Guns, Gams & Gumshoes

A defense attorney & PI who also happen to be writers

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Archive for the ‘PI Topics’ Category

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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Five Holiday Safety Tips

Posted by Writing PIs on December 8, 2015

Holiday Safety Tips (Image Licensed by Colleen Collins)

One of the Writing PIs, Shaun, is now a lawyer specializing in criminal defense, and the other Writing PI, Colleen, conducts legal investigations for his firm. As the holidays approach, our work load invariably picks up as more criminal cases come into our office. Sometimes on a festive evening, such as Christmas or 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!

Click on image to go to Amazon page.

Pre-Order Sale 99 cents – Release December 14, 2015

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!

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 who’s 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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Realistically Portrayed Private Eye Characters in Books and Film

Posted by Writing PIs on August 17, 2015

(image licensed by Colleen Collins)

(image licensed by Colleen Collins)

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.

Real-Life PIs Don’t Do Flash

Steve McQueen, international drivers license photo (image is in public domain)

Steve McQueen (image is in public domain)

Here’s an example of flash and drama that’s unrealistic: Rolling surveillances in a movie that resemble Steve McQueen’s legendary San Francisco car chase in Bullitt (if you don’t know this film, do yourself a favor and rent it — this 1968 film holds up well in the 21st century, worth watching for McQueen’s car chase scene alone).

However, real-life PIs don’t drive with tires burning and brakes squealing the way McQueen does. Or they shouldn’t — that’s for police units handling emergencies. Conducting a rolling surveillance is typically fairly tame and doesn’t last long. Not to say rolling surveillances aren’t nerve-wracking, because it can be intense following someone without losing them or their catching on that you’re following.

A Few PI Picks

But saying all that, below are several (not trying to be all-inclusive here) realistically portrayed fictional PIs. We’ve written other articles that mention even more right-on PIs in stories, but if we were to lump all of them into an article, it would turn into a novella.

Jack Nicholson as Jake Gittes, 1974 (promo photo is in public domain)

Jack Nicholson as Jake Gittes, 1974 (promo photo is in public domain)

Jake Gittes. We probably find Jake realistic because we know a current-day PI who makes Jake look second-string: This PI is handsome, an impeccable dresser, can outdo a marriage counselor when it comes to listening to wives & husbands in turmoil, runs an office with several minion PIs who gladly do his bidding, and has personally solved his share of government corruption cases. Previously we said too often fiction creates PIs who are bigger and badder than the real deal, but our real-life guy is just the other way around. Nobody is as big and bad and well-dressed as he is, although Jake comes close.

Jesse Stone.  This isn’t a PI, but both of us love the Jesse Stone character in the made-for-TV movies (starring Tom Selleck as Jesse Stone). He’s a police chief in a small town, and his crafty, persistent, insightful approach to investigations feels very “PI right-on” to us.

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

James Garner as PI Jim Rockford (R)  (image is in public domain)

Jim Rockford.  We’re both diehard Rockford fans, even though no PI in their right mind would do lengthy surveillances in a shiny gold muscle car (talk about sticking out!). Nor do PIs get embroiled in the quantity of violence and lengthy car chases Rockford does. But if you peel away the gold car, fights and squealing brakes, he’s a hard-working, blue-collar character who reminds us of many PIs. Btw, it’s no coincidence that both McQueen and Garner do brake-squealing scenes — both were avid race car drivers, which is probably why they were also good friends in real life.

Ray Dudgeon.  We’re big fans of author Sean Chercover’s PI Ray Dudgeon. Happy for Chercover that he’s moved on to writing mainstream thrillers, but we’re sorry to see his PI Ray Dudgeon fade away. We found Dudgeon to be a three-dimensional, compelling and realistic PI. Not such a surprise as Chercover is a former PI.

Milt Davis.  One of our favorite PI short stories (“Death Flight” by Ed McBain, 1954) stars a tough PI (Milt Davis) who’s filled with doubt about handling a particular case because he thinks he’s unqualified. And, in truth, he is (which also happens in real-life private investigative work). Milt Davis’s grit, native intelligence, determination, and self-doubt to see a job through make him a realistic PI.

Note:  Interestingly enough, Ed McBain didn’t create many private eye characters, claiming that he found it “difficult to justify a private citizen investigating murders.” He may have found it difficult to justify, but that didn’t stop him from developing a compelling, real-to-life PI character.

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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Answering Writer’s Question: Finding Someone’s New, Bogus Online ID

Posted by Writing PIs on July 30, 2015

A writer asked, “I’m trying to figure out how a PI would discover the identity of someone who has intentionally (but not through legal channels) ditched a previous identity and assumed a new one. This person claims to be an immigrant from IT but is American.”

It appears this writer would like a PI character to detect the new identity based on the old one. We have a few ideas. But first, a few caveats:

We’re limiting this search to a possible new online ID.  After all, assuming a new ID in a broader context — new home address, new driver’s license, and so on — is a large topic, one entire books have been written about. We’re not recommending any of the following books, just noting they exist: How to Disappear: Erase Your Digital Footprint, Leave False Trials, and Vanish Without a Trace by Frank Ahern; How to Be Invisible: Protect Your Home, Your Children, Your Assets, and Your Life by J.J. Luna.

As to the individual claiming he’s an immigrant from IT: We’ll assume for this post that IT = Italy. While a PI is conducting his/her search on the new ID, they would keep an eye out for any Italian references, names and so forth in the results. Of course, based on the writer’s scenario, the guy isn’t really from Italy, but if he’s pretending he is, such a reference might pop up.

We’re providing these ideas for the sake of a story. However, in real life we’d recommend a person retain the services of a professional PI who specializes in locating people (AKA skip tracers). To find a skip tracer, contact your local state professional private investigator association: Private Investigator Associations by State (PINow). For example, a PI can run a person’s SSN in a proprietary database and learn a lot about the individual no matter what online IDs this person is juggling.

Now let’s look at three free online ways a fictional PI (or even a non-PI) might try to discover the identity of someone’s new online ID based on their old (ditched) one. For our example, we’ll call the old ID “Joe Smithy.”

1. What phone number did Joe Smithy use?

We once had a case where a man had been operating as multiple IDs on different dating sites, often ditching one ID and creating another to fit his needs. Except he kept the same phone numbers! Which we discovered when we ran a single reverse on a number he had provided our client (before he “disappeared” online) — and we discovered he was still using that old number.

modern cell phone

Yes, from a single reverse phone number search on Google, we got a listing of his interactions & IDs on different dating sites. Our poor client was devastated — she had never heard of a reverse phone number search before…but after learning how easy it is to run one, she saw for herself how busy this guy had been elsewhere. For more info on reverse number searches: How to Reverse Search Phone Numbers.

2. Did Joe Smithy have a photo?You can run a reverse photo search on Google

Google has a comprehensive reverse photo search option where anyone can plug in the photo and run a search on it…it’s possible Joe Smithy’s photo is appearing under his new ID. To learn more about running a reverse image search on Google: Fast and Easy Google Search Tips (scroll to Trick #2: Use images to search for photographs, illustrations and other graphics). Another free reverse photo search engine is TinEye.

3. Know Smithy’s hobbies, nicknames, etc.?

Run them in a social media search engine and see what pops up. For example if Joe Smithy was an avid online poker player, run “Joe Smithy poker” and see if a new ID is popping up on sites where Joe’s used to. We wrote about these search engines here: Free Social Media Search Engines.

Related Articles

“When Your Lover Is a Liar” by Philip A. Becnel (Pursuit Magazine). Excellent article by a private investigator on relationship fraud and bogus IDs.

Made in China: Fake IDs (New York Times). According to this 2015 article, the number of U.S. counterfeit IDs from China is on the rise.

Have a great week, Writing PIs

(As the Writing PIs are currently working other cases, as well as completing writing projects, we are unable to accept any new questions at this time. Thank you for your understanding.)


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. 

Posted in Be Your Own Investigator, Creating False IDs, Handy Resources for Private Investigators, Nonfiction Books on Private Investigations, Reverse Number Searches | Tagged: , , , , , | Comments Off on Answering Writer’s Question: Finding Someone’s New, Bogus Online ID

International Private Investigators’ Day: History of the PI from Vidocq to Pinkerton

Posted by Writing PIs on July 24, 2015

Eugene Francois Vidocq, recognized as the first P.I.

Eugene Francois Vidocq, born July 24, 1775, recognized as the first private eye

National and International Private Investigators Day is July 24, the birthdate of Eugene Francois Vidocq, recognized as the first PI. There are an estimated 80,000 professional private investigators worldwide.

Vidocq Introduced Criminal Investigation Techniques

In 1833 Eugene Francois Vidocq, a French ex-criminal, founded one of the first private detective agencies, Le bureau des renseignments (Office of Intelligence) where he oversaw the work of other detectives, many ex-criminals such as himself.  He is credited with having introduced record-keeping, criminology, and ballistics to criminal investigation.  He also created indelible ink and unalterable bond paper with his printing company. Apparently, he had an altruistic bent as he claimed he never informed on anyone who had stolen for real need.

With Vidocq, the private investigator was born.  As the industry evolved, clients often hired PIs to act in law enforcement capacities, especially in matters for which they were not equipped or willing to do.  This led to PI agencies sometimes performing like private militia and assisting companies in labor disputes.

Pinkerton National Detective Agency

Allan Pinkerton

Allan Pinkerton

Allan Pinkerton was born in Glasgow, Scotland, on August 25, 1819, and emigrated to the United States in 1842, where he founded a barrel-making shop in Dundee, forty miles outside Chicago. As an abolitionist, he set up his shop to also be a station for slaves escaping via the “underground railroad” for freedom in the northern states. After his work helping bust up a counterfeit ring, the Cook County sheriff offered Pinkerton a job as an investigator in Chicago. Within a few years, he accumulated more arrests for burglaries and murders than any of the other police officers within the department. He also gained a reputation for being fearless, having an iron-clad integrity and the ability to quickly read people.

Pinkertons’ Ops’ Ethics

In 1850, Allan Pinkerton established the Pinkerton National Detective Agency at 151 Fifth Avenue in the heart of Chicago.  In an era with many law enforcement personnel openly associating with criminals sharing their illegal profits, Pinkerton stood out by promising that his agents would not only produce results, but always act with the highest ethics.   He promised to:

  • Accept no bribes
  • Never compromise with criminals;
  • Partner with local law enforcement agencies, when necessary
  • Refuse divorce cases or cases that initiated scandals of clients
  • Turn down reward money (his agents were paid well)
  • Never raise fees without the client’s pre-knowledge, and
  • Apprise clients on an ongoing basis.

It’s remarkable how many of the above ethical standards are mirrored in many PIs’ standards today (such as regularly apprising clients, partnering with law enforcement, and raising fees only with clients’ knowledge).  It’s also amusing to read how Pinkerton’s men refused divorce cases considering today many PIs specialize in marital investigations.

A Master at Marketing

Besides being an outstanding investigator, Pinkerton was also a master promoter of his agency. He made sure news of his investigators’ successes at catching murderers and thieves became newspaper stories. He also crafted a logo, an eye surrounded with the words “We Never Sleep,” the motto of his agency, and posted it in magazines, circulars, newspapers, billboards, and even wanted posters.

In 1856, Pinkerton hired Kate Warne as his first female investigator, which was highly unusual at the time. According to the Pinkerton website, police departments did not hire women to join their ranks until 1891, nor did they get promoted to be investigators until 1903.

Kate Warne: First Female U.S. Private Eye

There is little biographical information known about Kate Warne, although some sources claim she was born in 1833 in New York, and was a widow with no children. Allan Pinkerton described her as a slender, brown-haired woman who, in 1856, responded to an ad for detectives at the Pinkerton National Detective Agency. Pinkerton presumed she was there to inquire about a clerical job. Later, he said that she demanded to be a private detective, and that he eventually hired her for that role on August 23, 1856. By 1860, Pinkerton had hired several more women to be detectives, calling them his “Female Detective Bureau” which was supervised by Warne.

Dead Ends While Researching Warne

Possible sketch of Kate Warne

Possible sketch of Kate Warne

Lynn H. Levy, owner and president of L.H. Levy Investigations, Inc., in Baltimore is currently writing a book about ten female investigators, including Kate Warne. In her research, Levy dug through 72 boxes in the Pinkerton archives at the Library of Congress, but due to a fire at the Pinkerton offices years before (likely the result of the Chicago fire in 1871), there was very little information about the agency in the 1850s.

In her further research on Kate Warne, Levy said, “I read every book published about Pinkerton, and there was enough information to get a full chapter about Kate. I found a few drawings of her and some photos that they believed were of her, but we don’t really know. She was born in New York and I’ve been trying to find out anything I can from sources there. They’re not even sure that was her last name. Up until she walked into Pinkerton’s office, there’s very little written about her.”

 Warne’s Most Famous Case

In 1861, Kate Warne helped foil an assassination attempt on President-elect Abraham Lincoln on his travels to Washington, D.C. for his inauguration. According to the Central Intelligence Agency’s website article “Saving Mr. Lincoln,” Warne accompanied Pinkerton and four other operatives from his agency to Baltimore where Pinkerton had heard a plot to assassinate Lincoln would take place. According to other sources, she both helped to coordinate the operatives as well as to devise a strategy for getting Lincoln safely from Baltimore to Washington, D.C.

Warne and Pinkerton’s Relationship

Pinkerton’s brother Robert wasn’t happy with Kate Warne’s agency expenses as he believed they included funds his brother diverted for gifts and travels with Kate as his mistress. Pinkerton never confirmed such a relationship. Nor is there any documentation written by Kate, not even a letter, to offer any of her insights about her life.

In 1868, Kate fell ill, and Pinkerton stayed by her side, nursing her, until she died. Some say she suffered from pneumonia and that her death was sudden, other sources say it was a lengthy, painful illness that is unknown.

Pinkerton had her buried in his family plot at Graceland Cemetery in Chicago, with a spot reserved next to her for him when he died. In his will decades later, he dictated that Kate’s plot was never to be sold. They remain buried next to each other to this day.

Private Investigators in the 20th Century

By the 1920s, due to the expanding middle class in America, the private investigator became better known to the average citizen. Since then, the PI industry has continued to grow as it fills the needs of the public (who retain PIs to work on cases like infidelity, fraud, and criminal defense investigations). Licensing requirements, with criteria a PI must meet, have also been regulated in most states in the U.S.

Additionally, professional organizations (regional, national, and international) combined with good business practices have cast the PI career in a more respected light versus its outdated, fictional reputation as the wrinkled trench coat, fallen-from-grace Sam Spade figure found in books and film.


 

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. Any violations of this reservation will result in legal action.

Posted in History of the PI, Private Eyes in the News, Real-Life Private Investigator Stories | Tagged: , , , , | Comments Off on International Private Investigators’ Day: History of the PI from Vidocq to Pinkerton

 
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