Serial killer expert turns out to be a serial liar

Belgische Radio 1
Erasmus School of Economics

Stéphane Bourgoin, who for several decades has enjoyed a role as leading expert on serial killers in France and abroad, has admitted that his claims of having trained with the FBI, interviewing 70 serial killers and having lost an American wife to one, were all made up. Sophie van der Zee, Assistant Professor in the department of Applied Economics at Erasmus School of Economics, researches lie detection and gives her views on the case at Belgian radio station Radio 1.

It all started with a YouTube channel made by crime and delinquency enthusiasts who posted 9 videos online in which they claimed there were lies and contradictions in the books of Stéphane Bourgoin. He would be making money on the backs of victims. The pressure got so high that Bourgoin had to confess, a relief so he says.

The fundaments of lying

According to Sophie van der Zee, you do not simply make up a whole life out of lies. It often starts small, with a little lie. The moment you tell your first lie, it becomes easier and easier to tell the next one. According to her, lying is always more difficult than telling the truth, especially when you find yourself in a complex web of lies. Van der Zee explains that telling the truth is the human standard response, but if you repeat a lie over and over again, it becomes your new truth, so to speak, and your new standard response. In the case of Stéphane Bourgoin, you see that his lies were an essential part of his profession and role as a media figure. He simply couldn't go back.

Revolutionary base

How is it possible that a liar like Bourgoin is not easily exposed? According to van der Zee, this is based on a revolutionary foundation. People with more offspring used to be seen as more successful. Good liars often turned out to be more successful in finding a partner, because they were able to pretend to be just a little better than others. So by nature we are better at lying than at detecting, says van der Zee. In addition, confronting someone with a lie is almost always bad for the relationship with that person. According to van der Zee, a lie is difficult to prove and is often based on a feeling. 

Assistant professor
More information

Listen to the entire item on the Belgische Radio 1 here, 13 May 2020 (in Dutch).