Guns, Gams & Gumshoes

A defense attorney & PI who also happen to be writers

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Archive for the ‘Real-Life Private Investigator Stories’ Category

International Women’s Day: Honoring Female Investigators

Posted by Writing PIs on March 8, 2017

International Women’s Day has been observed since the early 1900s. On this day, thousands of events occur around the world to celebrate women and their accomplishments.

For International Women’s Day, I’m honoring several women PIs through articles written about them to radio shows hosted by them. This post isn’t meant to be all-inclusive by any means, just a cross-section of outstanding women investigators, including their fictional counterparts.

Radio Shows: New and Old

Below are two radio shows, one hosted by a contemporary female PI, the other about a old-time radio female private eye.

PI’s Declassified

California PI Francie Kohler hosts this weekly Internet radio show where she interviews private investigators and other professionals in associated fields. The show airs every Thursday at 9 a.m. Pacific Time: PI’s Declassified.

Old-Time Radio: Candy Matson Yukon 2-8209cover ebook 2000px longest side

This old-time radio show kicked off in 1949. Every show opened with a ringing telephone with a female answering, “Candy Matson, YU 2-8209,” after which the theme song “Candy” played. According to the Internet Archive, Old Time Radio (OTR) researchers view this radio show as the best of the female private eyes. It ran until 1951. Listen to single episodes here: Candy Matson YUkon 2-8209.

Articles About Real-Life Female Private Investigators

Possible sketch of Kate Warne, the first U.S. female PI

Possible sketch of Kate Warne, the first U.S. female PI

Below is a sampling of articles written about female PIs:

The First U.S. Female Private Eye: Kate Warne (The Zen Man)

Q&A: Norma Tillman–Right and Wrong (Pursuit Magazine)

What Does It Take to Be an International Private Eye (interview with international private investigator Yin Johnson and her husband Phil, via RC Bridgestock Blog)

The PI Wears Prada: One Woman’s Midlife Career Change (What’s Next)

What Is It Like Being a Female Private Investigator? (The Zen Man)

This Private Investigator is One of the Few Jersey Women Working as Sleuths (NJ.com)

Articles About Fictional Female Private Eyes

There are many entertaining female “eyes” in literature, going back to the mid 1800s.

Dangerous Dames: A Timeline of Some of the Significant Female Eyes (The Thrilling Detective – if you haven’t checked out The Thrilling Detective, you’re missing out on one of the most comprehensive and entertaining sites about fictional private eyes on the ‘net)

Female Private Eyes in Fiction: From Lady Detectives to Hard-Boiled Dames (by Guns, Gams & Gumshoes’s Colleen for Festivale magazine)

Did you know a well-known writer of private eye novels based a female PI character on a real one? Check out the interview “Susan Daniels: If Sam Spade Had Been Samantha – Cleveland’s Female Private Eye”

Have a great week, Writing PIs

Click on cover to go to Amazon page

Click on cover to go to Amazon page

“As an experienced private detective and a skilled storyteller, Colleen Collins is the perfect person to offer a glimpse into the lives of real female P.I.s”
~ Kim Green, managing editor of Pursuit Magazine: The Magazine of Professional Investigators

 

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

Posted in Private Eyes in the News, Real-Life Private Investigator Stories, Secrets of a Real-Life Female Female Private Eye | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on International Women’s Day: Honoring Female Investigators

The Witness Who Came in from the Cold

Posted by Writing PIs on February 23, 2017

black-white-woman-along-at-table-drinking-gratisograph-ryan-mcguire

(Image courtesy of Ryan McGuire)

We worked this case as an investigative team, with our results helping a defense lawyer to obtain a dismissal for his client. Also, we worked this case the old-fashioned way, on foot, as a key witness was afraid for her identity to be traced digitally (email, phone, etc.).

Late One Summer Night…

…a resident in a home near a park called 911 after hearing sounds of yelling and fighting (the caller couldn’t see the park itself as the view was obstructed by other homes). When police arrived at the park, they found three local gang members with knife wounds, lying on the ground. The gang members said two rival gang members from another city had stabbed them. One ran away, whereabouts unknown. The other had flagged down a car for a ride (they gave the license plate and description of that car.) Police found no weapons on the three gang members—it was later learned that others in their gang had gathered all the weapons and left before the police arrived.

Charge: Felony 3, First-Degree Assault

Police found the described car parked at a home in the neighborhood. The driver admitted he’d given a ride to a young man (whom we’ll call “E”), who had flagged him down and asked for a lift to a friend’s home. The police went to that address and found E, who matched the description given by the stabbed gang members.

handcuffed-hands

With no witnesses to confirm E’s claim of self-defense, police arrested him (image licensed by Colleen Collins)

Although E claimed self-defense, saying the rival gang had harassed, punched, and threatened him with their weaponry, the police charged him with the stabbings, a felony 3, first-degree assault.

Following the code of gang members, E refused to give any information about his fellow gang member who’d run away (later we learned this gang member had returned to his car and driven back to the neighboring city that night).

Goal: Find a Witness

E hired a defense lawyer (for whom we worked as defense investigators at the time). The lawyer informed the court and opposing counsel that our client was claiming self-defense.

Because E refused to identify his fellow gang member, the case lacked an independent corroborating witness. Based on the 911 call, people in the neighborhood had obviously heard the fighting, but no one had yet come forward to say that E had fought in self-defense.

As investigators we could have driven to the neighboring city and tried to root out this gang-member-witness—yeah, that would have been an easy, fruitful enterprise (not).

Bottom line: we had one weapon, the old “neighborhood canvas” or knock and talk.

Fear of Gang Retaliation

Problem was, people didn’t want to talk. An elderly man confided that people were afraid to talk out of fear of gang retaliation.

Next, we printed posters asking anyone who had seen an incident on [date] and [park name] to call [phone number], and the conversation would remain confidential. Whenever we’ve posted flyers like this, we use a dedicated, virtual phone number (meaning we set up a unique number that can’t be traced, and rings through to one of our office phones).

Then we walked up and down the sidewalks of this east Denver gang-infested, lower middle-class neighborhood, sticking our posters on street light poles, the fence around the park, and other such public spots (didn’t leave any on people’s doors as we didn’t want any third parties later assuming so-and-so, who had had a flyer on their door, was probably the snitch).

The Clock Was Ticking

Days later, we began to panic. E had to decide on a 5- to 12-year prison-only plea offer in the coming week, and no one had called us.

One late afternoon, we got a call from a coffee shop phone number in a different part of the city. The caller identified herself as a mother who lived near the park, but refused to give her name, or any digital means of contacting her (email address, cell phone number, etc.) as she was afraid of being traced. She said she’d seen local gang members threatening and taunting E, who at first had run from them, but after being cornered, fought back in self-defense. She wanted to do the right thing and “help that young man.”

A Secret Night Meeting

black-and-white-forest-light

The witness met us in the park shadows (image courtesy of Ryan McGuire)

She agreed to meet us in the park, at night, and point out where the young men had fought. We arrived at the park one weekday night and waited. An older woman walked toward us from a corner of the park.

In the shadows, she pointed out where she’d seen E running from the others, and where E had ended up with his back to a fence. We gave her our lawyer’s card and asked her to call him, and that the lawyer would protect her identity by sealing her statement in the court file.

D.A. Reviews Investigative Report

With a reliable, independent witness supporting E’s story, the defense lawyer took our interview and case report to the prosecution, who agreed to dismiss the charges against E.

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman, and any use of the content requires specific, written authority. Please do not copy/distribute mages licensed by Colleen Collins as she does not have the authority to share with others. All other images are in the public domain, with the caveat by the photographer, Ryan McGuire, to please credit them with his name.

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Real-Life Private Detective Tales: Three Memorable Christmas Investigations

Posted by Writing PIs on December 12, 2016

Christmas horizontal wreath

As Christmas approaches, we remember a few of our favorite investigation stories that occurred during the holidays, from the silly to the heartfelt.

Story #1: Serving Christmas Divorce Papers to a Happy Jailer

Several years ago, an angry soon-to-be-ex-wife told her attorney that she wanted divorce papers served on her soon-to-be-ex-husband on Christmas Day. No other day would do. Not Christmas Eve, not the day after Christmas. Had to be Christmas Day. The Happy Holidaysdivorce papers were to be her Christmas gift to the husband whom she had recently learned was keeping a girlfriend on the side.

The attorney contacted us and asked if we’d be willing to fulfill her Christmas wish. After hearing the story, we said yes. The husband was a deputy in a local jail, and was scheduled to work on Christmas Day.

That day, we drove to the jail, politely asked for him, and after he confirmed his identity, we served him the papers.

He read the first page, looked up at us, grinned, then exclaimed, “This might be the best Christmas gift I’ve ever had!”

Story #2: The Rancher Who Was Staring at 48 Years in Prison

Eight years ago, an attorney hired us to prove that his client (who became our client as well) had not aimed and fired a gun directly at a couple who had intruded on his land. In September, the rancher had been charged with two counts of attempted first-degree murder and was currently  incarcerated. The D.A. was hot to find him guilty, which meant our client might not see freedom for 24 years minimum, 48 years maximum.

This rancher had never done anything criminal in his entire life. Had never even gotten a speeding ticket. He and his family were devastated at the accusations, and the possibility of his being in prison for decades to come.

detective with flashlight

(Image licensed, please do not copy or distribute)

This was a physically demanding, gritty case where we searched acres and acres of cold ranch land (a little over 800 acres to be exact) in bone-chilling late fall and winter temperatures. We used metal detectors to meticulously search laid-out crime scene areas where we believed (after consulting with a ballistics expert) the slugs may have fallen. It was critical to find these slugs—their placement would show the rancher had fired warning shots, not intentionally lethal shots.

Burrs worked their way up through the soles of our shoes, our bodies ached from hours of bending over, searching the ground, fighting disappointment whenever we hit false leads (years ago, parts of the land had been a dump, so the metal detectors kept pinging that they’d found metal, and we’d dig to find not slugs, but rusted bedsprings, nails, and the like).

Then one day, we found the first slug! Then the second, the third…finally the fourth! Out there on those hundreds of acres of chilly prairie, we whooped and hollered with joy! The rancher’s mother heard us and ran, tears streaming down her face, to see if we’d found the evidence to prove her son’s innocence.

The D.A. dropped the more serious charges, and the rancher was released on a much-lower bond on Christmas Eve. His family had an especially meaningful Christmas that year.

Story #3: The Young Father Facing Months in Jail

handcuffed hands

(Image licensed, please do not copy or distribute)

One Christmas Eve, Shaun (Gums, Gams and Gumshoes co-author, former PI, and now a criminal defense attorney) went to court for the initial appearance of a young father accused of a restraining order violation on his ex-wife. Without a lower bond, he could lose his job, his home, and miss opportunities to spend time with his sons.  The young father, who told Shaun he was innocent of the charges, was facing up to six months in jail if found guilty on all counts.

Shaun pointed out to the judge that, at worst, the young man was guilty of contacting his ex-wife so that he could obtain some much-needed antibiotic medicine for the youngest son, who had a bad ear infection. The judge saw through the ex-wife’s hysterics and false accusations, and set bail at a Christmas Eve bargain of $50 cash.

We were asleep last night when awoken by the beeping of Shaun’s cell phone. The young man had texted Shaun to let him know he’d been released from jail and would be spending Christmas with his sons. We didn’t mind being woken up—it was a terrific way to start Christmas Day.

For those who celebrate it, have a wonderful Christmas, Writing PIs

The Zen Man by Colleen Collins

Click on above banner to go to Amazon page (copyright Colleen Collins)

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Please do not copy/distribute any images noted as copyrighted or licensed. 

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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.

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Answering Writers’ Questions: Riding Along with a PI, Hiring PIs in Cases Involving Foul Play

Posted by Writing PIs on March 27, 2015

eye and magnifying glass

Today we’re answering writers’ questions about riding along with PIs, civilians hiring PIs in cases  involving foul play, and police hiring PIs.

WRITER’S QUESTION: I’ve heard that a client riding along with the PI is illegal in some states. How would we know which states it is illegal in? I’m sure there will be other things that come up that vary from state to state? Should we call a PI from our state to ask?

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOES’S ANSWER: Calling a PI in your state is a good resource. If you are in a state where PIs are licensed, contact the licensing authority for guidance on these matters (typically this licensing authority will be within the state dept. of regulatory agencies or the state police).

Personally, we have had writers ask to join us while we work a case (for example, on a surveillance), but we always say no for various reasons (client confidentiality and insurance being two). The only time we broke this policy was for a reporter who was writing a story about us for a newspaper — she accompanied us on a process service and a trash hit.

WRITER’S QUESTION: In my story, I have a client hiring a PI to investigate her husband’s death. detective with flashlightShe felt there was more involved than him being killed during a B&E. Is this correct — do people hire PIs if they feel their loved ones met with foul play?

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOES’S ANSWER: Absolutely they do.

WRITER’S QUESTION: Do police hire PIs for help? I have another story where the police call in a PI to help catch a guy who has been selling black market items.

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOES’S ANSWER: More likely, the police would cooperate with PIs on a case (although this isn’t common, it has certainly occurred. For example, a few years back, the NY police cooperated with local PIs to break a theft ring in the garment district).

However, a key reason the police would not hire (versus cooperate with) PIs is that by their employing a private citizen (such as a PI), the police lose “the color of government authority” including the ability to obtain warrants, rely on rules for search/seizure (such as the fellow officer rule), and finally the law enforcement agency concerned does not want the liability of a contract employee who is more than likely carrying a weapon and who very well may not carry enough insurance.

Saying all this, it is plausible that a government agency other than a law-enforcement agency might hire a PI to do an independent investigation. Here in Colorado, a county commissioner office hired a Denver PI to conduct an investigation of sexual harassment and financial misappropriation by an elected county official, who could not have been independently investigated by the sheriff’s office for that county (because of the close ties between the two offices, both elected offices).

Have a great week, 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.

Posted in Are Cops and PIs Compatible?, Q&As, Real-Life Private Investigator Stories, Suspicious Death | Tagged: , , , | Comments Off on Answering Writers’ Questions: Riding Along with a PI, Hiring PIs in Cases Involving Foul Play

Historical Research: Finding People From Over 40 Years Ago

Posted by Writing PIs on July 30, 2014

Private Investigator reviewing evidence

Going Back to the Early 1970s

We’ve had a few cases where clients asked us to identify people who were either employed at, or did contract work for, two different buildings (one a former business) that existed over 40 years ago. In both cases, our clients didn’t know the people’s full names, and the business had been closed for several decades.

Case #1: Finding a Car Mechanic

In one, a lawyer hired us to find a car mechanic who had worked in Denver some time in the early 1970s. We had his last name (which fortunately was unique — better than trying to find someone with the last name of Smith or Jones!), his wife’s first name, and the name of a dealership (which had closed over twenty years ago) where he had once worked. Researching proprietary databases wasn’t useful because their information didn’t go back that far. Surprisingly, old local telephone books from that era didn’t contain any people with that last name.

One track of investigative research that was fruitful, however, was researching business owners of the former car dealership through our state’s Secretary of State database, then researching contact information for these people and their family members. It took a lot of calls and hitting dead ends, but eventually we found a contact who remembered this car mechanic. Unfortunately, he had died years ago, but we were able to conduct an interview with one of his-coworkers from that former dealership, who gave us information useful for the lawyer’s case.

Case #2: Finding a Building Contractor

In a current case, we needed to determine the identities of building contractors who built a school building in 1970, and later remodeled a school gymnasium in 1972. Our client, a law firm back east, only knew the names of the buildings. Fortunately, in our state, school districts are mandated by law to keep business records, contracts and architectural plans on file in case the school requires any remodeling.

To our amazement, we learned that this school district had gone above and beyond the mandate by also keeping every scrap of paper associated to a contract, even scribbled notes. Such a find is a PI’s dream come true. We visited the off-site storage facility where boxes of these notes had been stored, and sifted through box after box, looking for any mention of a contractor’s name…eventually, we found the names of contractors and subcontractors for these buildings, nearly 40 years later!

This last case shows how, even in this digital age, old-fashioned footwork can solve a case. If we had relied solely on the documents faxed to us by the school district, we never would have learned the identities of the contractors.

Have a great week, Writing PIs

 

Click cover to go to book's Amazon page

Click cover to go to book’s Amazon page

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 Historical Investigations, Real-Life Private Investigator Stories | Tagged: , , , | Comments Off on Historical Research: Finding People From Over 40 Years Ago

Our Top 10 Private Investigations Posts in 2013

Posted by Writing PIs on December 21, 2013

At the end of each year, we like to post our readers’ favorite top 10 posts.  Below is our 2013 Top 10 list, starting with #10.

Top 10 Posts

#10 Private Detective Couples in Fiction and Real LifeMyrna Loy and William Powell 1

#9 Marketing the Private Investigations Business (We wrote this in 2009, but a lot of the tips still hold true)

#8 Private Eye Writers of America Shamus Awards Finalists 2013 (Great list of private eye genre books – check ’em out!)

#7 No, Stephanie Plum Isn’t a Private Eye, She’s a Bounty Hunter

#6 What’s the Importance of a Crime Scene? crime scene tape

#5 Secrets of a Real-Life Female Private Eye – The Violent Side of Process Services  (This is an excerpt from Guns, Gams and Gumshoes’s Colleen Collins’s book Secrets of a Real-Life Female Private Eye)

#4 How to Conduct a Trash Hit – A Private Eye’s Dumpster Secrets (This post pops up on our top ten lists year after year)trash hit man in dumpster

#3 Best of 2012: Our 7 Favorite Private Investigator Sites (We’ll be compiling our favorite P.I. sites for 2013 soon, too)

#2 Can You Put a GPS on My Boyfriend’s Car? 

#1 Private vs. Public Investigators: What’s the Difference? (This post has been #1 in our top readers’ favorites for several years running!)

Thank you, readers, for dropping by our site!  Wishing you and yours a happy, safe holiday season, Writing PIs

The Writing PIs

The Writing PIs

Posted in 2013 Shamus Award, Attaching GPS's, Bounty Hunters, Importance of Crime Scenes, Public vs Private Investigators, Real-Life Private Investigator Stories | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Our Top 10 Private Investigations Posts in 2013

Answering Writers’ Questions: Finding Evidence Long After a Crime and A Cheating Spouse Case

Posted by Writing PIs on September 8, 2013

Below we’ve posted several writer’s questions and our answers about evidence and cheating spouses.  We provide background to some of the questions in brackets.

Finding Evidence Months After a Crime

[This first question was in response to our describing how PIs might find evidence months after a crime has occurred.  In this instance, Shaun, one of the Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’s PIs, had found a .44 casing outside our client’s residence]

WRITER’S  QUESTION: In the case where Shaun found the .44 casing … did he leave it alone and call the police so they could photograph it in place? Or did he take pictures of it and put it in a bag and take it to the police? What happened?

The casings proved that the neighborhood was crime-ridden

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOES’S RESPONSE: The .44 casing was found months after the charged crime and it was not material evidence in our case. However, the casing was proof that the neighborhood where this occurred was extremely crime-ridden, and that our client had a reasonable belief that he had to resort to deadly force to protect himself and his son.

Had the casing been found the morning after the confrontation where our client shot his .357, Shaun would have done the following:

  • Not touched it
  • Left the casing exactly where he found it
  • Contacted the police
  • Taken a photo of it for our client’s attorney

To bring this story up to date, the photograph Shaun took was listed as evidence at the trial, at which he also testified about the nature of the neighborhood (it being crime-ridden, which was backed by data from various interactive crime maps), and how he found the casing.  Our client was found not guilty.

WRITER’S QUESTION: Couldn’t the defense (or prosecution depending which side your client was on) claim that the casing had been placed there later? Or was from a different incident at another time?

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOES’S RESPONSE: In this case, our client was the defense attorney, and it didn’t matter how the casing got there months later–what mattered in this particular case is that it showed how reasonable our client was in pulling his gun in self-defense.

Answering Writers’ Questions: Cheating Spouses

[This next question pertains to our sharing a story how we interviewed the “other woman” in a cheating spouse case]

WRITER’S QUESTION: And about interviewing the woman in the cheating husband case – I take it there’s no concern about tipping off the cheating husband that he’s being investigated?

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOES’S RESPONSE: For this case, no, as he’d already seen the photographs (because his wife had filed for divorce and her attorney had the photographs) by the time we’d interviewed the “other woman.” Generally speaking, however, we wouldn’t want to tip off the cheating spouse that they’re being investigated.

WRITER’S QUESTION: Have either of you ever been threatened by a spouse who has been caught? Or by the person they’ve caught them with? Without wanting to give away too much from my WIP, I’m thinking that might be a possible threat to my guys. I’m just wondering if it’s a credible storyline that the cheater might go after the private investigators for destroying their marriage.

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOES’S RESPONSE: In the “other woman” case we’ve been discussing, she was also married.  A week or so after we interviewed the other woman, she contacted us saying she’d hired an attorney and we were to not contact her again for any reason. We didn’t believe she’d hired an attorney, and figured she was bluffing because she was scared, but we had no reason to contact her again (after interviewing her).  In fact, we felt sorry for her (she had two young children, and her husband was devastated that his wife had fooled around).

To answer your question whether we think it’s  credible in a storyline that the other woman or other man might get so freaked out, have so much to protect, that they’d go after the PI?  Yes, that’s credible.  We’ve been threatened in other situations that weren’t cheating spouse cases (we’ve had dogs sic’d on us during process services, and Shaun once had a woman follow him, pounding her fists on his back, after he served her legal papers). The worst threat by far was a case where the woman to whom we served a restraining order mounted a full-on cyber-stalking attack on our business/reputations.  This woman had a lot to protect–five million dollars she’d stolen, and which by the way has never been found.  Colleen wrote about this case in her nonfiction book Secrets of a Real-Life Female Private Eye.

Have a great week, Writing PIs

 

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Posted in Importance of Crime Scenes, Infidelity Investigations, Nonfiction Books on Private Investigations, Real-Life Private Investigator Stories, Writing About PIs | Tagged: , , , , | Comments Off on Answering Writers’ Questions: Finding Evidence Long After a Crime and A Cheating Spouse Case

Answering Writers’ Questions About Private Detectives: Stalking Charges and Credit Card Records

Posted by Writing PIs on August 15, 2013

The Writing PIs

The Writing PIs

Today we’re answering writers’ questions about tracking credit cards and what happens when law enforcement is called on a PI.

English: First 4 digits of a credit card

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

WRITER’S QUESTION: We often see in police shows that the cops or feds are keeping tabs on someone’s credit card and as soon as it’s used somewhere they’re alerted and close in on that location. First of all, would they get the info that quickly or would it be hours/days delay? Secondly, could a licensed PI access that information?

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOE’S S ANSWER: No, PIs don’t have access to credit card transactions. Cops and feds would have pretty quick access (probably within approx. 30 minutes) to credit card transaction data because they would be working closely with investigators in the credit card fraud/security department.

WRITER’S QUESTION: If a PI is watching a person and that person clues in that they’re being

Can the law charge a P.I. with stalking?

watched/followed and calls the police. If the police figure out it’s a PI, could the PI still be charged with stalking or something?

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOE’S S ANSWER: We’ve had people call the police on several occasions, and our experience has been that as long as our communication with law enforcement is professional, there’s no problem. Steven Brown in his book THE COMPLETE IDIOT’S GUIDE TO PRIVATE INVESTIGATING suggests a PI to be upfront when working a case, but to never give away the identity of who’s being surveilled (in fact, in the book he suggests saying it’s a totally different address being surveilled).

Stalking is when a person who is prohibited by a court order violates that court order. A PI who is acting lawfully and/or is working under the supervision of an attorney is specifically excluded from stalking. Saying that, this does not mean that the PI can burglarize, trespass, wiretap or eavesdrop the person they’re surveilling.  Below is an article Colleen, one of the Gums, Gams, and Gumshoes PIs,  wrote a few years back about PIs and stalking:

Pursuit Magazine: “When Does Surveillance Become Stalking?”

Related article on Guns, Gams and Gumshoes:
What to Do If You’re Stalked on Amazon or Anywhere on the Internet

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Posted in Hiring Private Investigators, Law Enforcement Arresting P.I.s, Q&As, Real-Life Private Investigator Stories | Tagged: , , , , | Comments Off on Answering Writers’ Questions About Private Detectives: Stalking Charges and Credit Card Records

Pretexting: Okay for Jim Rockford, But Not Always for Real-Life P.I.s

Posted by Writing PIs on July 26, 2013

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.

Ah, those bogus IDs.  Along with bogus stories.  The stuff of private eye fiction.

But when it comes to real-life private investigators, fabricating bogus IDs and stories can get the P.I. into a lot of trouble.   Below is an excerpt from “P.I.s, Pretexting, and the Law: Tips for Crime Writers,” an article by one of the Guns, Gams and Gumshoes’s authors, Colleen, for Pursuit Magazine.  It outlines some illegal investigative pretexts, and gives tips to crime writers crafting P.I. characters who might use this technique.

“To Tell the Truth, I Lied a Little”
~Private eye Jake Gittes in Chinatown

by Colleen Collins

The private eye genre has long been a favorite for writers, from the novel The Maltese Falcon by Maltese Falcon book coverDashiell Hammett to the current hard-boiled hoax by J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books, who secretly penned a private-eye novel, The Cuckoo’s Calling, under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith.

Besides having owned my own private detective agency for a decade, I’m also a multi-published fiction author. For the past three years I’ve also been a judge for the Private Eye Writers of America, in which capacity I’ve read over two hundred hardcover private eye novels. Sometimes writers have done their research and compose compellingly realistic investigative scenarios, from conducting witness interviews to what it’s like working for a defense attorney.

And sometimes, writers being writers, they make stuff up. Stuff that no real-world private investigator would do unless he or she liked the word “felon” tarnishing their reputation and deep-sixing their P.I. career.

In this article, I discuss the investigative practice of pretexting, with tips for writers on how their private eye characters can come across as realistic, not ridiculous, when using it.

What Is Pretexting?

Pretexting is, basically, using a phony script to obtain information from someone, often playing on people’s natural desire to talk and be helpful. The pretexter might pretend to be someone else, tell a white lie, or create some other deception to acquire this information. Although in recent years pretexting has gotten a bad rap, when used legally and with good judgment, it can be an indispensable investigative technique.

Private investigators might pretext via an email

Private investigators might pretext via an email

Often a P.I. will pretext over the phone, although it can also be done in person, by mail, email or phishing. However, fabricating stories to obtain information isn’t typically the first avenue of approach for an investigator. Often, the information a P.I. needs can be found in public records as well as through Internet and database searches. Sometimes, a P.I. can get the information you want by simply asking for it.

Whether a P.I. chooses to pretext, or a writer crafts a scene using this tactic, keep in mind that in certain situations, pretexting is against the law. I’ve outlined three of these situations below:

Illegal: Impersonating a Police Officer, Lawyer, or Doctor

A private investigator must never impersonate a police officer, lawyer, or doctor. Doing so sets the stage for the P.I. spending some quality time behind bars. In our state a few years ago, a P.I. was nailed for not only impersonating an officer, but threatening the subject with a firearm while assaulting the subject. (And this was for a process service!) The subject, after learning the guy wasn’t a law enforcement officer but a P.I., hired an attorney—who filed a lawsuit against the private investigator.

In your story, the fictional P.I. might pretend he’s an officer knowing full well he’s courting a felony charge by doing so (which cranks up the tension). But if your character does this without a second thought, as though pretending to be a cop or lawyer has no possible repercussions, your P.I character could look amateur at best, or just plain dumb.

To read the full article, click here.

Have a great weekend, Writing PIs

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