Guns, Gams & Gumshoes

A blog for PIs and writers/readers of the PI genre

  • 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. Any use of the content on this site (including images owned by Colleen Collins) requires specific, written authority.

    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

Posts Tagged ‘How Do Private Eyes Do That? by Colleen Collins’

#BookGiveaway for Guns Gams and Gumshoes 9-Year Blogiversary

Posted by Writing PIs on August 4, 2018

Thank you, readers, for visiting us over the last 9 years! (Actually, the anniversary was June 9, but we have a new pup who keeps us on our toes, so we’re lucky if we remember which day is trash pickup day LOL!)

Traveller, Future Canine Investigator

Since we kicked off Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes in 2009, a lot has happened, from Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes being tapped twice by the American Library Association’s Booklist site as its “Web Crush of the Week” during Mystery Month, to Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine naming the site as one of the top three true crime blogs, to our writing a handful of nonfiction books about private investigations and the law.

We’ve also accrued some interest for being a husband-wife PI team: we were the cover story for Westword magazine (The Plot Thickens: In the Case of These Husband-and-Wife Private Eyes, Truth is More Fun than Fiction), and NPR broadcast an interview with us.

Blogiversary Book Giveaway

*** Contest is now closed.*** Congrats to the winners! Thank you, everyone, who entered the giveaway.

To celebrate our 9-year blogiversary, we’re giving away 9 copies of How Do Private Eyes Do That?, a nonfiction book written by Colleen Collins.

Contest Is Closed – Congrats to the Winners!

“A must-have for any writer serious about crafting authentic private eyes. Collins knows her stuff.” ~Lori Wilde, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author

  • Amazon Requirements for participation:
    • 18+ years of age (or legal age)
    • Resident of the 50 United States or the District of Columbia

It’s an Amazon ebook, but you don’t need a Kindle to read it. Amazon provides a free, easy-to-download app that makes the book readable on a variety of platforms, from your browser to your computer (PC or MAC), even your smartphone.

Giveaway ends the earlier of Aug 10, 2018 11:59 PM PDT, or when all prizes are claimed. No purchase necessary.

Have a great weekend, Writing PIs

Posted in Canine Investigator, Defense Investigations, HOW DO PRIVATE EYES DO THAT? Second Edition Aug 2016, Nonfiction Books on Private Investigations | Tagged: , , | Comments Off on #BookGiveaway for Guns Gams and Gumshoes 9-Year Blogiversary

#WritingTips Two NonFiction Books for Writers Crafting Sleuths

Posted by Writing PIs on September 13, 2016

screen-shot-2016-09-13-at-11-00-51-amWe at Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes had a lovely surprise this morning—author Tina Russo Radcliffe recommended our two books, How to Write a Dick: A Guide to Writing Fictional Sleuths from a Couple of Real-Life Sleuths and How Do Private Eyes Do That? to her writing community on Facebook (see her message on the right side of this post).

Book Excerpt: How Do Private Eyes Do That?

Below is an excerpt from How Do Private Eyes Do That? by Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’s Colleen Collins.

A Pet Is Lost Every Two Seconds

I recently read that in the US, a family pet is lost every two seconds. That’s astounding, and yet within our own neighborhood we see lost pet signs posted nearly every week. According to the National Humane Society and the National Council of Pet Population Study and Policy, one out of every three pets is lost at some point in its lifetime, and only one out of ten is found.

Our neighbors’ lost cat was found after four months—it had been living in a fox hole several miles away! A man saw one of their “Missing Cat” posters and recognized it as possibly being the cat that was living in a fox hole on his elderly neighbor’s property. The older woman had been leaving cans of cat food and water outside the fox hole for the cat, who refused to leave its sanctuary. Who knows what that poor cat went through during those months, but it managed to stay alive and find protection.

We Once Found Four Missing Dogs

A few years ago we accepted a missing pet case to try and find four dogs, all the same breed. Our client was elderly, didn’t own a car, and although we weren’t pet detectives, we felt sorry for him and wanted to help.

PIs often use people-finding techniques when looking for lost pets (Image licensed by Colleen Collins)

PIs often use people-finding techniques when looking for lost pets (Image licensed by Colleen Collins)

We started out by contacting local rescue shelters, putting up flyers, calling vet hospitals and clinics; unfortunately, no one had seen the dogs, but they were willing to put the word out. By the way, the flyers had a large picture of one of the dogs, the date the dogs went missing, their names, and our phone number (a special one we set up for this case).

We then drove around the area where the dogs had lived and handed out more flyers. Then we went on foot into a large park near the elderly man’s home, and again handed out flyers and asked people if they’d seen any of these dogs. This is one of the tasks we would have conducted to find a person, too (canvas neighborhoods, show photos of the person, ask if anyone had seen him/her, and so forth).

We Found a Lead

While canvassing the park, we met a man who recognized the dog in the poster. He pointed out a remote, corner area of the park where he had seen several of them a few evenings prior.

From our research on this type of dog, we knew its history went back to the Vikings, who used these dogs to hunt moose. These dogs were known to be hardy, with thick fur to protect them from the cold, had above-average intelligence, and were pack animals. We returned to the park that evening and found all four dogs, happily hanging with their pack, foraging for food.

Writing Tips

(Image licensed by Colleen Collins)

(Image licensed by Colleen Collins)

If you’re writing a character who’s a pet detective, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does he/she own a search dog?  Many real-life pet detectives do.
  • What tools does your pet PI use? For example, night-vision binoculars, motion-activated surveillance cameras, a bionic ear to amplify sounds?
  • What investigative traits does your fictional pet PI use? As with other PIs, they might rely on their reasoning; analysis of physical evidence; and interview, interrogation, and surveillance techniques to recover lost pets.
  • Where did your fictional pet PI learn about animal behavior—for example, in college, in a veterinarian’s office, or while growing up on a farm?

Pet detectives are generally caring, tenacious, and often earn certification in the field. A well-qualified pet detective can make between $300-$1,000 a day.

There’s one last point about writing a pet detective: He or she probably has a big heart. After all, animals possess all that is best in humans.

—End of Excerpt—

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Please do not copy/distribute any articles without written permission from Colleen Collins and/or Shaun Kaufman. Do not copy/distribute or otherwise use any mages noted as copyrighted or licensed. Images noted as in the public domain are copyright-free and yours to steal.

Posted in HOW DO PRIVATE EYES DO THAT? Second Edition Aug 2016, Nonfiction book: HOW TO WRITE A DICK, Nonfiction Books on Private Investigations, Realistic Private Eye Characters, Writing Legal Characters/Stories | Tagged: , , , | Comments Off on #WritingTips Two NonFiction Books for Writers Crafting Sleuths

Answering Writers’ Questions About Private Forensic Labs

Posted by Writing PIs on April 14, 2014

Below are writers’ questions about private forensic labs, and our answers.

Writer’s Question: Where can someone find a private forensic lab?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes: Personally, we network with other private investigators, lawyers, addiction treatment personnel, even coroners about good DEA-approved private forensic toxicology labs. We searched to see if there’s a list of these labs online and found the following:

Writer’s Question: Are all of these labs available to civilians?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes:In the link above, the specification to be on the list requires that the lab routinely performs tests for private as well as public agencies.

Writer’s Question: How much do these labs charge civilians?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes:In our personal experience (working with civilian client-cases that require chemical analytics), the cost has been about $250 per sample for drug testing. Urine testing is between $20-$150. Hair sample testing in the $120 range. If you’re needing more specific info for a story, contact a local lab and ask their prices (our experience has been that lab personnel are very accessible and can clearly explain testing methods).

Writer’s Question: What if a civilian suspected someone wanted to poison a relative?  Can they go to a lab and be upfront about their concerns?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes: Funny you should ask. We actually had a private lab chemist chat with us about a case she recently had that came into her office. A mother suspected her daughter was poisoning her (putting chemicals into the mother’s nightly glass of wine). The chemist at the lab told us the mother was right — they found toxic chemicals in the sample the mother brought into the lab.

Photo courtesy of Mick Stephenson

Photo courtesy of Mick Stephenson

Writer’s Question: What is the process? What paperwork would the PI/civilian have to complete? Does the lab call/mail results? How long does it take to get results?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes: All that’s necessary is chain of custody material:  That the sample was captured and handled carefully by the PI, and that it was then sealed and sent in a bag to the lab. In our experience, the lab has faxed us a simple form where we document what we requested to be tested, and how we are paying for their service (like any other business, they want the money upfront).

Regarding how the lab sends results, we typically have received results by fax and email.  We have also called the lab to inquire on the status of tests, and have found lab personnel to be very accommodating — they will take the time to answer our questions, explain their turnaround time for results, and so forth.  If they aren’t busy, we typically get results in 72 hours, sometimes a bit longer.

Writer’s Question: What evidence, if any, would the lab be required to report to law enforcement officials?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes:They don’t have a requirement to report to law enforcement.

Writer’s Question: Is there a time limit or other conditions that affect if results would be unattainable or inconclusive?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes: Samples don’t lose markers for chemicals unless they are kept under poor conditions (moisture, or heat such as light).

Have a great week, Writing PIs
Click on cover to go to book's Amazon page

Click on cover to go to book’s Amazon page

Posted in Q&As, Writing About PIs, Writing Mysteries, Writing PIs | Tagged: , , , | Comments Off on Answering Writers’ Questions About Private Forensic Labs

HOW DO PRIVATE EYES DO THAT? Only 99 cents February 8-10

Posted by Writing PIs on February 8, 2014

How Do Private Eyes Do That? is a compilation of articles about private investigations written by Guns, Gams & Gumshoes’s Colleen Collins. Audience: Readers interested in the world of PIs, including fiction writers, researchers, investigators and those simply curious about the profession.

99 cents February 8-10

Click on cover to go to book’s Amazon page

Book Excerpts

“Never Sleep with Anyone Whose Troubles Are Worse than Your Own”

“How PIs Are Used in Cases Where DNA Evidence Is Employed”

How Do Private Eyes Do That? tells the real story behind private investigations

How Do Private Eyes Do That? discusses tips, techniques and tools of the P.I. profession

Praise for How Do Private Eyes Do That?

“A must have for any writer serious about crafting authentic private eyes. Collins knows her stuff.”
– Lori Wilde, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author

“If you’re looking for the lowdown on private investigations, this is it. Packed with details and insights. A must-have for anybody writing private-eye fiction and for anybody who’s curious about what being a private-eye is really like.” 
– Bill Crider, author of the Sheriff Dan Rhodes series and many other novels in multiple genres

“I picked up my copy as a whim to flesh out the background of my own fictional PI, and after reading the book, trashed just about everything I had written. I see now that you have to pay for the book. No matter. It is a spectacular bargain. It will help sweep out misconceptions, empty the waste bin of trite, worn out cliches and give you plenty of room for fresh ideas. Man, it’ll save your life.” 
– C. M. Briggs

fedora black and white

Posted in Handy Resources for Private Investigators, Legal Investigations, Nonfiction Books on Private Investigations | Tagged: , , , , | Comments Off on HOW DO PRIVATE EYES DO THAT? Only 99 cents February 8-10

Ten Reasons to Hire a Private Eye

Posted by Writing PIs on October 7, 2010

Private investigators provide a wide variety of services to individuals, businesses and law firms

Updated June 12, 2012

It’s a misconception that hiring a private investigator is just for those who suspect cheating by a significant other.  While that is a valid purpose, there are at least ten other really good reasons to hire a PI — some might help resolve big issues in one’s life, while others might provide relief with an everyday concern.  At our investigations agency, Highlands Investigations, we often help people with many of these tasks.

Ten Reasons to Hire a PI

10.  To research your geneaology. This can help you determine diseases you’re prone to, your inheritance status, discover long-lost relatives, and more.

A PI can help ascertain whether or not to file a lawsuit

9.  To ascertain the suitability of business partners. A PI’s research into criminal convictions, civil lawsuits, administrative disciplinary actions and lawsuits, etc. gives you a solid ground for making a decision to either invest or partner with someone in a business.

8.  To double-check your nanny’s background. A PI can check a potential nanny’s employer references, driver’s history, criminal convinctions and more.  Even if a company states they do background checks, there’s nothing wrong in hiring your own PI to verify their facts…and maybe find new ones.

7.  To research financial assets before a lawsuit. A contractor did a shabby job remodeling your bathroom, and refuses to fix the problem despite numerous phone calls from you–and now you’re thinking about filing a lawsuit.  It’s a good idea before you hire a lawyer and file that suit to check that contractor’s assets (in other words, is he worth suing?).  A PI can easily check the contractor’s net worth, which gives you a good idea if the contractor can pay you should you win the case.

6.  To verify that special someone’s story is true before going to the next level.You’ve met someone special, they say

Sometimes people hide certain facts that a PI can help uncover.

and do all the right things.  It’s too good to be true, and you’re ready to make the big commitment.  Take a moment and put your head before your heart.  Hire a PI to verify Mr. or Ms.’s story is factual — did they really get a graduate degree from Northwestern?  Do they really own a vacation cabin in Lake Tahoe?  Are they really divorced?  A PI can find this out and more.

5.  To check who owns that phone number. How many times have you gotten phone calls that show up as “Unknown” or “Unavailable” in your caller ID?  Most PIs for a reasonable price can quickly confirm the true identity of the caller’s name.

4.  To serve court papers. If you are in a small claims lawsuit and need to have someone served lawsuit papers, hire a PI to do the process service.  Typically, PIs can accomplish difficult and/or time-sensitive services more quickly than county sheriffs, who are overworked and sometimes understaffed.

3.  To find old friends. Although there are all kinds of pay-per-use public databases on the Internet, they often provide outdated or wrong information about people’s addresses.  A PI has the experience, techniques, and access to proprietary databases to help you locate old friends, high school sweethearts, long-lost relatives and others.

Pet detectives often use search-and-rescue-trained animals to help locate lost pets

2. To find a lost pet. Did you know there are PIs who specialize in finding lost pets?  They use many of the same skills as PIs who find people, and they also understand animal psychology, behavior, and habits.  Many pet detectives (yes, they’re really called that) also have search-trained animals to help them track others’ lost pets.

1.  To repair identity theft. If your ID has been stolen or misused, a trained PI can help you correct your credit history, document the fraud to your creditors and banks, and clear your name in records.

Posted in Ten Reasons to Hire a PI | Tagged: , , , | Comments Off on Ten Reasons to Hire a Private Eye

Going Back in Time:

Posted by Writing PIs on June 2, 2010



Your Internet searches don’t need to stop with the “404 Error–Page Not Found”– lets you bypass this broken link and look up archives of the website.  Kinda like stepping back in Internet time.  But that’s not all offers!

What Is

The Internet Archive is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, and since 1996 has been building a digital library of Internet sites and other cultural artifacts in digital form.  To quote from its site, “Like a paper library, we provide free access to researchers, historians, scholars, and the general public.”

Way Back Machine

As PIs, one of our favorite features is the “Way Back Machine” where you can put in a url, press the “Take Me Back” button and see archived pages of an Internet site.  So if you run into one of those 404 Errors while looking for a site, go to and enter the url in the Way Back Machine at the top of the main web page.  You can even drag and drop the Way Back Machine bookmarklet to your browser’s tookbar so if you want to view archived images of a website you’re visiting, just click this toolbar link.

Universal Access to All Knowledge

The Internet Archive offers, through its Open Education Resources Library, hundreds of free courses, video lectures, and other

One of two cameras on a book scanner at the In...

One of two cameras on a book scanner at the Internet Archive headquarters in San Francisco, California. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

materials from universities in the U.S. and China.  To go to the Open Education Resources Library, click on “Projects” at the top left of the main page, scroll down the page,  and click the “Education” link.

Download Free Books and Texts

The Text Archives contains over two million items, including fiction, popular books, children’s books, historical texts and academic books.  To go to these free books and texts, click on “Texts” at the top left of the main page.  We “checked out” The True Benjamin Franklin (published 1903).  The e-bookreader opens to an image of the hardback cover. Clicking the “flip page” buttons, we could move forward and back, page by page, through the book (with the pages flipping).  You can increase the font size for readability, search for words, layout the book in multiple-page format, even print pages.

Making U.S. Federal Court Documents Available, for free!

In our investigations business, we’ll sometimes access the fee-based PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records), which provides online access to US. Appellate, District, and Bankruptcy court records and documents.  These documents are gradually becoming free to the public, via, through the efforts of the Princeton University’s Center for Information Technology who’s working with the Internet Archive to launch the RE-CAP project.

There’s a lot more.  Check it out, and while there, take a step back in time via the Way Back Machine.

Have a great week, Writing PIs

Posted in Researching archived web pages | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Answering Writers’ Questions: Tracking Credit Cards, Police Called on PIs

Posted by Writing PIs on May 8, 2010

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 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 that he/she’s a PI working a case, but to never give away who’s being surveilled  (in fact, 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 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.  Here’s an article one of the Gums, Gams, and Gumshoes’s PIs recently wrote about PIs and stalking:

Pursuit Magazine: “When Does Surveillance Become Stalking?”

Posted in Q&As | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Answering Writers’ Questions: Hidden Offshore Assets and Bail Skipping

Posted by Writing PIs on July 27, 2009

Updated August 18, 2012

Today we’re sharing some fiction writers’ questions and Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’s answers.

Writer’s Question: Regarding PIs searching for assets.  What if these assets are set up in countries outside the US?  What if your client lives in the US, but the account is in Switzerland or the Isle of Man?  Actually, I thought tax-free accounts were supposed to be cracked down on by the IRS.  How could a wife find out if her husband was hiding money during a nasty divorce?  Can it be undetected without a bank number?  I don’t think those types of banks use regular name and account numbers like here, but I’m not sure.

Seal of the United States Internal Revenue Ser...

Seal of the United States Internal Revenue Service. The design is the same as the Treasury seal with an IRS inscription. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’s Answer: Our agency doesn’t specialize in this kind of work, but we have info nevertheless that can be helpful to writers.  For starters, a lot of countries now participate in reporting offshore bank accounts.  To the best of our knowledge, Guernsey, England is still very private (i.e., not reporting offshore accounts), but in this case a U.S. citizen could hire a local U.K. attorney to open an account in Guernsey and act as an agent in that country.   Bahamas, once a popular place in reality and many fiction stories as a place to hide assets, is no longer such a financial haven–after the U.S. threatened them with trade restraints, they agreed to disclose information about bank accounts.   Another country that is private: a small country named Nevis (an island nation in the West Indies) that has extremely tight privacy laws.  Check out, which is located there.  There are probably other countries/regions that are also private, but one would need to research that.

Writer’s Question: Regarding Skips.  What if a person skips while out on bail and somehow manages to leave the country?  Could a family hire you to find them before the FBI does?  Of course, if you were hunting for a criminal, you would have to turn them in if you found them, wouldn’t you?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’s Answer: We’ve been hired by families and attorneys to find people in other countries.  However, we’ve never tracked someone who had skipped out on bail (this is what bounty hunters, like Dog, are hired to do).  So if

a bounty hunter is tracking someone who’s skipped bail and there’s indications this person is in another country, the bounty hunter would have to work closely with that country’s local and national law enforcement, the U.S. Embassy, and any private individuals who also specialize in bail/skip recapture.  This is an extremely technical area, bound up in a mess of treaties concerning extradition, as well as that country’s local law as well as international law (including the Hague Convention).  Remember all the trouble Dog got into a few years ago (for those who might not know, google Dog the Bounty Hunter and Mexico)?  In that scenario, one man’s bounty hunter was another man’s kidnapper.

Duane "Dog" Chapman

Duane “Dog” Chapman (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Writer’s Question: Under a similar scenario:  Suppose a woman hired you to find a long lost love and you were able to locate him, but unbeknown to her, he had a criminal record and was wanted.  Are you obligated to tell her this information?  Are you obligated to turn him in?  I think this could make for a great book.

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’s Answer: We would tell her, and we would tell law enforcement.

Have a great weekend, Writing PIs

Posted in Writing About PIs | Tagged: , , , , , | Comments Off on Answering Writers’ Questions: Hidden Offshore Assets and Bail Skipping

%d bloggers like this: