Why You Should Use an Investigation Timeline

investigation timeline

Preparation for the interview is often an overlooked component for a successful case resolution.

As cases become more complex with interwoven events, meetings, and people, the interviewer needs a simplified approach to help remember and understand the case. As the investigation expands and details are revealed, it is often useful to build an investigation timeline of events to help understand and remember the different interlocking events making up the case.

If you remember from your history books, timelines were often used to simply illustrate different historical events and their relationship to one another.

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An investigation timeline is essentially the same thing, allowing the interviewer to remember at a glance when people entered the conspiracy, the timing of the specific meeting, or even when relevant documents were prepared. Especially during development of the admission where a subject is making partial admissions while attempting to conceal other information, the timeline may be useful in contradicting or expanding the individual’s admissions.

The timeline also can help the interviewer pose relevant questions because they have a chronological set of events that are easily referred to during the conversation.

In a simple case, the investigation timeline might contain the times of arrivals of each employee, deliveries that occurred, or when lunches were taken. As interviews are conducted, additional information can be added that may ultimately point to a likely suspect.

In a recent case, we investigated a theft of money from the safe in the manager’s office at a restaurant. We began by charting on the timeline the arrival of each employee, noting their names and job titles. During the interview with the restaurant manager, we were able to ascertain the time during which the safe was unlocked and the employees who were present during that time. These employees were then noted on the timeline as to their arrival and departure from the office.

During our interview with the manager, he said that he had to leave for a short period of time leaving a kitchen helper and the cashier alone in the office while the safe was unlocked.

Two key pieces of evidence emerged from our interview with the kitchen helper. First, he said he stepped out momentarily to get some coffee, leaving the cashier alone in the manager’s office. Second, he said upon his return the cashier was sitting in a different chair, indicating she had moved while he was gone. When the manager returned to the office, the kitchen helper and cashier were still present, and he locked the safe and went about his day’s business. The simple visual of the timeline made the selection of a primary suspect quite simple.

While one could grasp this information fairly easily without using an investigation timeline, one can imagine the complexities when investigating a large-scale kickback or fraud case. Money transfers, home or vacation purchase, contract awards, and any of myriad other relevant facts can be captured on the timeline, making the information’s retrieval a simple matter.

To learn more about training for the interview process and the benefits of recorded interviews, check out “Random Lessons from the Room: Part Three,” which was originally published in 2017. This excerpt was updated August 15, 2018.

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