Guns, Gams & Gumshoes

A defense attorney & PI who also happen to be writers

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Posts Tagged ‘detective fiction’

Infidelity Investigations: Tips for Writers Writing Sleuths

Posted by Writing PIs on May 3, 2011

Article is now available in How Do Private Eyes Do That?


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Answering Writers’ Questions: How Long Does an Area Remain a Crime Scene?

Posted by Writing PIs on April 9, 2011

Writer’s Question: Is there a time frame that an area remains a crime scene? I’m picturing the yellow caution tape in a public place and wondering how long that remains up.  What kind of time frame might apply to a crime scene in a residence (for example, if someone is found dead in a family room, how long do the residents of the house need to stay out of the room?) I’m thinking that from the time the police leave to when a PI shows up, a lot could happen in that room if a family member so desires.

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’s Answer: A police crime scene excludes all but those who are trained to respect procedures for preservation and collection of evidence.  Generally speaking, after a period of approximately 1-24 hours, the area is returned to normal use.

Regarding a crime scene in a residence, specifically (per your question) a dead body found therein: Be mindful that police will remove those parts of the family room that they consider important evidence (for example, blood-stained carpeting and drywall spattered with blood).  Also, police will photograph/videotape the family room in the exact state in which they found it.  In other words, by the time the family returns and changes anything, the PI will have copies of police photographs as well as access to physical evidence that’s within police custody.  There are certainly instances where PIs would still seek access to the home (for example, to photograph the layout, measurements, etc.) but that is accomplished through court order or consent of the victim’s family.

Writing PIs

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Best Classroom PI Course (for PIs and Writers): The Private Investigators Academy of the Rockies

Posted by Writing PIs on March 20, 2011


Rick Johnson, founder and president of The Private Investigators Academy of the Rockies


There’s a lot of online training courses on how to be a private investigator, but one of the best (if not the best) classroom courses is The Private Investigators Academy of the Rockies in Denver, Colorado.

We know because we took this course years ago when we first opened our private investigations business. Since then, we’ve taken many other courses, and taught a fair share ourselves, but if you’re starting out in the business, want to brush up your PI skills, or are a writer wanting to learn about the world of private investigations, take this class.

Here’s a sampling of why it’s an excellent course of study:

  • Rick Johnson, founder and president of the academy, has 35 years of experience in law enforcement and private investigations.
  • Course study includes investigative tactics, techniques, tools, as well as the appropriate ethics and legalities of the profession.
  • Investigative topics include these specialized areas of investigations: domestic relations, legal investigations, criminal defense investigations, insurance investigations, financial fraud investigations, and process service.
  • Presenters include lawyers and experts in the fields of financial fraud, surveillance, family law, criminal defense and process service.

But don’t take it solely from us–read about the course, contact them, ask questions:

Click this link to read more: The Private Investigators Academy of the Rockies

Or send an email to Rick Johnson at

Oh, we’re not affiliated with this class, just passing on the information to those who want to learn from one of the best.

Have a great weekend, Writing PIs

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Expectation of Privacy: Why Is It So Important for Private Investigators?

Posted by Writing PIs on March 15, 2011

This article now available in How Do Private Eyes Do That? available on Kindle and Nook.

Posted in Expectation of Privacy | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

10 of Our Favorite 2010 Private Eye Links

Posted by Writing PIs on December 23, 2010

As 2010 come to an end, lots of people post their favorite top-10 somethings (favorite 10 books, movies, whatever).  We’d like to post 10 of our favorite, and best of all free, 2010 private eye links because we can’t decide which of the many we use and like are actually the best of the bunch.  So here goes…

10 of Our Favorite, and Free!, 2010 Private Eye Links

1.  Our monthly Highlands Investigations H.E.L.P. (Handy Education for Legal Professionals) Tip Sheet, with links to articles, tips, links, and answers to readers’ questions about investigations.  We hand-pick info that investigators, researchers, writers, others might need to know, are curious to learn about, or simply enjoy reading: H.E.L.P. Tip Sheet

2. An excellent, informative private investigations blog from McEachin & Associates, Ltd. : The Confidential Resource

3. It’s still the most comprehensive public search engine around, our first “go to” place to do a quick look-up: Google

4. This public deep web search engine is another great starting point for people searches: Pipl

5.  We love to read about fictional PIs, too.  This site is a grand journey into the world of fictional PIs, from Victorian England to the mean streets of New York: The Thrilling Detective

6.  Great source for investigation articles by PIs, as well as the latest investigation news from around the world: Investigation News

7.  Another people search engine that dredges the web and social networks: Kgbpeople

8.  PI’s Declassified Internet radio show: PI’s DeClassified

9.  Articles about the art of criminal defense written by one of the best criminal defense trial attorneys in the country: H. Michael Steinberg, Colorado Criminal Defense Specialist

10.  Online trade journal for private investigators, legal professionals, and protective services industries: Pursuit Magazine

Have a safe, happy holiday, Writing PIs

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Answering Writer’s Question About PIs Using Disguises in Undercover Work

Posted by Writing PIs on November 8, 2010

Today we’re posting a question, and our answer, from a writer about a sleuth character conducting undercover work in a disguise.

Writer’s Question: Is it okay for a PI to do surveillance undercover in a disguise to gain access to the private area? I mean, if the client welcomes him into the home as a cleaning person, it wouldn’t be trespassing and the PI could snoop without ‘disturbing’ anything. Or would that be frowned upon because it’s considered getting evidence under false pretenses?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’s Answer: We love the cleaning person scenario! But let’s look at it this way–what could be objectionable about this pretense? Any pretense that is too extreme and/or involves harm to the person or property of the surveillance subject is more likely to be found illegal. Lately, a lot of lawyers have become nervous about pretexts and pretenses because federal investigators frown on wide-scale use of made-up reasons and scenarios to obtain private information.  Using a cleaning person as a pretense to gain admission to a home by consent effectively cancels that consent, turning the entry into a trespass.

In a story, it could be very interesting if the fictional PI risks conducting this trespass deception, then sees something in the house that can later be recovered by lawful means.  At this point, if the PI is selectively silent about the trespass, the PI could use the lawfully obtained information in court without revealing the earlier illegal prextextual entry.

Have a great week, Writing PIs

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Answering Writer’s Question: How Would a PI Request a Private Autopsy?

Posted by Writing PIs on October 25, 2010

Writer’s Question: How would a PI go about having a private autopsy done?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’s Answer: If the body is with the state medical examiner, that agency is subject to the jurisdiction of the local court. The family of the decedent can seek a court order to have a private forensic doctor either attend the state-conducted autopsy or to conduct a private, second autopsy following the state’s.

How does a PI facilitate this? By obtaining the names, contact info, and pricing of private forensic doctors for the family. The PI might also (if a forensic doctor isn’t already known to the PI) conduct a background check on the doctor for the the family to ensure there are no skeletons in the doctor’s closet, no pun intended. The PI will make the arrangements for the doctor to appear at the autopsy, and often the PI will also attend and photograph the autopsy. In short, the PI will take steps to guarantee that the chain of custody of evidence and the documentation will be done with as much care and attention to courtroom details as the state would require of its own autopsy procedures.

State-conducted autopsies are typically done in coroners’ offices. Private autopsies are typically done in hospitals. The PI facilitating a private autopsy might also help reserve the room at the hospital.

Shaun, one of the “Writing PIs” of this blog, attended his first autopsy (which he watched as a public defender 30 years ago), which was a state-conducted autopsy performed at a mortuary. The reason it was done at a mortuary was that the county didn’t have a coroner’s office at that time. This same situation (no coroner’s office) may still occur in more rural areas in the U.S.

To supplement our above answer, we asked a fellow PI (Dean Beers, CLI, to elaborate on private autopsies (below).  Dean has an extensive background in medicolegal death investigations.

There are two autopsies – medical (or hospital) and forensic.

The former is often by a hospital pathologist and paid for by the hospital with the families permission and at their discretion.  This is only to determine/verify any disease process.  These are also referred to as medical curiosity.  This is not research, such as with donated to science, but similar and essentially the same otherwise.

The latter is a medicolegal autopsy that should only be performed by a board certified forensic pathologist or FP  (the other two being clinical and anatomical, with surgical being a subset, pathologists).  FPs are trained in both the legal issues and injury causations.  FPs primarily work for coroner and ME systems, sometimes jointly for a hospital (such as my jurisdiction).

A family may request a medical autopsy – but the decision is up to the hospital as they are paying the tab and it must fit within their criteria.  If the death is suspicious (and particularly involving an exhumation) then an FP should be consulted.  FPs are often ‘triple board certified’ and therefore have the most training and experience to determine if the death is natural causes, foul play or some other unusual circumstance.  The FP is also trained in the legal matters, including testifying as an expert.

There is no speed enhancement to a private autopsy – it may be slower in some cases (but not often, depending on the case load).  If the case is a coroner’s case, the body belongs to the coroner.  By statute the coroner authorizes (or declines) the autopsy.  If they authorize the autopsy the tab is to the state or county.  If it is declined (medical records review confirms a natural death) then the family can request a private autopsy after the body is released and they pay the tab.  They may also have a second autopsy, this may be by exhumation or an FP’s review of the autopsy report, investigative report, toxicology and microscopy (there is a lot involved in death investigations and autopsies) because these samples are preserved.  The private autopsy can be $2000-$5000, depends – and may involve only an FP or an FP and investigator for a full review/investigation.   Autopsies are not paid for by medical/health insurance.

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Answering Writers’ Questions About Fraud Investigations

Posted by Writing PIs on October 12, 2010

In today’s post, we’ll answer writers’ questions about fraud investigations, from what they are to how a PI might conduct a fraud investigation.

Writer’s Question: What makes fraud different from an average garden-variety argument over a broken-down business deal?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’ Answer: We look for signs of one person (or several persons) who hide important information or who abuses his/her position in a business relationship.  An example of this would be an accountant who knowingly misrepresents the financial condition of a company.  Another example is a business manager who willingly hides lawsuits against his/her company from a potential purchaser.

Writer’s Question: Can someone be guilty of fraud in a divorce proceeding?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’ Answer: Yes.  When one partner hides income or assets, or even hides the fact of remarriage (when that remarried partner is still receiving maintenance from the former spouse), you find fraudulent misrepresentations that can be the subject of a separate civil lawsuit for fraud.  Keep in mind that any divorce proceeding is the dissolution of a marriage partnership that mimics a business partnership.  In both instances, you can have misrepresentation and reliance on those misrepresentations.

Writer’s Question: As investigators, what do you look for when you are asked to find fraud?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’ Answer: Like most investigations, a fraud investigation begins in public records, where we look to uncover business acquisitions and acquisitions of personal property that show an unusual amount of income that the partner investigated is otherwise unable to access.  For example, if a business owner who is selling a corporation that’s in financial trouble, has recently purchased a new car, a new house, and a boat–information we’ve dug up through property, vehicle, and boat ownership records–we know that he/she is likely to have emptied corporate assets to make these purchases in his/her name.  What did the owner think h/she was accomplishing by purchasing these personal property items?  Hiding money.  Why didn’t h/she think they’d be caught?  Well, sad to say this, but often people just do dumb things–probably because they’ve gotten away with such acts in the past, too.  The flip side is people often don’t think someone else (such as a law firm/investigator) is going to dig for this information.

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An Interview with Reed Farrel Coleman, author of INNOCENT MONSTER

Posted by Writing PIs on October 6, 2010

Reed Farrel Coleman

One of the books we most looked forward to being released this year is Innocent Monster, the sixth book in the Moe Prager series.  We dig Moe.  If the best PI novels are character studies of the PI-protagonist, the Moe Prager series ranks at the top.

Reed is a three-time winner of the Shamus Award for Best Detective Novel of the Year. He has also received the Barry and Anthony Awards, and has been twice nominated for the Edgar® Award. He was the editor of the anthology Hard Boiled Brooklyn, and his short fiction and essays have appeared in Wall Street Noir, The Darker Mask, These Guns For Hire, Brooklyn Noir 3, Damn Near Dead, and other publications.

Thank you, Reed, for being a guest at Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes, and answering a few questions.

Reed: You couldn’t be more welcome. I really appreciate you having me.

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes: Your first love is poetry.  It seems that the art of writing poetry requires a different writing discipline, even mind-set, from writing novels, yet you excel at writing both.  What do you draw from writing poetry that also applies to writing your fiction novels?

Reed: They are not necessarily different disciplines or mind-sets as much as they are different approaches. With both you are trying, or should be trying, to write as economically and as powerfully as possible. For instance, as my prose writing has progressed, I tend to use less metaphors and similes than I did earlier in my career. When I use them, they’re not throwaways. I want them to be as strong as possible. Perhaps the best example of powerful, poetic writing, is the work of Daniel Woodrell. The man never wastes a word, but, at the same time, he never leaves the reader feeling cheated. His books are thin, but his writing fairly explodes. While I will never write like Daniel, I try to achieve the same sort of power and economy. I also have a natural rhythm in my writing that comes from my training in poetry. It’s natural in that I don’t do it consciously, but can see it and hear it when I read my stuff aloud or listen to it in its audio versions. Yes, Moe is now available on However, you can’t completely translate poetry to prose writing because the form of a novel simply doesn’t allow you to perseverate on the placement of each word and how it might look or sound in connection to every other word on the page. Good thing or I’d never get a novel finished.

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes: We read in one of your interviews that you take a break each day to watch your favorite soap opera–which one and why?

Reed: I’m a General Hospital junky. I’ve been in rehab for it twice, but to no avail. The standard answer I give is that it helps me blank out my mind in order to let myself work through problems without obsessing over them. While that is true, I think there is a lot for a novelist to learn about pacing and plotting from soaps. The last time I was in LA, I went through security at LAX with a guy who used to be on GH. I think his name is Wally Kirth and he played Ned. It was nearly as cool as shaking John Updike’s hand at BEA in DC. Just kidding, I swear.

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes: We also read that you think the movie The French Connection perfectly accomplishes what you’re trying to do with your writing–please elaborate.

Reed: In many ways, The French Connection is a perfect crime movie. All the characters are flawed and complex. The bad guys are all somewhat sympathetic and the cops and feds are as much assholes as heroes. It’s a high stakes crime that plays out at street level and those streets are the filthy 1970s street of Brooklyn and Manhattan; the same streets I grew up on. That’s the New York I remember. Even the music, written and performed by the late Don Ellis, was perfectly suited to the peculiarity of the times. I could go on about this, but it will just bore the hell out of your readers.

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes: Do you have a favorite TV series PI?  Who and why?

Reed: I liked Mannix a lot. Everything from his car to his secretary, Peggy, was cool. I even liked the theme song. I also like that he went from working for a big faceless firm—first season—to going out on his own. I liked Peter Gunn, but I only saw that in reruns. Same thing with Darren McGavin as Mike Hammer-reruns.

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes: If the private eye story is an American retelling of its cowboy legend, is it fair to view Moe as a cowboy in Brooklyn?

Reed: Moe Prager—The Kosher Cowboy.  I like it.

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes: Can you give us a sneak preview of book number 7 in the Moe Prager series, Hurt Machine?

Reed: Sure. Moe faces two of the most difficult obstacles he’s ever had to face. The case he’s working is one where his client is nearly as unpopular a figure in New York as Osama Bin Laden. He’s also facing his own mortality in a way he never anticipated.

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes: Last, can you predict with accuracy when the New York Knicks will win the NBA championship?

Reed: Well, it took the Rangers like 51 or more years to win the Stanley Cup…

from the publisher of Innocent Monster:

Seven years have passed since the brutal murder that tore Moe Prager’s family apart and six years since Moe brushed the dust off his PI license. But when his estranged daughter Sarah comes to him with a request he cannot refuse, Moe takes a deep breath and plunges back into the icy, opaque waters of secrets and lies. Sashi Bluntstone, an eleven-year-old art prodigy and daughter of Sarah’s dearest childhood friend, has been abducted. Three weeks into the investigation, the cops have gotten nowhere and the parents have gotten desperate. Desperation, the door through which Moe Prager always enters, swings wide open. Just as in Sashi’s paintings, there’s much more to the case than one can see at a glance.

With the help of an ex-football star, Moe stumbles around the fringes of the New York art scene, trying to get a handle on where the art stops and the commerce begins. Much to Moe’s surprise and disgust, he discovers that Sashi is, on the one hand, revered as a cash cow and, on the other, reviled as a fraud and a joke. Suspects abound beyond the usual predators and pedophiles, for it is those closest to Sashi in life that have the most to gain from her death. Cruel ironies lurk around every corner, beneath every painting, and behind every door. Almost nothing is what it seems.

Innocent Monster is a book of children and parents, of lives lost and found. It is a variation on the theme of good and evil, each often wearing the other’s disguise. Beware the innocent monster for it need not hide itself and it lives closely among us: sometimes as close as the mirror.

Publishers Weekly review of Innocent Monster:

In Shamus-winner Coleman’s darkly impressive sixth Moe Prager mystery (after 2008′s Empty Ever After), the retired Brooklyn PI takes on a baffling missing person case only because his estranged daughter, Sarah, begs him to help. In the three weeks since art prodigy Sashi Bluntstone, the 11-year-old daughter of Sarah’s childhood friend Candy Castleman, disappeared from a walk on the beach near her Long Island home, the police have found no trace of the girl, who “skyrocketed to prominence at age four when her Abstract Expressionist paintings… began selling for tens of thousands of dollars.” Prager, who encounters a host of ugly characters, including parents Max and Candy, who aren’t telling all they know, and resentful painter Nathan Martyr, becomes increasingly sure that Sashi is dead, but keeps slogging along. His past as a cop, his guilt over his wife’s murder, and his current career as a wine merchant make Prager a complex character well suited to handle a complex mystery. (Oct.) - Publishers Weekly

Order from Tyrus Books at

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Bored to Death: Jonathan was smart in that closet!

Posted by Writing PIs on October 4, 2010

Last night’s episode of Bored to Death (HBO, Sundays, 10 p.m. EDT) had us laughing so hard, we were crying.  Jonathan, the wannabe private eye who’s launched  his illegal investigative career (he’s not licensed) by advertising in Craiglist ads, ends up in his client’s bedroom closet, on surveillance to catch a cheating spouse.  To Jonathan’s surprise, he catches…no, we won’t spoil it for those of you who haven’t seen it yet.

Let’s chat about that bedroom-sleuthing scene.

Was it legal for Jonathan the PI to hide in the bedroom closet? Yes.  The unsuspecting wife had no expectation of privacy, unfortunately, because her husband had given Jonathan permission to hide in the bedroom.

Was it smart for Jonathan to respond to his client’s text messages while on surveillance? No.  Sorry, Jonathan, but it’s a good rule of thumb to not be real-time interactive with clients while on surveillance.  You need to be watching the locale/person, not distracted by text messages, phone calls, reading a book…you get the picture.  It can take only a few seconds to miss what you’re hired to be surveilling.

Was it smart for Jonathan to text back to his client that nothing was happening? The issue of texting aside, YES!  Especially when you’re working a surveillance case where emotions run high–which they usually do in a suspected cheating spouse case.  The last thing a PI needs is an upset, hysterical client barging onto the scene.  Remember the woman in Texas who ran over her cheating husband THREE TIMES in a parking lot?  Guess how she knew her husband was there–the PI she’d hired called her from the hotel and told her.  Which is why we make it a rule that we do not converse or otherwise communicate with clients during the course of a surveillance.  Instead, they receive surveillance reports afterward.

No PI in New York would get by working as an unlicensed PI this long, so we’re hoping Jonathan gets caught soon, which could be a very entertaining premise.  But Bored to Death isn’t about gritty realism and rules.  It’s a funky, funny, sometimes surreal show that is getting better and better.  We can’t wait for next Sunday’s episode.

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