Guns, Gams & Gumshoes

A blog for PIs and writers/readers of the PI genre

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Five Holiday Safety Tips

Posted by Writing PIs on December 3, 2017

As the holidays approach, our work load invariably picks up as more criminal cases come into the office. Sometimes on a festive evening, such as New Year’s Eve, we’ll look at each other and say, “Wonder what’s happening tonight that brings in work over the next few weeks or months?” Notice we don’t say “Wonder if something will happen…”

Five Safety Tips

Below are a few safety tips to keep you and yours from hiring attorneys or private investigators over the next few weeks.

Tip #1: When you go shopping, lock your car. It sounds so simple, yet you’d be surprised at the number of people who forget to do this. People get preoccupied with shopping, holiday parties, who’s picking up Great-Aunt Sarah on Christmas Eve…and they forget to lock their car doors. That makes easy pickings for thieves looking through car windows—if they see a package, it can be theirs within seconds. Several years ago, Sergeant Foley of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department claimed that nearly 50 percent of the car break-ins in his area were due to cars being left unlocked.

Tip #2: Park in well-lighted areas. Don’t tempt a thief by parking where there’s little or no lighting.

An unlocked door is an invitation to a criminal

Unlocked Doors Are Open Invitations to Criminals

Tip #3: Avoid parking on side streets. Vehicles parked on secluded side streets are easy prey for thieves. Also, with increased holiday traffic, and drivers preoccupied with cell phone conversations, passengers, or even eating while driving, your vehicle might be the victim of a hit-and-run.

Tip #4: Drink responsibly.

You Don't Want to Wear One of these Bracelets This Holiday

You Don’t Want to Wear One of These Bracelets This Holidays

Yeah, this sounds like one of those ads, but it is smart advice. Many of our criminal investigation cases involve people drinking too much and doing something stupid that they regret for years to come.

Watch the other guy, too —is someone getting blitzed and out of control at a party? Be proactive and make sure he/she has a sober driver to take them home. Or call a taxi and pay the driver upfront for the person’s ride home, which might be the best holiday gift they get. Also if a party is getting out of control, it’s a good time to leave.

Tip #5: Be aware. Perhaps the best advice is to be aware and use common sense.  Don’t carry so many packages to your vehicle that you can’t quickly reach your cell phone or car keys. Shop in groups rather than alone. If you have a choice to shop during the day or at night, pick daylight hours. Don’t leave items visible in your car that might tempt a thief. Have fun at parties, but drink responsibly and avoid those who aren’t.

Wishing you a happy, healthy, and safe holiday season!

(Click on banner, below, to go to Amazon page)

A heartfelt, humorous, romantic-mystery story about a down-on-her-luck lawyer, a special agent visited by the past, and an arson dog named Maggie who join forces to rescue the holiday spirit!

“Mistletoe and Murder in Las Vegas” is Colleen Collins at her best. It’s got the charm and humor of the best romantic comedies combined with a genuinely good mystery–an unbeatable combination. I couldn’t put the book down once I started it.” ~Nancy Warren, USA Today Bestselling Author

wreath line

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Do not copy/distribute any content without written permission from the authors. 

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Female Private Eyes Walked Those Fiction Mean Streets, Too

Posted by Writing PIs on November 11, 2017

woman looking thru mag glass black and white2

When a friend recently commented about the lack of female private eyes in hardboiled fiction, I pointed him to a post I’d written a few years ago in response to an article in the NYT. Female private eyes in literature go back further in time than those in the hard-boiled genre, however. Many view Mrs. Paschal as the first female private detective in literature. In 1864, Mrs. Paschal appeared in The Revelations of a Lady Detective, written by W. S. Hayward, a British male writer. Although Mrs. Paschal occasionally worked with the police force, she also conducted private investigations for payment.

But back to hard-boiled detective fiction—below is my 2014 post about lady dicks who also roamed those mean streets…

The Death of the Private Eye?

It was surprising to read the November 14, 2014 article “The Death of the Private Eye” by John Semley in the New York Times and see references to only men being shamuses in hardboiled fiction.

There Were Lady Dicks, Too

The hardboiled private dicks in pulp fiction’s hard-hitting, heart-pumping stories included numerous female characters as the main protagonists, although you’d never know it from Semley’s text:

“The hard-boiled gumshoes were men…”

“If the private dick has all but disappeared, something of his DNA is woven into the biology of the authority-bucking hackers…”

“This is the real essence of the P.I….despite his venality…”

Miss Marple: An Amateur Sleuth

Semley does, however, give a passing nod to Miss Marple (“the old-school gumshoe feels as irrelevant as Sherlock Holmes and Miss Marple felt a generation before”) except that Miss Marple was an amateur sleuth, not a professional private investigator (definition from Private Eye Writers of America: A private investigator is a private citizen [not a member of the military, federal agency, or civic or state police force] who is paid to investigate crimes).

Tip of the Fedora to Hard-Boiled Female PIsSecret Agent

Let’s look at a few female private eye characters who made their appearances during the hard-boiled era:

Grace “Redsie” Culver, an operative for the Noonan Detective Agency, starred in 20 stories in The Shadow Magazine from 1934-1937.

Carrie Cashin, owner of the Cash and Carry Detective Agency in Manhattan, first hit the fiction scene in 1937 and went on to star in 38 stories.

Dol Bonner started walking the mean streets in The Hand in the Glove (1937) by Rex Stout, who later included Bonner as a supporting character in several novels featuring Nero Wolfe.

The Death of the Private Eye Genre?

This is the real point of Semley’s article, and it’s a valid one. Yes, technological tools, available to just about anyone, have cast a cold shadow on many of the private investigator’s tricks of the trade. My husband and I have an entire room filled with cameras and other equipment that are hopelessly outdated. A lot of the smartphone apps I use for investigations any kid can buy.

Walking the Mean Streets: Still in Vogue

But not all investigations are about being technically hip. When a law firm hired us to find the names of people who had worked on a building nearly 50 years ago, there were no databases, even proprietary ones, that contained a shred of evidence to these people’s identities, so we sleuthed the old-fashioned way: On foot. Talked to people, reviewed old reverse phone directories, ended up digging through dusty boxes in a storage facility (where we finally found the people’s names).

We know a homicide detective who resorts to some old-fashioned tricks when he wants to get people to answer the door: He finds their electrical box and turns off the power. Within seconds, they’ve opened their door and he’s there with a few questions he’d like them to answer.

An Anonymous Witness

When a defense lawyer hired us to find three gang members who had tried to kill his client (a member of another gang), we headed to the defendant’s neighborhood and knocked on doors. Nobody wanted to talk to us, mostly because they were frightened of gang retaliation. Later we returned to the neighborhood with signs that we posted on trees, bus benches, a fence at a park. A few days later, we received a phone call from a public coffeehouse by a woman who didn’t want to give her name or email address as she didn’t want her identity to be traced electronically. She was willing to meet us at the park where the crime had occurred at a certain date to talk with us, for fifteen minutes only. She purposefully chose the time when the crime had occurred (late in the evening).

We showed up at the park at the designated time. A woman in her late fifties emerged from the shadows of a group of trees and walked toward us. She spoke quietly, pointing out the crime scene, and where she’d witnessed the defendant fighting for his life against three young men, all of which matched exactly what the defendant had described. She refused to give us her name, and to be on the safe side she hadn’t driven to the park in her car (she’d walked). Her information cracked the case.

Semley claims that “All P.I. stories are now period pieces.” Hmm…maybe that’s even more of a cliche than thinking only tough, wisecracking guys were gumshoes.

fedora black and white

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins. Any use of the content requires specific, written authority. 

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What Is Expectation of Privacy?

Posted by Writing PIs on November 1, 2017

woman peeking thru blinds licensed by C Collins

In a nutshell, expectation of privacy is a zone of protection created by constitutional law against unreasonable searches and seizures.

How Does Expectation of Privacy Affect You?

Most people don’t value their expectation of privacy until a government agent (such as police or health inspectors) intrude onto their property without authorization. Another area in which people don’t always value their expectation of privacy is in their personal computers. The founding fathers wanted people to be secure in their “homes and papers,” but no one has ever doubted that the Fourth Amendment expectation of privacy also applies to individuals’ personal computers and other electronic devices.

PIs and Expectation of Privacy

Below are a few slides from a presentation we gave at a Pikes Peak Writers conference on this topic. The audience wanted an example of how their private eye character might be affected by an expectation of privacy issue in the course of an investigation.

Expectation of Privacy slide 2

Expectation of Privacy slide 3

Have a great November, everyone! Writing PIs

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins. Please do not copy, distribute, or otherwise use any of this article without written permission from the author.

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Top 10 Reasons Police Pull Over Vehicles

Posted by Writing PIs on October 27, 2017

Don’t Be a Cop Magnet

It’s fairly easy to get pulled over while you’re driving. Below is a list of reasons, compiled from our years conducting investigations on behalf of defense lawyers, discussions with police officers and agencies, and sources such as The National Motorists Association.

  • Driving significantly faster (or slower) than the traffic around you.
  • Out-of-date license tags and inspection stickers.
  • Speeding at night, especially after midnight.
  • Speeding in a radar-enforced area.
  • Weaving from your lane into another.
  • Failing to use your turn signal.
  • Faulty equipment, such as brake lights, tail lights, license plate lights.
  • In some states, both the front and back license plates must be affixed (this holds true in Colorado)
  • Dark window tints, jacked-up suspension system.
  • Illegal cell phone use (more than 30 states have banned texting while driving).

You’ve Done Nothing Wrong, But You Can Still Be Pulled Over

While the Fourth Amendment usually protects against unlawful searches, certain exceptions have been made out of concern for public safety, such as:

Amber Alert: Law enforcement has the right to pull you over and search your car for a missing child during an Amber Alert, which law enforcement issues when they determine that a child has been abducted, and the abduction meets Amber Alert criteria.

Mistaken Identity: If a car just involved in a hit-and-run meets your car description, the police can stop you to examine your vehicle for damage consistent with involvement in a hit-and-run.

Keep in mind that even if you’re pulled over for a minor traffic issue, the stop can result in a driving under the influence (DUI) arrest if your actions make the officer suspect that you’re driving:

  • While intoxicated
  • Under the influence of or possession of controlled substances.

Keep the above indicators in mind—by being proactive, you can help prevent being pulled over.

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins. Please do not copy, distribute, or otherwise use any of this article without written permission from the author.

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Tips for Your Safeguarding Your Halloween Haunted House

Posted by Writing PIs on October 25, 2017

It’s that time of year when people stretch cobwebs on porches, prop plastic gravestones in front yards, string flashing lights everywhere, and my favorite—arrange mechanized life-sized creeping zombies that crawl and moan. These decorations mean it’s also the time of year to ensure safe conditions around your spook house.

Five Safety Tips

  1. Keep walkways dry and clear from anything that might trip your visitors. This includes cords and crawling zombies.
  2. haunted house2

    If the area outside the house is dark, trick-or-treaters might stumble and fall.

    Maintain good lighting for your candy-hunting guests in areas where they walk up to your doorway. Keep in mind that many children are wearing masks that can block their vision, and that children might be running as they approach your front door. Dark-tinted lights and flashing strobes are a recipe for trouble, even if they look fantastic. One idea: Try the “Christmas light style” jack-o-lantern lights on your banisters and stairways to highlight handrails.

  3. Use extension cords for electrical items in the yard that are rated for outdoor use to avoid electrical shorts and fires.
  4. Secure yard decorations (wooden signs and faux grave markers) from the bold fall wind.
  5. Direct traffic at your doorway. Limit the number of trick or treaters coming up to the door to prevent chaos and possible injuries when departing ghouls bump into arriving ghosts. You might try being on the porch during the busiest hours to hand-out candy.

Enjoy a safe, fun Halloween!

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins. Please do not copy, distribute, or otherwise use any of this article without written permission from the author.

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5 Tips for Having a DUI-Free Halloween

Posted by Writing PIs on October 23, 2017

The origins of Halloween go back to the Celts who marked the day as the end of harvest season and beginning of winter. The day itself was thought of as a bridge to the world of the dead.

Today Halloween is a fun day filled with candy, costumes, and parties. And not just for kids, but for grown-ups, too. For the latter, here’s a few suggestions to have a good time without getting a DUI (drinking under the influence).

Five Tips For Not Being Haunted By A DUI On Halloween

Tip #1: Don’t Over-Imbibe. Your blood alcohol level is a major factor in determining if you will be charged and convicted of driving under the influence (DUI). Although there are variables in how people’s bodies metabolize, or burn off, alcohol, here’s a general rule of thumb: For every ounce of alcohol consumed, wait 90-120 minutes before drinking another ounce.

Each of the following drinks contains approximately an ounce of alcohol:

  • 12-oz. can of beer
  • 1.25-oz. shot of hard liquor
  • 6-oz. glass of wine.

Tip #2Don’t Wear a Mask While Driving. Officers must have reasons for pulling over drivers they suspect might have been drinking. One reason is if the driver is wearing a mask—an officer might say it obscured your vision while driving, and then the officer might assess if you have been drinking.

Tip #3Eating fatty, spicy food to trick a breathalyzer test is an urban legend. Some people think consuming greasy, spicy foods (think a big plate of enchiladas smothered in cheese, chilis and onions) will help them beat a breathalyzer test as the food lowers the alcohol content in their system. Well, such foods might mask the odor of alcohol on one’s breath, but they do absolutely nothing to lower the alcohol content.

Tip #4: Plan for Sober Driving Options. Best idea of all is to plan ahead for how to travel safely—here are a few ideas:

  • Designate who is the sober driver for the evening if you’re out with a group of people.
  • Call a taxi.
  • Pre-program numbers into your phone for safe ride options in your city, such as Curb (formerly TaxiMagic) or Lyft.

Tip #5: Don’t Pull a Reese Witherspoon. If you’re a passenger in a car that’s been pulled over, remember what happened to Reese Witherspoon who, as the drunk passenger in a car, got loud and crazy with the cop. Next thing the famous movie star knew, she was starring in her very own mug shot. Law officers can cite others in a vehicle for interference or obstruction.

Follow these tips and enjoy a safe, fun Halloween!

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins. Please do not copy, distribute, or otherwise use any of this material without written permission from the author.

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Private Eye Writers of America: 2017 Shamus Award Winners

Posted by Writing PIs on September 27, 2017

Winners are in bold type, below. Nominees are listed alphabetically by authors’ names. Congratulations to all of the finalists and winners!

Best Original Private Eye Paperback

Winner: Vaseem Khan, The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown. Red Hook Books
Michael Craven, The Detective and the Chinese High-Fin. Harper Collins
O’Neil De Noux,  Hold Me, Babe. Big Kiss Publications
Erle Stanley Gardner,  The Knife Slipped. Hard Case Crime
Manuel Ramos, My Bad. Arte Publico Press

Best First Private Eye Novel

Winner: Joe Ide, IQ.  Little, Brown
Tim Baker, Fever City. Europa Editions
L.P. Lyle, Deep Six. Oceanview Publishing
David Swinson, The Second Girl. Little, Brown
Richard Vine, Soho Sins. Hard Case Crime

Best Private Eye Short Story

Winner: Brendan DuBois, “A Battlefield Reunion in AHMM, June
Lawrence Block, “Keller’s Fedora” (e-publication)
Ake Edwardson, “Stairway From Heaven” in Stockholm Noir, Akashic
Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins, “A Dangerous Cat” in The Strand. Feb-May
Dave Zeltserman, “Archie On Loan” in EQMM, Sept.-Oct.

Best Private Eye Novel

Winner: Reed Farrel Coleman, Where It Hurts. Putnam
Lindsey Davis, The Graveyard of the Hesperides. Minotaur
Timothy Hallinan, Fields Where They Lay. Soho Crime
Al Lamanda, With 6 You Get Wally. Gale Cengage
Robert S. Levinson, The Stardom Affair.  Five Star

All images are licensed by Colleen Collins, who does not have legal authority to share with others, so please do not copy or distribute any images, thank you.

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Hurricane Irma: Recommended Supplies, Prepping Emergency Kits

Posted by Writing PIs on September 4, 2017

Florida Department of Emergency Management: Recommended Supplies

Hurricane Irma via NASA

Water – at least 1 gallon daily per person for 3 to 7 days
Food – at least enough for 3 to 7 days
– non-perishable packaged or canned food / juices
– foods for infants or the elderly
– snack foods
– non-electric can opener
– cooking tools / fuel
– paper plates / plastic utensils
Blankets / Pillows, etc.
Clothing – seasonal / rain gear/ sturdy shoes
First Aid Kit / Medicines / Prescription Drugs
Special Items – for babies and the elderly
Toiletries – hygiene items
Moisture wipes
Flashlight / Batteries
Radio – Battery operated and NOAA weather radio
Cash – Banks and ATMs may not be open or available for extended periods.
Keys
Toys, Books and Games
Important documents – in a waterproof container
– insurance, medical records, bank account numbers, Social Security card, etc.
– document all valuables with videotape if possible
Tools – keep a set with you during the storm
Vehicle fuel tanks filled
Pet care items
– proper identification / immunization records
– ample supply of food and water
– a carrier or cage
– medications
– muzzle and leash

Related Articles

Hurricane Irma: How to Prepare an Emergency Kit (USA Today)

Everything You Need to Survive a Storm (Miami Herald)

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Summer Surveillances: Lessons Learned

Posted by Writing PIs on July 13, 2017

Updated July 13, 2017: This article was originally written in July 2010 after one of the Writing PIs experienced heat exhaustion while conducting a daytime surveillance. At the time, we had conducted dozens of surveillances, many during the summer months. Both of us knew what precautions to take during summer surveillances, but nevertheless the heat took its toll on one of us while on an outdoor surveillance. As summer temperatures are rising, it’s more important than ever to caretake one’s health when outdoors.

Summer Surveillances

Every summer, the number of surveillances we conduct increases. We figure this is due to people being out and about more in the sunny weather, parents not being tied to their kids’ school schedules, people taking vacations, and so forth.

This past summer, we learned (or in some cases, re-valued) some lessons in conducting successful surveillances, which we’ll share in today’s post.

Lesson #1: An investigator needs to respect the heat! While conducting a days-long, grueling surveillance this summer, one of us had issues with heat exhaustion.  It was a strong reminder that any work conducted outdoors in the summertime means staying cool & staying hydrated.  Here’s a few ideas for staying cool: bringing ice packs along on the surveillance, picking shady spots to park in, ensuring there’s adequate ventilation, if appropriate running air conditioning (there’s also portable units investigators can purchase that help keep the inside of a vehicle cool), when possible taking breaks in air-conditioned buildings, wearing a rimmed hat and sunglasses.  Staying hydrated includes such safeguards as drinking water, Gatorade or fruit juices (not sodas or coffee!), as well as wearing loose-fitting and cool clothes.

Lesson #2: Mine your client for details. It’s funny how many people call and ask us to follow someone without any suggestions or knowledge about the subject’s schedule or habits.  Maybe in the movies a PI can jump into a car and follow someone for hours without any idea where that person typically goes that time of day, or is scheduled to go on that particular day, but it’s asking for failure in real-life surveillances.  It aids the surveillance significantly to have an idea where the person might be travelling, or if they have a set appointment (hair dresser, exercise club, therapist) for that day and time.  How does a PI find this information?  It’s critical to interview the client and ask about the subject’s habits, schedules, work routines, and so forth.  Sometimes we’ll work on an “on-call” basis with a client (he/she calls us when they have information where a subject will be that day–of course, this doesn’t mean we’re available at that particular time, but this is an understanding of the “on-call” approach).

Lesson #3: Stay in close touch with your PI partner.  We conducted multiple two-car mobile surveillances this summer, and we re-learned the value of staying in constant touch when we’re both “rolling.”  Before we drive through traffic following a vehicle, we’ll call each other on our cells, then leave that line of communication open as we drive.  We put our phones on speaker, set them on our laps, then talk to each other as we drive.  This way, we can immediately inform each other if the car is turning, if we’re playing “leap frog” with the vehicle, and so forth.  In the “old days” we used our two-way radios, which got problematic if we got out of the range of the signal (it also was difficult to be pressing the talk button at times while driving).

Note: In our state, any driver under 18 years of age is prohibited from using a cell phone while driving. The prohibition includes phone calls, text messaging, or similar forms of manual data entry and transmission. Adult drivers are prohibited from using a cell phone to text message, or send similar forms of transmission, while behind the wheel. Regular cell phone use for voice calls is permitted. Drivers of any age may use a wireless device in the case of an emergency.

Tips From Other Investigators

We’ve heard other investigators talk about using tinted windows, installing a roof vent in the vehicle, wearing canvas shoes, if possible working at night vs. the day, one even swore she remained cool with a bandana filled with ice wrapped around her neck (an interesting image!).

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins. Please do not copy, distribute, or otherwise use any of this material without written permission from the author. Unless an image is noted as being in the public domain, please do not copy or use any graphics/photos, thank you.

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Case Story: The Spied-Upon Spy

Posted by Writing PIs on June 16, 2017

A Homeland Security federal agent (whom we’ll call “B”) was on her first day of vacation in Cripple Creek, Colorado, a historic town where gambling is legal. B had played slot machines throughout the day, followed by dinner with her spouse, after which she played more slot machines.

The Arrest

Around 9:30 p.m., a state of Colorado gaming officer approached her while she was playing, and asked her to please step away from the machine. The gaming officer informed B that a casino security camera had taken footage of her cheating at a slot machine within the past hour.

When B asked for specifics, the gaming officer said that a security camera had captured video of B observing a player walk away from a machine without pressing the “Cash Out” button. B immediately sat down at that machine and started playing that slot machine, therefore stealing the previous person’s money.

B was surprised, said she had no idea there had been money left in the machine when she sat down to play, and hadn’t the camera also captured B putting in her own coupon to play?

Gaming officer claimed client had stolen another customer’s gambling coupon (image in public domain)

The gaming officer remained adamant that B was under arrest for thieving a game device, a class 6 felony in Colorado. Being a federal agent, B knew it was wise for her to remain silent, and peacefully allowed the officer to arrest, cuff, and take B to jail.

Lawyer Enters the Case

Within hours after being arrested, B posted bond, and returned with her spouse to their home state. A month later, after reviewing the Colorado division of gaming reports about her arrest, B decided to hire a Colorado defense lawyer and contacted Colorado defense attorney Shaun Kaufman (one of the authors of this blog).

Note: If B, a Homeland Security federal agent, were to be found guilty, she would automatically lose her security clearance and job, in which she’d accrued 18 years. By the way, the government doesn’t differentiate between a misdemeanor or felony—if an employee is found guilty of either one, they lose their job.

Defense Investigation

The defense investigator, Colleen (the other author of this blog), conducted surveillance in the casino regarding security practices for machines, and learned that casino security was lax in regard to reminding players—either by signs or verbally—to remember to take their money coupons before leaving slot machines.

D.A.’s Case: Intention

Shaun drove three times, back and forth, to Cripple Creek (229 miles each round trip) to meet with the D.A. Third time was the charm as he finally agreed to dismiss the charges based on the prosecution’s inability to prove B’s intent to steal.

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes Ranked #3 in Top PI Blogs

Thank you, PINow, for ranking Guns, Gams, & Gumshoes as #3 in the top 10 private investigator blogs for 2017.

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Any use of the content requires specific, written authority. Please do not copy or distribute any images unless they are noted as being in the public domain, thank you.

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