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

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    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.

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Answering a Writer’s Question: Has a Bad Guy Ever Tried to Hire You?

Posted by Writing PIs on October 15, 2016

This was a question that came up several times in our workshops with writers. It’s a good question, as too often in books and film, a PI-character blithely hands over sensitive information to a “client” who has a dark agenda. Writers, just because you see/read this in stories doesn’t mean it’s how PIs operate in real life; in fact, naively handing over potentially damaging information to a client just because he/she asked for it is becoming a cliche.

Read on to learn how we, and other PIs, screen their clients…

(Image licensed by Colleen Collins)

Do “Bad Guys” Sometimes Try to Hire PIs? (Image licensed by Colleen Collins)

WRITER’S QUESTION: Have you ever had a “bad guy” try to hire you to find someone? What if you didn’t realized it was a bad guy—after you found the person, what would you do?

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOES’S ANSWER: Yes, we’ve had “bad guys” ask us to find someone. What triggered us to think this potential client might have bad reasons/aren’t being honest?

  1. We always run a criminal background check on any non-attorney clients (right there we can find nefarious reasons, such as restraining orders, divorces in progress, domestic violence convictions, etc.)
  2. If the person requesting the skiptrace (search for someone) omits certain information, or makes inflated claims as to why they want to locate another person, we’ll generally refuse the case. And if we do accept a skiptrace, we never hand over the sought-person’s personal contact information (street address, phone number, etc.). Instead, we provide our client’s contact information to the individual (sometimes the client will write a letter explaining his/her reasons for wishing to make contact). At that point, it is solely the found-person’s decision whether or not he/she wishes to make contact.
  3. Sometimes we’ll hear signs of intoxication/mental illness in a requestor’s speech, and we refuse the work
  4. Suspicious emails—be they directed from a bogus-sounding account or the request is stated in such a way it’s obvious they’re wanting us to break the law. We delete the requestor’s email and that’s that.

To clarify our response to the second part of your question, when we smell a bad situation, we simply don’t take the case. If we were to take the case, and then realize it’s a bad situation, we refund the client’s money and terminate our work without relaying any information we might have learned in our investigation. Using such filters, we have never been in the position of finding out something that might harm a third party. If we were ever in that position, we would contact law enforcement with what we’d discovered.

Writing PIs, a Couple of PIs Who Also Write

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#WritingTips Two NonFiction Books for Writers Crafting Sleuths

Posted by Writing PIs on September 13, 2016

screen-shot-2016-09-13-at-11-00-51-amWe at Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes had a lovely surprise this morning—author Tina Russo Radcliffe recommended our two books, How to Write a Dick: A Guide to Writing Fictional Sleuths from a Couple of Real-Life Sleuths and How Do Private Eyes Do That? to her writing community on Facebook (see her message on the right side of this post).

Book Excerpt: How Do Private Eyes Do That?

Below is an excerpt from How Do Private Eyes Do That? by Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’s Colleen Collins.

A Pet Is Lost Every Two Seconds

I recently read that in the US, a family pet is lost every two seconds. That’s astounding, and yet within our own neighborhood we see lost pet signs posted nearly every week. According to the National Humane Society and the National Council of Pet Population Study and Policy, one out of every three pets is lost at some point in its lifetime, and only one out of ten is found.

Our neighbors’ lost cat was found after four months—it had been living in a fox hole several miles away! A man saw one of their “Missing Cat” posters and recognized it as possibly being the cat that was living in a fox hole on his elderly neighbor’s property. The older woman had been leaving cans of cat food and water outside the fox hole for the cat, who refused to leave its sanctuary. Who knows what that poor cat went through during those months, but it managed to stay alive and find protection.

We Once Found Four Missing Dogs

A few years ago we accepted a missing pet case to try and find four dogs, all the same breed. Our client was elderly, didn’t own a car, and although we weren’t pet detectives, we felt sorry for him and wanted to help.

PIs often use people-finding techniques when looking for lost pets (Image licensed by Colleen Collins)

PIs often use people-finding techniques when looking for lost pets (Image licensed by Colleen Collins)

We started out by contacting local rescue shelters, putting up flyers, calling vet hospitals and clinics; unfortunately, no one had seen the dogs, but they were willing to put the word out. By the way, the flyers had a large picture of one of the dogs, the date the dogs went missing, their names, and our phone number (a special one we set up for this case).

We then drove around the area where the dogs had lived and handed out more flyers. Then we went on foot into a large park near the elderly man’s home, and again handed out flyers and asked people if they’d seen any of these dogs. This is one of the tasks we would have conducted to find a person, too (canvas neighborhoods, show photos of the person, ask if anyone had seen him/her, and so forth).

We Found a Lead

While canvassing the park, we met a man who recognized the dog in the poster. He pointed out a remote, corner area of the park where he had seen several of them a few evenings prior.

From our research on this type of dog, we knew its history went back to the Vikings, who used these dogs to hunt moose. These dogs were known to be hardy, with thick fur to protect them from the cold, had above-average intelligence, and were pack animals. We returned to the park that evening and found all four dogs, happily hanging with their pack, foraging for food.

Writing Tips

(Image licensed by Colleen Collins)

(Image licensed by Colleen Collins)

If you’re writing a character who’s a pet detective, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does he/she own a search dog?  Many real-life pet detectives do.
  • What tools does your pet PI use? For example, night-vision binoculars, motion-activated surveillance cameras, a bionic ear to amplify sounds?
  • What investigative traits does your fictional pet PI use? As with other PIs, they might rely on their reasoning; analysis of physical evidence; and interview, interrogation, and surveillance techniques to recover lost pets.
  • Where did your fictional pet PI learn about animal behavior—for example, in college, in a veterinarian’s office, or while growing up on a farm?

Pet detectives are generally caring, tenacious, and often earn certification in the field. A well-qualified pet detective can make between $300-$1,000 a day.

There’s one last point about writing a pet detective: He or she probably has a big heart. After all, animals possess all that is best in humans.

—End of Excerpt—

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Please do not copy/distribute any articles without written permission from Colleen Collins and/or Shaun Kaufman. Do not copy/distribute or otherwise use any mages noted as copyrighted or licensed. Images noted as in the public domain are copyright-free and yours to steal.

Posted in HOW DO PRIVATE EYES DO THAT? Second Edition Aug 2016, Nonfiction book: HOW TO WRITE A DICK, Nonfiction Books on Private Investigations, Realistic Private Eye Characters, Writing Legal Characters/Stories | Tagged: , , , | Comments Off on #WritingTips Two NonFiction Books for Writers Crafting Sleuths

Favorite PI Blogs, Websites, Online Magazines

Posted by Writing PIs on August 20, 2016

Collins_HowDoPrivateEyesDoThat BLOG ONLINE PR 800One of the Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’s writers, Colleen, just released the second edition of How Do Private Eyes Do That?, which contains 70 percent new content. Below is an excerpt from the book, “Favorite Blogs, Websites, Magazines,” which is a sampling of favorites among the many wonderful investigative resources online.

Book Excerpt: Favorite Blogs, Websites, and Online Magazines

Below are a few favorite blogs, websites, and online magazines, some authored by real-life PIs, others written about private eyes in films and books, while others are by experts in associated fields.

The sites are listed alphabetically. To visit a site, click on its name.

Cold Case Squad: A blog by Joseph L. Giacalone, retired NYPD Detective Sergeant, former Commanding Officer of the Bronx Cold Case Homicide Squad, and author of The Criminal Investigative Function. His blog covers such topics as forensics, law enforcement’s use of social media, police body cams, and more.

Defrosting Cold Cases: A resource blog about cold cases, authored by former human rights lawyer, cold case blogger, and crime fiction author Alice de Sturler. Defrosting Cold Cases has placed #1, category criminal justice, in the American Bar Association’s Top 100 Blawgs for 2013, 2014, and 2015.

Diligentia: A blog by New York private investigator Brian Willingham, CFE – President, who specializes in background investigations, due diligence, and legal investigations.

eInvestigator: A resource website for private investigators, police officers, crime scene investigators, security specialists, legal professionals, and those researching the internet for people and information. This site has it all: PI specializations (including ghost hunting services for haunted facilities), spy gear, research books and tools, even a “List of Lists” page with lists such as US airports and their official codes, all US Presidents, criminal competencies and corresponding court cases, list of US insurance companies, and more.

Kevin’s Security Scrapbook: Spy News from New York: A blog by Kevin D. Murray, an independent security consultant who specializes in surveillance detection, security, and privacy problems.

Kusic and Kusic: Private investigations firm headquartered in Vancouver, BC. They specialize in video surveillance, litigation support, online investigations, executive protection, and more.

PIBuzz: A blog by California private investigator Tamara Thompson, well known for her expertise in internet data gathering, genealogical and adoption research, witness background development, and locating people.

PI Magazine: A trade magazine for professional private investigators. You can read articles via a subscription or by ordering an individual issue. The website also provides links to podcasts by professional PIs, US PI organizations and conferences, a bookstore, and spygear shop.

PINow: An online directory of pre-screened, professional private investigators. Click on Investigator Center at top of screen to read articles written by PIs on a variety of investigative topics.

Private Eye Confidential: A blog by California private investigator Mike Spencer of Spencer Elrod Services, Inc.  Mike has been a private investigator for nearly two decades, in the course of which he worked with legendary Hollywood private eye John Nazarian. Mike writes interesting, relevant, and sometimes downright entertaining articles about the profession.

Pursuit Magazine: An online community of professional sleuths that “opens a door to a world of mystery and intrigue, a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the lives of real spies and PIs.” This site is a rich source of research with dozens of articles by experts in the fields of private investigations, security, bail enforcement, skip tracing, and more. No subscription fees—all articles available for public viewing.

The Rap Sheet: A blog by J. Kingston Pierce, author,  senior editor of January Magazine, and the lead crime fiction blogger for Kirkus Reviews. The Rap Sheet dishes the news in the world of crime fiction, both recent and vintage, and lists links to several hundred (at least) crime fiction blogs and author sites.

The Thrilling Detective: Everything you ever wanted to know about private eyes in books, radio, movies, television, even the real world. Founded by author/editor Kevin Burton Smith.

-End of Excerpt-

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Please do not copy/distribute any articles without written permission from Colleen Collins and/or Shaun Kaufman. Do not copy/distribute or otherwise use any mages noted as copyrighted or licensed. Images noted as in the public domain are copyright-free and yours to steal.

Posted in Book Excerpt: Favorite Blogs, HOW DO PRIVATE EYES DO THAT? Second Edition Aug 2016, Magazines, Websites | Tagged: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Favorite PI Blogs, Websites, Online Magazines

#WriteTip Free Online Magazines for Researching PIs, Bounty Hunters, Law Enforcement Officers

Posted by Writing PIs on July 29, 2016

PI taking surveillance footage (image licensed by Colleen Collins)

There’s some great online magazines that contain informative articles for professionals—they’re also excellent resources for writers crafting private investigators, police officers, bounty hunters, CSI experts, and more.

Check out some of these online magazines:

Tickle the Wire: Tapping Into the Latest News in Federal Law Enforcement.

Evidence Technology Magazine: Focused exclusively on evidence collection, processing, and preservation, with topics covering the CSI effect, fingerprint technology, computer forensics, forensic DNA, and much more.

Pursuit Magazine: The magazine of professional investigators.

Collateral: A bail industry magazine that focuses on the bail bond industry, bail bond agents, sureties and the way they conduct business.

American Police Beat: A magazine and forum where law enforcement officers speak out about the issues affecting their personal and professional lives.

Serve Now: Not a magazine, but a handy resource for learning about process servers and their work.

Available August 1, 2016

FB Banner Kim Killion Final draft July 29 2016


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.

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Best and Worst Places to Hide Your Valuables at Home

Posted by Writing PIs on July 14, 2016

Many security experts say to not store valuables in your bedroom (image licensed by Colleen Collins)

Some security experts say the bedroom is the worst place to store valuables (image licensed by Colleen Collins)

Last winter, a magazine asked Colleen, the PI-writer of Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes, if she’d like to forward a few tips on where to stash, or not stash, valuables in one’s home. She forwarded the below ideas, and they incorporated several in their article. Besides Colleen having in the past interviewed clients who have been burglarized, and her research on the subject, she was also unfortunately “home-burglarized” years ago.

Below are a few of her suggestions on good and bad storage spots.

Four Tips for Stashing Your Valuables at Home

by Colleen Collins, All Rights Reserved

Years before I became a private investigator, I was the victim of a home burglary. I can vouch for statistics that claim the top three items burglars go for are electronics, jewelry, and cash because I lost all three.

I can also vouch for stats that the bedroom is the worst place to hide your valuables. Burglars snatched the jewelry case on my dresser, a laptop off a table, and an envelope marked “Las Vegas” stuffed with bills for an upcoming vacation. Therefore, my first suggestion is…

Security Tip #1: Don’t keep valuables in your bedroom, including under your mattress. And never write “Las Vegas” on a fat envelope, D’oh!

Security Tip #2: If you have a lot of books, a hollowed-out novel on a bookshelf works. Burglars are in a rush to get in and out—they’re not going to waste time browsing titles in a massive bookcase.

Security Tip #3: My .02: Ditch the empty coffee can in a cupboard as a security stronghold. These days, people often purchase coffee beans in paper or plastic bags—IMHO, a metal coffee can would look, to quote Raymond Chandler, “as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food cake.”

Security Tip #4: Hide valuables in a large cardboard box that’s stacked with similar boxes, maybe marked with household terms like “Bathroom” or “Old Clothes.” Burglary is a crime of opportunity, timing, and ease of transfer. Thieves don’t want to waste time pawing through a bunch of boxes, plus carting large boxes out of a residence risks attracting unwanted attention.

This article addresses storage places inside the home. After my experience, I took extra precautions to hinder anyone ever breaking into my home again, which included a security walk-through by a professional security company who recommended which windows and doors should have security features. I took their advice and had security doors installed and bars placed over certain windows.

Our Rotties, the Best Home Security System of All (image copyrighted by Colleen Collins)

Our Rotties, Maybe the Best Security of All (image copyrighted by Colleen Collins)

Fast forward to current day, we have followed similar security installations in our current home, including security cameras placed around the premises. We also have two big Rottweilers, who just might be the best security feature of all!

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 August 2016: How Do Private Eyes Do That? (Second Edition)

Coming August 2016 (image copyrighted by Colleen Collins)

(image copyrighted by Colleen Collins)

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#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)

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Private Eye Writers of America 2016 Shamus Award Finalists

Posted by Writing PIs on June 9, 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

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#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

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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.

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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 ( 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.

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