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
Putting the gum in gumshoe: getting out on the streets
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.
The information below focuses on some on foot (hence the term gumshoe) investigative techniques that are still vital.
Old-Fashioned, but Still Valid, Gumshoe Techniques
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 often even more useful) than digging electronically. Let’s look at some of these gumshoe tactics.
Hitting the Street, Knocking on Doors
Once 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 little 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—had hired us to investigate his lifestyle). Just that morning, before we’d left for our courthouse work, we’d researched where he 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—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 was home. Being a little after five p.m., we figured most people hadn’t returned home yet from work.
We got a wireless connection on the laptop in the car and looked up the owner of the building through the county assessor’s office. We called him, gave him the father’s name, and asked if he’d recently (or currently) lived in one of the apartments. He denied knowing the name (later we learned he’d lied to us).
Then 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 … which we found. This started a long evening of additional research, as well as sharing info with 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’d found her (2,000 miles away at a relative’s).
You can see how much basic, physical work was involved in making this discovery. Visiting a location, knocking on doors, making phone calls, and eventually crawling into a dumpster.
Some possible actions a sleuth might conduct to track a missing person:
- Research court records (for example, evictions, even traffic violations may 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.)
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How Do Private Eyes Do That? available on Kindle and Nook.
How Do Private Eyes Do That?