Ode to the Cheek Pinch

Fullscreen capture 20180703 204802

The cheek pinch is a weird one. It resembles a sucking in of the cheeks, but it’s not. It also resembles pulling in the lower lip and pushing it against the upper lip towards the nostrils to create a sort of upside down coathangar shape to the mouth. It’s not that either.

What it is – when it matters – is that the cheek muscles are forcibly clamped down on the smile muscles, as they begin to exert an involuntary tug and lift on the corners of the mouth. The reason it’s used in true crime is to stop the criminal from smiling, especially when a smile is completely inappropriate to the question. The crushed cheek expression often helps the suspect appear more serious, stoic and unemotional than they are.

Here’s an example from a Ted Talk referencing the infamous Diane Downs. Watch until 15:52.

Here’s another example of what happens when the cheek pink fails to engage. Have a look at the corners of Knox’s lips, and how quickly and easily they tilt upwards.

The example below from an interview with Diane Sawyer has Knox in a more somber mood. She has to be, because Sawyer is a woman, and Sawyer is taking her there, addressing her morals as another woman. In this instance we see a few cheek pinches, and then one more immediately followed by a telling smile.

Sometimes a smile can build up but it can be held back. Sometimes it can’t. Repeated cheek pinches can also be a sign of giddy anxiety from a potential suspect. A particular psychology is at work. It’s activated in their minds. And extended exposure to an idea of themselves can be amusing, especially if there’s more to tell and the public can’t know.

So is the cheek pinch a smoking gun? Like so many things in true crime, when smoke forms part of a pattern, where there’s smoke there’s usually fire. A cheek pinch doesn’t mean guilty of murder necessarily but it can reveal deception at a telling juncture.

That said, the cheek pinch is idiosyncratic. Some, during interviews and in court, use it all the time, almost like a default fall-back expression. Some almost never use it.

Sometimes it’s used almost automatically by ordinary folk to express pique, or small levels of irritation or impatience. That’s not what we’re talking about here.

The cheek pinch is specifically useful as a true crime clue when tactical or direct questions are asked, questions with huge and telling implications. And because of this, the cheeks are used to clamp down on a smile that’s trying to leak through. It’s trying to hide the fact that I’m wanting to smile…I’m trying not to smile. See, I know something important but I’d rather not say what it is…and that’s amusing to me.

That amusement may seem so-what, but it’s actually a potential indicator of sadism. Where there’s elevated sadism there’s almost always murder.

By stretching the lips, which is what the cheek pinch does, they suck in the lips which tilts the edges down. This can neutralize an involuntary smile muscle that’s starting to engage.

Fullscreen capture 20180703 204809

Through the course of studying dozens of high-profile cases in meticulous detail, I’ve not paid that much attention to the cheek pinch. That changed when I attended the Rohde trial. When I encountered the accused [accused of murdering his wife, he claims she committed suicide by hanging herself from a hook inside a hotel bathroom while he was sleeping in the same room] in court, I was surprised by how expressive he was in court. When he was on the stand facing questions, he shrugged constantly. A single response sometimes caused him to shrug several times every few seconds.

Besides the shrugging, Rohde did the cheek pinch to excess. Now in Rohde’s case the cheek pinch is closer to a sneer than clamping down on a smile. It’s almost a contemptuous response to something that he could never possibly know. Clearly Jason Rohde’s not always trying to stifle a smile, so what is he trying to do?

In court [the case is still sub judiceRohde’s admitted to being a liar, and to lying often. He’s said, shrugging, that he may be a liar but that doesn’t make him a murderer.

True, but murderers need to a lie a lot, and their lives are lies. To view a brief illustration of some of Rohde’s ticks, visit this link.

The strange thing with Rohde is that he has a slew of microexpressions that are seemingly beyond his control. Even when he’s not on the stand he’s constantly blinking in a sort of pinched stutter – with his eyelids. These nervous twitches are not something you’d expect from a multimillionaire CEO. And what I noticed with them, he’d pinch his eyes when nothing was happening, but crucially, the pinch would invariably be there right when it did too.

Think of it as someone who stutters. They stutter when they’re nervous, but they stutter even more when their nervousness increases. Does that make sense?

Fullscreen capture 20180530 113918

Now obviously the cheek pinch isn’t necessarily a flag that only sits on the murderer’s cake. Any time in a true crime scenario, especially where witnesses are in court testifying about crucial information, you want to look out for the cheek pinch.

Some pinches may be incidental pique, but others might not be.

To test your ability to pick it up, watch the testimony below of Anthony Lazarro, Casey Anthony’s boyfriend at the time her daughter Caylee disappeared and died. A lot of the questions are neither here nor there. Lazarro happens to be very expressive too. Perhaps because of his youth he’s not that great at camouflaging his emotions. The clip below starts at the moment in the testimony he starts to do cheek pinching to excess.

QUESTION: Did she ever talk with any specificity about say, what the babysitter’s name way?

LAZARRO [Glances upward for inspiration]: Uh…at that point it was…Zanny [cheek pinch].

Lazarro keeps his cheeks pinched for a few more seconds until he’s asked a follow-up question.

QUESTION: Did she tell you where Zanny lived?

LAZARRO: No. [The cheek pinch is back with a vengeance now].

QUESTION: Did she tell you if Zanny had any relatives?

Now Lazarro’s got his cheeks pinched in permanently, even when he answers. So they’re pinched in before the question, there’s an answer, and they’re still pinched in when he says “No”.

QUESTION: Did she tell you if Zanny cared for any other children?

He’s still got his cheeks pinched in.

There’s a slight pause, then one more.

QUESTION: Did she ever discuss, when you first met her, what she paid Zanny?

Here Lazarro sucks in his lips audibly, making a squishy kissing noise. The kissy lips look absurd under the circumstances. Anyway, he hunches up, shrugs and finally smiles as he says, “Don’t remember.”


If there is something to the cheek pinch, this guy seems to be hiding something that has to do with a Nanny called Zanny. It’s funny to him, even though he’s sitting in court addressing accusations of murder towards his former questions. If he’s trying to stop himself from smiling, what’s he trying to hide, and why’s it funny?


Hold up, is that a SCRATCH on Chris Watts’ neck?

Fullscreen capture 20180818 111856-001

After posting the blog on lie spotting, MandyHVZ on REDDIT commented on a mark on Chris Watts’ neck. Check it out.

In some of the interviews Chris Watt gave, he’s faced away from the camera, like this one from CBS, where he says: “I don’t feel this is even real right now. It’s Earth-shattering. like a nightmare where I just can’t wake up from.”

The word “earth-shattering” is a colorful term. Watts volunteers this, but it’s a semantic Freudian slip because he’s buried his wife, and that required the shattering or breaking of Earth. These residues are in this mind as he’s being asked to share his thoughts and feelings. Some are slipping through.

The reality is there were several cameras, and thus several camera angles. The Denver7 Channel had the all-important side-view. It’s from Denver7 that the screengrabs below were taken.

Fullscreen capture 20180818 112747Fullscreen capture 20180818 114416Fullscreen capture 20180818 114416-001Fullscreen capture 20180818 121154Fullscreen capture 20180818 121154-001Fullscreen capture 20180818 111856-001Fullscreen capture 20180818 114416-001Fullscreen capture 20180818 121154Fullscreen capture 20180818 121154-001Fullscreen capture 20180819 130840Fullscreen capture 20180819 130847Fullscreen capture 20180819 130936Fullscreen capture 20180819 130955Fullscreen capture 20180819 131036

Although the autopsy results for Shanann are still pending, we know Watts strangled both his daughters. It’s likely Watts did the same to their mother in a so-called “silent death”. During a death by strangulation/suffocation, two things happen:

  1. The killer is exposed to the death throes and thrashing of the victim of an extended period. It might be half a minute or longer.
  2. The killer is in close proximity to his victim, almost head to head. This means he’s also within arm’s range of the victim, and her natural response is to lash out in a mirror image to what he is doing. If she can’t remove his grip around her neck, she attacks his neck in a desperate attempt to fight for her life.

Right at the end of the interview, Watts purses his lips and raises his left hand to his chin, blocking the view of the scar. Just reflexive touching, or was he conscious of the scar right through the interview and right at the end, could no longer resist the urge to block it from view?

Fullscreen capture 20180819 131040

Sidenote: This reddish blemish reminds me of the same faded fresh scar on Amanda Knox’s throat, visible to all outside the scene of the crime but seen by none.


Also a lot of similar patterns in Knox’s situation and responses and Watts [see below]. Original Daily Mail article here.