Guns, Gams & Gumshoes

A defense attorney & PI who also happen to be writers

  • Guns, Gams & Gumshoes in Top 10 P.I. Blogs!

    Featured on PInow.com - Top - Investigator - Blogs

  • Ebook for Writers

    A Guide for Writing Fictional Sleuths from a Couple of Real-Life Sleuths

    "How to Write a Dick is the best work of its kind I’ve ever come across because it covers the whole spectrum in an entertaining style that will appeal to layman and lawmen alike."

    Available on Kindle

  • Writing PIs on Twitter

  • Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes

Archive for the ‘Writing Mysteries’ Category

Answering Writers’ Questions About Private Forensic Labs

Posted by Writing PIs on April 14, 2014

Below are writers’ questions about private forensic labs, and our answers.

Writer’s Question: Where can someone find a private forensic lab?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes: Personally, we network with other private investigators, lawyers, addiction treatment personnel, even coroners about good DEA-approved private forensic toxicology labs. We searched to see if there’s a list of these labs online and found the following:http://home.lightspeed.net/~abarbour/labs.htm

Writer’s Question: Are all of these labs available to civilians?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes:In the link above, the specification to be on the list requires that the lab routinely performs tests for private as well as public agencies.

Writer’s Question: How much do these labs charge civilians?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes:In our personal experience (working with civilian client-cases that require chemical analytics), the cost has been about $250 per sample for drug testing. Urine testing is between $20-$150. Hair sample testing in the $120 range. If you’re needing more specific info for a story, contact a local lab and ask their prices (our experience has been that lab personnel are very accessible and can clearly explain testing methods).

Writer’s Question: What if a civilian suspected someone wanted to poison a relative?  Can they go to a lab and be upfront about their concerns?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes: Funny you should ask. We actually had a private lab chemist chat with us about a case she recently had that came into her office. A mother suspected her daughter was poisoning her (putting chemicals into the mother’s nightly glass of wine). The chemist at the lab told us the mother was right — they found toxic chemicals in the sample the mother brought into the lab.

Photo courtesy of Mick Stephenson

Photo courtesy of Mick Stephenson

Writer’s Question: What is the process? What paperwork would the PI/civilian have to complete? Does the lab call/mail results? How long does it take to get results?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes: All that’s necessary is chain of custody material:  That the sample was captured and handled carefully by the PI, and that it was then sealed and sent in a bag to the lab. In our experience, the lab has faxed us a simple form where we document what we requested to be tested, and how we are paying for their service (like any other business, they want the money upfront).

Regarding how the lab sends results, we typically have received results by fax and email.  We have also called the lab to inquire on the status of tests, and have found lab personnel to be very accommodating – they will take the time to answer our questions, explain their turnaround time for results, and so forth.  If they aren’t busy, we typically get results in 72 hours, sometimes a bit longer.

Writer’s Question: What evidence, if any, would the lab be required to report to law enforcement officials?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes:They don’t have a requirement to report to law enforcement.

Writer’s Question: Is there a time limit or other conditions that affect if results would be unattainable or inconclusive?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes: Samples don’t lose markers for chemicals unless they are kept under poor conditions (moisture, or heat such as light).

Have a great week, Writing PIs
Click on cover to go to book's Amazon page

Click on cover to go to book’s Amazon page

Posted in Q&As, Writing About PIs, Writing Mysteries, Writing PIs | Tagged: , , , | Comments Off

Book Excerpt: SECRETS OF A REAL-LIFE FEMALE PRIVATE EYE – The Day the Sheriffs Escorted Us to Another County

Posted by Writing PIs on August 8, 2013

Guns, Gams & Gumshoes’s Colleen Collins’s newest nonfiction book, Secrets of a Real-Life Female Private Eye is now available on Amazon for $2.99.  To go to its Amazon page, click here or on book cover, below.

To go to book's Amazon page, click on cover

To go to book’s Amazon page, click on cover

Below is an excerpt from Secrets of a Real-Life Female Private Eye - a divorce case seven or so years ago where the almost-ex-husband, in an enraged phone call to his vodka-and-cocaine-loving almost-ex-wife, spilled everything his attorney had told him in confidence about his private investigators (us) and our investigation plans.  I probably should have titled this case story, “Attorneys Shouldn’t Over-Share,” but instead I titled it…

The Day The Sheriffs Escorted Us to Another County

One thing we’ve learned at our investigations agency is to never provide details about an investigative task to a client until after the task is completed. Unfortunately, years ago one of our lawyer-clients spilled the “investigation beans” to his/ our client, which caused all kinds of problems.

A Lawyer Hired Us for a Nasty Divorce Case

The husband had recently moved out of his mountain home, leaving his wife and two small children there. The problem was, the wife was overly fond of cocaine and vodka, staying up partying for long periods before crashing for day-long sleeps. The children, both under six years old, had told their dad that on “Mommy’s sleep days,” they were going outside to play by themselves.

The attorney asked us to conduct a trash hit, see what evidence there was of alcohol and drug use. In preparation to visit the home, we learned it was remotely located in the mountains (very dangerous for young children to be outside for long periods by themselves). We also learned the soon-to-be ex-wife had a history of drug and alcohol abuse. In preparation for a trash hit, we learned the day the trash was set out and where the trash cans would most likely be located. As the wife didn’t have a job, it was likely she’d be at home, so we planned to work quickly.

It was going to be a long drive to the mountains, so we decided to take our Rottweiler, Aretha

Investigator Aretha

Investigator Aretha

Franklin. Although on such cases, we like to call her Investigator Aretha.

Imagine Our Surprise When We Saw…

The home, located in the mountains, was only accessible by a single dirt road that snaked around hills, boulders, trees. When we finally hit the last stretch of road leading to the house, imagine our surprise to see several sheriff’s units, including a K-9 unit and a van. These dudes, and dog, were waiting for us. Our Rottweiler, Ms. Big Bad Herself, leapt into the front seat, all hundred-plus pounds of her knocking the wind out of me as she landed in my lap where she huddled, shivering with fear. I have never seen her behave like that before or since. Maybe it was all those sheriffs in uniforms, who knows.

The sheriff approaching our vehicle had seen Ms. Big Bad clear the backseat and placed his hand on his holster. This was going to be one of those days.

My husband poked his head out the driver’s window and said loudly, calmly, “The Rottweiler is docile— she’s cowering in my wife’s lap.” I smiled at the sheriff as Investigator Aretha trembled and whined in my arms.

Wife Added Sinister Story Twists

sheriffFor the next hour or so, the sheriffs interviewed my husband and I about what we were doing there, who we were, who sent us, etc. etc. etc. From the questions, it became obvious that our chatty attorney-client had informed the almost-ex-husband that we were heading up the mountain to conduct a trash hit on his former residence. Later we learned that in a rage-fueled conversation with his estranged wife, hubby had blabbed everything the lawyer had said, down to the expected time of our arrival.

The almost-ex-wife, after hearing that a couple of P.I.s, on behalf of her husband’s divorce attorney, were on the way to the house, called the local sheriff and added all kinds of sinister twists to the tale, leading the sheriff’s office to believe we were everything from potential burglars to kidnappers.

Lovely.

The sheriffs, upon learning we were really working on behalf of a lawyer in a nasty divorce case, decided the best recourse was to escort us to another county, which was fine as that next county was the one in which we lived and worked.

Escorted in Style Down the Mountain

The sheriffs set up a caravan of their vehicles, in front and behind us, and our happy convoy proceeded down the mountain. Along the way we called our attorney-client, explained that his telling the client everything about the trash hit had resulted in this sheriff-fest.

“Are they putting you in jail?” he asked, “‘ cause if they are, call me. I’ll represent you, no charge.” He thought that was pretty funny.

We continued in our sheriff-P.I. caravan down the mountain, our steel-nerved Rottweiler refusing to leave my lap. As we crossed the county line, one of the sheriffs honked and waved good-bye. Friendly folks, those mountain sheriffs.

Since then, whenever we start working a case with a new lawyer, we insist that pertinent details of an investigation not be shared until after the task is completed. Most attorneys know this, but we’d prefer to err on the side of too much information than to be part of a law enforcement’s procession again.

Postscript: That attorney hired another investigator who safely conducted a trash hit. Significant amounts of drug evidence and alcohol were found (the wife, despite knowing her husband’s divorce attorney was keen on getting evidence of her drinking and drugging, continued to party and toss that evidence right into the trash). We’ve since heard she’s in a recovery program, so hopefully this story has a better ending for the kids.

Secrets of a Real-Life Female Private Eye by Colleen Collins, a  nonfiction, no-holes-barred, modern-day story about life in the female PI fast lane.

Posted in Excerpt: The Day the Sheriffs Escorted Us Down the Mountain, Secrets of a Real-Life Female Private Eye, Writing Mysteries | Tagged: , , , , | Comments Off

SECRETS OF A REAL-LIFE FEMALE PRIVATE EYE – P.I. blogs, magazines and websites

Posted by Writing PIs on July 12, 2013

To go to book's Amazon page, click on cover

To go to book’s Amazon page, click on cover

“As an experienced private detective and a skilled storyteller, Colleen Collins is the perfect person to offer a glimpse into the lives of real female P.I.s”
~Kim Green, managing editor of Pursuit Magazine: The Magazine of Professional Investigators

“This book does a great job bridging the gap between our country’s first private investigators to the state of the modern sleuth. I like that Colleen is thoughtful about her work and her cases and represents our profession well. This is a must-read for anyone remotely curious about what a private dick(ette?) really does.”
~Mike Spencer, PI, Partner, Spencer Elrod Services, Inc.

Guns, Gams & Gumshoes’s Colleen Collins’s  nonfiction ebook is Secrets of a Real-Life Female Private Eye, a part-memoir, part-reference book whose topics include:

  • A history of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency
  • The hiring of the first women P.I. in the U.S., Kate Warne
  • The advantages and dangers of being a current-day female P.I.
  • Tools of the trade, from interactive crime maps to smartphone apps
  • A sampling of cases, from paranormal to criminal investigations
  • Investigative tips, including free online searches, finding lost pets and sending untraceable emails
  • An overview of popular fictional private eye counterparts
  • And much more!

Available on Amazon.

Excerpt from Secrets of a Real-Life Female Private Eye

woman looking thru mag glass black and white2

Below is a partial excerpt from a book appendix that lists a variety of P.I. blogs, magazines and websites.  Enjoy!

Appendix A: Some Favorite Sites

Below are a few of my favorite blogs, websites and online magazines, authored by real-life P.I.s or people in associated fields.  I’ve added a few private-eye genre sites as well for those interested in reading about gumshoe writers and stories.

Defrosting Cold Cases: A blog by Alice de Sturler to explore why some homicide cases remain unsolved. Through blogging and innovative use of existing technology, she has been able to get those cases renewed media attention.  Excellent resource for articles, interviews, news and cold case investigations.

Diligentia Group: Run by private investigator Brian Willingham, CFE, who specializes in due diligence, background and legal investigations.  He writes informative articles about the art and business of private investigations.

Handcuffed to the Ocean: One of our favorite real-life private investigators, also a fiction writer, is Steven Kerry Brown who is one of the writers for this blog. To read Steve’s blogs, click on the “Crime” category. Also check out his nonfiction book The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Private Investigating.

PInow.com news: News and articles about private investigations.

PIBuzz.com: Authored by Tamara Thompson, a highly respected California private investigator known for her expertise in Internet data gathering, genealogical and adoption research, witness background development and locating people.

Professional Investigator Magazine: Owned by the P.I. team Jimmie and Rosemarie Mesis, two nationally recognized private investigators, this magazine offers articles, resources and products for professional private investigators. In both print and digital, subscribers can order only one magazine or a full subscription. Also check out their investigative products site PIGEAR and their books on investigations at PIstore.com

Pam Beason: Private investigator and writer. From her website: “My books include strong women characters, quirky sidekicks, animals, a dash of humor and big dose of suspense. I love the wilderness, so many of my stories feature wildlife and outdoor adventures.”

Private Eye digital comic book:  Artist Marcos Martin and writer Brian K. Vaughan call this a “forward-looking mystery” featuring a private detective in a futuristic world where privacy is considered a sacred right and everyone has a secret identity.  The price is pay-what-you-can, and they’re planning on publishing 10 issues total.

Pursuit Magazine: What began as an informal e-zine for professional investigators, bail bondsmen, process servers, attorneys, and other security and legal professionals has morphed this past year into “a clearinghouse of information for truth seekers of all stripes, from detectives to journalists.” Check it out.

End of excerpt – partial list in appendix

Posted in Secrets of a Real-Life Female Female Private Eye, Writing Mysteries, Writing PIs | Tagged: , , , , , | Comments Off

Has the Private Eye in Movies Lost Its Myth?

Posted by Writing PIs on January 18, 2013

This morning we were amused, surprised and even a bit intrigued after reading several crime fiction articles.  One claimed that the “myth” of the private eye in movies, a la Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe, is not a “renewable source.”  Another shook its figurative finger at publishers for their lack of “gritty” credibility.

We needed an extra cup of coffee–black like our noir-loving hearts–to digest these cynical tid-bits.

Below are links to these articles, with a few of our notes.  We wish we could added more, but we have work to do.  Investigating a case, interviewing witnesses, dragging a reluctant client to his probation.  The real-life stuff of a criminal defense attorney and a PI–funny how some people, non-PIs, think all we do is sit at computers and search databases.  Kinda like how some critics proclaim the private eye genre has gone flabby.  You get our drift.

The Private Eye Movie=Not a Renewable Resource

It's Only ChinatownForget It, Marlowe–It’s Chinatown. Subtitle: “How Roman Polanski‘s masterpiece demythologised the hard-boiled private eye” by  Graham Fuller, theartsdesk.com

The writer starts out saying that the “movie version of the hardboiled private eye…was never as enduring as his literary original.”  He goes on to say that the re-release of Polanski’s Chinatown reminds us that the myth consecrated by Spade and Marlowe is not a renewable resource.

Don’t get us wrong–we thoroughly enjoyed this article, which is noir-ly despairing of the “knight errant” role of the private eye as epitomized by Bogart as first Spade in The Maltese Falcon, then as Marlowe in The Big Sleep.  But we had trouble buying that this character’s heydey was during and after World War II.  We were also a bit confused with the analysis that the obese police captain character (who plants evidence and stoops to murder) in Orson Welles’s Touch of Evil had the “aura of a private eye.”  Uh, what happened to the epitomized knight errant model?

The writer devoted several paragraphs about Altman’s 1973 The Long Good-bye with Elliot Gould as Marlowe, a film we both love.  Some believe Altman’s movie version is more Chandler in spirit than, say, Hawks’s The Big Sleep. In this article, the writer believes it was private eye Jake Gittes in Chinatown, made a year or so after Altman’s The Long Good-bye, that restored the knightly myth.  Restored?  Did it really go away?  To our mind, Gould’s Marlowe held onto that tarnished knightly myth as a PI steeped in cynicism and shady deeds, yet we, the viewer, still got glimpses of a deeply personal involvement that sometimes errs on the side of morality. That’s the gumshoe myth that still appears in films, too.  We’re not saying all the time, but we certainly don’t think it stumbled off its cracked pedestal after WWII.  Anybody see Michael Shannon in the 2009 Australian film The Missing Person?

Bought off: how crime fiction lost the plot.  Subtitle “Thriller writing was once a British strength, but publishers are reducing it to a formulaic genre. Time, maybe, for murder most foul…” by Christopher Fowler, the Independent

We’re not British, but we found it interesting that the writer encourages readers to “step away” from crime fiction publishers’ current offerings because the “genre has backed itself into a dead end.”  His view is that publishers are falsely advertising their latest murder mysteries to be grittily realistic.

They aren’t grittily real?

May we take this to a bigger view of crime fiction?  One of us has been privileged to be a judge for the Private Eye Writers of America bad private eye with gunthree times (2013 will be her fourth stint).  In this capacity, she has read several hundred private eye-crime novels, and many (she lost count) short stories in the genre as well.  And sometimes she agrees that the crimes portrayed aren’t realistic, gritty or otherwise, but just as often they are dead-on correct.  One way she knows this is she has investigated certain types of crimes, and other times she has analyzed the crimes with her once-PI-partner who is now a criminal defense attorney (with nearly 30 years in the criminal justice field), as well as with a good pal, a local homicide detective, who has been walking some very real, very mean streets for several decades.

Yet in a recent book she wrote, which she researched based on several real, gritty crimes, then followed up by having several experts in the field check the book for legal veracity and crime accuracy, one Amazon reviewer sniffed that one crime in particular was “implausible.”

Let’s go back to this article.  At the end, the writer makes a pitch for publishers to let readers discover other crime tales that lay outside of those that lean on gritty realism.  Tales that are farcical, tragic, even strange.  Sure, why not?

Both articles are fun, well written, educational reads.  We just disagree with grand, sweeping statements–be it the dying myth of a character or the honesty of crimes in fiction.

Have a great weekend, Writing PIs

Posted in Writing Mysteries, Writing PIs | Tagged: , , , , | Comments Off

Two Nonfiction Books About the Real World of Private Eyes

Posted by Writing PIs on December 10, 2012

Shaun Kaufman and Colleen Collins

Here at Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes, one of us, Shaun, is also a criminal defense attorney, the other, Colleen, a multi-published writer.  After teaching classes to writers at various conferences about developing realistic private eyes in fiction, we co-authored a nonfiction book geared to writers, and later Colleen wrote a second nonfiction book packed with articles she’s written on the art of private investigations.  Below are details about both books.

How to Write a Dick: A Guide for Writing Fictional Sleuths from a Couple of Real-Life SleuthsHow to Write a Dick cover
Available on Amazon for $4.99 at http://www.amazon.com/How-Write-Dick-Fictional-ebook/dp/B00595K1UK

This nonfiction research book for writers, co-authored with attorney and former investigator Shaun Kaufman, provides facts and guidance for novelists, scriptwriters and others who are crafting mystery, legal thriller or suspense stories. This book also appeals to readers who are simply curious about the techniques and tools of real-life private eyes. Topics include a history of private investigators; descriptions of various specialized fields and how to gain experience in them, from insurance investigations to white-collar crime investigations to pet detection; how private investigators conduct surveillances on foot and in vehicles; the basics of homicide investigations and how private investigators might be involved; a gumshoe glossary and much more.

“If you want authenticity in creating a fictional private investigator for your stories, then this is a must-have reference book. Its authors, Colleen and Shaun, are living, breathing PIs with years of actual experience in the PI game.” ~ R.T. Lawton, 25 years on the street as a federal special agent and author of 4 series in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine

“Forget Google and Bing. When you need to research PI work, go to the experts, Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman: they live it, they teach it, they write it. How to Write a Dick is the best work of its kind I’ve ever come across because it covers the whole spectrum in an entertaining style that will appeal to layman and lawmen alike. This will be the industry standard for years to come.”
—Reed Farrel Coleman, three-time Shamus Award winner for Best PI Novel of the Year and author of Hurt Machine

How Do Private Eyes Do That?HOW DO PRIVATE EYES DO THAT cover
Available on Amazon for $2.99 at http://www.amazon.com/How-Private-Eyes-That-ebook/dp/B005SSZJM8

This nonfiction book is useful for writers conducting research for mystery, thriller and suspense novels, as well as for readers interested in learning about real private detectives. The book provides dozens of articles on the art of private investigations, including case examples and a listing of recommended writers’ and professional private investigators’ sites. Topics include how to locate missing persons, how to find cell phone numbers, tips for catching cheating spouses, where to access free online research sites, techniques for conducting successful witness interviews, tips for investigating white-collar crime and more.

“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

“Real-life private investigator Colleen Collins spills the beans.”
~The Thrilling Detective

Have a great week, Writing PIs

Posted in Nonfiction book: HOW TO WRITE A DICK, PI Topics, Writing About PIs, Writing Mysteries | Tagged: , , , , | Comments Off

Booklist Online’s “Web Crush of the Week”: Guns, Gams and Gumshoes

Posted by Writing PIs on May 31, 2012


Thank you, Booklist Online!

The American Library Association‘s Booklist Online’s Reference Editor Rebecca Vnuk has designated Guns, Gams and Gumshoes to be “Web Crush of the Week” this week as part of their Mystery Month celebration.  Thank you Ms. Vnuk and Booklist Online. An excerpt of the write-up is below:

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes is a blog geared primarily to mystery, suspense and thriller writers, but readers will find plenty to enjoy here as well.  The contributors know what they’re talking about:  Shaun Kaufman is  a trial attorney specializing in personal injury, criminal defense and business litigation, and Colleen Collins is a novelist. They’re both licensed private investigators, to boot.

To read the rest of the write-up, click here.

To celebrate being the “Web Crush of the Week,” we’ll post links to some of our recent readers’ favorite articles, below.  To read an article, click the link.

Top Mistakes Writers Make When Depicting Crime Scenes

Flashlights are dandy for private eyes in stories, but many of today’s PIs are also using flashlight apps on their smartphones!

Story Foibles in Private Eye Fiction

Get a Bad Review? Three Tips to Minimize It on the Internet

Private Eye Stories That Get It Right

Answering Writer’s Question: Are PIs and Cops Compatible?

Answering Writers’ Questions: What Records Can PIs Legally Obtain?

Private Investigators and Murder Cases

Shaun Kaufman writes about civil and criminal litigation issues, and sometimes basketball, at http://www.shaunkaufman.com.

Additional Articles of Interest

As Ms. Vnuk mentioned in her write-up, one of the Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’s authors is Denver, Colorado, trial attorney Shaun Kaufman. Below are some of recent articles he’s posted on his site — as you can see, he’s also a die-hard basketball fan. To read an article, click on the link:

What Personal Injury Lawyers Can Learn from Dwayne Wade and LeBron James

Copyright Trolling: Don’t Be a Victim

Miami Heat-Bostom Celtics Match Mirrors DA-Defense Contest

Remembering Military Justice

Have a great week, Writing PIs

Posted in Writing Mysteries, Writing PIs | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Top Mistakes Writers Make When Depicting Crime Scenes

Posted by Writing PIs on May 18, 2012

Today Novel Rockets, one of the Writer’s Digest 101 Top Websites for Writers, has posted an article by Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’s PI, Colleen Collins: “Top 5 Mistakes Writers Make at a Crime Scene.”  Besides offering a PI’s perspective on crime scene faux pas, Colleen interviewed other experts for this article: Joe Giacalone, veteran NYPD detective sergeant and commanding officer of their Cold Case Squad and author of  The Criminal Investigative Function; David Swinson, retired Washington, DC, detective and author of A Detailed Man; and Denver criminal defense attorney Shaun Kaufman.

Below we post an excerpt.  To read it in its entirety, click on the “To read the full article, click here” link at the bottom of the article.

Top 5 Mistakes Writers Make at a Crime Scene

by Colleen Collins

Incorrectly describing a crime scene can hurt the credibility of a story

Next to confessions, crime scenes contain the most first-hand evidence explaining the who, what and whys of a crime.  Unfortunately, sometimes writers get aspects of a crime scene wrong, which puts a dent in the credibility of a story.

David Swinson, a retired Washington, DC, detective and author of A Detailed Man (available in most bookstores and Amazon), calls these dents “Aw c’mon, man” moments.  “I have been to countless crime scenes,” says David.  “When you respond to a scene that is related to a violent crime, especially homicide, even the smallest mistake can ruin the outcome of the case. I’m especially tough on some authors who write crime fiction — it’s what we in law enforcement call an ‘Aw c’mon, man’ moment.’”

Let’s look at the top five mistakes, or “Aw c’mon, man” blunders, in no particular order, that writers make at crime scenes.

Using incorrect terminology. One popular misconception is that the words cartridges and bullets are synonymous. A bullet, the projectile that fires from a rifle, revolver or other small firearm, is one part of a cartridge. Two other words that writers sometimes use interchangeably: spent bullets and spent casings. A spent bullet, sometimes called a slug, is one that has stopped moving after being fired. Spent bullets are often pretty distorted after hitting objects on their way to a resting place. A spent casing is one from which a bullet has been fired. Although spent bullets and casings might be found at a crime scene, casings are more likely to be lying in plain sight.

Mishandling evidence. “First rule of any crime scene investigation,” says Swinson, “is when you observe what is obviously evidence, leave it where it is. Don’t move it!”  An “Aw c’mon, man” crime scene scenario for Swinson: “Spent casings are visible on the floor beside the body, a semi auto is a few feet away, and a little baggy that contains what appears to be a white powdery substance is near the weapon. The detective picks up the gun and inspects it and then picks up the baggy, opens it and smells or takes a taste using his finger. This makes me crazy! A detective would never pick up crucial evidence before it is photographed or, if necessary, dusted for prints. This contaminates evidence and can jeopardize the prosecutor’s case. And a detective would never, ever pick up what might be illegal narcotics and taste it!”

To read the full article, click here

Related articles

Posted in PI Topics, Writing Mysteries | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Tips for Writers Writing Sleuths: Tracking Missing Persons

Posted by Writing PIs on January 2, 2012

How a Sleuth Might Track a Missing Person

by Colleen Collins, originally printed in Novelists Inc. January 2012 newsletter NINK

A large percentage of a real-life and fictional PIs’ work involves, to an extent, finding persons whose location is unknown to the PI. For example, a person might be actively avoiding being found, such as a debtor who does not want to be served with a lawsuit. This person might come and go at odd hours or start shimmying in and out a back window instead of using the front door of her residence.

Sometimes the missing person case is more complex, such as a parent who has abducted his child and fled the jurisdiction. In such scenarios, people are more deliberate in their efforts, typically travel farther and attempt to cover their tracks more thoroughly.

If you’re writing a story with a PI or sleuth, your character might be hired to locate someone. A few techniques for finding a person whose location is unknown include:

  • Searching databases that contain public records. There are numerous online public records that anyone can search, such as:
    • County assessors’ sites have lists of owners of real property. If the person was not the owner of the residence, you’ll find out who is.  That owner/landlord might have information about the person’s current whereabouts or know someone who does.
    • Privately owned cemeteries and mortuaries maintain burial permits, funeral service registers, funeral and memorial arrangements, obituaries, intermediate orders and perpetual care arrangements. For example, if the missing person recently attended a funeral, a PI can find names of friends and relatives through some of these records.
  • Interviewing past and current neighbors as well as relatives, past and current landlords, co-workers and known associates.
  • Searching the Internet using Google and other search engines for blogs, images, news and so forth. You’d be surprised what you can find by simply typing a telephone number into the Google browser, for example.
  • Looking up bride/groom’s names if there’s been a recent wedding, or one is in the works: Wedding Channel.  Often, photos and lists of guests are also posted.
  • Checking Internet communities and social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin. We once located a missing person who was on the run, but she still found time to log into her social media account and write about places she was visiting and restaurants she liked. One search engine that searches dozens of social networking sites with each lookup is Socialmention.
  • Conducting surveillances at locations where the subject has been known to hang out, from bars to exercise clubs to softball games.

There are entire books written on the subject of finding missing persons – if you’re writing a story with a missing-person plot, considering purchasing a recent book on the topic. PIstore.com offers a wide variety of books on different investigative specializations.

There are also organizations whose websites offer help with networking, services and resources to find people who are missing – below are several of these sites:

If your fictional sleuth specializes in missing persons, think about the following character traits:

  • How tenacious is your character? This kind of research can be time-consuming, detailed, frustrating, with lots of dead-ends before finding a clue.
  • Is your sleuth a people person? Because most likely he’ll be talking to a number of people and trying to, in the course of their conversations, pull the nuggets of information he needs.
  • What kind of tools does your sleuth use? Does she have access to a computer, proprietary databases, an adequate vehicle to conduct surveillance?  Is he knowledgeable conducting research in public libraries, courthouses and the like?
  • Does your sleuth incorporate all of the tools of the PI trade in her search, including trash hits at recently vacated residences for signs as to where the missing party might have been headed?
  • Does your sleuth like putting together jigsaw puzzles? Because that’s what locating missing persons is like — assembling varied pieces of information from disparate sources to get, finally, a clear picture.

Have a good week, Writing PIs

Like private eye mysteries with thrills, humor and romance? Check out The Zen Man, a 21-st Nick and Nora mystery, now available on Kindle.

Posted in Writing Mysteries | Tagged: , , , , | Comments Off

How a Private Investigator Conducts Surveillances in the Country

Posted by Writing PIs on August 2, 2011

Today we’re guests at Terry’s Place, writer Terry Odell’s blog, where she’s posted our article “Writing Rural Surveillances.”  Writing a sleuth who needs to conduct a stakeout in the country?  Curious how a private investigator might prepare for such a surveillance? Drop by and check out the article.  We’re also giving away a Kindle version of How to Write a Dick: A Guide for Writing Fictional Sleuths from a Couple of Real-Life Sleuths.”  If you don’t have a Kindle, no problem.  You can download a free Kindle app for your PC or Mac.

Terry’s Place “Writing Rural Surveillances”

 

Have a great week, Writing PIs

Posted in Writing Mysteries, Writing PIs | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Down These E-Cover Mean Streets: Peter Ratcliffe, Designer Extraordinaire

Posted by Writing PIs on July 26, 2011

A Guide for Writing Fictional Sleuths from a Couple of Real-Life Sleuths

We’re a couple of PIs who also write…and sometimes we also talk about people whose work is fantastic.  Such as Peter Ratcliffe, a graphic designer who also designs book covers (print and ebook).  Like the two covers above.  The top is a fiction novel by one of the Writing PIs, the other is a non-fiction by both of the Writing PIs.  Cool, huh?  You should check out the book covers he’s designed for other authors:

To see Peter Ratcliffe’s book cover designs: click here

Did we also mention he’s great to work with?  Easy-going, knowledgeable, creative…okay, we think he’s brilliant.

Below is his ad — it says “Satisfaction Guaranteed.”  Know what?  He means it.  When you start working on a cover design with Peter, his goal is to bring life to your vision and he’ll work with you until that’s met.

Have a great week, Writing PIs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Writing Mysteries, Writing PIs | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
%d bloggers like this: