Guns, Gams & Gumshoes

A defense attorney & PI who also happen to be writers

  • Writing a Sleuth?

    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."

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Going for the Best: What We Looked for When Hiring a New Private Investigator

Posted by Writing PIs on September 2, 2014

Nearly three years ago, we evolved from a full-time private investigations agency to a full-time law practice. Shaun now specializes in criminal, personal injury and business litigation law; Colleen conducts part-time paralegal and investigative services as well as writing fiction and nonfiction books. Knowing she would be too busy to fulfill all the investigative and process service tasks for the law firm, we put on our thinking caps about which local P.I.s might be a good fit for sub-contract work.

Our Search for a Wing Man/Woman

Prior to opening our investigations agency in 2003, Shaun had been a criminal defense lawyer for nearly two decades and had trained at least a dozen legal investigators during that time. Several have gone on to open their own successful legal investigations agencies. We had also garnered substantial experience during the decade we worked full time as investigators, so our standards were high for hiring a quality P.I. In our search, these were some of our guidelines:

Legal Acumen and Experience

The last thing we wanted an investigator to do was kick in someone’s back door to serve them with a subpoena. Sounds like juicy stuff that only happens in fiction, but unfortunately there have been some process servers/investigators who’ve crossed the legal line in our state, resulting in some messy lawsuits. If that were to happen while working for our law firm, it could be sued for failing to adequately investigate the background of the P.I. Ideally, we wanted someone who had extensive familiarity with the legal issues that arise during investigative activities such as rules of process service, laws of privacy, awareness of the fair debt collection practices act, legal definition of stalking, laws of eavesdropping and wiretapping.


A good investigator never gives up the hunt. We can’t count the number of cases we’ve broken because we stayed that extra fifteen minutes or asked that one last question.

Attention to Detail

It’s one thing to see the big picture in a case, or to know the goal, but it’s another to magnify a piece of the case and extract that telling detail that could crack it.

Must Like People

We wanted a private investigator who likes and deals well with people. A private investigator needs to understand what makes people tick and how to coax information from them. This means the investigator must be part psychologist, part actor, part confidante, part interrogator and always trustworthy. Also, we didn’t want a pompous know-it-all who’d been in the business so long, he/she thinks they know the answers to everything. That kind of holier-than-thou attitude doesn’t leave much, if any, room for discussion or strategizing a case.


A private investigator can be all of the above traits, but if he/she fails to respond to phone calls to our office or is suddenly “out of pocket” without explanation for hours or days, these delays can damage a case. Witnesses can disappear, evidence can be altered, crime scenes can be cleaned up…you get the picture.

How We Found the Best

We started out looking for an investigator by:

  • Contacting a few P.I.s we had worked with and respected, asking if they were interested. One was no longer in the biz, and the other took so long to return our call we realized she was too busy for us.
  • Chatting with some of our former attorney-clients with whom we’d worked closely. One recommended a local P.I. who specialized in process services among other investigative tasks. When we called this guy, he might as well have answered his phone, “Hello, I Don’t Want Your Case” because after we told him he’d come highly recommended and we’d like to sub-contract work with him, he started telling us a story of woe about his stack of cases. How his caseload is so large, he would have to schedule our cases weeks out. He grumbled about some of his own clients. We realized this P.I. might be good for this other attorney, but not us. We didn’t need someone who was too busy and griped about his own clients to strangers.

Then We Recalled a P.I. We Had Contacted Years Ago…

Several years before we morphed into a law firm, we had needed some last-minute investigative help on a case. We had contacted another P.I. who said he didn’t have the expertise necessary, but suggested we call Investigator X. We called, he wasn’t in and we left a message. We ended up hiring another investigator because we were under a tight deadline, however Investigator X called us back a few hours later, apologized for not being available when we first called, and asked for us to keep him in mind for future cases.

Years later, we remembered that message. We called, discussed a current case for which we needed help, liked his professionalism and ideas, and hired him for the job. Within twenty-four hours, he had proven his legal acumen and experience, his tenacity, his attention to detail, his ability to deal with different personality types, and his accountability. Three years later, he’s still our wing man.

Whether you’re a P.I. or not, this story shows the importance of simple, everyday business practices. You never know when the call you return opens other doors.

Have a great week, Writing PIs

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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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The Drug Smuggler Who Wore Gucci

Posted by Writing PIs on August 28, 2014

Today Guns, Gams and Gumshoes’s Colleen is the guest at mystery writer Lois Winston’s blog. Below is an excerpt from Colleen’s article about a high-style drug smuggler with a link to the full article at the end.

The Felonious Fashionista

by Colleen Collins

fedora on woman black and white

My husband and I ran a private investigations agency for a decade, which has since morphed into his criminal law practice where I’m his part-time P.I. Or as I  call myself, his “live-in P.I.”

Occasionally, we’ve had clients give us thank-you gifts for handling their cases, from Starbucks cards to homemade tamales. But the most surprising gift offer was from a client who committed crimes in the high style she also liked to wear.  For this article, I’ll call her the felonious fashionista.

How We Met the Felonious Fashionista

A case came into our office a few years ago, where a man said his sister had been arrested on drug charges, and could our law firm handle her case? We get similar calls every month or so, usually for someone who’s been busted for recreational amounts of illicit drugs such as cocaine, ecstasy, Oxycontin. When we asked the particulars of his sister’s charges, he said, “She had ten pounds of heroin packed in the air cleaner of the Mercedes she was driving, and fifty pounds of marijuana in the luggage carrier on top of the car.”

Our jaws dropped.

“Walk like you have three men walking behind you.”
- Oscar de la Renta

Because we were hired quickly after the fashionista had fired another lawyer, we didn’t meet her until her second appearance in court. Imagine our surprise when a Sofia Vergara clone sashayed into the courthouse as if she were prowling a catwalk. She wore insanely high heels, a silk blouse and a front-split skirt that flashed glimpses of her tan, toned thighs. Later we learned she had been a fashion model in a European country.

Other lawyers in the hallway looked like a tableau, frozen as they stared in awe at this beautiful woman, their looks turning to surprise and curiosity as she greeted us warmly. As the three of us walked into the courtroom, she glanced at my husband’s green nylon briefcase decorated with several ink smudges, then at my purse, which is more like an oversized messenger bag as I cram everything into it, from books to my computer.

After the hearing, she took us aside and said she wanted to gift us both with designer luggage briefcases as ours were in serious need of an “upgrade.” Did we like Saint Laurent? Gucci?

“We like REI,” my husband quipped.

That evening, I found him looking up Gucci briefcases on the internet.

Let’s pause a moment and discuss what this drug smuggler gained from her fashionista ways.

To read the full article click here.

Other Recent Articles

Prejudices About Trial Lawyers (Shaun Kaufman Law)

A Lawyer’s Primer for Writers: Types of Lawyers – Criminal Law (Colleen Collins Books)

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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 Writer’s Question: How Easy Would It Be for a Person to Adopt a New Identity?

Posted by Writing PIs on August 14, 2014

bad guy

Writer’s Question: How difficult would it be for an everyday person (I’ll call him Joe Smith) to learn how to obtain falsified ID documents?  In my story, I have a character who’s hired by shady business people to gain secrets about an opponent’s business.  Could Joe Smith easily (or not so easily) get a job under a different name, and get falsified docs in that name?    As long as Joe Smith didn’t have a criminal record (in fact, he has a squeaky clean record), is it plausible he can get away with this?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’s Answer: It’s not difficult to get new identity documents, but it is difficult to adopt skill-set, career talents, and being convincing as another person with a life history, friends and family.  As to how this everyday person in your story might go about getting new ID documents, the person might turn to someone who possibly has connections to underground contacts, such as a bookie, and ask if they know someone who can assist with providing forged identity documents.  Of course, your character shouldn’t bumble into such a conversation, but could perhaps pay attention to this hypothetical bookie, get a feel if he/she might have such contacts, then ease into the old “I have a friend who’s looking for a new driver’s license because he lost his after a DUI…”

Below is a link to an FAQ that offers Q&As on this topic. A lot of it appears to be an organization hyping its report on this topic, but we’re talking about fiction in this post, not real life, so maybe there’s a nugget or two you can use in your story.

Note: We do not encourage employing questionable or illegal tactics, and the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author/s and respondents and in no way reflects our endorsement:  

“New Identity FAQ”

Have a good week, Writing PIs

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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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When Is a Private Investigator’s Evidence Admissible in Court?

Posted by Writing PIs on August 9, 2014


gavel and scales


WRITER’S QUESTION: While a PI is conducting an investigation (looking for a skip or doing surveillance) and he/she learns, overhears, or discovers evidence that may help the prosecutor (or defense) in a trial, is it admissible? For example, if cops search without a search warrant, except under well-defined circumstances anything they find is not admissible.  What might be some examples of information a PI might learn that would or could be used in a trial?

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOES’ ANSWER:  As private citizens, PIs are not limited by the Fourth Amendment because it applies to governmental action, meaning that private investigators are not governmental agents and are therefore not restricted by the Fourth Amendment. Police officers, parole officers, district attorney investigators, or anyone working in publicly compensated law enforcement (crime scene technicians, coroners, deputy sheriffs, etc.) are bound by the Fourth Amendment.

Therefore, anything a private investigator sees/documents is admissible evidence in court. However, PIs are not obligated by law (as law enforcement is obligated by law) to reveal their observations or seizures to the other side. For example, in one of our cases, we were lawfully in our client’s estranged wife’s residence when we documented extensive drug use and manufacture. We photographed the scene and our client’s attorney used these photographs to obtain sole custody for our client’s son. What if the estranged wife’s attorney had caught wind of this evidence and subpoenaed us to turn over this documentation? We would have used the work-product doctrine (which has nothing to do with Fourth Amendment protection and has everything to do with attorney-client privileges) to bar the revelation of the documents and our testimony. However, this is an empty hypothetical because the other side had no interest in seeing damning evidence.

When people speak in a public place, anything they say or are observed doing is admissible in court.

Eavesdropping, on the other hand, is listening in (or documenting) private conversations/actions, and those are not admissible in court. For example, if someone has a “legitimate expectation of privacy in the communication” (for example, they’re in their living room having a conversation in a hushed tone of voice), it would be eavesdropping to use a parabolic microphone to record that conversation. If, however, they’re leaning out the window of their living room, talking to someone inside the house, but their voice can be heard from the street, that is not a legitimate expectation of privacy in communication and can be documented and forwarded as evidence. Colleen captured such a conversation in an insurance investigation and it was used as evidence at trial.

Have a great weekend, Writing PIs

What to Do When Confronted with a DUI Checkpoint (Shaun Kaufman Law)

A Lawyer’s Primer for Writers: Types of Lawyers – Criminal Law (Colleen Collins Books)

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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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Historical Research: Finding People From Over 40 Years Ago

Posted by Writing PIs on July 30, 2014

Private Investigator reviewing evidence

Going Back to the Early 1970s

We’ve had a few cases where clients asked us to identify people who were either employed at, or did contract work for, two different buildings (one a former business) that existed over 40 years ago. In both cases, our clients didn’t know the people’s full names, and the business had been closed for several decades.

Case #1: Finding a Car Mechanic

In one, a lawyer hired us to find a car mechanic who had worked in Denver some time in the early 1970s. We had his last name (which fortunately was unique — better than trying to find someone with the last name of Smith or Jones!), his wife’s first name, and the name of a dealership (which had closed over twenty years ago) where he had once worked. Researching proprietary databases wasn’t useful because their information didn’t go back that far. Surprisingly, old local telephone books from that era didn’t contain any people with that last name.

One track of investigative research that was fruitful, however, was researching business owners of the former car dealership through our state’s Secretary of State database, then researching contact information for these people and their family members. It took a lot of calls and hitting dead ends, but eventually we found a contact who remembered this car mechanic. Unfortunately, he had died years ago, but we were able to conduct an interview with one of his-coworkers from that former dealership, who gave us information useful for the lawyer’s case.

Case #2: Finding a Building Contractor

In a current case, we needed to determine the identities of building contractors who built a school building in 1970, and later remodeled a school gymnasium in 1972. Our client, a law firm back east, only knew the names of the buildings. Fortunately, in our state, school districts are mandated by law to keep business records, contracts and architectural plans on file in case the school requires any remodeling.

To our amazement, we learned that this school district had gone above and beyond the mandate by also keeping every scrap of paper associated to a contract, even scribbled notes. Such a find is a PI’s dream come true. We visited the off-site storage facility where boxes of these notes had been stored, and sifted through box after box, looking for any mention of a contractor’s name…eventually, we found the names of contractors and subcontractors for these buildings, nearly 40 years later!

This last case shows how, even in this digital age, old-fashioned footwork can solve a case. If we had relied solely on the documents faxed to us by the school district, we never would have learned the identities of the contractors.

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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Remembering James Garner’s Iconic Jim Rockford

Posted by Writing PIs on July 20, 2014


We’re both long-time fans of The Rockford Files, and it saddened us to learn of James Garner’s passing. Today we’re sharing some articles in which we referenced one of our favorite private eye characters, Jim Rockford, from the ’74-’80 TV show The Rockford Files. Below are those posts, along with excerpts:

The Rockford Files: Magical Surveillances In A Gold ’78 Firebird (from

I’m a huge fan of the old TV series The Rockford Files, staring one of my all-time favorite actors James Garner — in fact, my husband and I own the entire series on DVD.  But gotta say, how’d he pull off all those surveillances in a shiny gold Firebird?


Pretexting: Okay for Jim Rockford, But Not Always for Real-Life P.I.s (from Guns, Gams and Gumshoes)

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…

Answering Writers’ Questions: Who are the most realistically portrayed fictional PIs? (from Guns, Gams and Gumshoes)

(Among our answers was Jim Rockford)


We’re both diehard Rockford fans, even though no PI in their right mind would do lengthy surveillances in a shiny gold muscle car (talk about sticking out!). Nor do PIs get embroiled in the quantity of violence and lengthy car chases Rockford does. But if you peel away the gold car, fights, and squealing breaks, he’s a hard-working, blue-collar character who reminds us of many PIs.

Do All Private Eyes Carry Concealed Handguns? (from Guns, Gams and Gumshoes)

We get this question a lot from people.  In those great old noir films, seems every private detective carried one and used it freely.  Then along came Rockford (from the TV show The RockFord Files), and that easy-going, beach-loving PI preferred to keep his gun in a cookie jar than carry it…


Have a good week, Writing PIs

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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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White-Collar Crime: Bad Offense, But Good Offender?

Posted by Writing PIs on July 2, 2014

Crafty White-Collar Criminals

White-collar criminals: Gentler, kinder than other offenders?

Today Guns, Gams and Gumshoes’s Colleen Collins’s article “Crafty White-Collar Criminals” is posted at mystery writer Lois Winston’s blog. In the article, Colleen discusses a true story about our once working with a well-respected former federal prosecutor who we later learned had been secretly committing a million-dollar white-collar crime. In the article, Colleen outlines several other white-collar cases we have investigated, the myth that white-collar criminals are kinder and gentler than other criminals, and a type of crime now called fraud detection homicide.

Below is an excerpt with a link to the full article at the end.

Crafty White-Collar Criminals

During the decade-plus that my husband and I co-owned a private detective agency, we investigated some interesting crimes, including several white-collar crimes that had been carried out by some very crafty criminals. But one particular crime still haunts us. Not because we investigated it; in fact, we didn’t even know about the crime as it was in progress. What haunts us is that the perpetrator of the crime was our client, an attorney we viewed as a friend. Still do, actually, for the simple reason he always treated us kindly. I’ll call him “Mr. A” for the rest of this article.

Former Federal Prosecutor Turns Criminal

Mr. A had been a former federal prosecutor who had returned to private practice as a trial attorney. He was a man widely respected not only for his brilliance in the courtroom and his legal skills, but also for his ethics and good character. He was in his sixties and silver-haired, with an aura of sophistication and a gentle wit. Once at a holiday party at his home, we all gathered in the kitchen, chatting with Mr. A while he cooked a prime rib for our meal and attended to his guests’ needs. I was impressed how he cooked, mixed drinks and charmingly kept up with multiple conversations at once, never missing a beat. He was part Cary Grant, part Wolfgang Puck. On the drive home, my husband and I marveled at Mr. A.’s perfection.

So a year later, when a federal grand jury issued a 29-count indictment accusing Mr. A of conspiracy, wire fraud, money laundering and bankruptcy fraud, my husband and I were stunned. Mr. A, a white-collar criminal? Impossible!

It was not only possible, but true. Let’s pause a moment and discuss white-collar crime.

To read the full article, click here.

A Lawyer’s Primer for Writers: On Sale for 99 cents

Through July 7, our new nonfiction book, A Lawyer’s Primer for Writers: From Crimes to Courtrooms, is on sale for less than a dollar. Audiences: Writers, fans of legal shows/books, armchair legal eagles, and those who are simply curious about the world of lawyers, litigation and lawbreakers.

Purchase at Amazon by clicking here or on the book cover, below:

Click on cover to go to book's Amazon page

Click on cover to go to book’s Amazon page


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Finding Missing Persons: Old-Fashioned But Still Valid Gumshoe Techniques

Posted by Writing PIs on June 23, 2014

A lot of people think today’s PIs just sit at computers and look up information.  That’s partly true — today’s PIs do a fair amount of research online, but that doesn’t mean the old, tried-and-true ways of investigating on foot aren’t still sometimes the best way to find information.

Hitting the Street, Knocking on Doors

Hard to believe there was a time without computers and databases, but once upon a time a sleuth looking for a missing person had to hit the streets, knock on doors, conduct surveillances, and do research on-site at court houses and other places.  Some of these seemingly old-fashioned means are still valid, and sometimes even more useful, than digging electronically.

A Little Girl Was Missing

Seven or so years ago, we were driving in rush-hour traffic, tired after a day researching records in several courthouses, happy to be going home and calling it a day…then we got a call on our cell phone: A five-year-old girl had gone missing.

It was a case we’d already been working on. The little girl’s biological father was struggling with mental/drug issues, and the little girl’s grandparents, who had custody and were concerned for her well-being, had hired us to investigate his lifestyle. Just that morning, before we’d left for our courthouse work, we’d researched where the father might possibly have moved to (he’d withheld his new residence address from the grandparents) and we’d located a plausible street address, although we hadn’t double-checked it yet.

After getting the call, we quickly drove to this new possible address. It was an old Victorian home remodeled into four apartments, and we ran to the apartment we believed he lived in, but no one was home. Peering through the windows, we saw the place was empty, with trash and moving boxes piled inside. We began knocking on neighbors’ doors. No one answered. Being a little after five p.m., we guessed that the other residents hadn’t returned home yet from work.

Relying on Random Wi-Fi Signals

Those were the days before we had smartphones. Often, if we needed quick Internet access while in the field, we’d try to pick up a Wi-Fi signal via one of our laptops. Sometimes we’d have to drive slowly down a street to find one of these signals!

This day, we lucked out and picked up a signal right away. After successfully accessing the Internet, we looked up the county assessor’s office and researched the owner of the Victorian apartment building. After another quick search to locate his phone number, we called the landlord, gave him the father’s name, and asked if he had recently lived in the apartment that was now empty and filled with trash and packing boxes. The owner denied knowing the father, and claimed there had been another tenant who had lived in that unit and she had recently moved, but he didn’t have a forwarding address. Later we learned the owner had lied to us.

But at the time, we were stymied. From our research of the father several days before, this address had definitely popped up in our searches. Maybe he was living in one of the other units with a roommate?

We Decided to Do A Trash Hit

We spied a dumpster behind the apartment building and decided to check its contents, see if there were any clues to the little girl or her father. This is what’s called a “trash hit” — you literally go through the trash. We had definite procedures for conducting trash hits in our investigations, but this time we were on a time clock and did it dirty and fast: We jumped into the dumpster.

We found a box addressed to the father at this address! So he did live here — or had lived here. We now believed, despite what the landlord had said, that the father was the tenant who’d suddenly moved in the last day or so. Digging through the trash, we found a few children’s items, including some yogurt cartons. We called the grandparents and described the items — when we described the yogurt container, the grandmother started crying.  She explained that was her granddaughter’s favorite kind of yogurt.

A Long Evening of Research

We peeled the return address label off the box addressed to the father, and drove back to our home office, where we started a long evening of research, which included many calls to local law enforcement, to locate the little girl. To bring this story quickly to a happy ending, by the time the sun came up, we had located the little girl and her father — they were 2,000 miles away at a relative’s.

You can see how much physical work was involved in making this discovery. Visiting a location, knocking on doors, making phone calls, and eventually crawling into a dumpster. A few weeks later, the grandparents sent us a thank you card with a photo of their granddaughter. It’s one of our treasured mementoes.

Other Tasks a PI Might Conduct to Locate a Missing Person

Additional techniques include:

  • Researching court records (such as evictions and traffic violations that might contain information that indicates where the person might be living, their type of car, their workplace, or associates who can be interviewed about the person’s current location.
  • Pulling driver’s records at the DMV (to pinpoint everything from a person’s physical description to their signature to recent addresses).
  • Interviewing people who may have known the subject (for example, past and current neighbors as well as relatives, past and current landlords, co-workers and known associates).
  • Surveilling places the person was known to frequent (friends’ or relatives’ homes, bars, workout clubs, etc.)

Our current nonfiction book A Lawyer’s Primer for Writers: From Crimes to Courtrooms is now available on Amazon. Audiences: Writers crafting legal thrillers, fans of legal movies and TV shows, researchers & armchair legal eagles

Click on cover to go to book's Amazon page

Click on cover to go to book’s Amazon page

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Private Eye Writers of America: 2014 Shamus Finalists

Posted by Writing PIs on June 10, 2014


For works published in 2013. (The lists below are in alphabetical order by author.) The winners will be announced at the PWA Banquet at Bouchercon in Long Beach, California on Friday, November 14

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Little Elvises by Timothy Hallinan

The Mojito Coast by Richard Helms

W is for Wasted by Sue Grafton

The Good Cop by Brad Parks

Nemesis by Bill Pronzini



A Good Death by Christopher R. Cox

Montana by Gwen Florio

Blood Orange by Karen Keskinen

Bear is Broken by Lachlan Smith

Loyalty by Ingrid Thoft



Seduction of the Innocent by Max Allan Collins

Into the Dark by Alison Gaylin

Purgatory Key by Darrell James

Heart of Ice by P.J. Parrish

The Honky Tonk Big Hoss Boogie by Robert J. Randisi



“So Long, Chief” by Max Allan Collins and Mickey Spillane in The Strand Magazine

“The Ace I” by Jack Fredrickson in EQMM

“What We Do” by Mick Herron in EQMM

“Extra Fries” by Michael Z. Lewin in EQMM

“The Lethal Leeteg” by Hayford Peirce in EQMM



Murder Take Three by April Kelly and Marsha Lyons

A Small Sacrifice by Dana King

No Pat Hands by J.J. Lamb

State vs. Lassiter by Paul Levine

Don’t Dare a Dame by M. Ruth Myers


With many thanks to judges Ted Fitzgerald, Dorothy Rellas, Colleen Collins, Andrew S. McAleer, Jan Grape, Paul Levine, Chip Hughes, S.J. Rozan, John Shepphird, Clive Rosengren, Christine Matthews, Reed Farrel Coleman, Harley Mazuk, O’Neil De Noux and Barbara D. Amato 

Gay Toltl Kinman, Chair

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Book Excerpt – A Lawyer’s Primer for Writers: Courthouse Dogs

Posted by Writing PIs on May 23, 2014

Guns, Gams and Gumshoes is Booklist Online's Web Crush of the Week!

Guns, Gams and Gumshoes is Booklist Online’s Web Crush of the Week!

May News: We were delighted this morning to learn that the American Library Association’s Booklist Online selected Guns, Gams and Gumshoes as its “Web Crush of the Week” this last week of its Mystery Month. Thank you, Rebecca Vnuk and Booklist Online!

Courtroom Dogs: Canine Compassion at Court

(Excerpt from A Lawyer’s Primer for Writers: from Crimes to Courtrooms)

Click cover to go to book's Amazon page

Click cover to go to book’s Amazon page

I center on their healing power within the justice system. There is so much hurt — the victims, families, even members of our office — from exposure to trauma and anxiety…within this environment, the dogs contribute to justice. – King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng

Did you know that as of the writing of this book, there are 60 courthouse dogs (also called facility dogs and advocate dogs) working in 23 jurisdictions throughout the US?

What Is A Courthouse Dog?

These are specially trained dogs that provide emotional support to people who have suffered physical, psychological or emotional trauma as a result of criminal conduct. For example, a courthouse dog might offer comfort to a sexually abused child while he/she undergoes forensic interviews and testifying in court. These dogs will also greet jurors; offer a soothing presence for vulnerable witnesses; provide a sense of normalcy during emotionally charged court hearings; even cuddle and play with troubled teenagers waiting for hearings.

Courthouse dogs truly become a member of the court as they often visit with court support staff, defense counsel, law enforcement officers and judges during the course of a work day.

Criminal justice professions — such as a deputy prosecutor, law enforcement officer, victim advocate, or forensic interviewer — handle courthouse dogs.

Dogs’ Beneficial Effects on People

According to an article in WebMD, people can derive the following benefits from dogs:

  • Reduced blood pressure and/or heart rate.
  • Increased levels of a relaxation hormone.
  • Decreased levels of stress hormones.
  • A sense of belonging.
  • A greater control of one’s life.

Let’s look at the story of a courthouse dog named Rosie.

Rosie, the First Courthouse Dog in New York State

In 2011, Rosie, an 11-year-old Golden Retriever, had her first day on the job as a courthouse dog. Before a court proceeding began, Rosie met Jessica, a 15-year-old girl who would be testifying in court about being raped.

Rosie and Jessica took the stand before the trial began so the jury wouldn’t see Rosie and possibly be influenced by her presence one way or the other. Throughout her testimony, Jessica petted Rosie — at one point, Jessica removed her shoe and buried her toes in Rosie’s fur. When asked by the prosecutor to point out the man who raped her, Jessica froze. Rosie, sensing Jessica’s distress, laid her head in the girl’s lap to comfort her. After a few moments, Jessica was able to point to the man.

Jessica and Rosie had been visiting each other for three months in preparation for Jessica’s trial date. During that time, the girl and dog had become acquainted by playing together, and Rosie had also learned how to tolerate the tight space of a witness box. Her handler would have Rosie sit in front of a barrier that the handler gradually moved closer to the dog until it mimicked being in a box.

The training paid off. With Rosie’s help, Jessica remained calm during her testimony, and the jury found the defendant guilty.

How Rosie Became a Courthouse Dog

Rosie had started out being trained to be a service dog at Educated Canines Assisting with Disabilities (ECAD), but when it took her three months to learn how to turn on a light, she was taken out of the program. What’s interesting is that such “service dog drop-outs” often go into other programs, such as training to be an arson or courthouse dog, for which they might be better suited.

Soon after Rosie’s left the service-dog training program, she began visiting the Green Chimneys school in Brewster, New York, where she showed a talent for soothing children who were stressed.

For the next eight years, Rosie moved onto the speech-and-occupational-therapy rooms at Green Chimneys, where children were encouraged to talk to Rosie via 80 verbal commands the dog knew. Rosie also aided the children during their physical therapy by encouraging them to follow her over obstacles.

And then she went to the Courthouse Dogs Foundation, where she was trained to work with children during court proceedings.

Sadly, Rosie passed away in 2012, but her legacy lives on through her younger sister, Ivy, who is now an in-house therapy dog at a children’s facility.

-End of Excerpt-

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