Larry Farwell Claims His Lie Detector System Can Read Your Mind. Is He a Scam Artist, or a Genius?
30 years after it was first pioneered, the Brain Fingerprinting system is finally being put to the test
On a hot summer day five years ago, a scientist named Larry Farwell knocked on the door of a single-family home in central Florida. A large, disheveled man named Ricky Smith answered. Farwell, who’s 71 now and has shaggy dyed blonde hair and an athletic build, had traveled all the way from Seattle to talk to Smith about a murder.
The crime had occurred 30 years prior, on December 30, 1986, in Iowa. A high school sophomore had been strangled and stabbed, and her body had been found on the east bank of the Missouri River. Smith was friends with the victim’s boyfriend. Prosecutors eventually sent a Burger King employee to prison, but there was evidence of a wrongful conviction. Now Farwell was helping a private investigator uncover new information that might help overturn it. But Farwell wasn’t there just to ask Smith questions — instead, he wanted to attach a set of electrodes to Smith’s scalp and administer a forensic technique he’d invented called “Brain Fingerprinting.”
In practice, Farwell says, Brain Fingerprinting is a kind of memory detector — one that he claims can uncover truth and deception with startlingly high accuracy and reliability. Unlike its infamous counterpart, the lie detector, Brain Fingerprinting does not test blood pressure or respiration, but a certain kind of brain signal — tiny bursts of electricity that can allegedly reveal if a person recognizes the vivid details of an event.
Smith had been at a party on the night of the murder. Two of his friends had gone to pick up the sophomore, but when they returned without her they were covered in blood, Smith claimed. He told local media at the time that the wrong man was sent to prison, but this allegation led to police harassment, Smith said. He left Iowa, changed his name, and later denied knowing anything about the murder.
Farwell thought his technology could help buttress Smith’s original claims — and set the former Burger King employee free. Farwell convinced Smith to put on the electrodes and read a series of phrases…