Guns, Gams & Gumshoes

A defense attorney & PI who also happen to be writers

Archive for the ‘Writing PIs’ 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

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Pretexting: Okay for Jim Rockford, But Not Always for Real-Life P.I.s

Posted by Writing PIs on July 26, 2013

We own the complete DVD set of the The Rockford Files TV show that ran from 1974-1980.  Love James Garner in that show as the droll, I’d-rather-be-fishing private eye Jim Rockford.  He kept his gun in a cookie jar and carried around a printing device so he could quickly imprint a business card with a bogus ID whenever necessary.

Ah, those bogus IDs.  Along with bogus stories.  The stuff of private eye fiction.

But when it comes to real-life private investigators, fabricating bogus IDs and stories can get the P.I. into a lot of trouble.   Below is an excerpt from “P.I.s, Pretexting, and the Law: Tips for Crime Writers,” an article by one of the Guns, Gams and Gumshoes’s authors, Colleen, for Pursuit Magazine.  It outlines some illegal investigative pretexts, and gives tips to crime writers crafting P.I. characters who might use this technique.

“To Tell the Truth, I Lied a Little”
~Private eye Jake Gittes in Chinatown

by Colleen Collins

The private eye genre has long been a favorite for writers, from the novel The Maltese Falcon by Maltese Falcon book coverDashiell Hammett to the current hard-boiled hoax by J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books, who secretly penned a private-eye novel, The Cuckoo’s Calling, under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith.

Besides having owned my own private detective agency for a decade, I’m also a multi-published fiction author. For the past three years I’ve also been a judge for the Private Eye Writers of America, in which capacity I’ve read over two hundred hardcover private eye novels. Sometimes writers have done their research and compose compellingly realistic investigative scenarios, from conducting witness interviews to what it’s like working for a defense attorney.

And sometimes, writers being writers, they make stuff up. Stuff that no real-world private investigator would do unless he or she liked the word “felon” tarnishing their reputation and deep-sixing their P.I. career.

In this article, I discuss the investigative practice of pretexting, with tips for writers on how their private eye characters can come across as realistic, not ridiculous, when using it.

What Is Pretexting?

Pretexting is, basically, using a phony script to obtain information from someone, often playing on people’s natural desire to talk and be helpful. The pretexter might pretend to be someone else, tell a white lie, or create some other deception to acquire this information. Although in recent years pretexting has gotten a bad rap, when used legally and with good judgment, it can be an indispensable investigative technique.

Private investigators might pretext via an email

Private investigators might pretext via an email

Often a P.I. will pretext over the phone, although it can also be done in person, by mail, email or phishing. However, fabricating stories to obtain information isn’t typically the first avenue of approach for an investigator. Often, the information a P.I. needs can be found in public records as well as through Internet and database searches. Sometimes, a P.I. can get the information you want by simply asking for it.

Whether a P.I. chooses to pretext, or a writer crafts a scene using this tactic, keep in mind that in certain situations, pretexting is against the law. I’ve outlined three of these situations below:

Illegal: Impersonating a Police Officer, Lawyer, or Doctor

A private investigator must never impersonate a police officer, lawyer, or doctor. Doing so sets the stage for the P.I. spending some quality time behind bars. In our state a few years ago, a P.I. was nailed for not only impersonating an officer, but threatening the subject with a firearm while assaulting the subject. (And this was for a process service!) The subject, after learning the guy wasn’t a law enforcement officer but a P.I., hired an attorney—who filed a lawsuit against the private investigator.

In your story, the fictional P.I. might pretend he’s an officer knowing full well he’s courting a felony charge by doing so (which cranks up the tension). But if your character does this without a second thought, as though pretending to be a cop or lawyer has no possible repercussions, your P.I character could look amateur at best, or just plain dumb.

To read the full article, click here.

Have a great weekend, Writing PIs

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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

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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

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The Writing PIs ranked #8 in PINow’s Top 75 Investigators on Twitter 2012

Posted by Writing PIs on October 26, 2012

Note: The first posting of the list ranked @writingpis as #8, but since then PINow.com is only posting an alphabetical list of the top 75 investigators on Twitter.  Our original post is below.

PINow.com , a directory of local, pre-screened and professional private investigators, has released its 2012 list of “Top 75 Investigators on Twitter 2012″ and we’re happy to say that the Writing PIs (@writingpis on Twitter), your hosts at Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes, ranked #8 on the list.  According to PINow, “Ranking factors included ranks on WeFollow, Klout, RetweetRank, number of followers versus following, and more. The relevancy, consistency, and variety of tweets were also considered.”

Thank you, PINow!  And congratulations to everyone else who got listed. To read the complete list, click here.

Other PINow Articles

PINow is a great resource for investigators, process servers, researchers and legal professionals.  It’s also a handy resource for writers crafting stories with sleuth characters and story lines.  Below is a sampling of their articles–to read an item, click on its link:

Signs of a Cheating Spouse: This infographic, compiled by PINow, lists the top signs of a cheating spouse based on feedback from private investigators.

10 Ways Electronically Stored Information Is Changing the Investigative Industry

21 Ridiculous Explanations of What a PI Does and How to Become One

A Private Investigator’s Tips for Breaking Bad News to Clients

Have a great weekend, Writing PIs

Posted in Honorable Mentions, Private Eyes in the News, Writing PIs | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

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

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From Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes: Three Nonfiction Books on Private Investigations

Posted by Writing PIs on August 13, 2011

Hello readers,

Here at Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes we enjoy blogging about private investigations, many of our topics geared to writers writing sleuths/private investigators. We also walk the talk as we co-own a legal investigations firm. If in the near future one of us returns to also practicing law, we still plan for both of us to conduct investigative work, too.

How to Write a Dick

As our motto says, we also happen to be writers. A few months ago, we finally published an ebook that’s been in the works for years: How to Write a Dick: A Guide for Writing Fictional Sleuths from a Couple of Real-Life Sleuths. This was truly, as they say, a labor of love. We’ve enjoyed answering writers’ questions over the years, presenting workshops at writers’ conferences, writing articles about investigations and crafting plausible PI scenarios…and all that and more went into How to Write a Dick.

Currently available on Kindle and Nook.

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How Do Private Eyes Do That?

As we’ve compiled dozens of articles here at Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes, we imagined it’d be kinda cool to put “the best of Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes” into a book, too.  But we’re not going to call it “The Best of…” because maybe some of those “best” ones are still to be written. After we pondered what the title should be, we decided something straight-forward and to the point was best…something like How Do Private Eyes Do That?

How Do Private Eyes Do That? Articles on the Art of Private Investigations, available October 2011 on Kindle.

How to Be a Lawyer’s Dick

We have a third book we’re working on, geared to legal investigations which is our field of expertise. What do legal investigators do? We specialize in cases involving the courts and we’re typically employed by law firms or lawyers.  We frequently assist in preparing criminal defenses, locating witnesses, gathering and reviewing evidence, collecting information on the parties to the litigation, taking photographs, testifying in court and assembling evidence and reports for trials.

When it came to a title, How to Be a Legal Investigator was too boring, Legal Investigations 101 was too obvious. Then we decided to follow-up our first Dick book with a second one: How to Be a Lawyer’s Dick.  Definitely eye-catching.
How to Be a Lawyer’s Dick: Legal Investigations 101 will be available spring 2012 on Kindle and Nook.
Have a great weekend, Writing PIs

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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

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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Upcoming Virtual Book Blog Tour for HOW TO WRITE A DICK

Posted by Writing PIs on June 16, 2011

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

eBook Available in July!

Upcoming Virtual Book Blog Tour Schedule

Below is our current schedule for HOW TO WRITE A DICK, with more blog stops coming. At each stop, we’ll be posting new articles on investigative tips and techniques (with the occasional true-crime PI story).  Mark the dates, baby.

BOOK BLOGGERS: If you have a blog geared to writers who write sleuths or readers who love reading about sleuths, crime and gumshoe techniques, and you have a spot for us in July or August, drop a comment and we’ll get back to you (be sure to leave an email address and your blog url).

Thursday, July 7: Jungle Red Writers

Thursday, July 14: Mystery Writing Is Murder

Wednesday, July 20: Poe’s Deadly Daughters

Thursday, July 21: Cold Case Squad

Friday, July 23: Stiletto Gang

Tuesday, August 2: Mystery/Romance Writer Terry Odell Terry’s Place

Thursday, August 11: Defrosting Cold Cases

Thursday, August 25: Mystery writer Patricia Stoltey’s blog

Date TBA: The Biting Edge, a blog shared by authors and vampire experts, Mario Acevedo and Jeanne Stein

Posted in History of Trials, Writing About PIs, Writing Legal Characters/Stories, Writing Mysteries, Writing PIs | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

 
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