Guns, Gams & Gumshoes

A defense attorney & PI who also happen to be writers

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    A Guide for Writing Fictional Sleuths from a Couple of Real-Life Sleuths

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Archive for the ‘PI Topics’ Category

Five Holiday Safety Tips

Posted by Writing PIs on December 4, 2016

Holiday Safety Tips (Image Licensed by Colleen Collins)

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 (Image Licensed by Colleen Collins)

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 Holiday (Image Licensed by Colleen Collins)

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!

One-Day Sale! Mistletoe & Murder in Las Vegas is FREE on Monday, Dec 5, 2016!
2016 I Heart Indie Finalist

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

Click on image 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. 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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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

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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.

Click on cover to go to Amazon page

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Four Free Social Media Search Engines

Posted by Writing PIs on January 9, 2016

Social media search engines offer real-time results (image licensed by Colleen Collins)

Social media search engines offer real-time results (image licensed by Colleen Collins)

Updated Jan. 9, 2016

Why Search Social Media?

In a nutshell: Social media search tools offer real-time, niche results. Some require that users log in and register via email addresses — rather than provide your personal email address (which could be sold to a third-party vendor), consider using a disposable or masked email address. You can read more about such services in “Protecting Your Privacy: Using Disposable and Masked Email Services.”

Four Social Media Search Engines

The searches listed in this post are free with some offering premium plans for a fee.

SmashFuse: Immediate real-time results in social media sites, such as Twitter, Facebook, Vimeo and others. Easy-to-view layout with share buttons.

SocialMention: Real-time search in over a hundred media properties, from blogs to comments to images. It also provides social media analysis broken down by Strength, Sentiment, Passion, Reach, Top Users, Top Hashtags and Sources.

Social SearcherSearches content in social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and Google+ in real time. You can also sign up for “monitoring” that includes history, advanced analytics, increased email alerts and more.

#tagboard: This free web services lets you simultaneously search for hashtags on a variety of social media platforms, including Twitter, Instagram, and Google+. It also offers pay-for services, which are geared more to corporations than individuals.

Social Media Search Sites That Are No More

Sorry to see these sites go…

Topsy: This search engine, which offered real-time results and analytics for Twitter, had been around since 2008, but Apple closed it down on December 15, 2015.

Kgbpeople.com: This used to be one of our favorite search sites, which checked a variety of social networking sites, search engines, websites, photos and more. The search results used to be comprehensive, but these days are slim to nonexistent.

Kurrently.com: Formerly combined results from Twitter and Facebook in an easy-to-read format organized by date stamp, but the site is now dead.

WhosTalkin: This social media search tool once searched conversations in over 60 social media gateways. Although the site is still up, search attempts go into an endless “search spin.” We recently learned WhosTalkin was sold to a private company in 2011.

Have a great weekend, Writing PIs

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Any use of the content (including images owned by Colleen Collins and/or Shaun Kaufman) requires specific, written authority. Please do not copy or distribute any images noted as licensed; any images noted as being in the public domain are yours to steal.

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Real-Life Christmas Investigation Tales, Free Holiday Movies and Books, and a Kindle Fire Giveaway

Posted by Writing PIs on December 24, 2015

Christmas horizontal wreath

Merry Christmas from Guns, Gams & Gumshoes to Our Readers!

Today we’re offering a few real-life holiday investigation stories, as well as links to free Christmas movies and books, and a link to a Kindle Fire giveaway hosted by one of the Writing PIs. Enjoy!

Real-Life Christmas Investigation Tales

(Image licensed by Colleen Collins

(Image licensed by Colleen Collins)

Every year as PIs, we worked on Christmas Eve and Christmas. Even now with one of the Writing PIs working as a criminal lawyer, we both still work most holidays. For example, today is Christmas Eve and Shaun, the lawyer half of Writing PIs, is visiting a client in jail.

We’ve had some funny investigative experiences on Christmas, one being an irate wife whose lawyer contacted us and said she wanted her philandering husband served divorce papers on Xmas & no other day would do…so we did…and the ex-husband-to-be thanked us!

That story and others are in this article we previously wrote for Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes:

A Few Holiday Investigation Stories

Free Christmas Movies

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (image is in public domain)

Below are some vintage Christmas movies available via the public domain. Despite Santa Claus Conquers the Martians regularly appearing on lists of the worst films ever made, it has become a cult classic, including being featured on “Elvira’s Movie Macabre.”

Santa's Portrait by illustrator Thomas Nast, 1881 (image is in public domain)

Santa’s Portrait by illustrator Thomas Nast, 1881 (image is in public domain)

Scrooge, or Marley’s Ghost (1901) (via Public Domain Review)

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964) (via Public Domain Review)

The Night Before Christmas (1908) (Internet Archive)

Free Christmas Books

Two Writing PIs’s books, one fiction & one nonfiction, are free December 25 + 26:

Mistletoe and Murder in Las Vegas (by Colleen Collins) Regular price $2.99

Click on image to go to Amazon page.

Click on image to go to Amazon page

A Lawyer’s Primer for Writers: From Crimes to Courtrooms (by Shaun Kaufman and Colleen Collins) Regular price $7.95

Click on image to go to Amazon page

Click on image to go to Amazon page

Win a Free Kindle Fire Tablet

To celebrate the release of Mistletoe and Murder in Las Vegas, Guns, Gams & Gumshoes’s Colleen is giving away a Kindle Fire Tablet. For a chance to win, enter here (giveaway ends Dec 29): 

 

Wishing you and yours a happy, safe Christmas!

(Copyright Colleen Collins)

Shaun and Santa, Oxford Hotel, Denver, 2013 (Copyright Colleen Collins)

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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Investigating Crime Scenes: Police vs. Private Investigators

Posted by Writing PIs on September 27, 2015

crime scene tape

Crime scene tape (image licensed by Colleen Collins)

When we opened our private investigations agency in 2003, one of us (Shaun) had nearly two decades experience as a criminal trial lawyer who had litigated many felony cases, including several high-profile homicide cases. During that time, he also trained numerous legal investigators. Our early clients were seasoned criminal lawyers who respected his knowledge and insights into criminal law and investigations.

One hired us for our very first case: Investigating a crime scene (a bar) where a homicide had occurred.

Live vs. Cold Crime Scenes

This crime scene wasn’t “live” — signifying the crime is recent and guarded by law enforcement — but a “cold” crime scene,  meaning law enforcement had completed their investigation and since released the crime scene to the public. In our case, the crime scene had been released five months earlier. This was the first of numerous cold crime scenes we investigated over the years.

Don’t Assume Cold Crime Scenes Lack Evidence

(Image licensed by Colleen Collins)

Cold crime scenes may contain overlooked evidence (image licensed by Colleen Collins)

At the end of this article are links to articles about PIs and crime scenes, several describing cases we solved based on evidence found in cold scenes. In one, we found physical evidence that had been overlooked months earlier when the scene was live. That evidence proved a man was not guilty of two counts attempted homicide. Without that evidence, he faced a possible 48 years in prison if found guilty.

Physical Evidence Is King

In some crimes there are no witnesses, and in the absence of self-incriminating statements by a suspect, the only means of obtaining a conviction may be through physical evidence, such as:

  • Evidence with viable DNA
  • A blood sample, a fingerprint, and so forth.

In any crime, sharing knowledge of physical evidence with suspects may loosen tongues and stimulate confessions. DNA, fingerprints, or serological evidence are tough to debate and bring many criminals to a place where their lips move easily. Simply put, physical evidence is king.

Police vs. PIs: Deception in Investigations

Interestingly enough, private investigators work under a burden created by ethical constraints that police detectives do not labor under.

While courts have consistently held that police may lie to a suspect to stimulate a confession without tainting that confession (we once saw this in an episode of The Closer), very few private investigators can credibly present statements obtained by deceptive means. By “very few” we mean in the few instances where the PI has investigated an individual who is extremely unsavory or has committed a particularly heinous act, then jurors are more likely to trust the PI’s statements even if the PI lied to obtain them. Great fodder for a story.

Crime Affects Search + Evidence

Bullet casings (image licensed by Colleen Collins)

In a crime scene, the area searched and the evidence sought will depend on the crime under investigation. In crimes of violence, the crime scene tells the detective what happened, but the detective must also read the signs left by the evidence. Signatures of crime include:

  • Fingerprints
  • Blood stains
  • Bullet slugs, bullet holes
  • Tool marks
  • Fibers, hairs, fingernail scrapings
  • Glass fragments
  • DNA samples
  • Items added, overturned, removed or displaced.

Suspects = Part of a Crime Scene

Keep in mind that the suspect is also part of the crime scene. What does he leave at the crime scene and what does he take away from the scene? Such evidence helps to prove that he was there. If the police take him back to the crime scene after his arrest, the evidence of his presence at the scene, when presented in testimony in the courtroom, may serve only to prove that the police took him there. This may cause your fictional PI to think twice before taking a possible suspect to a crime scene.

Police vs. PIs: Different Views of Crime Scenes

US Army CID agents at crime scene (image is in public domain)

US Army CID agents at crime scene (image is in public domain)

It’s important to make the distinction between what crime scene investigators for the police consider a crime scene, and what the rest of us, including PIs, consider a crime scene. In the latter instance, a crime scene is really just the place where a crime happened, which has returned to everyday use.

On the other hand, what police and crime scene investigators consider a crime scene is that area where, such as the space inside the yellow tape, careful protocols for evidence recordation and extraction are followed.

Related Articles

Private Investigators and Crime Scene Investigations, Part I (Colleen Collins Books)

Private Investigators and Crime Scene Investigations, Part II (Colleen Collins Books)

Top 5 Mistakes Writers Make at Crime Scenes (Novel Rocket – Two homicide detectives and Writing PIs (a criminal lawyer & PI) talk about writers’ top blunders when depicting crime scenes.

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Any use of the content (including images owned by Colleen Collins and/or Shaun Kaufman) requires specific, written authority. 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 use.

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A Tribute to James Garner’s Iconic Private Eye Jim Rockford

Posted by Writing PIs on September 13, 2015

James Garner as Jim Rockford (L) in THE ROCKFORD FILES (image is in public domain)

James Garner as Jim Rockford (L) in THE ROCKFORD FILES (image is in public domain)

Below is a post I wrote a year ago, July 2014, after learning that James Garner had passed away. What a terrific actor, often playing the cool, good-natured, witty anti-hero. Funny that he played the anti-hero so well, when in real life he was a hero. Two Purple Hearts after being wounded, twice, during the Korean War.

The below article contains links to my/our various articles over the years either about, or containing references to, James Garner’s one-and-only Jim Rockford, private eye, in The Rockford Files. (I’ve corrected links to articles that were updated since initial postings.)

James Garner as PI Rockford (R) in photo still from THE ROCKFORD FILES (image is in public domain)

James Garner as PI Rockford (R) in photo still from THE ROCKFORD FILES (image is in public domain)

Remembering James Garner’s Jim Rockford

July 2014

Today we’re sharing some articles in which we referenced one of our favorite private eye characters, Jim Rockford, from the ’74-’80 TV show The Rockford Files. Below are those posts, along with excerpts:

The Rockford Files: Magical Surveillances In A Gold ’78 Firebird (from colleencollinsbooks.com)

I’m a huge fan of the old TV series The Rockford Files, staring one of my all-time favorite actors James Garner — in fact, my husband and I own the entire series on DVD.  But gotta say, how’d he pull off all those surveillances in a shiny gold Firebird?

Magic.

Pretexting: Okay for Jim Rockford, But Not Always for Real-Life P.I.s (from Guns, Gams and Gumshoes)

We own the complete DVD set of the The Rockford Files TV show that ran from 1974-1980.  Love James Garner in that show as the droll, I’d-rather-be-fishing private eye Jim Rockford.  He kept his gun in a cookie jar and carried around a printing device so he could quickly imprint a business card with a bogus ID whenever necessary…

James Garner, 1959, as Bret Maverick, the role that made him famous (image is in public domain)

James Garner, 1959, as Bret Maverick, the role that made him famous (image is in public domain)

Realistically Portrayed Private Eyes in Books and Film (from Guns, Gams and Gumshoes)

(Among our answers was Jim Rockford)

We love a lot of PI genre fiction, both in books and other media, although too often books, TV shows and films add flash and drama to make the PI protagonist seem bigger and badder than how he/she might really be in the real world. For example, searching public records is a cornerstone of a private investigator’s skill set, but it’s pretty tedious work, hardly worthy of a TV show.

Do All Private Eyes Carry Concealed Handguns? (from Guns, Gams and Gumshoes)

In the writers’ classes we’ve taught on private investigations, this question has come up a lot. In those great old noir films, seems every shamus carried one and used it freely. Then along came Jim Rockford from the TV show The RockFord Files), and that easy-going, beach-loving PI preferred to keep his gun in a cookie jar rather than carry it.

Have a good week, Writing PIs

fedora black and white

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Any use of the content (including images owned by Colleen Collins and/or Shaun Kaufman) requires specific, written authority. 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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Three Tips for Conducting a Reverse Phone Number Lookup

Posted by Writing PIs on September 5, 2015

(Image licensed by Colleen Collins)

There’s lots of ads out there for free phone look-ups — often what you get is some free information (such as the possible geographical location of the phone carrier), then they ask you to “click here” and for $1.95 or $34.95 (prices vary), you can get the full report on this person.

Buyer beware.

There’s no magical 100% correct database out there that’ll spit out the latest and greatest information associated with a phone number. We’re not saying you can’t get correct information. You might. But you, the buyer, should know that you are paying for information that could be outdated, input incorrectly into a database, or the phone number might have been correct at one time but has since been ported to a new carrier.

Saying all that, here are three tips to conduct a reverse check on a phone number:

Type a phone number in Google for a quick reverse number search (Image licensed by Colleen Collins)

Type a phone number in Google for a quick reverse number search (image licensed by Colleen Collins)

Tip #1: Run the phone number in Google. Google remains the most comprehensive, free public search engine. Search results reflect every document, website, blog, resume, ad (such as Craigslist), and other online places where that phone number displays.

We once found a person who was on the run by conducting a reverse cell phone number search in Google. Although she had disconnected her cell phone service, that number was still listed on her MySpace site, which she had kept public (not private), meaning anyone could read her comments. Although she had worked to cover her tracks, she was taking the time every day to log into her MySpace account and chat with friends. And we were taking the time every day to read where she’d eaten lunch, what time of day she drove into a certain town, what motel she was staying at, and more.

Tip #2: Check the carrier, geographical region for the number. There are sites that offer free checks for type of phone line, carrier, and geographical region of the phone number. One site is Phone Validator, another is SpyDialer, the latter also offering options to hear the person’s voicemail message and look up the phone owner’s name and photo.

Again, keep in mind that the information returned is only as good as the database, and there’s no guarantee how recently the information has been updated. For example, I just ran my personal cell phone number in SpyDialer, and although it got my first name correct, it displayed a photo of what appeared to be a restaurant along with a man’s name. Perhaps he (or the business) had this number before me.

Tip #3: Hire a private investigator.  A qualified PI is experienced at digging for information and can interpret its accuracy or legality. To find a PI in your area, contact the professional investigators’ association for your state: Private Investigator Associations by State (PINow.com).

Related Article

Last winter, Shaun (now a criminal lawyer), cross-examined an investigator during a trial. Key to the case was the owner of a cell phone found at an apartment. The investigator said it belonged to the guy whose bedroom he found it in. Problem was, there were multiple bedrooms and roommates at this residence, with recent parties in the apartment attended by others, so deciding ownership solely on where the phone was left was flimsy evidence. Shaun then asked the investigator if he’d run a reverse on the phone. That story is here:

Investigator Takes the Stand: Tales from a Trial

Have a great weekend, Writing PIs

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Any use of the content (including images owned or licensed by Colleen Collins and/or Shaun Kaufman) requires specific, written authority. Any photos noted as being in the public domain are copyright-free and yours to steal.

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Do All PIs Carry Concealed Handguns?

Posted by Writing PIs on August 22, 2015

In movies and books, private eyes often carry handguns (image licensed by Colleen Collins)

In the writers’ classes we’ve taught on private investigations, this question has come up a lot. In those great old noir films, seems every shamus carried one and used it freely. Then along came Jim Rockford from the TV show The RockFord Files, and that easy-going, beach-loving PI preferred to keep his gun in a cookie jar rather than carry it.

We used to stash a stun gun under the front seat of our car, otherwise we don’t own or use any guns, and we know many PIs who don’t carry as well.

Private Eye Characters and Guns

A few years ago, there was a best-selling novel starring a junior PI (she’d just started work in her relative’s PI agency) and she carried a Glock in her glove compartment. The premise of the story was that her relative couldn’t trust her to take on any serious investigative jobs, so she’d been relegated to background checks and hunting down an occasional cheating spouse — and for those jobs, she carried a Glock? For us, that seriously stretched the story’s believability.

Making It Realistic

But many fictional PIs do carry firearms, and if the author makes it credible, it makes for a great read. There was a book out a few years back that starred a PI who had lost her license, and on top of that, she had a felony rap in her background. She carried a gun, but she knew she’d be in deep you-know if that became common knowledge, so she took great care to hide the fact (of course, she got caught and tossed into jail when it was found). The story was plausible because it reflected reality.

Another female fictional PI who carried a gun: Robert Parker’s female PI Sunny Randall. A former cop with grit and smarts, it’s plausible and nail-biting when Sunny pulls out a rifle and blasts the bad-guy as he trespasses her front door, leaving a bloody crime scene in her own living room.

Just keep in mind that under the conditions any real-life PI would legally carry a firearm, so would a fictional PI.

In The Rockford Files, Jim Rockford (R, played by James Garner) kept his gun in a cookie jar (image is in public domain)

Keep in mind, too, that in the real world armed PIs rarely (if ever) get into the kind of gunplay seen in fiction. Many PIs will tell you that if gunplay or a fight breaks out, it indicates an investigator isn’t doing her job well.  When a surprised client asked PI Jim Rockford why he wasn’t carrying a gun, he said, “Because I don’t want to shoot anybody.” After all, the primary guiding forces for any investigator are stealth and discretion.

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Any use of the content (including images owned or licensed by Colleen Collins and/or Shaun Kaufman) requires specific, written authority. Any photos noted as being in the public domain are copyright-free and yours to steal.

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