Guns, Gams & Gumshoes

A defense attorney & PI who also happen to be writers

  • Writing a Sleuth?

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

    "How to Write a Dick is the best work of its kind I’ve ever come across because it covers the whole spectrum in an entertaining style that will appeal to layman and lawmen alike."

    Available on Kindle

  • Copyright Notices

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

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

  • Writing PIs on Twitter

  • Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes

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

Looking Back: Pros and Cons on Being Married to Your PI Partner

Posted by Writing PIs on July 21, 2015

July 21, 2015

Below is an article we wrote nearly 5 years ago, back when we co-owned a private detective agency. In it, we shared our pros and cons on being a married PI team. Fast forward to today…Shaun is a full-time & then some lawyer and yours truly is a part-time PI and writer. We love our current jobs, but sometimes we look back at our 24/7 sleuthing days together and miss them.

The Challenges of Co-Owning a PI Agency

We weathered a lot during the 10+ years we co-owned the PI agency, such as:

  1. Keeping the agency afloat during some tough recession years
  2. Tackling cases that broke our hearts (a missing child, a young man brainwashed by a cult, a husband crying over his wife’s infidelity)
  3. Meshing our work styles (Shaun’s a big-picture kinda guy & Colleen’s a detailed-oriented kinda gal…mix ’em together for some entertaining conflicts).

Then One Day…

Wedding cake March 24 2009

We eloped. Bought our wedding cake on the way to the justice of the peace (bakery owner just happened to have a bride & groom figure to put on top of a blue and white cake). Our wedding decorations consisted of a big bow we taped to a tree. We loved every moment.

Missing the PI Team

The other day I did a difficult locate (finding a person) for one of Shaun’s legal cases. He was immensely relieved when I found the person as his case pivoted on that locate. Then he said, “I really miss when we worked together as PIs.”

Back when we were working side-by-side, 24/7, he didn’t always miss me, though :)

Without further ado, our pros and cons “back in the day”…

Working with Your PI Spouse: For Better, for Worse

Illustration courtesy of James Braddock (image copyright protected - do not copy or distribute)

Illustration courtesy of James Braddock (image copyright protected)

(January 2012)

At Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes, we’re a couple of PIs who also write…and are also married to each other. This can be great…and sometimes challenging. Today we’ll each answer “what are the pros and cons” of being a married PI team.

Shaun’s Pros

  • You really know your partner, there’s no learning curve.
  • During those times when you have to improvise or pretext, you can cue your partner and pick up their cues, which makes what you’re trying to accompliShaun Kaufmansh believeable and effective.
  • There’s no need to inform your work partner of demands or troubles in your personal life because she knows!

Shaun’s Cons

First of all, I’m a brave man for being the first to answer this question, but I’ve been granted absolute immunity. Here’s my cons:

  • You can’t bullshit your partner about anything, and there’s no hiding behind your moods.
  • Whereas other households might have two spouses with independent revenue streams, the married-PI couple is often working the same job. If that client’s check bounces, it can hit us hard.
  • Chasing cheating spouses can be deleterious to one’s libido. After a night of watching spouses cheat, I’m not always in the mood if you get my drift.

Colleen’s ProsColleen Colleen with her novel SHOCK WAVES

  • Sometimes being a husband-and-wife PI team gets us the case. For example, a client thinks his wife will be meeting her paramour at a swanky restaurant — we can easily fit into that scenario as another couple dining in that restaurant, even being romantic together, versus a PI sitting alone at a table.
  • Shaun’s a big-picture person, I’m a detailed person. Together, we get a good snapshot of a case.
  • Shaun trained a lot of PIs over the years in his attorney practice, so if I’m working a new type of case, I get the benefit of working side-by-side with a mentor (or having one on call).

Colleen’s Cons

  • It’s that big-picture thing. Sometimes I don’t understand how he glosses over the details.
  • We’ve had clients who think two-for-the-price-of-one. No, just because we’re married doesn’t mean we each get paid half-price.
  • When we’re both in the field, there’s no one to call at home to let the dogs out.

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. The Nick and Nora illustration in this article is licensed by Colleen Collins from the artist for per personal use – please do not copy/distribute/use as this illustration is copyright protected.

Posted in Real-life married private-eye teams | Tagged: , , , | Comments Off on Looking Back: Pros and Cons on Being Married to Your PI Partner

Writing a Female Private Eye Character? This List Is for You!

Posted by Writing PIs on July 8, 2015

Featured on - 70 Influential Female Private Investigators on Twitter

Half of the Writing PIs, Colleen, learned recently that she’s ranked #3 on a list of 70 influential female private investigators in the industry and on Twitter. She’s honored for the mention.

Writing a Female PI Character?

Lists like these are also great resources for writers wanting to learn more about the real world of PIs, especially the work of women in the field. If you’re on Twitter, check out these Twitter accounts and read about the day-to-day work of female investigators, articles on the profession written by women PIs, and more:

Article link: 70 Influential Female Private Investigators on Twitter

Being a Woman in a Male-Dominated Field

At times it makes a difference being a female in the profession. For example, a client might feel more comfortable working with a female PI, or the case demands a woman, such as the time Colleen took a pole-dancing class to surveil a class member for a case. (After spending a few days in bed with a heating pad, Colleen now has great respect for pole dancers.) Otherwise, Colleen says,”I’ve always been treated like an equal by my peers, be they male or female.”

Articles About Female Private Detectives

Below are a few articles about real-life female PIs:

What Is It Like Being a Female Private Investigator? (

The Undercover World of the Female Private Investigator (Daily Record)

International Women’s Day: Honoring Female Investigators (Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes)

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

“Women are much better private detectives” (The Guardian)

Article about a “modern Day Miss Marple” who runs an all-female detective agency (Daily Mail)

Have a great week, Writing PIs

To go to book's Amazon page, click on cover

To go to book’s Amazon page, click on cover

Posted in History of the PI, Private Eyes in the News, Secrets of a Real-Life Female Female Private Eye | Tagged: , , , | Comments Off on Writing a Female Private Eye Character? This List Is for You!

No Cease and Desist Letters: Four Copyright-Free Image Sites

Posted by Writing PIs on June 30, 2015

Image in public domain, courtesy of Ryan McGuire

Image in public domain, courtesy of Ryan McGuire

Who says there’s no such thing as a free lunch? Or in this case, free professional high-resolution photos and images. No need to copy images off the Internet, risking violating copyrights and receiving nasty cease & desist letters from lawyers – instead check out these four sites that offer gorgeous stuff for free downloads, all copyright-free.

Some indie writers use sites such as iStockPhoto, which offers royalty-free, professional high-resolution graphics, illustrations and images for a fee, but some of the more popular images show up over and over on indie book covers. What’s great about the below sites is the images are unique, with some offering new, free images every week or so via an email subscription.


road leading to castle

This is one of our current favorites. Stunning photos, many of landscapes, that can be modified in any way you want, including for commercial use, no attribution required. Sign-up for new images, sent weekly to your inbox.

Link: Unsplash


womens legs laundromatfeet shoes street fuzzy slippers

We have one word for this site: Fun! All photographs by Ryan McGuire, who calls himself a “whimsically creative visual artist.” All images are copyright-free for you to use on any project, personal or commercial, and he doesn’t require an attribution, although he wouldn’t mind if you did it anyway (a simple “Photo by Ryan McGuire” does the trick). Email sign-up for his new, copyright-free images.

Link: Gratisography

Little Visuals

old doorbell blue doorold brownie camera

Sadly, this photographer, a young man named Nic, died suddenly in November 2013. He offered his photos copyright-free for anyone to download for personal and/or commercial uses. His family has posted a note explaining that Nic died from Sudden Adult Death Syndrome (SADS), and asks those who are downloading Nic’s images to consider giving to the Hand on the Heart charity (link provided).

Link: Little Visuals

Life of Pix


High-resolution photos without copyright restrictions, courtesy of an advertising agency in Montreal (Leeroy Advertising Agency). No attribution required. They also offer an email subscription for weekly copyright-free images.

Link: Life of Pix

Have a great week, Writing PIs

All images in this post are in the public domain. All rights reserved for written content.

Posted in Copyrights, Public Domain Images | Tagged: , , , , , | Comments Off on No Cease and Desist Letters: Four Copyright-Free Image Sites

#WriteTip Answering Writer’s Question: Insurance Fraud Investigators

Posted by Writing PIs on June 20, 2015

Writer’s Question: In insurance fraud investigations, would an investigator work directly for the insurance carrier or a firm representing them?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’s Answer: Insurance fraud is often contracted through the special investigations unit, or SIU, which is a group of specialized insurance adjustors and in-house investigators for an insurance company.  These in-house investigators aren’t investigators in the purest sense of the word — they instead manage other SIU employees, outside contract investigators and attorneys (in other words, they are more managers than investigators). The reason being that insurance companies don’t want to be seen as conducting investigations that might result in the denial of their policy holders’ claims. This potential conflict of interest gives rise to the need to hire outside private investigators or investigative agencies.

Private investigators in this type of work need to have experience in insurance coverage, adjusting matters, as well as other general investigative skills. Such a PI could be hired by either the SIU, in-house counsel at the insurance company, or a private attorney who has been retained by an insurance company. Who does the hiring of a private investigator is a function of whether or not the case is in litigation or claim status.

We know a former expert insurance adjustor who left the insurance business to open his own insurance fraud investigations agency (representing bad faith insurance claimants).  He’s made a lucrative business of this because he so well understands the inner workings of insurance companies.

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.

Posted in Insurance Fraud Investigations, Writing About PIs | Tagged: , , | Comments Off on #WriteTip Answering Writer’s Question: Insurance Fraud Investigators

Celebrate Our 6-Year Blogiversary With a FREE Book on Private Investigations

Posted by Writing PIs on June 7, 2015


Guns, Gams and Gumshoes turns 6 years old on June 9! To celebrate, we’re giving away our nonfiction book How to Write a Dick: A Guide for Writing Fictional Sleuths from a Couple of Real-Life Sleuths. It is FREE on June 8, 9 and 10.

To get your free Kindle book, click on the below book cover or click here.

FREE june 8, 9 & 10

Free june 8 – 10

“If you want authenticity in creating a fictional private investigator for your stories, then this is a must-have reference book. Its authors, Colleen and Shaun, are living breathing PIs with years of actual experience in the PI game.” ~ R.T. Lawton, 25 years on the street as a federal special agent and author of multiple series in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine

Note from authors: As our investigations business only operates within the United States, this book is more helpful to those writing U.S. private eye characters. However, there are other topics that are universally applied and useful worldwide, such as the history of the PIs, equipping a PI business, finding people, conducting trash hits, handling surveillances, how a fictional PI might work with a crime scene, homicide or DNA gathering and analysis, culling tips from our answers to writers’ questions, and the Gumshoe Glossary.

vintage writer at old typewriter

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 Nonfiction book: HOW TO WRITE A DICK, Nonfiction Books on Private Investigations | Tagged: , , , | Comments Off on Celebrate Our 6-Year Blogiversary With a FREE Book on Private Investigations

Private Eye Writers of America 2015 Shamus Award Finalists

Posted by Writing PIs on June 4, 2015

cover ebook  2000px longest side

The Private Eye Writers of America (PWA) organization was founded in 1981 by Robert J. Randisi, who created the Shamus Award that acknowledges outstanding stories in the private eye genre. Check out the below books & short stories for some great private eye reads.

Congratulations to the 2015 Shamus Award finalists!

PRIVATE EYE WRITERS OF AMERICA SHAMUS AWARD FINALISTS 2015 for works published in 2014. (The lists below are in alphabetical order by author.)

The winners will be announced at the PWA Banquet at Bouchercon in Raleigh, North Carolina on Friday, October 9, 2015.

BEST HARDCOVER P.I. NOVELfedora black and white

The Hollow Girl by Reed Farrel Coleman
The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith
Toyko Kill by Barry Lancet
Hounded by David Rosenfelt
Peter Pan Must Die by John Verdon


Invisible City by Julia Dahl
Bad Country by C.B. McKenzie
Last of the Independents by Sam Wiebe
Wink of an Eye by Lynn Chandler Willis
City of Brick and Shadow by Tim Wirkus


The Detective and the Pipe Girl by Michael Craven
Beauty With A Bomb by M.C.Grant
Critical Damage by Robert K. Lewis
Street Justice by Kris Nelscott
Moonlight Weeps by Vincent Zandri


“Clear Recent History” by Gon Ben Ari in Tel Aviv Noir
“The Ehrengraf Fandango ” by Lawrence Block in Defender of the Innocent
“Fear Is The Best Keeper of Secrets ” by Vali Khalili in Tehran Noir
“Mei Kwei, I Love You” by Suchen Christine Lim in Singapore Noir
“Busting Red Heads” by Richard Helms in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine


The Shadow Broker by Trace Conger
Nobody’s Child by Libby Fischer Hellmann
Played To Death by BV Lawson
The Kids Are All Right by Steve Liskow
Get Busy Dying by Ben Rehder

With many thanks to judges Dorothy Rellas, Colleen Collins, Andrew S. McAleer, S.J. Rozan, Clive Rosengren, M. Ruth Myers. Fred Zackel, Brad Parks, Douglas Corleone, Tim Wohlforth, Jack Fredrickson, BethTerrell, Charle Ardai, Amanda Kyle Williams and Baron Birtcher.

Gay Toltl Kinman, Chair

Posted in 2015 Shamus Award | Tagged: , , | Comments Off on Private Eye Writers of America 2015 Shamus Award Finalists

Private vs. Public Investigators: What’s the Difference?

Posted by Writing PIs on June 2, 2015

fedora black and white

Since we kicked off Guns, Gams and Gumshoes in June 2009, this post has remained readers’ #1 favorite year after year. It might seem to be a simple question, but there are all kinds of government (meaning public) investigators — from police detectives to coroner office investigators to FBI agents — as well as different kinds of private investigators, including newspaper reporters, insurance investigators, skip tracers and more.

Also, there are “amateur sleuths” in some mystery stories, which are not private investigators as amateur sleuths do not accept money for their investigative services. To read more about private investigators in fiction, check out the Private Eye Writers of America website.

So now let’s answer the question:

Private vs. Public Investigators: What’s the Difference?surveillance female hanging out of car with camera

What’s with the word “private”?  Without being glib, it’s the opposite of “public.”   Police officers and government agents are public investigators.  There are differences between private investigators and public investigators, such as:

  • Private investigators do not have ready access to privileged government information about most of us nor do they always share investigative leads and similar intelligence with other investigators.
  • A private investigator’s job status alone does not imbue her with an ability to carry firearms.
  • Private investigators pay for their own equipment, some of which can get quite expensive (such as radios, computers, still/video cameras, automobiles, etc.).  Public-sector investigators (police, etc.) do not pay from their pockets for such equipment.

Why Pursue a Career as a PI?

So why become a private investigator when public ones get better access to information and free tools? For starters, it’s always appealing to be your own boss. If you’re writing a private detective story, keep in mind that as in any well-run business, your sleuth character will need to be good with details, legalities, watching the bottom line (or hire someone to help him/her with it).

Also, a private investigator’s work is challenging, exciting, sometimes downright fun.  Robert Scott, PI and author, sums up the private investigator’s life in The Investigator’s Little Black Book 3 with these words: “It’s a front row seat to the Greatest Show on Earth.” That’s because a PI has a front row seat on life and its constantly revolving characters and life situations — many just as entertaining, if not more so, than you’ll ever see in movies or on TV.  What a rich vantage point for your own fictional PI.

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.

How to Write a Dick: A Guide for Writing Fictional Sleuths from a Couple of Real-Life Sleuths by Colleen Collins & Shaun Kaufman 

Click on book cover to go to Amazon page

Posted in Public vs Private Investigators | Tagged: , , | 5 Comments »

Memorial Day History: Honor Them with Words and Deeds

Posted by Writing PIs on May 23, 2015

My father (center), 1945 Honolulu

This picture sat on my father’s desk for as long as I can remember. I always thought he looked like a movie star in the photo — in fact, the picture reminded me of a still from a black and white movie. On that sunny day in Honolulu, my dad and his two good friends were getting ready to head back out on battleships to the South Pacific. Unfortunately, his friends’ ship sank during battle weeks later, and Dad was the only one to return home after the war.

Dad returned to his college studies, fell in love and married my mom, became a father to her two girls, then three when I came along. Eventually all of us moved to California where he pursued a career in education.

Whenever I visited my parents, I spent hours in my dad’s office. I loved looking through his history books, the notes he left to himself on his daily calendar, the mementoes scattered through the room, the paintings by my mother on the walls, and this photo of Dad and his two friends that always sat framed on his desk.

After he died, I asked for that photo. It’s one of my prize possessions and I keep it where I can always see it. I think Dad would have liked that.

Memorial Day History

Originally, Memorial Day was called “Decoration Day” in the South for Confederate Soldiers Who Had Died in Battle

Memorial Day was first enacted to honor Union soldiers after the Civil War, and was expanded after WWI. Although initially the day was called different names, such as Decoration Day in the South (for the Confederate soldiers who had given their lives), the term “Memorial Day” was first used in 1882, and became commonly used after WWII. It was declared the official name by federal law in 1967.

In our business, we have at times researched WWII histories, so I’ll share some of those links below.

WWII Research Links

Research WWII military records.  You can search, for free, military personnel and service records at the U.S. National Archives. Searches include casualty lists, pictures, and other WW II records. To research WW II records, click here.

From the Internet Archive: Pamphlet on Mediterranean Theater of Operations & the Middle East

WWII Archive (Internet Archive): A collection of public domain WWII books, news, broadcasts, old time radio, training films and more. Curated by a librarian.

WWII Forums. This community forum provides free resources for reading and researching WWII, with topics including first-hand accounts by veterans, WWII obituaries and more.

Finding Information on Personal Participation in WWII.  This online document, provided by the National Archives and Records Administration, contains tips for researching military records relevant to those with personal participation in WWII.

Other Wars: National Archives’ Research Links

Click on link for documents in that category:

Civil War

Vietnam War

US Army troops on break during Vietnam War

US Army troops on break during Vietnam War

Korean War

War of 1812

Military Service Records

Although all military service records were once sent to the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) which is under the jurisdiction of the National Archives and Records Administration, only the Coast Guard now sends their records there. Address The National Personnel Records Center, Military Personnel Records, 9700 Page Avenue, St. Louis, Missouri 63132, fax: 314-801-9195.

The Navy stopped sending veterans’ records to NPRC in 1995. For Navy personnel discharged after 1994, those records are now sent to NAVPERSCOM in Millington, TN (1-866-827-5672).

The Marines stopped sending records to NPRC  in 1997, and they are now sent to Quantico.

The Army stopped sending records to NPRC in 2002, and they are now sent to the Army Human Resources Command in St. Louis.

The Air Force stopped sending records to NPRC in 2004, and they are now sent to Randolph AFB, TX.

Memorial Day – More than BBQs and Fireworks (Internet Archive blog)

B-17 Flight Evokes Images About What WWII Missions Were Like (

10 Historical Facts About Memorial Day (USA Today)

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 Memorial Day, Tracing WWII Histories | Tagged: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Memorial Day History: Honor Them with Words and Deeds

%d bloggers like this: