Little Bits of History

February 2

Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 2, 2017

1935: Leonarde Keeler tests his machine. Keeler was born in 1903 and named after Leonardo da Vinci but preferred to be called Nard. While in high school, he worked for the Berkeley Police Department where he was assisting John Larson, inventor of a “cardio-pneumo psychogram” or a machine capable of monitoring blood pressure, pulse, respiration, and skin conductivity. Both young men were encouraged by Police Chief August Vollmer. After high school, Keeler enrolled in the University of California, Berkeley and then moved to UCLA following Vollmer who was now Chief of Police for Los Angeles.

In 1924, while a sophomore in college, he first created a machine he called “the Emotograph” but it was destroyed by a fire at his home. He continued to work on the problem of detecting when someone was telling the truth or not. On this day, he first used his invention, the Keeler Polygraph, the see if it was possible to determine the truthfulness of a witness’s statement. The lie detector was instrumental when results from the questioning of two suspects was submitted as evidence and helped gain a conviction in Portage, Wisconsin. There were other notorious cases where the new technology was used successfully. While it was believed Francis Sweeney, a suspect in the Cleveland torso murders, was guilty due to his inability to pass the lie detector test, no other evidence was available and he was never charged.

Keeler’s improvements to Larson’s invention have made a polygraph one of the more frequently used tests in crime detection. However, the efficacy of them has been hotly debated. The more the machines are used, the more often there are ways to employ countermeasures to confound the results. It has been admitted the machines can detect falsehoods at rates above chance, they are not perfect and this is cause for concern. It is now available worldwide and used for a variety of purposes around the globe. It can be useful not only in criminal investigations but when testing applicants for highly sensitive jobs. Reading the results is a skill and examiners are often licensed of regulated.

Keeler married a fellow psychology student, Kay Applegate, in 1930 in Chicago. She became the first female handwriting analyst in the US. She went on to found her own all-women’s detective agency in Chicago. They specialized in forensic investigation. She left Keeler for another man and when World War II started, she joined the WASPS (Women’s Auxiliary Service Pilots). Kay died in 1944 near Patterson Field in Ohio while she was flying solo across the country to help stop the WASPS from being disbanded. Keeler, bereft at his wife’s betrayal, and living on stress, alcohol, and cigarettes, died of stroke in 1949 at the age of 45.

A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes. – Charles Spurgeon

A lie told often enough becomes the truth. – Vladimir Lenin

An excuse is worse and more terrible than a lie, for an excuse is a lie guarded. – Pope John Paul II

A lie which is half a truth is ever the blackest of lies. – Alfred Lord Tennyson


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