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."

    Available on Kindle

  • Copyright Notices

    All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Any use of the content on this site (including images owned by Colleen Collins and/or Shaun Kaufman) requires specific, written authority. Any violations of this reservation will result in legal action.

    It has come to our attention that people are illegally copying and using the black and white private eye at a keyboard image that is used on our site. NOTE: This image is protected by copyright, property of Colleen Collins.

  • Writing PIs on Twitter

  • Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes

#WriteTip PIs, Lawyers and Clients: Who’s Driving the Bus?

Posted by Writing PIs on June 11, 2016

Would a PI grill a new client while the lawyer says nothing?

Would a PI grill a new client while the lawyer says nothing? (image licensed by Colleen Collins)

A Cliche in the Making?

Recently, I’ve read this scenario in several private eye novels: In a first-time meeting with a new client in a defense lawyer’s office, the PI runs the show while the lawyer stays mum in the background. Sometimes the PI gets aggressive with the client, going full-tilt interrogation mode, demanding to know what the client said and did at a crime scene, for example. Meanwhile, the lawyer sits idly nearby, saying zilch, the epitome of passivity.

I’ve never met a milquetoast criminal lawyer. Especially on their turf.

Better to double-check for accuracy than propagate a cliche in your story.

Better to double-check for accuracy than propagate a cliche in your story (image licensed by Colleen Collins)

After reading similar scenes in multiple books, I began to wonder if some writers are reading scenes like this in others’ private eye stories, so they copy the same set-up as if it’s realistic. Nope. It’s not. Copying a scenario, especially one involving a legal setting, without conducting some research to check accuracy is lazy writing. You might as well put your PI in a trench coat, carrying a sap, and swilling whiskey while on the job. You know, the stuff cliches are made of.

Let’s look at a few reasons why a PI wouldn’t behave like this.

Why a PI Would Not Blindly Take Control

Typically, a PI has already spoken to the attorney about the case, as well as the lawyer’s client’s involvement, before the meeting. It could even be the PI has recommended this particular client to the attorney, which has happened to us in the past, but we still let the attorney guide the meeting because if the PI takes over, problems can occur:

  • The PI might lead the client to have unreal legal expectations.
  • The PI could propose an unwanted (by the lawyer) course of legal strategy, or the investigator might foreclose the exploration of a viable legal or factual defense.
  • It is unethical for a lawyer to practice law with someone who is not a lawyer, a gray area that the PI could step into if he/she’s trying to run the meeting.
  • A client can lose respect for the lawyer if the PI is coming across as the one in charge. (Note from Shaun, the defense lawyer in Writing PIs: “This is more from the lawyer’s perspective because the last thing a lawyer wants to lose is his client’s respect.”)

Contributing to the Discussion

Nothing wrong with a PI making contributions in such meetings, but a smart PI knows better than to try and drive the bus.

Although you could turn this around for humor, or tension, in your story. Maybe the lawyer warns the PI to stop talking, and the investigator keeps yammering away, until the lawyer invites the PI into the hallway “for a chat.” Or maybe the lawyer warns the PI ahead of time to keep his/her opinions to herself, please, and let the attorney run the meeting…and the PI doesn’t.

Shaun had such a chat with an investigator many years ago because she had a bad habit of trying to “play lawyer,” but at the same time she was a stellar private investigator. After he gave his closing argument at trial, the PI passed him a note that read, “You forgot to mention these points…” And listed items she thought he had missed. “You need to ask the judge for a few more minutes to finish your closing.”

Shaun gave her a look and crumpled up the note. Twenty minutes later, the jury came back with a not guilty verdict.

Related Articles

#BookExcerpt The Work of a Legal Investigator 

A Private Investigator’s Guide to the Care and Feeding of Attorney-Clients

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins. Please do not copy/distribute any images noted as copyrighted or licensed. Do not copy or re-use any portions of this article without first contacting its author, Colleen Collins, for her written permission.

Coming Soon: How Do Private Eyes Do That? Second Edition

Coming August 2016 (image copyrighted by Colleen Collins)

Coming August 2016 (image copyrighted by Colleen Collins)

Posted in Writing About PIs | Tagged: , , , | Comments Off on #WriteTip PIs, Lawyers and Clients: Who’s Driving the Bus?

Private Eye Writers of America 2016 Shamus Award Finalists

Posted by Writing PIs on June 9, 2016

PRIVATE EYE WRITERS OF AMERICA SHAMUS AWARD NOMINEES 2016

(for works published in 2015)

The lists below are in alphabetical order by author. The winners will be announced at the PWA Banquet at Bouchercon in New Orleans. Congratulations to all the nominees!

 

Best Original Private Eye Paperback  

CIRCLING THE RUNWAY by J.L. Abramo. Down & Out Books

THE LONG COLD by O’Neil De Noux. Big Kiss Productions

SPLIT TO SPLINTERS by Max Everhart. Camel Press

THE MAN IN THE WINDOW by Dana King. Independent

RED DESERT, Clive Rosengren by Moonshine Cove Publishing

 

Best First Private Eye Novel

THE RED STORM by Grant Bywaters. St. Martins/Minotaur

NIGHT TREMORS by Matt Coyle. Oceanview Publishing

TROUBLE IN ROOSTER PARADISE by T.W. Emory. Coffeetown Press

DEPTH by Lev Ac Rosen. Regan Arts

THE DO-RIGHT by Lisa Sandlin. Cinco Puntos Press

 

Best Private Eye Short Story

“The Runaway Girl from Portland, Oregon” by C.B. Forrest in  Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, October 2015

“The Sleep of Death” by David Edgerley Gates in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, December 2015

“The Dead Client” by Parnell Hall in  Dark City Lights: New York Stories (edited by Lawrence Block)

“The Dead Detective” by Robert S. Levinson in Coast to Coast: Murder from Sea to Shining Sea (edited by Andrew McAleer & Paul D. Marks)

“The Continental Opposite” by Evan Lewis in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, May 2015

 

Best Private Eye Novel

THE PROMISE by Robert Crais. G.P. Putnam’s Sons

DANCE OF THE BONES by J.A. Jance.  William Morris

GUMSHOE by Robert Leininger. Oceanview Publishing

BRUSH BACK by Sara Paretsky. G.P. Putnam’s Sons

BRUTALITY by Ingrid Thoft. G.P. Putnam’s Sons

fedora black and white

Posted in PI Topics | Tagged: , | Comments Off on Private Eye Writers of America 2016 Shamus Award Finalists

#BookGiveaway! Happy 7-Year Blogiversary to Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes!

Posted by Writing PIs on June 8, 2016

Your Writing PIs, Shaun Kaufman and Colleen Collins

We started Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes on June 9, 2009

To celebrate Guns, Gams & Gumshoes’ 7-year blogiversary…

We’re giving away 7 copies of A LAWYER’S PRIMER FOR WRITERS: FROM CRIMES TO COURTROOMS. Audiences: #Crimefiction & legal-thriller writers/readers, armchair legal-eagles, and those wanting a high-level tour of the U.S. legal system. Contest ends June 12, 2016 at midnight.

To enter the giveaway, click here

“A LAWYER’S PRIMER FOR WRITERS is an entertaining, knowledgable, must-have research tool for writers of all stripes!” ~Dennis Palumbo, author of the Daniel Rinaldi mystery series

“Whether you’re writing fiction, journalism, or advertising, there are times when you really need to know the in’s and out’s, not to mention the ‘lingo,’ of the legal world. That’s when I always crack open A Lawyer’s Primer for Writers. Written by a defense lawyer and a bestselling author, its clear, well-written explanations lend my own prose authority and authenticity.” ~Suzanne Doyle, President High-Low Communications

Sampling of Book Topics

  • A Lawyer's Primer for WritersA History of Trials
  • Players in the Courtroom
  • The Courtroom Setting
  • Jury Experts
  • Types of Courts
  • Types of Lawyers
  • Lawyers and Ethics
  • Lawyers and Technology
  • Trial Preparation
  • The Steps of Civil and Criminal Trials
  • Appeals
  • Articles on Crimes, DNA Testing, Forensics, Personal Injury Cases and More
    Recommended Legal Films

To enter the giveaway, click here

Have a great week, Writing PIs

Posted in PI Topics | Tagged: , , , , | Comments Off on #BookGiveaway! Happy 7-Year Blogiversary to Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes!

A True Story: The Case of the Bride Who Faked Evidence to Get Money

Posted by Writing PIs on June 4, 2016

She thought she'd be smiling all the way to the bank...

She thought she’d be smiling all the way to the bank (photo licensed by Colleen Collins)

The media has been buzzing lately with Johnny Depp and his wife Amber Heard’s divorce drama. As with any legal fracas, it is the evidence that will ultimately prove or disprove the charges being made.

Years ago we had a case where a woman, angry over her boyfriend terminating their love affair, decided to go after half of his assets by faking that they had been secretly married. Sounds crazy, right? Well, she’d successfully pulled this secret-marriage stunt before with another former boyfriend (we discovered later in our investigations), so she was quite savvy about how to legally pull this off. And she almost succeeded, too, because she worked hard to fabricate evidence of their having said “I do.”

Here’s the true story of…

 

The Bride Who Faked It for Money

She smiled almost all the way to the bank (image licensed by Colleen Collins)

A fake bride, a fake wedding, even a fake reception! (image licensed by Colleen Collins)

Our agency was hired by a local family lawyer to disprove a common law marriage between his client, Clay, and Clay’s last live-in girlfriend, Patty, a paralegal for an attorney in the area (Clay and Patty are not their real names).

Patty had just filed for divorce claiming that she and Clay were “common law” married. She asserted this based on the fact that they had lived together for a few years with what she said were multiple instances of representations to other people and to government agencies that they were married. In the language of common law marriage this is called “holding oneself out as married.”  A court can find this status in a divorce proceeding based on such evidence as the couple telling others they are married and that they conduct transactions as a married couple – for example, filing taxes, signing deeds, registering for a hotel or registering an auto under a married name.

In her divorce filing from their common law marriage, Patty made substantial claims against Clay’s retirement account and home equity in addition to demanding alimony. In short, this was a full-on divorce and if the court agreed with Patty, she would be entitled to a large settlement. Therefore, our goal was to show that although the couple had lived together, their conduct did not match the legal formula for being married. In short, we had to show that Patty was faking it for money.

Our investigative strategy was to attack the validity of Patty’s claims, one by one:

  • First, she claimed that she and Clay had registered as a married couple at a posh downtown Denver hotel the previous summer. Additionally, she claimed that during this stay, they had a small, informal ceremony in a hotel reception room. By contrast, our client claimed that they had stayed there for a weekend and had attended a Colorado Rockies baseball game with both Clay and Patty’s children. We knew that Clay had paid for the room, and Patty had registered them as using the same last name.
  • Second, Patty also claimed that they had received Christmas cards as “Mr. and Mrs. Clay” as well as other correspondence from friends and family members addressed to “Mr. and Mrs. Clay.”
  • Third, Patty had two friends from the mixed softball league that she and Clay had played in who were ready to testify that throughout the last league season, Clay and Patty had openly told other people that they were married.

Investigation Tasks

To disprove her assertions we:

Lou bellman-valet Oxford Thanksgiving 2015

Bellman in Denver hotel where Patty claimed there had been a secret wedding (image copyrighted by Colleen Collins)

  • Researched public records filed by the couple to determine if they filed public, official documents indicating that they were either married or single. We confirmed, at the DMV that Clay bought a BMW convertible two years before the break up. Clay told us that Patty drove the car exclusively. Patty asserted in the divorce papers that the car was hers. We learned from registration records that the car was not registered jointly, and that only Clay was on the title and registration. This contradicted what Patty had said. We also learned from bankruptcy records that Patty had filed for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy eighteen months before the break up, and she had listed herself on those papers as single with no spouse. Coincidentally, she left out any mention of “her” BMW in the bankruptcy papers. Patty had to either admit to lying to the bankruptcy court or she would have to agree, in our case, that just months before, she had told a federal bankruptcy judge, in a sworn statement, that she was single.
  • Contacted recipients of the Christmas cards and interviewed each of them. They denied receiving cards signed by both Clay and Patty, and one told us that they had never even seen Clay’s handwriting.
  • Interviewed the softball coach who told us that during each softball game in the previous season, Clay and Patty had stood in separate groups. The coach also said that Patty spent all of her off-field time in a corner chatting with the two women who were to testify on Patty’s behalf. The softball coach looked up Patty’s softball registration for that season, and that paperwork did not show Clay’s name in the space for “emergency contact/spouse.”

Unforeseen Glitches

We were stymied by hotel management when we tried to get information about the room that Clay and Patty had rented the previous summer. The hotel management would not release information about the room, even though Clay had paid for it, because Patty was the person who had signed the room registration. Since registration made it “her” room, we were denied access to these records.

Ultimately, the attorney we worked for had us return with a subpoena for these records. The hotel billing records showed that there was never a “reception” room rented for the ceremony as Patty had claimed.

Writing Tip: Keep in mind that your fictional PI will not always have an easy time getting hotel registrations, unlike sensationalized accounts in stories.

She Doctored Emails, Too

Patty also presented emails from her “husband” where he discussed their secret wedding and reception. The emails looked real enough, so we contacted a computer guru who specialized in email software to analyze them…he checked out the headers & code and said, “They’ve been doctored. Somebody took the original emails from this guy, deleted the text, and replaced it with this new text on [date].”

End Result

Patty and her lawyer agreed to a tiny settlement, and that there was no marriage, hence no divorce with Clay.

The Lingering Result

Patty gave us a kind of backhand compliment. Obviously stung by our work, she wanted revenge and she wanted it bad. She located our names and our business name in court records. For months after the case had been closed, we received angry emails, written both under her name and under assumed identities. Funny how the language, grammar, even the misspellings were identical in her emails and the “other sender’s” emails!

As time progressed, she also made false reports to government agencies about us. One agency took her claims seriously and conducted an investigation into our business and us, but found nothing to substantiate her rantings.

She finally disappeared from our lives, but we always suspect she is out there somewhere, looking for the next big fake one.

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Please do not copy/distribute any images noted as copyrighted or licensed. Images noted as in the public domain are copyright-free and yours to steal.

Click on cover to go to Amazon page

Posted in Case Examples: The Bride Who Faked It | Tagged: , , , , , , | Comments Off on A True Story: The Case of the Bride Who Faked Evidence to Get Money

From the Archives: Interview with a Polygraph Examiner

Posted by Writing PIs on April 10, 2016

American inventor Leonarde Keeler (1903-1949) testing his lie-detector on Dr. Kohler, a former witness for the prosecution at the trial of Bruno Hauptmann, 1937 (image is in the public domain)

American inventor Leonarde Keeler (1903-1949) testing his lie-detector on Dr. Kohler, a former witness for the prosecution at the trial of Bruno Hauptmann, 1937 (image is in the public domain)

Below is an interview Colleen did back in 2005 with Lawson Hagler, MSW, an independent, clinical polygraph examiner and owner/operator of Accountability Polygraph Services, Inc. in Englewood, Colorado. At the time we had just completed a case with Lawson, and Colleen interviewed him for an article she was writing for PI Magazine.

In this interview Lawson shared his knowledge and thoughts about the current practices and then-future trends in the polygraph examination field. Although this article is now a decade old, it still offers interesting insights into, as well as the history of, polygraph examinations. Lawson also compared polygraph examinations to voice stress testing and the Linguistic Statement Analysis Technique (LSAT).

We’re planning on seeing Lawson soon. We’ll ask him to give an update on this 2005 interview, which we’ll post later in Guns, Gams & Gumshoes.

Interview with Lawson Hagler, Polygraph Examiner

By Colleen Collins, All Rights Reserved

Colleen: For those of us who aren’t familiar, please tell us how a polygraph examination is performed.

Hagler: The examiner prepares relevant questions from a topic (ideally, one topic) that is significant to that interview. The examiner also uses standard questions, control and neutral questions, to get a baseline response. These questions are blended together.

A majority of our testing is done here at the office, where we seat the subject in a non-threatening room. We then place sensors on various locations on their body: galvanometers on the hand to detect changes in galvanic skin response (electrical activity and perspiration); a blood pressure cuff on the arm; and respiration monitors, called pneumographs, on the upper and lower chest.

Typically, 3 control questions are asked to obtain a baseline physiologic record. Ideally, 1 primary critical question is posed in 2 or 3 different phrasings. The subject’s responses to the relevant questions are then compared against responses to the control questions.

The premise is that someone is deceptive when they manifest abnormal physiologic responses, so the examiner poses questions and records the subject’s physiologic responses. In response to a neutral question, the blood pressure, respiration rate, and galvanic skin responses will show little variation. In response to a confrontational question, a deceptive or truthful answer pattern appears on a set of “charts” that are recorded on a computer or on long scrolls of graph paper. The charted results look similar to EKG paper and have marks that indicate when each question and answer was made in the session. Because multiple (“poly”) signals from the sensors record on a single strip of moving paper (“graph”), you get the term “polygraph.”

After the test, the examiner “grades” the charts at each juncture where a question was posed. Each set of physiologic responses is scored on a scale of +9 to -9. The +9 is an extremely non-deceptive answer (in fact, any score rated greater than +3 is scored non-deceptive). Similarly, deception is found at a score of -3 to -9. Any response between +3 to -3 is scored inconclusive.

Colleen: How long have polygraphs been around and how accurate are they?

Hagler: Polygraph instruments, similar to those still in use today, have been around for over 50 years. Computerization of this technology occurred in the early 1990s, resulting in significant improvements in overall test accuracy. If done according to established procedures, polygraph accuracy for single-issue (meaning, one relevant issue) exams is 90-95 percent. Of course, this is dependent on the integrity of the test process.

Colleen: What technological changes are on the horizon for polygraph examiners?

Hagler: There are software applications now available that assist in scoring the physiologic data obtained from clients. These algorithms ultimately will increase the accuracy of test outcomes. One such algorithm was developed by researchers in the Applied Physics Laboratory of Johns Hopkins University.

Also, new hardware technologies are now available. For instance, we know from extensive testing that pupil size varies considerably when a deceptive response is given, just as respiration rate, blood pressure, and skin response varies. A computer software and hardware package (developed by Limestone Technologies, Inc.) captures pupil response by means of a camera attached to the computer. As the computer is fed data from the traditional polygraph test, the web-cam device captures pupil size changes.

In addition my company has purchased motion sensors, embedded within a silicon pad on which the subject sits, that record body movements and other possible artifacts. This product, made by Lafayette Instrument (www.lafayetteinstrument.com) uses piezo technology. Similarly, Limestone Technologies is currently developing a Sting Ray countermeasure cushion on which the subject sits while being administered the polygraph exam. This cushion records body movements aimed to offset some physiologic readings.

Private research groups and government agencies have reportedly begun analyzing data from a variety of additional measures, including EEG (ElectroEncephaloGraph or brain waves), skin temperature, and facial muscle movements.

In our office, we are also currently changing how we record and archive polygraph examinations. We have an entire storage area devoted to archiving old examination videos. Using digital technology, we are recording each examination to a DVD, which can be stored indefinitely and requires much less storage space. These DVDs then exist as evidence for court and can be used by other polygraph examiners to confirm the integrity of our examinations.

Colleen: Reports on voice stress tests claim they are not affected by drugs, alcohol, or manual manipulations unlike polygraph examinations. Also, that voice stress tests never have “inconclusive” results, which a polygraph sometimes has. Are you planning to incorporate voice stress tests into your polygraph exams?

Hagler: Although I’d like to believe the efficacy of voice stress analysis because they are less expensive, more portable, and require less training to use, they are also not yet proven to be a credible science. For example, no Department of Defense agency uses any form of voice stress analysis for investigative purposes. Considering detection of deception results can affect people for the rest of their lives, I prefer to use a scientifically validated technique over one that relies on selective personnel testimonials.

Colleen: What have you learned about Linguistic Statement Analysis Technique (LSAT is a process by which a trained analyst examines written or spoken language to determine truthfulness, deception, and other significant additional information) and is there a corroboration between LSAT and polygraph analysis?

Hagler: From what I have been able to gather about LSAT, the correlation is exciting. Both examine how a subject responds to a stimulus concerning a past event, and what response they produce when questioned about it. While LSAT approaches this from a grammatical reflection of what the subject experienced, the polygraph examiner employs a device to physiologically record potentially deceptive responses. In both cases, we are trying to ascertain the truth and to pierce a veil of deception. We both use different techniques to obtain an idea of what did or did not happen from that one person who frequently knows the truth. As a side note, this is why police will not publicize important details about crimes because often the person who is the object of interrogation will inadvertently supply that information either verbally, through the written word, or through physiologic responses. LSAT and a polygraph examination are both means of identifying that response, and both seek the truth.

Colleen: Thank you for your time, Lawson.

Hagler: I enjoyed it. Thank you.

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Any use of the content requires specific, written authority. Please do not copy/distribute images that are marked copyrighted or licensed—images in the public domain are yours to use.

Posted in Polygraph Examinations | Tagged: , , , | Comments Off on From the Archives: Interview with a Polygraph Examiner

Top 3 Reasons People Get Arrested on St. Patrick’s Day

Posted by Writing PIs on March 16, 2016

Three-leaf Irish clover (licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0)

St. Patrick & Shamrocks

The earliest known written story about Saint Patrick goes back to 1726, although the legend goes back even further. Saint Patrick used the three-leaf shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity to Irish pagans, for whom 3 was a significant number. Pagan Ireland also had many triple deities, which aided St. Patrick in his evangelization efforts.

Irish & the Color Green

Green has been associated with Ireland since at least the 1640s, when the Irish Catholic Federation used the green harp flag. Since around the 1680s, shamrocks and green ribbons have been worn by the Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, which in 1903 became a national holiday in Ireland.

Although St. Patrick’s Day isn’t a national holiday in North America, it’s a day when people celebrate the Irish culture, which often includes swilling vast amounts of alcohol.

NASA photo of Ireland (image is in public domain)

NASA photo of Ireland (image is in public domain)

Which brings us to the top reasons people get arrested on St. Patty’s Day — probably no surprise they have to do with drinking. Below article courtesy of Shaun Kaufman, the lawyer-half of Writing PIs.

Top Three Reasons For Getting Arrested

#1 Drinking and Driving

Here’s a sobering fact – between 2009 and 2013, 276 people died on St. Patrick’s Day in the U.S. due to drunken driving accidents (information from TSM, Traffic Safety Marketing). Here’s another sobering statistic: From 2008 through 2012, half of the men killed in crashes on St. Patrick’s Day were drinking and driving (info from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration). Simple way around this: Don’t Drink and Drive. Go partying with a friend who is the designated driver or travel by taxi.

#2 Public Intoxication

Although each state has its own definition of public intoxication, below are a few shared elements of the crime:

  • Being visibly drunk or under the influence of drugs while in a public place
  • Appearing to be intoxicated in a public place (that’s right, appearances alone can get you arrested).

#3 Urinating in Public

This includes urinating between parked cars, on walls, even lawns. If you gotta go, then go before you go outside.

A Few More Safety Tips

A little common sense can ensure you and others have a safe, fun St. Patty’s Day celebration:

Plan How You’re Getting Home Ahead of Time. Be it by taxi, designated driver, public transportation, or one of the numerous sober-drive-home services offered in different cities.

If You’re Traveling with a Designated Driver, Leave Your Car Keys at Home.

If You See a Drunk Driver on the Road, Call the Police. This could save many people’s lives.

If You See Someone Who’s Drunk Getting Ready to DriveGently take away their keys and help them find a safe way home. Better yet, call a taxi and pay for it upfront.

Have a great St. Patrick’s Day.

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Any use of the content requires specific, written authority. Please do not copy/distribute images that are marked copyrighted or licensed—images in the public domain are yours to use.

Posted in Tips for Avoiding Arrest on St Patrick's Day, Tips for Avoiding DUIs | Tagged: , , | Comments Off on Top 3 Reasons People Get Arrested on St. Patrick’s Day

Free High-Resolution Photos: Use for Any Purpose, No Attribution Necessary

Posted by Writing PIs on February 25, 2016

Unsplash Introduces Its Collections

For approximately two years, Unsplash has been offering professional high-resolution photos under Creative License Zero (which means you can copy, modify, and distribute for free without asking permission or giving attribution). Now they’re offering a collection of their best of the best photos categorized by various topics. Fantastic photographs for blogs, presentations, and more.

Below are a few of the collection photos (categories noted in captions). You can check out the complete Unsplash Collection photos by clicking here.

Unsplash: Collection Pictures

Astronaut in space over Earth

Best of NASA Collection: Astronaut in space over Earth

United States at night NASA Unsplash pub domain

Best of NASA Collection: United States at night from space

"This is Where You Are" on computer screen

The Startup Collection: “This is Where You Are” on computer screen

Checking smartphone screen in the dark

The Startup Collection: Checking smartphone screen in the dark

Man falling into lake

Adventure Collection: Man falling into lake

Notebook, camera, magnifying glass on ancient map

Adventure Collection:Notebook, camera, magnifying glass on ancient map

Posted in Copyrights, Public Domain Images | Tagged: , | Comments Off on Free High-Resolution Photos: Use for Any Purpose, No Attribution Necessary

How Well Do You Know Your Valentine?

Posted by Writing PIs on February 4, 2016

Valentine’s Day vintage postcard (image is in the public domain)

It’s almost Valentine’s Day, a time when couples celebrate their love with candlelit dinners, flowers, champagne…and some even become engaged.

Spending your life with someone, sharing sensitive financial data and resources, possibly raising children together, combining assets and more, is a business commitment. How well do you know this person and his/her background?

A Background Check = Heart Smart

Knowing your significant other’s background is important. Not the background they choose to share, but the black-and-white background documented in public records, such as a criminal history, arrest history, driving history, previous marriages and divorces. Even if you’re planning to only live together, co-habitation is still a business venture.

We’ve had cases come into our office where a man or woman either has an inkling, or a reason to be concerned, that the person they’re involved with has a shady past. One case ended up with the client calling us one night and saying, “Quick, turn on the news! That guy you did a background check on? He’s in a high-speed chase with police!”

That’s the most bizarre, dramatic ending we’ve ever had in a case that started out as a simple background check, so let’s start at the beginning…

Hi, you were recommended by my lawyer…

An initial search revealed multiple felonies (image licensed by Colleen Collins)

This client called several years back, referred to us by an attorney who’d handled her previous divorce. After she’d told the attorney she had fallen for this great guy, but knew very little about him, he told her to contact us for a background check.

I was alone in the office when she called. After ending the call, I ran a quick criminal background check…and couldn’t believe the number of felonies this guy had racked up! Plus he’d served time in a federal prison. Digging deeper, I discovered he had a pattern of embezzlement.

I called her immediately and broke the news. She was upset, and admitted she’d been “loaning” him a lot of money, to the tune of thousands of dollars.

After terminating the relationship, she started carefully reviewing her credit card statements and bank statements, and learned he’d misappropriated her credit card information, forged checks, and promised various lenders and businesses that she would co-sign on loans.

He’s in a high-speed chase with police!

Approximately six months later, we got a late-night call from her. “Quick, turn on the news! That guy you did a background check on? He’s in a high-speed chase with police!”

Indeed he was. Helicopters were tracking him from above, their lights beaming down on his car, which was followed by police units, their lights flashing. It was bizarre watching this real-life cop chase on TV.

This is an extreme example of the end result of a background check, but nevertheless, it’s a real story that happened to real people. If she had checked his background when she first met him, she could saved herself thousands of dollars.

A Happy Ending

Her story has a happy ending, though. She called back a year or so later, said she’d met a wonderful guy but before they got more involved, she wanted us to conduct a background check.

He had no criminal records, no secret wife, no arrests. Everything he had shared about his past (that we could verify through public records) was true. Months later, we saw the two of them having dinner at a restaurant. She wore a sparkling diamond ring.

How to Obtain a Background Check

An easy way to find a PI who specializes in background checks is to contact your state professional private investigators association. Below is a link, courtesy of PI Magazine, that lists state PI associations:

Private Investigator Associations (USA)

Have Valentine’s Day, Writing PIs


All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Any use of the content requires specific, written authority. Please do not copy/distribute images that are marked copyrighted or licensed—images in the public domain are yours to use.

Posted in Background Checks: Be Heart Smart | Tagged: , , , | Comments Off on How Well Do You Know Your Valentine?

Top 100 Private Investigators on Twitter 2015

Posted by Writing PIs on January 23, 2016

Featured on PInow.com - Top Private Investigators on Twitter 2015

@writingpis, the Twitter handle of your Guns, Gams & Gumshoes hosts, is honored to be ranked #14 in PINow’s top 100 private investigators on Twitter.  PINow compiles this list every year to “recognize those in the industry who have proved to be valuable resources to their peers, specifically on the topic of investigations.” On this list you can find PIs who practice in a wide range of specializations, including corporate investigations, cell phone forensics, surveillance, insurance investigations, online intelligence gathering, legal investigations and more.

Check out the full list by clicking the article link below, or click on the image at the top of this post. This list is also a useful resource for crime fiction and mystery writers who are crafting stories about private investigators or investigations in general.

Top Investigators on Twitter 2-15

Have a great weekend, Writing PIs

Posted in PINow Top Investigators on Twitter | Tagged: , , | Comments Off on Top 100 Private Investigators on Twitter 2015

A Personal Story: When a Loved One Is Murdered and Becomes a Cold Case

Posted by Writing PIs on January 18, 2016

Keeping cold cases in the forefront of people's minds through the media

Newspapers and other media help keep cold cases in the forefront of people’s minds

(A personal post from Colleen, the PI-writer half of Guns, Gams & Gumshoes.)

I rarely talk about the murder in our family…

…outside of my immediate family and a few close friends. But after reading a moving piece today on the cold case of Lisa Thomas, written by the wonderful Alice de Sturler, a human rights defender and cold case blogger, on her site Defrosting Cold Cases, I wanted to write about our family’s experience, and to acknowledge the dedicated work of police detectives who eventually found the murderers.

Out of respect for others in our extended family, as I do not know how much identifying information about the case they would, or would not, want on the Internet, I’ll modify data like names and locale.

The ties that bind

Our family member (who I’ll call Don, not his real name) was beloved by all. I don’t say that lightly, or from a memory now hazy about the past—he was truly loved by family, friends, and his students. Like many families, we are a large, extended family, not all of us related by blood, but some by others’ re-marriages. When my father, who wasn’t Don’s biological father, died suddenly, Don held the post-funeral reception at his home.

My memories of spending time with Don include lots and lots of laughter. Once, after a family wedding, Don and I drove to the reception in his car, the two of singing along with Aretha Franklin on one of his CDs. We sang with so much gusto, I was a bit hoarse by the time we got to the reception. I should add here I can’t carry a tune, and more or less lip sync when in “singing situations,” but with Don, I let my inner-Aretha rip loose.

It was a hate crime

Don was open about being gay to his family, friends, business associates, the school where he taught. In fact, he had been selected as “Teacher of the Year” that year, with a ceremony planned for later that spring. However, he died a month or so before the ceremony. A hate crime is one that is bias-motivated and often violent, both of which describe what happened to Don, who was either accompanied or followed by several people after he left a bar. I won’t go into particulars.

Family of hate crime victimes Matthew Shepard & James Byrd, Jr. with President Obama for the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, 2009.

Family of Matthew Shepard & James Byrd, Jr. with President Obama for the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, 2009 (image is in the public domain)

His mother called with the sad news

I’ll never forget that call. Broke my heart for her, for the rest of the family, his dear friends and students. She explained that the killers were unknown, and the police were investigating the case. The school still held the “Teacher of the Year” ceremony later that spring, but his mother was too grief-stricken to attend.

Death is a sad enough affair, worsened by the horror of a loved one being murdered. When it is also a cold case, there’s a surreal emptiness added to the mix. A friend whose brother had been murdered years earlier, also a hate crime, reached out to me and we exchanged many, many emails (she lives across the country, so visiting in person wasn’t an option). I couldn’t have handled phone calls—emails were much easier. It was immensely helpful to talk to someone who had been through a similar experience. Fortunately, her brother’s death had not been a cold case.

Police detectives never gave up

A little over a year later, the mother called again. Police detectives had found the killers. They were two men who’d spent the last year+ traveling across the U.S., even visiting another country, before returning to States. Those two men are now serving life sentences in a federal prison.

I’m in awe of those police detectives, and all like them who persevere to solve cold cases and bring closure to the victim’s loved ones. I’m also grateful to people like Alice de Sturler who highlight cold cases on blogs and other forums to give victims a presence so they are not forgotten, and in the hope someone might recall a clue or detail that might aid the investigation.

Cold Case Resources and Articles

Defrosting Cold Cases (by Alice de Sturler, a former human rights lawyer, current cold case and true crime blogger, and author. Guns, Gams & Gumshoes have been guests on Alice’s blog & her Twitter crime chats)

Cold Case Squad – Joe Giacalone (by Joe Giacalone, a retired NYPD detective sergeant, former commanding officer of the Bronx Cold Case Homicide Squad, and author of Criminal Investigative Function: A Guide for New Investigators. I interviewed Joe, alone with another homicide detective, for the article “Top 5 Mistakes Writers Make at Crime Scenes”)

Crowdsourcing may have solved a 20-year-old cold case (Washington Post, March 2015)

Sherlocks

Posted in A Personal Story: When a Loved One Is Murdered and Becomes a Cold Case, cold cases | Tagged: , , , , | Comments Off on A Personal Story: When a Loved One Is Murdered and Becomes a Cold Case

 
%d bloggers like this: