaviour, he lost precious minutes before calling for help.

“then” is a temporal lacunae, Gabe is skipping over time withholding information. 

Gabe Watson: I remember shouthing through my regulator: Tina, Tina, Tina, tapping’em, I know the guy turned around and looked at me and I was pointing, you know, where she went down.

“I remember” is unnecessary wording whereas in truthful accounts people can only tell us what they remember. This may be an indication that Gabe may have told the investigators what was not from his experiential memory previously.

“You know” shows an acute awareness of the interviewer at this question.  

Gabe Watson: Pretty much just rocketed to the top, you know, I just swam up to the top, I probably never swam so fast in my life. I’m amazed that I didn’t end up with the bends or something.

In “Pretty much just rocketed to the top”, the pronoun “I” is missing, a dropped pronoun means no commitment to the action described.  

“You know” shows an acute awareness of the interviewer at this question.  

“I probably never swam so fast in my life” is something unnecessary to say and when he says “I’m amazed that I didn’t end up with the bends or something”, he shows a need to ingratiate himself with the investigators. Gabe wants to appear the “Good Guy” that risked his own life to save his wife. Only someone with a guilty knowledge has a psychological need to be seen in a positive light. This is also consistent with manipulation.

Gabe Watson: In the back of my mind I was thinking these people could see us, or at least think something was going on.

He doesn’t say that he “was thinking these people could see” them and get there to help but that they could “think something was going on”.

This is something very close to an embedded admission although he remains vague saying that “something was going on”. Anyway we can assume that he scared to be seen while murdering his wife.

Analysis Conclusion:

Gabe Watson is deceptively withholding information.

He has guilty knowledge of what happened to his wife Tina.

Gabe Watson was initially charged by Queensland authorities with his wife Tina’s murder. He pleaded guilty of manslaughter and was subsequently sentenced to a term of imprisonment for this charge. He was then charged by Alabama authorities with Tina’s murder and put on trial. On  February 23, 2012, Alabama judge Tommy Nail dismissed the murder case due to lack of evidence.

Ursula Franco, MD and criminologist