Fred E. Inbau (1909-1998)

John Henry Wigmore Professor of Law

and founder of AELE (1966)


Click here to view a photo of Fred Inbau (L) and Governor Ogilvie (R)


Fred Edward Inbau was born in New Orleans in 1909. His father, a struggling shipyard worker, told him that lawyers made a lot of money. So Fred earned a law degree from Tulane University.


He came to Chicago to obtain an advanced law degree at Northwestern University. There, he became acquainted with the law school’s Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory. The lab was established in 1929, after the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, to help the Chicago Police fight organized crime. Fred was so fascinated with forensics that he joined its staff in 1933. In 1938, the lab was taken over by the Chicago Police Department, and Fred Inbau had become its first director. He held that post until 1941, when he began a four-year stint as a trial lawyer with one of Chicago’s most prestigious law firms.


But in 1945 he joined the faculty of Northwestern University School of Law. He later became head of its Criminal Law department and was given the prestigious rank of John Henry Wigmore Professor of Law. Fred Inbau had worked with Prof. Wigmore, who was the country’s most famous scholar in the law of evidence. Fred never lost his interest for forensics, and served as president of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences. He also founded the Journal of Criminal Law, Criminology and Police Science, and served for many years as its Editor in Chief.


Fred’s greatest interest was in police interrogation. He developed an approach to that relied on presenting a mass of damaging facts to persuade criminals that they had no choice but to confess, and that used subtle psychology in dealing with crimes of passion.


Inbau also urged the police to use artifice and deception to trick suspects into confessing. He was frequently called on to conduct interrogations in celebrated cases and was a master at applying his own techniques. His book, Criminal Interrogation and Confessions, has been translated into many languages, including Japanese. Although he wrote eighteen different books, some in multiple editions, the interrogation textbook was the most influential. It was cited repeatedly by the Supreme Court in its famous Miranda decision. Inbau would become the leading scholarly critic of Miranda, and persistently called for the reversal of that holding.


The New York Times said of him, “A meticulous scholar, Inbau kept detailed notes on the various techniques he had used in the course of an interrogation. Then, to determine which had been most effective in obtaining the confession, he would interview the prisoner after his conviction, including one interview on death row three days before the execution.”

Inbau also will be remembered for his work with prosecutors and police legal advisors. He started the Short Course for Prosecuting Attorneys, and served as its director for many decades. He also began a similar program for defense attorneys.


In 1965 he asked the Ford Foundation for funding to train young lawyers in a career as police legal advisors. Three of its first graduates, Frank Carrington, James Manak and Wayne Schmidt, would later work with Fred in another of his creations, AELE (see below). Although funding for the program ended in 1970, much of its work continues today through the Legal Officers Section of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. The IACP co-administered the Ford grant from 1970-1971, and established the legal section in 1971. For many years Inbau served as Vice-Chair of the IACP’s Criminal Law and Legislation Committee.


In 1966 Fred founded the Americans for Effective Law Enforcement (AELE). A young associate, James R. Thompson, incorporated AELE and served as its first President. Thompson later served as U.S. Attorney and then as Governor of Illinois for four consecutive terms. Among others who joined the AELE Board were O. W. Wilson, the “reform” Superintendent of the Chicago Police; Brigadier General Arthur Brandstatter, then Dean of the Michigan State University School of Police Administration and later the first Director of the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Georgia; and Richard Ogilvie, a former Sheriff in Chicago and Governor of Illinois.


Although Fred officially retired from the law school in 1977, he remained active at the law school until shortly before his death and continued to write books for lawyers, law students, police officers and security managers. Governor Thompson, now chairman of the Chicago law firm Winston & Strawn, said of Fred’s passing:


His influence on me was profound, and there’s very few people I can say that about. His is a voice that will long be remembered in the teaching and law-enforcement world. He was a friend to law enforcement when they didn’t really have one.


Northwestern law school Dean David Van Zandt said that “Fred held deeply rooted beliefs about the criminal justice system and was unusual in that he championed the fundamental rights of both criminal suspects and victims of crimes. He straddled the worlds of academia and law enforcement and was highly respected by all.”




Books by Fred E. Inbau


• Cases and Comments on Criminal Law (with others)

• Cases & Comments on Criminal Procedure (multiple editions, with James R. Thompson)

• Criminal Interrogations and Confessions (four editions)

• Criminal Law: Cases and Comments (with Andre Moenssens, et al)

• Criminal Law and Its Administration (with others)

• Evidence Law for the Police

• Protective Security Law (with Bernard Farber, et al)

• Scientific Evidence in Civil and Criminal Cases (with Andre Moenssens, et al)

• Scientific Evidence in Criminal Cases (with Andre Moenssens, et al)

• Scientific Police Investigations

• Self-Incrimination

• Truth and Deception (with John Reid)