Guns, Gams & Gumshoes

A defense attorney & PI who also happen to be writers

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    All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Any use of the content on this site (including images owned by Colleen Collins and/or Shaun Kaufman) requires specific, written authority. Any violations of this reservation will result in legal action.

    It has come to our attention that people are illegally copying and using the black and white private eye at a keyboard image that is used on our site. NOTE: This image is protected by copyright, property of Colleen Collins.

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Answering Writer’s Questions about Surveillance Video

Posted by Writing PIs on November 22, 2014


Updated Nov 22 2014

We originally wrote this post in 2010, then updated it in 2012. A note we want to add today is that by 2011-2012, we were exclusively using equipment that recorded digitally, from digital recorders to digital video cameras. A funny story: After we had “gone digital,”  a P.I. contacted us and asked what tape recording equipment we had used for an insurance company client several years prior because they had just hired him, and they insisted he only record with tape! He was frustrated, but had no choice if he wanted to conduct insurance investigations for them.

We figure that the insurance company has gone digital by now. If you’re writing a story set around 2012, that could be a funny predicament to put a PI character in (forced to use near-obsolete equipment).

And now, the post from 2012…

We’re answering a writer’s questions about surveillance video vs. tape, the inclusion of sound, and terms referring to viewing and monitoring video.

WRITER’S QUESTION:  Do PIs/police/etc still refer to surveillance video as surveillance TAPES (even though info could be on disks,sticks, etc)?

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOES’S ANSWER: In our work, we say “surveillance video.” We thought about this, asking ourselves if we still hear other PIs loosely refer to surveillance video as tapes, but we can’t recall hearing that in a long time (several years at least).

WRITER’S QUESTION:  Do surveillance videos normally include sound?

surveillance female hanging out of car with camera

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOES’S ANSWER:  With our equipment, yes, and we expect that’s pretty standard for other PIs. We often don’t like it for our surveillance work, and invariably we’ll be using the camera and realize it’s recording our comments to each other, etc., and we need to shut down the sound. We have an entire surveillance video with the sound of our dog panting in the backseat (which strikes a soft spot with us as we’ve since lost that beloved dog). More than you wanted to know, but possibly fodder for stories.

WRITER’S QUESTION:  Are there special (industry specific) terms associated with reviewing and monitoring surveillance video?

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOES’S ANSWER:  Not that we’re aware of. In speaking with our clients, be they attorneys or civilians, we’ll use pretty generic verbs (reviewing video, downloading video [from video hard-drive to main computer, for example], “photoshopping” video [in our office, photoshop's become a verb much like Google--let's Google that address, for example], editing video, burning video to a CD [we'll burn video segment/s to a CD, which we'll drop off at attorney's/other's offices], shooting video).

Click on image to go to Amazon page

Click on image to go to Amazon page

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Nov 18 Book Launch! WINK OF AN EYE, Winner Private Eye Writers of America Best First PI Novel

Posted by Writing PIs on November 18, 2014

Today’s the book launch day for WINK OF AN EYE, by Lynn Chandler Willis, which wonWink of an Eye book cover the 2013 Private Eye Writers of America-St. Martin’s Best First P.I. Novel. Chandler was the first woman to win this award in over ten years. Here’s her story about learning her book won this coveted award:

As summer 2013 was winding down, I watched the days click off the calendar with disappointment. In my mind, each day closer to Bouchercon 2013 meant my chances of winning or even making the long list in the St. Martin’s Press/Private Eye Writers of America’s Best 1st Private Eye Novel competition were growing slimmer. Stupid me.

I’d never entered a contest, especially a big one, so I didn’t know how these things played out. For some silly reason I thought finalists would be notified a few weeks after the submission deadline, not a few weeks before the conference. So I’d given up hope on my favorite P.I., Gypsy Moran, coming to life through this particular contest.

Lynn Chandler Willis

Lynn Chandler Willis

Then one day in late August, I was talking with my sister on the phone and, um, multi-tasking, by checking email. We’re all guilty of it so don’t judge. She was talking about something when an email from St. Martin’s popped up. I don’t even remember what she was saying as everything faded out of focus except that email.

“…I am pleased to inform you…”

I started screaming. And crying. And hyperventilating. And my poor sister on the other end of the phone had no idea what was going on. She was screaming too, except she was screaming at me to hang up—she was calling 911. I finally calmed down enough to tell her there was no need for any kind of emergency services and to tell her the reason for the excitement. Then she started crying.

It wasn’t until much later when Wink of an Eye was added to Macmillan’s website that I discovered I was the first woman in ten years to win the award. In the male dominated genre and world of Private Eyes, this was a pretty remarkable feat. Not only did I chip away at that testosterone-driven barrier, I did it as a woman writing from a man’s point of view—and according to reviews and male beta readers—did it convincingly. 

Book Blurb

Twelve-year old Tatum McCallen hires reluctant PI Gypsy Moran to prove his father didn’t kill himself. Gypsy, on the run from his own set of problems, soon finds himself in the middle of a case involving eight missing girls, a cowardly sheriff, and undocumented workers. And it all comes back to Claire Kinely—the only woman he truly ever loved.

Praise for Wink of an Eye

“Gypsy and Tatum’s relationship is a well-drawn emotional hook, and the solid investigation, combined with well-timed humor, should create a following for this PWA First Private Eye Novel Competition winner.”—Booklist

“Readers won’t be able to put this novel down. P.I. Gypsy Moran is the perfect bend of streetwise smartass and big-hearted nice guy. That Chandler Willis manages to pack so much into one story, with well-rounded characters, is amazing in itself.”—RT Book Reviews

“This engrossing debut is told with a great eye for the gritty details of life in west Texas. The setting is extremely well done, and the twisty, compelling plot will keep readers hooked.”—Library Journal

Amazon Buy Link: Wink of an Eye

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Yes, Virginia, There Really Were Female Private Eyes In Hard-Boiled Stories

Posted by Writing PIs on November 17, 2014

woman looking thru mag glass black and white2

One of the Guns, Gams and Gumshoes, Colleen, just finished writing an article about female private eyes in literature, so it was surprising to read the November 14, 2014 article “The Death of the Private Eye” by John Semley in the New York Times and see references to only men being shamuses in hardboiled fiction.

There Were Lady Dicks, Too

The hardboiled private dicks in pulp fiction’s hard-hitting, heart-pumping stories included numerous female characters as the main protagonists, although you’d never know it from Semley’s text:

“The hard-boiled gumshoes were men…”

“If the private dick has all but disappeared, something of his DNA is woven into the biology of the authority-bucking hackers…”

“This is the real essence of the P.I….despite his venality…”

Miss Marple: An Amateur Sleuth

Semley does, however, give a passing nod to Miss Marple (“the old-school gumshoe feels as irrelevant as Sherlock Holmes and Miss Marple felt a generation before”) except that Miss Marple was an amateur sleuth, not a professional private investigator (definition from Private Eye Writers of America: A private investigator is a private citizen [not a member of the military, federal agency, or civic or state police force] who is paid to investigate crimes).

Tip of the Fedora to Hard-Boiled Female PIs

Secret Agent

Let’s look at a few female private eye characters who made their appearances during the hard-boiled era:

Grace “Redsie” Culver, an operative for the Noonan Detective Agency, starred in 20 stories in The Shadow Magazine from 1934-1937.

Carrie Cashin, owner of the Cash and Carry Detective Agency in Manhattan, first hit the fiction scene in 1937 and went on to star in 38 stories.

Dol Bonner started walking the mean streets in The Hand in the Glove (1937) by Rex Stout, who later included Bonner as a supporting character in several novels featuring Nero Wolfe.

The Death of the Private Eye Genre?

This is the real point of Semley’s article, and it’s a valid one. Yes, technological tools, available to just about anyone, have cast a cold shadow on many of the private investigator’s tricks of the trade. My husband and I have an entire room filled with cameras and other equipment that are hopelessly outdated. A lot of the smartphone apps I use for investigations any kid can buy.

Walking the Mean Streets: Still in Vogue

But not all investigations are about being technically hip. When a law firm hired us to find the names of people who had worked on a building nearly 50 years ago, there were no databases, even proprietary ones, that contained a shred of evidence to these people’s identities, so we sleuthed the old-fashioned way: On foot. Talked to people, reviewed old reverse phone directories, ended up digging through dusty boxes in a storage facility (where we finally found the people’s names).

We know a homicide detective who resorts to some old-fashioned tricks when he wants to get people to answer the door: He finds their electrical box and turns off the power. Within seconds, they’ve opened their door and he’s there with a few questions he’d like them to answer.

A Witness Wrote Us a Letter

When a lawyer hired us to find a gang member who had tried to kill his client, we headed to the gang member’s neighborhood and knocked on doors. Nobody wanted to talk to us because they were either frightened or protective of the gang. Later we returned to the neighborhood with signs that we posted on trees, bus benches, a fence at a park. A few days later, we received a letter written by someone who didn’t want to give their name, and who was writing with paper and pen because they didn’t want their identity traced electronically. They wrote that they would meet us at the park at a certain date and time and talk with us, for fifteen minutes only.

Was this witness for real? We didn’t know, but we showed up at the park at the designated time…and found a woman in her fifties who quietly told us the gang member’s name and address. She refused to give us her name, and to be on the safe side she hadn’t even driven to the park in her car (she’d walked). Her information cracked the case.

Semley claims that “All P.I. stories are now period pieces.” Hmm…maybe that’s even more of a cliche than thinking only tough, wisecracking guys were gumshoes.

fedora black and white

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Any use of the content (including images owned by Colleen Collins and/or Shaun Kaufman) requires specific, written authority. 

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Copyright Violations and Public Domain Images

Posted by Writing PIs on November 12, 2014

fedora black and white

Post before last, we wrote about copyright trolls (how to recognize them, current litigation against them, and how to protect yourself so you don’t fall prey to their tactics). At the end of the article, we talked about copyrights in general and included a link to romance author Ronnie Loren’s story about being sued, as in for a lot of money, by a photographer when she copied and pasted one of his photos, without his permission, from the Internet to use in one of her blog posts. It cost her a lot of money, including legal fees, but eventually the case was settled. After learning that hard lesson, she only posts her own photos on her blog.

Here’s the link again to her story: Bloggers Beware: You CAN Get Sued For Using Pics on Your Blog – My Story

Like an Image? Contact the Copyright Owner

Years ago, one of the Writing PIs, Colleen, contacted a graphic artist and expressed interest in licensing one of his drawings. They worked out an agreement, and Colleen now uses the images occasionally in blog posts.

Soon after, she found a vintage pulp fiction cover by Robert A. Macguire that she wanted to use on a website. Macguire, well known to pulp fiction fans, created over 600 covers for such publishers as Penguin, Pocket, Dell, Avon, Bantam and many more. Colleen contacted R.A. Macguire’s estate and they worked out a licensing agreement for the image. The estate also removed the text on the image so Colleen could add her own.

Sure, it would be a lot easier, and certainly cheaper as in free, to just pluck a vintage pulp cover–or any other image–off the Internet, but unless a person has obtained the permission of the copyright owner, to “pluck” such an image is violating U.S. copyright and intellectual property laws. One might argue, “But…but…everybody plucks stuff!” Well, a lot of people certainly do, but then some, like Ronnie Loren, get caught and have expensive legal experiences.

Our Experience Protecting a Copyright

Previously, we mentioned how Colleen licensed a drawing from a graphic artist. She so admired his work that she contacted him again and asked if he were available to create a logo for her. This artist had worked professionally as an illustrator for video games, books and other media for years, but had since happily retired and didn’t want to take any contract work as an illustrator. A few days later he called back, said he’d changed his mind because he and Colleen had always gotten along well, plus the logo sounded like a fun project.

And it was. They experimented with several concepts before settling on one, which he drew in varying sizes for her to use. They signed an agreement, Colleen paid him for his artwork, and she is now the owner of the copyright.

A few years ago, we found that several private investigations businesses were using this image on their websites. Colleen contacted them and explained that she owned the copyright, and could they please take down the image, or credit the image. Their choice. Both chose to credit the image, and all was well.

This last weekend we were surprised to see an article by a P.I., posted on several sites, which prominently displayed this image. We contacted the P.I. and asked if he could please take down the image or credit it. He credited it, even adding a compliment or two for both Colleen and the illustrator. He was so nice about it, Shaun now has his name and contact information in case Shaun ever needs a defense investigator in that part of the country.

More Websites Had Illegally Copied the Image

We thought it might be a good idea to run a reverse check on the image and see if it had been copied elsewhere on the Internet.  Oh boy, had it. At least 15 sites were displaying it, a few being even more P.I. sites. So Shaun wrote a formal takedown notice and sent it to these sites, as well as to Google’s and YouTube’s legal departments who handled copyright violations for Blogger and YouTube.

Why not just let people copy and paste the image? Let’s not forget that Colleen paid a professional to create this image for her use. She worked with the artist on the concept and final image. She didn’t give her time and money so the image could be freely used by anyone on the Internet. Plus, Colleen’s not being heavy-handed about it — as long as the website credits the image, fine. Although when we saw a gamer forum member, whose unprintable profile name was high on the scum-o-meter, using the image as his avatar (which meant every time he posted, which was many times each day, that image displayed alongside his scum-o-meter name), we asked the site administrator to please remove the copyrighted image altogether.

Other website owners and site administrators have graciously abided with the takedown notice or they have credited the image.

What we found interesting were that some sites, which aggressively protected their own copyrights, thought nothing of violating Colleen’s copyrighted material. One site had all kinds of threats and copyright notices with trademark symbols around the guy’s graphic art…yet he’d copied and pasted Colleen’s copyrighted image to use on his blog without ever asking permission to do so.

Images Available via the Public Domain

Want some cool, free images? There’s sites out there that offer professionally created photos, illustrations, audio and video for free. Here’s a few:

iStockPhotos: This site offers a few free professional illustrations, audio, video and photos every week. Only a few — the rest of iStockPhoto’s items cost money, of course. Here’s a few examples of free images we got from iStockPhoto:

fedora on woman black and whitevintage writer at old typewriter

iStockPhoto requires a registration. Scroll to the bottom of the page to see their free images and other media for the week.

Getty Museum Public Domain Images: Getty Museum, via its Getty Search Gateway, offers hundreds of photos, paintings, illustrations and more for free via its public domain portal. Here are a few examples (feel free to copy and paste any of them for your own use — all the Getty asks is that you add the following credit: Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program):

Leonilla Princess of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Sayn 1843 Franz Xaver Winterhalter Digital image courtesy of the Getty's Open Content Program

Whelan's NY 1944 by Brett Weston Digital image courtesy of the Getty's Open Content Program5 Men in Suits NY 1963 by Walker Evans Digital image courtesy of the Getty's Open Content Program


Have a great week, Writing PIs

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#Excerpt How Do Private Eyes Do That? – How PIs Are Used in Cases Where DNA Evidence Is Employed

Posted by Writing PIs on November 8, 2014

How Do Private Eyes Do That? is a compendium of articles about private investigations, currently available on Kindle.

“A must have for any writer serious about crafting authentic private eyes. Collins knows her stuff.”
- Lori Wilde, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author

“A spectacular bargain. It will help sweep out misconceptions, empty the waste bin of trite, worn out cliches and give you plenty of room for fresh ideas. Man, it’ll save your life.”
- C. M. Briggs

“I have been “snooping” for over 30 years. I worked Security and Law Enforcement, in the military, back in the 80′s. I WAS TRULY IMPRESSED with the information in this book!”
~I. Reed Alott

Excerpt: How Does DNA Get to a Crime Scene?

There is known DNA evidence (produced by the victim) and there is evidence produced by a suspect (foreign depositor.) This evidence must be collected by a definite protocol because deviation from this collection method might spark a courtroom challenge to the reliability of that evidence.

How is a private investigator used in a case where DNA evidence is employed?

A private investigator might be retained and used to challenge the manner in which DNA evidence was gathered and handled by their opponent. The private investigator might look for evidence to substantiate a challenge to laboratory staff’s credentials or he might look for evidence that their test results have been successfully challenged in other cases.

When Is DNA Evidence Used?

DNA evidence is used in criminal prosecutions (to show a suspect is the perpetrator of a crime) and in an increasing variety of civil cases (to prove that an individual was wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for a crime, to show paternity, and to establish lineage in estate matters.)

As an example, “wrongful conviction” cases have created a new type of litigation. Civil lawsuits are routinely brought by those

Animation of the structure of a section of DNA...

Animation of the structure of a section of DNA. The bases lie horizontally between the two spiraling strands. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

exonerated through DNA evidence against police, prosecutors, and the forensic laboratories who helped bring about the wrongful conviction. For example three young men who played on Duke’s Lacrosse team and were falsely accused of rape and wrongfully prosecuted for that crime over a twelve-month period sued a North Carolina District Attorney and thirteen others. The trio also sued the laboratory used by the prosecutors for withholding evidence that pointed to their innocence. This is the laboratory that initially attested to a match between their DNA and samples taken from their accuser. This laboratory is now under scrutiny for its handling of evidence in this and other cases.

Note to writers: If you’re writing a story with a private investigator character, he/she (who could easily have a scientific or an investigative background) might be involved in gathering evidence about how certain laboratories are crooked, how they employ “bad science,” or even what makes some scientists charlatans.

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Any use of the content (including images owned by Colleen Collins and/or Shaun Kaufman) requires specific, written authority. Any violations of this reservation will result in legal action.

Posted in DNA Crime Scene, Nonfiction book: HOW DO PRIVATE EYES DO THAT?, PI Topics | Tagged: , , , , | Comments Off

Don’t Fall Prey to Copyright Trolls

Posted by Writing PIs on November 2, 2014

Copyright Trolls: Who Are They?finger pressing key on keyboard

Copyright Troll is a pejorative term for a party, such as a company that buys or owns copyrights, that aggressively enforces its owned copyrights through threat of litigation. These companies use frivolous litigation, meaning lawsuits created for the sole purpose of harassing defendants, to make extraordinary profits.

This is different from a company or individual who learns their intellectual property, such as a photo, is being illegally distributed or copied, and they ask their lawyer to contact the copyright violator with a request to stop the undesired activity.

Trolls’ Business Is to Sue Internet Users

Copyright trolls make their money by suing Internet users

Copyright trolls make their money by initiating litigation against Internet users

Unlike an individual who requests his/her intellectual property to not be distributed, copyright trolls always seek financial damages, which is how they make money. For example, Righthaven, LLC, purchased copyrights for old news articles from the publisher of the Las Vegas Review Journal and the Denver Post. Righthaven then actively searched for any Internet users who had copied, distributed, posted or otherwise used these articles without Righthaven’s permission. After finding these violators, Righthaven’s lawyers filed lawsuits demanded damages of $75,000 per instance from each copyright infringer. Obviously, not everyone can pay $75,000 for illegally using a copyrighted item. Righthaven knew this. They also knew they would likely lose if the case went to court, so they’d pressure the person into a settlement of several thousand dollars, which unfortunately many people paid.

EFF Has Taken Up the Cause

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) attorneys, who defended several victims of Righthaven’s tactics, said, “It’s hard to interpret these lawsuits as anything else besides a way to bully Internet users into paying unnecessary settlements.”

Righthaven is no longer in business, and the Nevada State Bar investigated Righthaven’s founder and CEO, attorney Steven A. Gibson, as well as two other attorneys associated with Righthaven.

In 2013, EFF fought back against “a particularly nasty copyright troll tactic” by adult film producer Malibu Media, LLC, whose lawyers filed lawsuits against Internet users for downloading porn films with embarrassing titles, which are listed within the lawsuit. Their bullying tactic works as intimidated defendants have settled out of court rather than be publicly humiliated.

Although courts are becoming more critical of copyright trolls, unfortunately they continue to thrive because, as the EFF states, “copyright law give trolls a big club to wield.”

Tips for Not Falling Victim to Copyright Trolls

Do not reproduce or redistribute such items as:

Copyright trolls seek people who have thoughtlessly conducted downloads

Copyright trolls seek people who have thoughtlessly conducted downloads

  • Music
  • Images
  • Blogs
  • Stories
  • News articles
  • Movies

Also ask anyone who might use, or have access to, your computer to not reproduce/redistribute items.

How to Identify a Copyright Troll

Simply put, you can identify a copyright troll because the entity requesting extraordinary financial damages for an innocent copyright infringement is not the holder of the original copyright.

Violating Copyrights in General

Copyright trolls aside, violating copyrights can end up in litigation, costing the person who violated the copyright lots of money and time. Romance Novelist Roni Loren wrote about her experience when she thoughtlessly copied a photo on Google and used it on her blog. A photographer contacted her with a takedown notice, with which she immediately complied. But that wasn’t enough for the photographer, who next demanded financial compensation, as in a lot of money. She writes about her story here.

eye and magnifying glass

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Any use of the content (including images owned by Colleen Collins and/or Shaun Kaufman) requires specific, written authority. Any violations of this reservation will result in legal action.

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Answering Writers’ Questions: When Does a PI’s Surveillance Become Stalking?

Posted by Writing PIs on October 21, 2014

gavel and scales

Here’s a question that used to come up a lot in our workshops with writers.

WRITER’S QUESTION: At what point does a surveillance tail become stalking?

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOES’ ANSWER: Let’s start with checking the ethics in one’s motive for conducting surveillance.  If the surveillance performed serves a purpose of obtaining information that PIs usually obtain, then courts will uphold rigorous surveillance. A few years ago, an individual in Michigan sued Henderson Investigations for a violation of the Michigan stalking law for actions the investigators took during an insurance surveillance. The PI firm fought the case all the way to the Michigan Supreme Court, which agreed with the PIs that “surveillance by private investigators contributes to the goal of obtaining information and amounts to conduct that serves a legitimate purpose.  Even though plaintiff observed the investigators following him more than once, this is not a violation of the stalking law.” In summary, the Michigan Supreme Court dismissed the lawsuit outright and never allowed it to the stage where a trial was held.

Contrast this with a situation where a PI is hired to simply “put the muscle” on a witness or opponent in a lawsuit.  Repeated contact in the absence of an information-gathering purpose is a road sign indicating the on-ramp to stalking and illegal harassment. As an example of a licensed PI crossing the line into illegal conduct, take the example of the “PI to the stars” Anthony Pellicano, who was charged in Los Angeles County in 2005 with intimidating a Los Angeles Times reporter.  In that case, the Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley announced the charges against Pellicano, in a complaint that alleged the private detective’s co-conspirator had threatened the reporter “by placing a dead fish with a rose in its mouth on the windshield of her car. He made a hole in the windshield with the intent to make it appear like a bullet hole.  He also placed a sign with the word ‘stop’ on the windshield.”

We’d call this not only stalking, but menacing, damage to property, harassment, battery, and abuse of a fish.


Other Articles of Interest on This Topic

Anthony Pellicano Back in Court, Agrees to Deposition in Michael Ovitz Case (Hollywood Reporter, July 2014)

L.A. Judge Nixes Mike Ovitz’s Latest Bid in Pellicano Case; Anita Busch Case Heading for Trial (Deadline, April 2014)

Anita Busch Deposed As Lawsuits Against Michael Ovitz, Anthony Pellicano Revived (Wrap, August 2011)

fedora black and white

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Any use of the content (including images owned by Colleen Collins and/or Shaun Kaufman) requires specific, written authority. Any violations of this reservation will result in legal action.

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A Mysterious Blonde and a Missing Quarter Million Dollars

Posted by Writing PIs on September 20, 2014

Once we solved an embezzlement case based on this single piece of information from our client: He suspected a thirty-ish woman with blond hair.

woman pink illustratoin

A Lot of Assumptions and No Concrete Evidence

Our client told us his elderly uncle had been a Scrooge-like character who had saved a lot of money over the years, over a quarter million, yet after his sudden death by heart attack it was discovered that his savings account had next to nothing in it. How did our client know that his uncle had previously saved a lot of money? Apparently he’d once shown a bank statement to a young great-niece who had since moved to another state to attend college.

A Neighbor Claimed Seeing the Blonde

A neighbor, peeking through her blinds, saw a blonde

A neighbor, peeking through her blinds, saw the blonde

Our client suspected a blonde woman, possibly in her early thirties, might have defrauded his elderly uncle as she had been his only visitor in the last six months of his life (based on a sighting by a neighbor who’d been peeking through her blinds). He had no idea who this blonde was or what her possible relationship might have been with his uncle. Because he (and other relatives, except for this young great-niece) had not been on speaking terms with the uncle (who apparently greeted their attempts with hostility and anger), no one else in the family had any idea who this blonde might be, either.

One night I said to my husband, “Maybe the uncle was living the life he liked. Ignoring relatives who got on his nerves, and talking only to lovely young women.”

However, we weren’t so sure we believed this blond phantom really existed. The neighbor (who lived across the street) said the blonde had been “walking away from” the uncle’s house. Okay, but this could also mean that the blonde had been walking down the sidewalk away from someone’s else’s house.

We decided to start canvassing the neighborhood, see if anyone else had seen this blonde.

Knocking on Neighbors’ Doors

We knocked on doors, identifying ourselves and asking if anyone might have seen a thirty-something blonde visiting the elderly man’s home. After numerous “no’s,” we got a yes.

A young man said he’d noticed a tall blonde visiting the old man several times a week and that she drove a vintage sports car. However, he’d only caught a glimpse of the car as she always parked on the far side of the man’s home, so it hadn’t been easily visible to most people on the block.

And another yes. A middle-aged woman had seen the blonde show up the day after the old man died. The neighbor said the blonde entered the man’s house with a key and exited with several boxes of items.

We Extended Our Canvassing

Okay, the blonde was real. And seemed to have been quite close to the uncle if she had a key to his place. We let our client know of our findings, and suggested he change the locks.

Then we brainstormed what steps to take next. We wondered if the blonde might have been, well, a paid companion. If so, maybe the two of them only had visitations in his home, then she left. In our walk-through of the house, however, we hadn’t seen anything that helped identify her.

Or maybe the uncle thought she was…his girlfriend? As the uncle didn’t drive (and didn’t have a car), and no one had noticed the blonde driving the uncle anywhere, we wondered if they might have walked to one of the nearby bars or restaurants for a date, possibly in the evenings when they might not have been as easily seen?

A Bartender Knew Her NameGimlet cocktail

We walked from the uncle’s house, visiting each bar and restaurant, showing his photo and asking waitresses and bartenders if they had ever seen this man with a young blonde. Finally, a bartender remembered the woman and the elderly man. Said they sometimes sat at the bar, enjoying cocktails. Several times they moved to a back booth where they’d have dinner afterward. He even knew her first name. Said she once mentioned driving up from [town name] to visit the old guy.

We knew this town, which was approximately a forty-minute drive from the uncle’s home. Fortunately, for our case, the town was small, which meant we’d have better luck identifying her via a proprietary database search, from which we learned her full name, date of birth, and oh my…a possible criminal history (proprietary databases sometimes dredge up high-level information about criminal histories, fyi). We also learned that the vintage automobile had been purchased within the last six months.

We next ran her data in our state court records database…and discovered she had a criminal record for – guess what? – embezzlement.

We forwarded this information to our client, with the suggestion he contact a probate attorney ASAP.

hat and magnifying glass on computer

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Any use of the content (including images owned by Colleen Collins and/or Shaun Kaufman) requires specific, written authority. Any violations of this reservation will result in legal action.

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History of the Private Detective: From Vidocq to Pinkerton

Posted by Writing PIs on September 12, 2014

Eugene Francois Vidocq, recognized as the first P.I.

Eugene Francois Vidocq, recognized as the first private eye

In 1833 Eugene Francois Vidcoq, a French ex-criminal, founded one of the first private detective agencies, Le bureau des renseignments (Office of Intelligence) where he oversaw the work of other detectives, many ex-criminals such as himself.  He is credited with having introduced record-keeping, criminology, and ballistics to criminal investigation.  He also created indelible ink and unalterable bond paper with his printing company. Apparently, he had an altruistic bent as he claimed he never informed on anyone who had stolen for real need.

With Vidocq, the private investigator was born.  As the industry evolved, clients often hired PIs to act in law enforcement capacities, especially in matters for which they were not equipped or willing to do.  This led to PI agencies sometimes performing like private militia and assisting companies in labor disputes.

The Pinkerton National Detective Agency

Allan Pinkerton

Allan Pinkerton

Allan Pinkerton was born in Glasgow, Scotland, on August 25, 1819, and emigrated to the United States in 1842, where he founded a barrel-making shop in Dundee, forty miles outside Chicago. As an abolitionist, he set up his shop to also be a station for slaves escaping via the “underground railroad” for freedom in the northern states. After his work helping bust up a counterfeit ring, the Cook County sheriff offered Pinkerton a job as an investigator in Chicago. Within a few years, he accumulated more arrests for burglaries and murders than any of the other police officers within the department. He also gained a reputation for being fearless, having an iron-clad integrity and the ability to quickly read people.

Operatives’ Ethics

In 1850, Allan Pinkerton established the Pinkerton National Detective Agency at 151 Fifth Avenue in the heart of Chicago.  In an era with many law enforcement personnel openly associating with criminals sharing their illegal profits, Pinkerton stood out by promising that his agents would not only produce results, but always act with the highest ethics.   He promised to:

  • Accept no bribes
  • Never compromise with criminals;
  • Partner with local law enforcement agencies, when necessary
  • Refuse divorce cases or cases that initiated scandals of clients
  • Turn down reward money (his agents were paid well)
  • Never raise fees without the client’s pre-knowledge, and
  • Apprise clients on an ongoing basis.

It’s remarkable how many of the above ethical standards are mirrored in many PIs’ standards today (such as regularly apprising clients, partnering with law enforcement, and raising fees only with clients’ knowledge).  It’s also amusing to read how Pinkerton’s men refused divorce cases considering today many PIs specialize in marital investigations.

A Master at Marketing

Besides being an outstanding investigator, Pinkerton was also a master promoter of his agency. He made sure news of his investigators’ successes at catching murderers and thieves became newspaper stories. He also crafted a logo, an eye surrounded with the words “We Never Sleep,” the motto of his agency, and posted it in magazines, circulars, newspapers, billboards, and even wanted posters.

In 1856, Pinkerton hired Kate Warne as his first female investigator, which was highly unusual at the time. According to the Pinkerton website, police departments did not hire women to join their ranks until 1891, nor did they get promoted to be investigators until 1903.

Kate Warne, the First Female Private Eye in the U.S.

There is little biographical information known about Kate Warne, although some sources claim she was born in 1833 in New York, and was a widow with no children. Allan Pinkerton described her as a slender, brown-haired woman who, in 1856, responded to an ad for detectives at the Pinkerton National Detective Agency. Pinkerton presumed she was there to inquire about a clerical job. Later, he said that she demanded to be a private detective, and that he eventually hired her for that role on August 23, 1856. By 1860, Pinkerton had hired several more women to be detectives, calling them his “Female Detective Bureau” which was supervised by Warne.

Dead Ends While Researching Warne

Possible sketch of Kate Warne

Possible sketch of Kate Warne

Lynn H. Levy, owner and president of L.H. Levy Investigations, Inc., in Baltimore is currently writing a book about ten female investigators, including Kate Warne. In her research, Levy dug through 72 boxes in the Pinkerton archives at the Library of Congress, but due to a fire at the Pinkerton offices years before (likely the result of the Chicago fire in 1871), there was very little information about the agency in the 1850s.

In her further research on Kate Warne, Levy said, “I read every book published about Pinkerton, and there was enough information to get a full chapter about Kate. I found a few drawings of her and some photos that they believed were of her, but we don’t really know. She was born in New York and I’ve been trying to find out anything I can from sources there. They’re not even sure that was her last name. Up until she walked into Pinkerton’s office, there’s very little written about her.”

 Warne’s Most Famous Case

In 1861, Kate Warne helped foil an assassination attempt on President-elect Abraham Lincoln on his travels to Washington, D.C. for his inauguration. According to the Central Intelligence Agency’s website article “Saving Mr. Lincoln,” Warne accompanied Pinkerton and four other operatives from his agency to Baltimore where Pinkerton had heard a plot to assassinate Lincoln would take place. According to other sources, she both helped to coordinate the operatives as well as to devise a strategy for getting Lincoln safely from Baltimore to Washington, D.C.

Warne and Pinkerton’s Relationship

Pinkerton’s brother Robert wasn’t happy with Kate Warne’s agency expenses as he believed they included funds his brother diverted for gifts and travels with Kate as his mistress. Pinkerton never confirmed such a relationship. Nor is there any documentation written by Kate, not even a letter, to offer any of her insights about her life.

In 1868, Kate fell ill, and Pinkerton stayed by her side, nursing her, until she died. Some say she suffered from pneumonia and that her death was sudden, other sources say it was a lengthy, painful illness that is unknown.

Pinkerton had her buried in his family plot at Graceland Cemetery in Chicago, with a spot reserved next to her for him when he died. In his will decades later, he dictated that Kate’s plot was never to be sold. They remain buried next to each other to this day.

Private Investigators in the 20th Century

By the 1920s, due to the expanding middle class in America, the private investigator became better known to the average citizen.  Since then, the PI industry has continued to grow as it fills the needs of the public (who retain PIs to work on cases like infidelity, fraud, and criminal defense investigations).  Licensing requirements, with criteria a PI must meet, have also been regulated in most states in the U.S.  Additionally, professional organizations (regional, national, and international) combined with good business practices have cast the PI career in a more respected light versus its outdated, fictional reputation as the wrinkled trench coat, fallen-from-grace Sam Spade figure found in books and film.

Have a great week, Writing PIs

Click cover to go to book's Amazon page

Click cover to go to book’s Amazon page

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Any use of the content (including images owned by Colleen Collins and/or Shaun Kaufman) requires specific, written authority. Any violations of this reservation will result in legal action.

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Answering a Writer’s Question: Can a Private Investigator Get Romantically Involved with a Client?

Posted by Writing PIs on September 6, 2014

“Let me explain something to you, Walsh. This business requires a certain amount of finesse.”~ Jake Gittes, Chinatown (1974)

Note to Readers: Several years ago, Colleen wrote a monthly column, “P.I. Confidential,” for Novelists, Inc., a community of writers who write novel-length commercial fiction. At the end of each article, she would answer questions writers had sent in — below is her response to a question about P.I.s having romantic dalliances with their clients.

fedora black and white

Writer’s Question: Are there any legal restrictions on a P.I. getting involved with a client, the subject of an investigation, a fellow P.I., or a law enforcement officer who’s involved in the same case? If not, are there generally accepted ethical guidelines or is it totally up to the P.I.’s own judgment? How about any lawsuits arising out of these kinds of relationships?

Answer: It’s certainly popular in film and books for a P.I. to get involved with a client. It’s not uncommon in real life, either. In our community, there’s a high-profile P.I. who became romantically involved with a woman who’d hired him to be her bodyguard–years later, they’re still happily together.

Although there aren’t always legal restrictions, there are often ethical ones to consider in the relationships mentioned. As to lawsuits, none appear in online sources; however, that doesn’t mean none exist. (Note: This was based on research in May 2011).

Involvement with a Client

Attorneys, physicians, accountants and psychologists cannot legally get involved with their clients because those professional-client relationships are interwoven with significant trust. However, in the vast majority of jurisdictions, there is no legal proscription forbidding a P.I. getting involved with a client.

That said, there are a pile of reasons why a P.I. should scrupulously avoid romantic entanglements with clients, a key one being the P.I.’s loss of professional objectivity. After all, clients hire P.I.s to make factual discoveries, not be advocates of their versions of events.

If a P.I. is hired through an attorney, the P.I. is an agent of that law firm, and the P.I.’s conduct is covered by the attorney’s code of professional responsibility. Therefore, if a P.I. were to get involved with a client, that attorney is on the hook for negligent supervision. For example, the attorney could be viewed as authorizing the P.I.’s sexual misconduct with a client, and the attorney could easily lose his/her license. Horrible scenario in real-life, juicy for fiction.

Involvement with the Subject of an Investigation

Let’s look at a few examples of what might be construed as a “romantic involvement”:

  • Taking the subject out to dinner
  • Weekend trips
  • Buying presents.

In the eyes of the law, the appearance of impropriety is as bad as the impropriety itself. In other words, if it looks like a fish, then it smells like a fish.

In a worse-case scenario, if police or opposing counsel learned that a P.I. was romantically involved with the subject of an investigation, it’s conceivable that the P.I. might be charged with tampering with a witness, improper influence or bribery. What if it was truly an innocent get-together, just an interview over dinner, nothing more? Sorry, a qualified P.I. should know appearances count. Again, this scenario offers ample fodder for fiction.

Let’s say the P.I. has become romantically linked to the subject of an investigation, and the romance goes south. A heartbroken witness might report a P.I.’s “misconduct” to authorities, maybe concoct a few heinous details (there’s no fury like a scorned lover). The P.I. could be publicly skewered by the local media and by opposing counsel in open court, and let us not forget the far-reaching impact of blogs, Twitter, Facebook LinkedIn…

Involvement with a Law Enforcement Officer

If a P.I. and police officer, who are intimately involved, are on different sides of a case, and they share–or even appear to share–case information, it can undermine a legal proceeding. For example, a convicted person is sitting, and stewing, in prison…then one day he learns that the D.A.’s detective in his case, and the P.I. the convicted man’s family hired, were lovers. Convict rings up his attorney, who files a motion for a new trial, claiming the P.I. shared investigative information and strategy with the other side of the case. Guess what? The conviction could easily be overturned.

Involvement with a Fellow P.I.

Yours truly eloped with her P.I.-business partner, so she well understands this scenario. First, let’s look at it this way: It’s not uncommon for professional peers–whether they’re P.I.s, cops, lawyers, or stockbrokers–to get involved. However, an ethical dilemma could arise if the P.I.s are working opposite sides of a case (see “Involvement with a Law Enforcement Officer,” above).

A by-product of a P.I.-P.I. relationship is the absolute unpredictability of each partner’s schedule. With one cell phone call, a candlelit dinner can turn into a moonlight surveillance. If they’re both working the same case, no ethical problems there…as long as both P.I.s keep their eyes on the target, not the moon…or each other.

Have a great weekend, Writing PIs

Click cover to go to book's Amazon page

Click cover to go to book’s Amazon page

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Any use of the content (including images owned by Colleen Collins and/or Shaun Kaufman) requires specific, written authority. Any violations of this reservation will result in legal action.

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