Guns, Gams & Gumshoes

A defense attorney & PI who also happen to be writers

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Posts Tagged ‘Defrosting Cold Cases’

A Personal Story: When a Loved One Is Murdered and Becomes a Cold Case

Posted by Writing PIs on January 18, 2016

Keeping cold cases in the forefront of people's minds through the media

Newspapers and other media help keep cold cases in the forefront of people’s minds

(A personal post from Colleen, the PI-writer half of Guns, Gams & Gumshoes.)

I rarely talk about the murder in our family…

…outside of my immediate family and a few close friends. But after reading a moving piece today on the cold case of Lisa Thomas, written by the wonderful Alice de Sturler, a human rights defender and cold case blogger, on her site Defrosting Cold Cases, I wanted to write about our family’s experience, and to acknowledge the dedicated work of police detectives who eventually found the murderers.

Out of respect for others in our extended family, as I do not know how much identifying information about the case they would, or would not, want on the Internet, I’ll modify data like names and locale.

The ties that bind

Our family member (who I’ll call Don, not his real name) was beloved by all. I don’t say that lightly, or from a memory now hazy about the past—he was truly loved by family, friends, and his students. Like many families, we are a large, extended family, not all of us related by blood, but some by others’ re-marriages. When my father, who wasn’t Don’s biological father, died suddenly, Don held the post-funeral reception at his home.

My memories of spending time with Don include lots and lots of laughter. Once, after a family wedding, Don and I drove to the reception in his car, the two of singing along with Aretha Franklin on one of his CDs. We sang with so much gusto, I was a bit hoarse by the time we got to the reception. I should add here I can’t carry a tune, and more or less lip sync when in “singing situations,” but with Don, I let my inner-Aretha rip loose.

It was a hate crime

Don was open about being gay to his family, friends, business associates, the school where he taught. In fact, he had been selected as “Teacher of the Year” that year, with a ceremony planned for later that spring. However, he died a month or so before the ceremony. A hate crime is one that is bias-motivated and often violent, both of which describe what happened to Don, who was either accompanied or followed by several people after he left a bar. I won’t go into particulars.

Family of hate crime victimes Matthew Shepard & James Byrd, Jr. with President Obama for the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, 2009.

Family of Matthew Shepard & James Byrd, Jr. with President Obama for the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, 2009 (image is in the public domain)

His mother called with the sad news

I’ll never forget that call. Broke my heart for her, for the rest of the family, his dear friends and students. She explained that the killers were unknown, and the police were investigating the case. The school still held the “Teacher of the Year” ceremony later that spring, but his mother was too grief-stricken to attend.

Death is a sad enough affair, worsened by the horror of a loved one being murdered. When it is also a cold case, there’s a surreal emptiness added to the mix. A friend whose brother had been murdered years earlier, also a hate crime, reached out to me and we exchanged many, many emails (she lives across the country, so visiting in person wasn’t an option). I couldn’t have handled phone calls—emails were much easier. It was immensely helpful to talk to someone who had been through a similar experience. Fortunately, her brother’s death had not been a cold case.

Police detectives never gave up

A little over a year later, the mother called again. Police detectives had found the killers. They were two men who’d spent the last year+ traveling across the U.S., even visiting another country, before returning to States. Those two men are now serving life sentences in a federal prison.

I’m in awe of those police detectives, and all like them who persevere to solve cold cases and bring closure to the victim’s loved ones. I’m also grateful to people like Alice de Sturler who highlight cold cases on blogs and other forums to give victims a presence so they are not forgotten, and in the hope someone might recall a clue or detail that might aid the investigation.

Cold Case Resources and Articles

Defrosting Cold Cases (by Alice de Sturler, a former human rights lawyer, current cold case and true crime blogger, and author. Guns, Gams & Gumshoes have been guests on Alice’s blog & her Twitter crime chats)

Cold Case Squad – Joe Giacalone (by Joe Giacalone, a retired NYPD detective sergeant, former commanding officer of the Bronx Cold Case Homicide Squad, and author of Criminal Investigative Function: A Guide for New Investigators. I interviewed Joe, alone with another homicide detective, for the article “Top 5 Mistakes Writers Make at Crime Scenes”)

Crowdsourcing may have solved a 20-year-old cold case (Washington Post, March 2015)


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October 2, 2015 Wrongful Conviction Day: Articles and Videos

Posted by Writing PIs on October 2, 2015

Old Jail Cell on Route 66, Arizona, by Carol Highsmith (photo is in the public domain)

Old Jail Cell on Route 66, Arizona, by Carol Highsmith (photo is in the public domain)

Today, Oct 2, is Wrongful Conviction Day, an international day that recognizes those convicted for crimes they didn’t commit, their families and their advocates. It is a day devoted to educating the public about the causes, consequences and complications associated with wrongful convictions.

Articles and Videos

Wrongful Conviction Day – Videos: Interviews and speech excerpts with those falsely convicted for crimes they didn’t commit, including:

  • John Artis, co-accused and wrongly convicted with Rubin Hurricane Carter in 1966 and released from prison in 1981.
  • Sunny Jacobs & Peter Pringle, each wrongly convicted for crimes they didn’t commit. After being exonerated, they met at a talk Sunny Jacobs gave about her ordeal, which included her living in solitary for years. They fell in love, married, and now live in Canada, “at peace” with their past.

Barry Scheck Answers Questions About Wrongful Convictions (by Crime Traveller)

Resurrection, the story of Robert “Rider” Dewey who spent 17 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit (5280 Magazine)

At Defrosting Cold Cases, cold case blogger and human rights defender Alice de Sturler writes about the wrongful conviction of William Thomas Zeigler.

California Steps Up for the Wrongly Convicted Governor Jerry Brown signed into law California Senate Bill 618, which provides much-needed changes to the crippled compensation process for the wrongly convicted (California Innocence Project)

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Please do not copy/distribute any images noted as copyrighted or licensed. Images noted as in the public domain are copyright-free and yours to steal.

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Ten Favorite Private Investigator Blogs in 2013

Posted by Writing PIs on January 15, 2014

We like to kick off the each new year with a list of some of our favorite P.I. and P.I.-related blogs. Not claiming these are the top or the best because there’s a lot of informative to entertaining blogs out there, so view this as a sampling of Internet stops we like to make.

Some Favorite Blogs

In no particular order, these blogs (plus a few online magazines) offer information about numerous facets of investigations, from fraud to cold case to catching cheaters., edited by Tamara Thompson, is a well-known California private investigator, speaker and blogger known for her expertise in Internet data gathering, genealogical and adoption research, witness background development and locating people. Her blog provides such information as research how-to-articles, lists of resources and private investigator research links. Twitter handle: @PIbuzz


Diligentia Group is a boutique investigative firm that provides services to law firms, financial institutions, and decision makers who require comprehensive background and due diligence investigations.  Brian Willingham, CFE and president, has been a private investigator since 2001. He blogs almost daily, most of which fit into one of the following categories: Background Investigations, Due Diligence and Legal Investigation. For a sampling of readers’ favorite posts on his site, check out this post: “The Top Ten: 2013’s Most Popular Posts from Diligentia Group.” Follow @b_willingham on Twitter.


Mike Spencer of Spencer Elrod Services, Inc. has been a private investigator for nearly two decades, in the course of which he worked with legendary Hollywood private eye John Nazarian. Mike writes interesting, relevant and sometimes downright entertaining articles about the profession at his blog Private Eye Confidential. He’s also in the process of publishing a nonfiction book titled Private Eye Confidential, and we can’t wait to buy a copy. Here are some book excerpts from Mike’s blog:

Private Eye Confidential: Introduction

Private Eye Confidential: I Was a Florida Night Cops Reporter

Follow him on Twitter at @SpencerPI


Kevin’s Security Scrapbook – Spy News from New York. Kevin D. Murray is an independent security consultant who specializes in surveillance detection services, and solving security and privacy problems, as well as being the author of Is My Cell Phone Bugged?. He’s a prolific blogger, with the majority of his posts focused on his area of expertise, surveillance, as well as P.I. news and trends, and the occasional fun post (Trending TV: Spies are Hot, Again).  His Twitter handle: @spybusters



Fraud Magazine. Not a blog, but a worthy addition on current white-collar crime and fraud examination techniques. Of particular interest to investigators is an entire section devoted to case studies, which includes investigations of immigration officials selling green cards, horse-racing fraud, humanitarian fraud, employee embezzlement, and much more.

Sherlocks articles: is an advertising site for private investigators that also includes a section on investigative articles. Some are written by professional PIs, others are links to articles about investigations. also does annual listings of top P.I.s on Twitter:

Featured on - Top Private Investigators on Twitter 2013 also does an annual ranking of Top Private Investigator Blogs:

Featured on - Top - Investigator - Blogs’s Twitter handle: @PInow


Pursuit Magazine: This has become one of our favorite stops on the Internet. It’s more than a blog — it’s an online magazine that was revamped last year, and the result is fantastic: A splashy new look, a wider breadth of articles that includes interviews with acclaimed authors such as Maria Konnikova who wrote Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes, industry news and more. Follow on Twitter: @PursuitMag


Defrosting Cold Cases is owned by Alice de Sturler, a former human rights lawyer and current cold case investigator. Besides being the official blogger for The American Investigative Society of Cold Cases, her blog Defrosting Cold Cases won first place this year in the American Bar Association Journal’s top 100 blogs, Criminal Justice category. Alice also hosts a Twitter chat (#crimechat) each month on crime and related topics. To check the #crimechat schedule for 2014, click here (it’s in the middle of the page). Her Twitter handle: @Vidocq_CC

As we said at the beginning of this post, there’s other P.I. blogs that offer great content. Here’s a few: Denver Private Investigator Blog, Handcuffed to the Ocean, The Background Investigator, Kusic and Kusic Ltd.

Some Fun Blogs

Invisible Privacy |Online Privacy

How can you resist a blog with this introduction:

JJ Luna’s personal privacy blog. In 1959 he moved to Spain’s Canary Islands to begin a then-illegal educational work that included secret meetings in remote mountain forests. Although pursued by General Franco’s Secret Police, he maintained his privacy via a false identity and was never caught. When the Spanish dictator moderated Spain’s harsh laws in 1970, Luna was free to come in from the cold. However, he remains in the shadows to this day. He is currently an international privacy consultant.

Unfortunately, J.J. Luna’s last post was December 25, 2013, in which he explained why he hadn’t been able to blog in several months (he and his wife are dealing with health issues) so it’s possible he’ll not be blogging regularly in the future.


Bitter Lawyer

Lawyers can be funny.  Really.  This blog offers an irreverent look at the profession of law, which features — quote — “lawyer jokes, news, and celebrity lawyer interviews from a team of prominent (and sometimes anonymous) writers.”  A recent blog was titled “Best Ways to Serve Booze in the Office” — need we say more?

Check Out the Writing PIs’ Other Sites Shaun Kaufman’s criminal defense blog. Shaun’s legal blog on topics ranging from Gmail tips for lawyers to preventing legal disputes with neighbors. Colleen’s book news, with an occasional article on writing or investigations.

Colleen’s Facebook Page: Mostly book news, with some fun stuff thrown in.

Have a great week, Writing PIs

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Tips for Researching the Internet and Avoiding Haunted House Lawsuits

Posted by Writing PIs on October 25, 2011

Today we’re guests at Defrosting Cold Cases, one of our favorite sites on the ‘net. We streamlined one of our online classes about researching the Internet to highlight various goverment, business, social media and Deep Web searches and databases. Click on link below to read the article and test-drive the links:

Surfing the Net, Part 2 by Colleen Collins & Shaun Kaufman

And for those of you who morph your homes into Haunted Houses for Halloween, here’s a handy article with tips on safeguarding your home and avoiding lawsuits:

Haunted Houses Don’t Scare Lawyers! by Shaun Kaufman

Boo! Have a great week, Writing PIs

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A Couple of Private Eyes Are Guests This Week at Tyrus Books & Defrosting Cold Cases

Posted by Writing PIs on October 18, 2011

The authors of Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes are guests this week at two of their favorite sites: Tyrus Books and Defrosting Cold Cases. Click on links below to read the posts:

Tyrus Books The Guest House: Colleen talks about some of her favorite Tyrus Books’ authors and books, how she became a PI, and chats about her newest nonfiction eBook How Do Private Eyes Do That?

Defrosting Cold Cases: Colleen & Shaun offer a condensed version of one of their online classes about various tools and techniques private investigators use to research the Internet.

Have a great week, Writing PIs

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A Missing Person Case That Still Haunts Us

Posted by Writing PIs on August 11, 2011

Today we’re guests at Defrosting Cold Cases, a blog that specializes in articles/discussions about unsolved homicides, missing persons, unidentified persons, forensics, wrongful convictions, prosecutorial misconduct, and books related to these subjects. If you’re a writer, bookmark this blog — you’ll learn a lot here about cold cases, forensics,  investigations and much more.

Our guest article (“My Son Is Missing”) is about a missing person case several years ago that led us to the strange, sometimes frightening, inner-circle of a cult. We were more than “PIs” on this case — as parents, we also experienced the sorrow, desperation and grief of the parents whose son we were working hard to find.

Click on the link below to read the article:

Defrosting Cold Cases: “My Son Is Missing”

Have a good week, Writing PIs



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