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The Genesis of the Lie-Detector Test

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Told he was dying from a heat stroke, Fuller Schallenberger confessed on a hot summer day in July 1913, that he and another man, Charles Kopf, murdered Julian Behaud in 1899 at the victim’s home in Julian, Nebraska. When Schallenberger awoke the next morning, he was well on his way to recovering. Unfortunately, he had already confessed to the murder. He was later tried, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison. When his accomplice Charles Kopf was arrested in California, Nebraska authorities planned to use a new electrocardiogram machine perfected by a Dutch scientist to assess Kopf’s guilt. The use of this medical device in this way would later spawn the invention of the polygraph test invented in 1921.


Electro-Cardiograph Will Portray Heart Beats of Suspected Murderer When Crime Is Reproduced Before Police Officials.

Omaha, Neb. Oct. 18, 1913 – The most unique and scientific “third degree’ ever administered to a criminal in this country is to be given Charles Kopf, arrested in Vallejo, Cal, and charged with having committed a murder In Nebraska fourteen years ago, when he is brought back to this State for trial. Arrangements for the examination are now being made by the Omaha police and scientists connected with the medical school, University of Nebraska.

For the first time in the history of crime the new electro-cardiograph, the invention of Dr. William Einthoven, a famous scientist of Holland, is to be used in clearing up the mystery of murder. This instrument, one of the most delicate pieces of mechanism known, has just reached the university and is now being prepared for the test. The police end of the investigation is in the hands of Col. John J. Ryder, police commissioner of Omaha, while Dr. Gruenther, of the university, will have charge of the electro-cardiograph.

Fright Caused Confession.

Kopf was arrested as the result of a confession by a man who thought himself dying. This man was Fuller Shallenberger, of Burlington, Kans. Shallenberger was overcome by heat last July and physicians said he was dying. When told there was no hope of his recovery, he called the Sheriff and confessed that back in 1899 he and Kopf murdered and robbed Julian Behaud, rich old miser, who lived near Julian, Nebr. He dictated and signed the confession. Then he went to sleep, and when he awoke the next day was well on his way to recovery. Since then he got entirely well and has repudiated his confession. However, he is in jail with a charge of murder against him. Kopf, who also left the State shortly after the murder, was located at Vallejo and placed under arrest. He denies all knowledge of the murder of the old miser. Shallenberger now says his confession was simply the ravings of a man whose brain was ill ordered from sunstroke.

Money Found in Can.

In Shallenberger’s confession he states that after the old miser had been killed he and Kopf found an old tin can half filled with money. There was a jagged edge to the can and in withdrawing his hand cut his wrist badly. The can was found covered with blood. It is remembered in Julian that Kopf’s hand was bound up after the murder. Sometime after the crime both men left the State.

The electro-cardiograph is a machine for recording the electric energy developed by the heart throbs of a human being; if the heart, through excitement or exertion, throbs faster or with more strength, that fact is registered by the machine. And if for any reason its normal action is interfered with, the record is to be found on the machine. The electric energy developed by the heart transmitted by wires to a small fiber which hangs suspended in the magnetic field of a powerful horseshoe magnet. The disturbance of this fiber from its normal position indicates the force of the heart current. The fiber itself is so small that it is invisible to the naked eye – 1,300 of them equaling the space of an inch. Therefore, its action is watched through a powerful telescope. And instead of watching with the eye, the action is received on a moving picture film, which is afterward developed and reproduced upon a screen.

Just behind the fiber is a powerful electric arc light which casts the shadow of the fiber through the telescope, thence through a powerful lens and upon the moving picture film, so that it is the shadow of the current generated by the heart which is recorded upon the film.

Another indication of the wonderful delicacy of the instrument is the fact that in conducting an experiment with it, the slight electric current generated by the sweat glands in the palm of the hand is neutralized and separated from the current which comes from the heart.

And this is the machine with which Kopf will be given the “third degree.” He will not know that the experiment is being performed. He will be seated in an arm chair and questioned by Commissioner Ryder. But the chair will be connected with the cardiograph in the next room and every movement of his heart will be watched by the scientists and recorded by the machine. Afterward the film will be developed and projected upon a screen and every movement made by Kopf’s heart during the ordeal can be seen.

Old Can Center of Interest.

“The main portion of the experiment will be centered around an old tin can,” says Police Commissioner Ryder. “Without saying anything to Kopf about it, one of my men will pick up an old tin can which will be in sight. He will put his hand down in the can and withdraw it filled with money. At the same time there will be a red stain on his hand as though he had cut himself on that can.

In fact it will be a reproduction of the robbery of the old miser as told by Shallenberger in his confession.

“If Kopf is innocent all that will mean nothing to him. On the other hand if he is guilty he naturally will be excited as his memory recalls the murder and robbery. With excitement will come swifter heart action. He may be able to control his face, his actions, his expressions, but he never can control the beatings of his heart. The little fiber in the next room will be making an indelible record of his real mental conditions and when the moving pictures are thrown upon the screen we will know whether or not Kopf recognized the little pantomime which was acted in his presence.”

Col. Ryder says the evidence adduced by the electro-cardiograph is not of a nature which can be brought before a Jury. For the present its use is more for experimental purposes than anything else, but eventually he expects to see the machine in general use for the detection of criminals. In the present instance, Col. Ryder will have to secure the permission of Sheriff Pones, of Nemaha County, where the crime was committed before he can experiment on Kopf. He expects no difficulty on this score, however, and is making the necessary arrangements to carry out the experiment as planned. If successful, a detailed statement and report will be sent to the police of every city in the country.

Source: The Washington Herald, Oct. 19, 1913, page 19.

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