Polygraph “Test” Drives Innocent Steve Wilkos Show Guest to Attempted Suicide

Anca Pennington

On Wednesday, 11 December 2019, Anca Pennington, 30, of Omaha, Nebraska purchased three bottles of Tylenol, each containing 24 pills, after passing through security at Newark Liberty Airport in New Jersey. She then proceeded to a restroom stall, swallowed all of the pills, and laid down to die.

Earlier that day Pennington, a single mother of four, had appeared on the set of the Comcast-owned, NBCUniversal Television Distribution-produced Steve Wilkos Show in Stamford, Connecticut, where host Steve Wilkos had announced that she had miserably failed a polygraph test regarding whether she had burned her infant daughter with cigarettes. The show’s in-house polygraph operator, Daniel D. Ribacoff, had come on stage to support his polygraph results.

Daniel D. Ribacoff

Ribacoff, a member of the American Polygraph Association, has previously claimed on the show, “We have tests that are 99.4% accurate, which is way more accurate than most medical tests, and way more accurate than any jury trial.”

And in a 2016 Reddit “Ask Me Anything” thread, in response to a question Steve Wilkos averred, “The lie detector tests are like 99% accurate.”

In fact, however, polygraph “testing” has not been shown through peer-reviewed research to reliably work at better-than-chance levels of accuracy under field conditions. Alan P. Zelicoff and Steven E. Rigdon have conducted a peer-reviewed statistical analysis of the best available field studies of polygraphy. Based on that analysis, Dr. Zelicoff opines that “if a subject fails a polygraph, the probability that she is, in fact, being deceptive is little more than chance alone; that is, one could flip a coin and get virtually the same result for a positive test based on the published data.”

Steve Wilkos

As Pennington recalls, Wilkos told her on stage that she was disgusting, that she was never going to see her kids again, and that she was going to go to jail. The audience booed her.

Pennington recounts that she had looked up to Steve Wilkos as a father figure and had never questioned polygraphs. Afraid that no one would believe her and that she would lose her children, Pennington made the decision to end her life during the ride to the airport for her flight home, writing a suicide note on the sheet of paper with her flight information that was given to her by the show’s producers.

Lying on the airport restroom stall floor after consuming the Tylenol, whose active ingredient, acetaminophen, can cause fatal liver damage in sufficiently large doses, Pennington began to feel warm, and her heart started racing. She became scared, thought of her children, and called 911. An ambulance came. After nearly a week of hospitalization, she was released and returned home to Omaha, having escaped any permanent liver damage.

Photograph of Anca Pennington’s infant daughter’s lesions provided to The Steve Wilkos Show

While in hospital, Pennington showed nurses pictures of lesions on her infant daughter’s leg: lesions that she had suspected were pinch marks or cigarette burns inflicted by the daughter’s father, who had left them, or by the father’s new girlfriend, both of whom also appeared as guests on The Steve Wilkos Show and passed polygraphs. As Pennington recalls, the nurses immediately recognized the lesions as ringworm, a common fungal infection that is easily treated.

Later in December 2019, lesions reappeared on the infant’s leg, and a medical examination confirmed a ringworm infection, for which clotrimazole, an antifungal medication, was prescribed.

Before contacting The Steve Wilkos Show, Pennington had also contacted the Nebraska Division of Family Services regarding her suspicion that her daughter had been abused. In a letter dated 3 December 2019, a full week before her appearance on the show, but which Pennington states she received only after her return to Omaha, Children and Family Services specialist Nicole Powers reported, “Based on the information obtained during this investigation, it has been determined that the allegation will be listed as ‘Unfounded.'”

Pennington reports that on Wednesday, 22 January 2020, The Steve Wilkos Show contacted her and told her that the episode in which she appeared will air in February. Pennington stated that she was “devastated and traumatized.”

AntiPolygraph.org has written to Steve Wilkos Show producer Jillian Calandra, who coordinated Pennington’s appearance on the show, and polygraph operator Daniel Ribacoff seeking comment. At the time of writing, no replies have been received.

In May 2019, the long-running British tabloid television program The Jeremy Kyle Show, which bears similarities to The Steve Wilkos Show, was abruptly canceled after Steve Dymond, who “failed” a polygraph “test” conducted for the show, committed suicide.

In December 2019, Pennington shared her story in a series of video clips that AntiPolygraph.org has assembled as a YouTube playlist:


Update (28 January 2020): On 26 January 2020, The Steve Wilkos Show released a 30-second video clip titled “THE COLD HARD TRUTH…ALL NEW…ALL FEBRUARY LONG!” with snippets of episodes to be aired in February 2020:

At 22 seconds into the video, a few seconds of the as-yet-unaired episode in which Anca Pennington appeared are shown. Steve Wilkos is seen gesticulating at her and shouting, “You’re the one burning your children!”

Pennington replies, “I did not do that!”

The Steve Wilkos Show‘s apparent decision to air this episode, despite compelling evidence that no one burned her child, may be explained by the fact that February 2020 is a Nielsen “sweeps” period during which audience measurements are taken.

AntiPolygraph.org’s inquiries to Steve Wilkos Show producer Jillian Calandra and polygraph operator Daniel D. Ribacoff remain unanswered.

Correction: This article originally stated that Ms. Pennington’s appearance with Steve Wilkos and attempted suicide took place on Tuesday, 10 December 2019. This is incorrect. Her polygraph examination with Daniel Ribacoff was conducted on that date, and her studio appearance and attempted suicide took place the following day, Wednesday, 11 December 2021.

Comments 465

  • Every single person that goes on the show knows what they signed up for. If you can’t handle the results or aren’t stable enough to…. DON’T GO ON THE SHOW!!!! He’s put more people away and has helped more people than anyone else.

  • Steve has not put anyone way since leaving the Chicago PD. He is no longer an officer of the court. Christians believe Jesus Christ has helped more people than anyone else.
    The only part of your generations I believe is no one should go on the Steve Wilkos show.
    The Steve Wilkos show is trash TV.

  • His fuck up show put so many people in sad place it’s a fuck up show putting a lots of people in jail for nothing I wouldn’t even go on that fuck up show ask him about him being drunk all the times

  • In that polygraphy has never been shown by scientific review to be any better than 50 to 60% accurate, Wilkos and his buddy ( Ribacoff ) have created sufficient havoc in some lives worthy of serious liability . I suspect they have their quests/victims sign a wavier stating they will not hold the show or it’s host/crew liable for any damage due to their appearance. This , however will not hold water, as his assertion that polygraphy is 99% accuracy is not true and thus not acting in good faith, violates any contract on which the victims rely. In fact it may actually be a criminal offense to intentionally lie to cause injury . I suspect a good personal injury attorney could get something in the range of 5 to 10 million from the sponsoring network, without even going to court .

  • Steve cannot put people away because polygraph tests do NOT hold up in court. He may have been able to have old cases reopened, but that is all he can do.

  • I bet 99.4% of ppl in these comments would fail a test lmao, no wonder yall are afraid of them.

  • YallFullOfBS. Excellent post that is a metaphor for the pseudoscience lie industry. First off, pulling the 99.4 percent fake stat out of your ass. The lie industry loves phony stats in the high 90’s. If you still stand by the 99.4%, please advise where you found that stat. Second, failing a test. Did you mean false positives like the test given to Ms. Pennington?
    Finally, about “yall being afraid of them.” Do you mean the terror of the victims being killed by Gary Ridgway after he “passed” a polygraph?

  • This bitch jus trying to get sympathy , the person who wrote this article is the woman in that picture btw lol. Look up her name on YouTube

  • Cause y’all lie

  • Shelly House, cause y’all lie you are talking about polygraphists and voice stress analysts, right?

  • I am amazed that this rag of a show is still on the air! If anyone should be in jail, it is Steve and Dan! There are so many gullible folks out there that are “drinking the Kool Aid” that it is ridiculous! How can he look in the mirror after ruining so many lives? Fake polygraphs and chair throwing have made this snake rich.

  • I’m just waiting for someone to get ahold of Wilkos and beat the crap out of him on stage, in front of everybody. I enjoy the show. It’s my guilty pleasure. But Ribacoff is full of shit if he thinks polygraphs are 99% accurate. If you believe otherwise, you’d be a great guest on the show. I’ve taken polygraphs before, was guilty as sin, yet I passed with flying colors.

  • For all you believing in the show and polygraph Steve went on a podcast himself and said he would never take a polygraph. It’s just for tv. He’s out here ruining lives.

  • Steve says he’s “never failed at anything since [he] joined the Marine. He never mentioned that he had two short-term marriages before his third & current marriage.

    Btw, thank you for your service, Steve, as a Marine & as a police officer.

  • You published this, an article proclaiming this woman’s innocence, on the basis SHE said a nurse said it looks like ring worm? Do you know what ringworm looks like?Was the daughter even treated for ringworm? You’re taking her word for literally everything. It doesn’t even look like ringworm.

  • Bracken, you may want to work on your reading comprehension. Ms. Pennington’s children were treated with an anti-fungal by medical professionals, and the Nebraska Department of Family services also advised no abuse was indicated. We are not taking the mother’s word; we are merely following the facts.
    Daniel Ribbacoff will not admit he made a mistake, and he will also not admit that the polygraph is not a legitimate scientific instrument.
    In regard to the last part of your post; please advise where you received your medical diploma and what date you personally inspected Ms. Pennington’s children.

    • Anthony your response is right on point. I like it.

      • Hi Steve, respect your show. You have brought cases to seek justice. Furthermore, the recent case with seizure/dogbit. I think your team should ask was it anyone else in the house of the disagreement/attack.
        Thank you Steve maybe the family of the mother of the child and the mother as well as family can get closure. If ruled out dogbit due to not familiar with persons having medical issues as seizures?. Was there ANYBODY else in the home at the time of scene for his mother, the son mother of the discease father and the family. Thank you. Ms. V

  • Steve Wilco or whatever his name is seems like a money hungry LIAR he knows how to beat the lie detector, he did it before! He is always bragging about being a cop! WOW! I bet a racist cop that did a lot of wrong doings against blacks. How many took that damn test and it was a lie? Even Dan was found out to be a jerk liar! That show is a disgrace! Steve you will answer to a higher power for all the lies on that show, so you don’t fool everyone and you will pay one day! That show has an idiots shouting STEVE! STEVE! they are told to do it, and I can’t wait until Steve pays for all the LIES he and Dan told! Dan too I pray both of them get what’s coming to them!! SCAM JOB THE WHOLE SHOW!

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