Guns, Gams & Gumshoes

A defense attorney & PI who also happen to be writers

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Investigator Takes the Stand: Tales from a Trial

Posted by Writing PIs on January 10, 2015

A Criminal Case 1865 by Honore Daumer, Digital image courtesy of the Getty's Open Content Program

A Criminal Case 1865 by Honore Daumer, Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program

As many of you know, one of the Writing PIs, Shaun, has returned to being a criminal lawyer. He often says that having worked as a private investigator for 10 years makes him a better lawyer.

An example of that being this week at trial, when Shaun cross-examined an investigator on the stand.

Who Owns the Phone?

modern cell phone

One key issue in this trial is the ownership of a cell phone that was used to make certain purchases (its phone number shows on sales receipts).

The investigator (retired police officer/current investigator) traced the phone, via its phone number, to an address, at which he served a warrant. In a search of the residence, the investigator found the phone in Mr. X’s bedroom. In his investigation report to the prosecution, he identified the phone as belonging to Mr. X, the defendant.

At trial this week, the investigator took the stand, and Shaun asked, “Who owns the phone?”

The investigator responded that Mr. X, the defendant, owns the phone.

Shaun asked, “How do you know this?”

The investigator said that the phone had been found in Mr. X’s bedroom.

But several people live at this multi-bedroom residence, Shaun said, so how did the investigator know that the phone actually belonged to Mr. X?  Investigator repeated because it had been found in Mr. X’s bedroom.

Do You Know What a Reverse Search Is?

Shaun asked the investigator if he knew what a “reverse search” was on a phone number. The investigator responded that yes, he did. Shaun explained to the jury that such a reverse search obtains information about a phone, such as subscriber information, via its phone number. (In our private investigations business, we have run hundreds of reverse phone number searches over the years.)

Shaun then asked the investigator if he had run a reverse search on the phone. The investigator said no, he hadn’t.

finger pressing key on keyboardAt that point, Shaun listed three proprietary databases that offer phone number reverse searches for minimal charges, anywhere from fifty cents to a few dollars. He asked the investigator if he had access to any of these databases — the investigator said yes, he did. Without checking to whom the phone was registered, Shaun said, you instead assumed the phone belonged to Mr. X.  Such assumptions can make the difference between a not guilty verdict and a wrongful conviction.

What Is a Proprietary Database?

These are privately owned, password-protected online databases that are not available to the public. Proprietary databases cull information from thousands, if not millions, of public records. Years ago, one customer rep told me that her company’s proprietary database pulled information from billions of public record sources.

Many private investigators use such databases to aid their research, but even then, it’s smart to double-check search results. In cases when we’ve run reverse phone number searches, and a name pops up as being the registered owner, we’ll double-check that result by doing such things as running a reverse in another database and calling the number to hear the voice message.

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.

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Jury Selection: Tales from a Trial

Posted by Writing PIs on January 6, 2015

gavel and scales

The criminal lawyer side of Writing PIs, Shaun, is starting a trial today. The PI-writer side of Writing PIs, yours truly, is on deadline finishing a book that features a lawyer protagonist, and she wishes she were at trial, too. Where better to do research and soak up “local color” for a legal story? But instead, one of us is at a real-life trial, while the other stays at home, writing a fictional one.

James Holmes Trial Postponed

Note: This post was originally published on January 6, 2015. As of today, March 1, 2015, the jury selection is still ongoing for the James Holmes trial, and is expected to continue for several more months.

The James Holmes trial was supposed to start this week, and Shaun anticipated it being a zoo at the courthouse with hundreds of spectators, media, and so on. Because of the Holmes trial, a large number of potential jurors had been called…and then today, the Holmes trial was postponed.

By the way, when the two of us were at that courthouse a year+ ago, we noticed they had paved a huge, extra parking lot in anticipation of a large number of people — spectators, media — attending the Holmes hearings/trial.  The additional parking lot, beefed up security, and intense investigation/legal services required for the Holmes trial has already exceeded $5 million dollars, and that doesn’t include the costs incurred by the Colorado public defenders’ office that refuses to divulge its costs.

Jury Selection: People’s Real-Life Stories

One result of the Holmes trial being originally set for this week was that there was an unusually large pool of potential jurors, 67 people, for Shaun’s trial.

During selection, the judge asked if anyone had reason to not be a juror. A man raised his hand, said that he was illiterate & was afraid other jurors would make fun of him. Shaun said it saddened him hearing the man’s story, made him realize the hurt the man must have endured in his life. Judge excused the man from jury duty.

Another man raised his hand, said English wasn’t his first language, so he should be excused, too. Judge rolled her eyes and sighed loudly, said she wasn’t going to put up with any dilly-dallying, and he was not excused.


We wrote about jury selection in our recent non-fiction book A Lawyer’s Primer for Writers: From Crimes to Courtrooms. Below is a link to that book excerpt:

The Steps of a Trial: Jury Selection


#BookSale: A Lawyer’s Primer for Writers: From Crimes to Courtrooms

Click cover to go to book's Amazon page

Click cover to go to book’s Amazon page

March 1 – 7, 2015, A Lawyer’s Primer for Writers is a Kindle Countdown Deal, starting at 99 cents on March 1, with the price increasing daily until it again reaches its original price, $7.95, on March 7. To order, click on the above book cover image or click here.

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.

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Don’t Make Hiring a Private Detective One of Your New Year’s Resolutions

Posted by Writing PIs on January 2, 2015

 

hat and magnifying glass on computer

We once got a call from a woman who wanted to know how her abusive ex-boyfriend had learned her new home address. We ran a quick search of her address on Google, and guess what? She’d listed it on an online resume, which meant anybody could find that home address by simply searching for her name.

Let’s go over a few resolutions you can make to protect your confidential information so you don’t need to add “Hire a Private Investigator” to that list.

house illustration

If a retail business asks for your home address, provide your business address or a virtual address instead

Tip #1: Stop sharing your home address

It’s your home, your private residence, the center of your family life — you don’t need to share this address with anybody other than friends, family and trusted business contacts. One way to protect your home address is to provide your business address instead.

Another way to protect your home address is to purchase a private mailbox from a US post office, or from a private mailbox service such as The UPS Store, then use this address on forms, registrations, mailings, and so on. Private mailbox companies often provide you with a “street” address (where your mailbox is the suite number) so those forms that say “You must enter a street address, not a post office box” will be satisfied that you’re entering a street address (although it’s not).

Tip #2: Don’t announce your location

Turn off location services on your smartphones

Turn off location services on your smartphone

It’s all the rage for people to automatically announce their location through social media sites (such as Twitter) and other online sites. If someone has decided to break into your residence, or confront you, or confront somebody who’s still at your residence (while you’re at your location), or conduct some other not-in-your-best-interest activity, don’t help them by letting them know your location. So when you see those prompts (“Click here so people can know your location!”) don’t click.

Also, it’s a good idea to turn off location services on your smartphone so you are not giving away your real-time location. Also, photos you take with your smartphone can record your location via embedded geotagging. This 2014 article in Forbes, Don’t Let Stalkers, Abusers, and Creeps Track Your Phones Location, contains instructions for turning off location services.

Tip #3: Don’t give out your phone number

It's possible to track a person's address via their  phone number

Did you know that it’s possible to track a person’s address via their phone number?

It’s relatively easy to find home addresses from phone numbers. It’s just as easy for you to protect that number, and your personal information associated with it, by using a virtual phone number. What’s that? A virtual number is a regular number (area code + number, such as 123-456-7789) that you can set up to ring through to your real number. Then, you give out the virtual number when a stranger, or someone other than family and trusted friends, asks for your phone number. When somebody calls that virtual number, you answer, and nobody knows it’s not your real number.

If someone attempts a trace on that phone number (to find the name/address it’s registered to), they won’t find it (that is, as long as you haven’t posted your name as being associated with that number somewhere on the Internet). Basic virtual number services typically cost anywhere from $6.95 to $10.95 a month (extra features, such as fax services, cost more). You can sign up for a virtual number at sites like Vumber and FlyNumber.

That’s it.  Three tips to protect your confidential information in the new year.

Like this article? It and other investigative articles by this author are in How Do Private Eyes Do That? available on Kindle.

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.

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Readers’ Favorite Articles in 2014

Posted by Writing PIs on December 25, 2014

woman looking thru mag glass black and white2

As 2014 draws to an end, we’d like to share our readers’ favorite Guns, Gams and Gumshoes’s posts from this year. Some of you have been along for the ride since we kicked off this blog in 2009, and we thank you for your support!

Readers’ Top 10 Articles

Starting with number 10…detective with flashlight

#10: “Private Investigators and Murder Cases” Colleen wrote this article for former lawyer/mystery-book-reviewer/editor Elizabeth A. White’s blog in 2012.

Sherlocks

#9: “Historical Research: Finding People From Over 40 Years Ago” In this techno-digital age, people often think private investigators just sit at their computers all day, digging up dirt on the Internet and databases. Not so. Even in the 21st century, some cases can only be solved the old-fashioned way: On foot.

Sherlocks

#8: “Interview with Steven Kerry Brown, author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Private Investigating” We’re happy to say that Steven Brown is doing well since his bone marrow transplant…in fact, so well that a month ago he contacted Colleen about posting information about his new private-eye book here at Guns, Gams and Gumshoes.  Steven–a former FBI special agent and president of Millennial Investigative Agency–knows his stuff about investigations and then some. We’re looking forward to previewing his upcoming novel, so stay tuned.

Sherlocks

#7: “Private Detective Couples in Fiction and Real Life”

This image is protected by copyright - do not copy or distribute.

This image is protected by copyright – do not copy or distribute.

Sherlocks

#6: “What’s the Importance of a Crime Scene?”

Sherlocks

#5: “Tips for Hiding Your Home Address from Online Searches”

Sherlocks

#4: “Marketing the Private Investigations Business” We wrote this in 2009, and the tips remain valid. Yes, even print items such as letterhead and business cards. We had a well-respected criminal lawyer who set aside our letter and business card for two years, then one day he picked them up and thought, “Hey, I should call these guys.” Our letter/card stood out over all the online pitches he regularly received. Six years later, he’s still one of our best clients, although now he also sends litigation cases to Shaun, who has returned to practicing criminal law.

Sherlocks

#3: “How to Conduct a Trash Hit: A Private Investigator’s Dumpster trash hit man in dumpsterSecrets” This remains another popular article, year after year, since we wrote it in 2011.

Sherlocks

#2: “Can You Put a GPS on My Boyfriend’s Car?” Remains one of our top 5 favorite articles since 2009.

Sherlocks

#1: “Private vs. Public Investigators: What’s the Difference?” Amazingly enough, this article has remained readers’ #1 favorite, every single year, since we started the Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes blog in 2009.

A tip of the fedora to 2014, 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.

Posted in Best Articles 2014, PI Topics, Private Eyes and Crime Scenes, Private Eyes Handling Crime Scenes, Steven Kerry Brown | Tagged: , , , , , , | Comments Off

Handy Resource for Learning About the World of Private Investigators

Posted by Writing PIs on December 23, 2014

Featured on PInow.com - Top 100 Private Investigators on Twitter 2014

PINow.com announced its annual list of top private investigators on Twitter to follow for learning about investigative techniques, news, tools, events and more. We’re pleased to share that it ranked Guns, Gams and Gumshoes’s Writing PIs (@writingpis) as number 12!

This list is also a handy resource for mystery/suspense writers who want to learn more about the world and work of private investigators for their stories. Check PIs’ tweets, which often include links to articles, on such subjects as fraud investigations, white-collar crime, insurance investigations, surveillance tips and equipment, the legalities of private investigations, process service, obtaining court records, drones, finding people, conducting background checks, and much more.

Click this link to access the list: Top 100 PIs on Twitter 2014.

Wishing everyone a happy, safe holiday! Writing PIs

HiRes

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Private Eye Writers of America 2015 Shamus Award: Open for Submissions

Posted by Writing PIs on December 12, 2014

fedora black and white

PRIVATE EYE WRITERS OF AMERICA ACCEPTING SUBMISSIONS

FOR 2015 SHAMUS AWARDS

For Works First Published in the U.S. in 2014

Following are the categories for the Private Eye Writers of America (PWA) 2015 Shamus Awards for private eye novels and short stories first published in the United States in 2014.  The awards will be presented in the fall of 2015 at Bouchercon in Raleigh, North Carolina.

DEADLINE: For publishers submissions must be postmarked by March 31, 2015. No extensions can be given.

Shamus Committees will forward their final list to the Shamus Awards Chair by May 31, 2015.

ELIGIBILITY: Eligible works must feature as a main character a person PAID for investigative work but NOT employed for that work by a unit of government.  These include traditionally licensed private investigators; lawyers and reporters who do their own investigations; and others who function as hired private agents.  These do NOT include law enforcement officers, other government employees or amateur, uncompensated sleuths.

SUBMISSIONS; Please send one copy of each eligible work to ALL members of the appropriate committee, and send a copy to the Shamus Awards Chair, Gay Toltl Kinman. Do NOT submit a book to more than one committee.

A new category has been added for Best Indie PI Novel.

There is no application fee and no submission form; as a simple cover letter will suffice. If you have any questions, please e-mail Gay Toltl Kinman at gaykinman@gaykinman.com BEFORE submitting.

BEST HARDCOVER PI NOVEL: A book-length work of fiction published in hardcover in 2014 that is NOT the author’s first published P.I. novel.

BEST FIRST PI NOVEL: A book-length work of fiction, in hardcover or paperback, first published in 2014 that is the author’s first published novel featuring a private investigator as a main character.

BEST ORIGINAL PAPERBACK PI NOVEL: A book-length work of fiction first published as a paperback original in 2014 that is NOT the author’s first P.I. novel; and paperback reprints of previously published novels are NOT eligible.

BEST PI SHORT STORY: A work of fiction of 20,000 words or fewer.  Stories first published in an earlier year and reprinted in a magazine, anthology or collection in 2014, are NOT eligible.

BEST INDIE PI NOVEL: A book-length work of fiction, in hardcover, paperback or e-book, first published in 2014 featuring a private investigator as a main character and published independently by the author.

For more information, email Gay Toltl Kinman at gaykinman@gaykinman.com

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Five Tips for Staying Safe This Holiday Season

Posted by Writing PIs on December 6, 2014

christmasscene

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

Here’s 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

Badly lighted areas and unlocked doors are open invitations to criminals

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

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!

Secrets of a Real-Life Female Private Eye
On Sale for 99 cents Dec 9-22!

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

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

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

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Answering Writer’s Questions about Surveillance Video

Posted by Writing PIs on November 22, 2014

surveillance

Updated Nov 22 2014

We originally wrote this post in 2010, then updated it in 2012. A note we want to add today is that by 2011-2012, we were exclusively using equipment that recorded digitally, from digital recorders to digital video cameras. A funny story: After we had “gone digital,”  a P.I. contacted us and asked what tape recording equipment we had used for an insurance company client several years prior because they had just hired him, and they insisted he only record with tape! He was frustrated, but had no choice if he wanted to conduct insurance investigations for them.

We figure that the insurance company has gone digital by now. If you’re writing a story set around 2012, that could be a funny predicament to put a PI character in (forced to use near-obsolete equipment).

And now, the post from 2012…

We’re answering a writer’s questions about surveillance video vs. tape, the inclusion of sound, and terms referring to viewing and monitoring video.

WRITER’S QUESTION:  Do PIs/police/etc still refer to surveillance video as surveillance TAPES (even though info could be on disks,sticks, etc)?

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOES’S ANSWER: In our work, we say “surveillance video.” We thought about this, asking ourselves if we still hear other PIs loosely refer to surveillance video as tapes, but we can’t recall hearing that in a long time (several years at least).

WRITER’S QUESTION:  Do surveillance videos normally include sound?

surveillance female hanging out of car with camera

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOES’S ANSWER:  With our equipment, yes, and we expect that’s pretty standard for other PIs. We often don’t like it for our surveillance work, and invariably we’ll be using the camera and realize it’s recording our comments to each other, etc., and we need to shut down the sound. We have an entire surveillance video with the sound of our dog panting in the backseat (which strikes a soft spot with us as we’ve since lost that beloved dog). More than you wanted to know, but possibly fodder for stories.

WRITER’S QUESTION:  Are there special (industry specific) terms associated with reviewing and monitoring surveillance video?

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOES’S ANSWER:  Not that we’re aware of. In speaking with our clients, be they attorneys or civilians, we’ll use pretty generic verbs (reviewing video, downloading video [from video hard-drive to main computer, for example], “photoshopping” video [in our office, photoshop’s become a verb much like Google–let’s Google that address, for example], editing video, burning video to a CD [we’ll burn video segment/s to a CD, which we’ll drop off at attorney’s/other’s offices], shooting video).

Click on image to go to Amazon page

Click on image to go to Amazon page

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Nov 18 Book Launch! WINK OF AN EYE, Winner Private Eye Writers of America Best First PI Novel

Posted by Writing PIs on November 18, 2014

Today’s the book launch day for WINK OF AN EYE, by Lynn Chandler Willis, which wonWink of an Eye book cover the 2013 Private Eye Writers of America-St. Martin’s Best First P.I. Novel. Chandler was the first woman to win this award in over ten years. Here’s her story about learning her book won this coveted award:

As summer 2013 was winding down, I watched the days click off the calendar with disappointment. In my mind, each day closer to Bouchercon 2013 meant my chances of winning or even making the long list in the St. Martin’s Press/Private Eye Writers of America’s Best 1st Private Eye Novel competition were growing slimmer. Stupid me.

I’d never entered a contest, especially a big one, so I didn’t know how these things played out. For some silly reason I thought finalists would be notified a few weeks after the submission deadline, not a few weeks before the conference. So I’d given up hope on my favorite P.I., Gypsy Moran, coming to life through this particular contest.

Lynn Chandler Willis

Lynn Chandler Willis

Then one day in late August, I was talking with my sister on the phone and, um, multi-tasking, by checking email. We’re all guilty of it so don’t judge. She was talking about something when an email from St. Martin’s popped up. I don’t even remember what she was saying as everything faded out of focus except that email.

“…I am pleased to inform you…”

I started screaming. And crying. And hyperventilating. And my poor sister on the other end of the phone had no idea what was going on. She was screaming too, except she was screaming at me to hang up—she was calling 911. I finally calmed down enough to tell her there was no need for any kind of emergency services and to tell her the reason for the excitement. Then she started crying.

It wasn’t until much later when Wink of an Eye was added to Macmillan’s website that I discovered I was the first woman in ten years to win the award. In the male dominated genre and world of Private Eyes, this was a pretty remarkable feat. Not only did I chip away at that testosterone-driven barrier, I did it as a woman writing from a man’s point of view—and according to reviews and male beta readers—did it convincingly. 

Book Blurb

Twelve-year old Tatum McCallen hires reluctant PI Gypsy Moran to prove his father didn’t kill himself. Gypsy, on the run from his own set of problems, soon finds himself in the middle of a case involving eight missing girls, a cowardly sheriff, and undocumented workers. And it all comes back to Claire Kinely—the only woman he truly ever loved.

Praise for Wink of an Eye

“Gypsy and Tatum’s relationship is a well-drawn emotional hook, and the solid investigation, combined with well-timed humor, should create a following for this PWA First Private Eye Novel Competition winner.”—Booklist

“Readers won’t be able to put this novel down. P.I. Gypsy Moran is the perfect bend of streetwise smartass and big-hearted nice guy. That Chandler Willis manages to pack so much into one story, with well-rounded characters, is amazing in itself.”—RT Book Reviews

“This engrossing debut is told with a great eye for the gritty details of life in west Texas. The setting is extremely well done, and the twisty, compelling plot will keep readers hooked.”—Library Journal

Amazon Buy Link: Wink of an Eye

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Yes, Virginia, There Really Were Female Private Eyes In Hard-Boiled Stories

Posted by Writing PIs on November 17, 2014

woman looking thru mag glass black and white2

One of the Guns, Gams and Gumshoes, Colleen, just finished writing an article about female private eyes in literature, so it was surprising to read the November 14, 2014 article “The Death of the Private Eye” by John Semley in the New York Times and see references to only men being shamuses in hardboiled fiction.

There Were Lady Dicks, Too

The hardboiled private dicks in pulp fiction’s hard-hitting, heart-pumping stories included numerous female characters as the main protagonists, although you’d never know it from Semley’s text:

“The hard-boiled gumshoes were men…”

“If the private dick has all but disappeared, something of his DNA is woven into the biology of the authority-bucking hackers…”

“This is the real essence of the P.I….despite his venality…”

Miss Marple: An Amateur Sleuth

Semley does, however, give a passing nod to Miss Marple (“the old-school gumshoe feels as irrelevant as Sherlock Holmes and Miss Marple felt a generation before”) except that Miss Marple was an amateur sleuth, not a professional private investigator (definition from Private Eye Writers of America: A private investigator is a private citizen [not a member of the military, federal agency, or civic or state police force] who is paid to investigate crimes).

Tip of the Fedora to Hard-Boiled Female PIs

Secret Agent

Let’s look at a few female private eye characters who made their appearances during the hard-boiled era:

Grace “Redsie” Culver, an operative for the Noonan Detective Agency, starred in 20 stories in The Shadow Magazine from 1934-1937.

Carrie Cashin, owner of the Cash and Carry Detective Agency in Manhattan, first hit the fiction scene in 1937 and went on to star in 38 stories.

Dol Bonner started walking the mean streets in The Hand in the Glove (1937) by Rex Stout, who later included Bonner as a supporting character in several novels featuring Nero Wolfe.

The Death of the Private Eye Genre?

This is the real point of Semley’s article, and it’s a valid one. Yes, technological tools, available to just about anyone, have cast a cold shadow on many of the private investigator’s tricks of the trade. My husband and I have an entire room filled with cameras and other equipment that are hopelessly outdated. A lot of the smartphone apps I use for investigations any kid can buy.

Walking the Mean Streets: Still in Vogue

But not all investigations are about being technically hip. When a law firm hired us to find the names of people who had worked on a building nearly 50 years ago, there were no databases, even proprietary ones, that contained a shred of evidence to these people’s identities, so we sleuthed the old-fashioned way: On foot. Talked to people, reviewed old reverse phone directories, ended up digging through dusty boxes in a storage facility (where we finally found the people’s names).

We know a homicide detective who resorts to some old-fashioned tricks when he wants to get people to answer the door: He finds their electrical box and turns off the power. Within seconds, they’ve opened their door and he’s there with a few questions he’d like them to answer.

A Witness Wrote Us a Letter

When a lawyer hired us to find a gang member who had tried to kill his client, we headed to the gang member’s neighborhood and knocked on doors. Nobody wanted to talk to us because they were either frightened or protective of the gang. Later we returned to the neighborhood with signs that we posted on trees, bus benches, a fence at a park. A few days later, we received a letter written by someone who didn’t want to give their name, and who was writing with paper and pen because they didn’t want their identity traced electronically. They wrote that they would meet us at the park at a certain date and time and talk with us, for fifteen minutes only.

Was this witness for real? We didn’t know, but we showed up at the park at the designated time…and found a woman in her fifties who quietly told us the gang member’s name and address. She refused to give us her name, and to be on the safe side she hadn’t even driven to the park in her car (she’d walked). Her information cracked the case.

Semley claims that “All P.I. stories are now period pieces.” Hmm…maybe that’s even more of a cliche than thinking only tough, wisecracking guys were gumshoes.

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