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 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.

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Posts Tagged ‘How to Write a Dick: A Guide for Writing Fictional Sleuths from a Couple of Real-Life Sleuths’

#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.

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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

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.

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

Posted by Writing PIs on June 7, 2015

happy-birthday-picture

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.

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Answering Writer’s Question: Do PIs Use Listening Devices?

Posted by Writing PIs on April 13, 2015

“Eavesdropping” by Théodore Jacques Ralli 1880 – image is in public domain

Since we opened our doors nearly 15 years ago, we have been invited numerous times to give workshops at writers’ conferences about crafting plausible PI characters in stories. Occasionally, we have also taught our own online classes. Below is a question that several writers have asked over the years, and it’s a good one.

We have known PIs who got into trouble after being caught illegally using listening devices, but such problems are good in fiction as tension and conflict bump up the stakes.

Writer’s Question:  Do you ever use listening devices in your investigations?  I’d like to have my fictional sleuth use a listening device while she’s driving around — is that plausible?

Answer: No, we don’t use listening devices because they intrude on others’ expectations of privacy. Also, such devices are frequently electronic in nature, and any electronically supplemented listening device meets the definition of the crime of eavesdropping. We once had an attorney ask us to use an electronic listening device in a motel room to try to listen in on a “cheating spouse” in the next room.  We refused, explaining that would be eavesdropping. Last we heard, the attorney found another PI who was willing to do it.

As to your character using a listening device in her car, yes, it’s plausible, but keep in mind that your character is technically breaking the law. But think of this…unless your character repeats conversations verbatim or admits to using a listening device, who will know?

Now let’s look at it another way — your character is caught with the device — that’s great. Throws more conflict into your story. Or a third party says there’s no way the PI-character could possibly have known about a private conversation unless the PI had been illegally using a listening device. Again, more story tension. What does the PI do?  Toss the listening device?  Yes, probably…in a dumpster far, far away from her premises.  We’re talking fiction, so having a character do things that he/she knows are illegal are great for adding conflict.  What’s key is for the writer to know certain actions and uses of certain devices are illegal to begin with (then the character must wrestle with the whys and hows of what he/she’s doing…and be prepared to pay the consequences).

Have a great week, Writing PIs

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

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

Available on Kindle

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P.I. Tips: Answering Writers’ Questions About Fraud Investigations

Posted by Writing PIs on September 19, 2013

woman looking thru mag glass black and white2

Writer’s Question: What makes fraud different from an average garden-variety argument over a broken-down business deal?

Answer: We look for signs of one person (or several persons) who hide important information or who abuses his/her position in a business relationship.  An example of this would be an accountant who knowingly misrepresents the financial condition of a company.  Another example is a business manager who willingly hides lawsuits against his/her company from a potential purchaser.

Writer’s Question: Can someone be guilty of fraud in a divorce proceeding? fedora black and white

Answer: Yes.  When one partner hides income or assets, or even hides the fact of remarriage (when that remarried partner is still receiving maintenance from the former spouse), you find fraudulent misrepresentations that can be the subject of a separate civil lawsuit for fraud.  Keep in mind that any divorce proceeding is the dissolution of a marriage partnership that mimics a business partnership.  In both instances, you can have misrepresentation and reliance on those misrepresentations.

Writer’s Question: As investigators, what do you look for when you are asked to find fraud?

Answer: Like most investigations, a fraud investigation begins in public records, where we look to uncover business acquisitions and acquisitions of personal property that show an unusual amount of income that the partner investigated is otherwise unable to access.  For example, if a business owner who is selling a corporation that’s in financial trouble, has recently purchased a new car, a new house, and a boat — information we’ve dug up through property, vehicle and boat ownership records — we know that he/she is likely to have emptied corporate assets to make these purchases in his/her name.  What did the owner think h/she was accomplishing by purchasing these personal property items?  Hiding money.  Why didn’t h/she think they’d be caught?  Well, sad to say this, but often people just do dumb things, probably because they’ve gotten away with such acts in the past, too.  The flip side is people often don’t think someone else, such as a law firm/investigator, is going to dig for this information.

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

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Happy 4-Year Anniversary Guns, Gams and Gumshoes! #bookgiveaway

Posted by Writing PIs on June 8, 2013

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes: A Defense Attorney and PI Who Also Happen to Be Writers

On June 9, 2013, Guns, Gams & Gumshoes celebrates its four-year anniversary — thanks for being along for the ride!

Our blog byline started out as “A couple of PIs who also write” but as one of us is now a criminal defense attorney, we’ve changed it to “A defense attorney and a PI who also happen to be writers.”

We’ve had a great time writing these blogs.  Four years ago, we started this blog  to help fiction writers better understand the tools and tasks of contemporary private investigators for their characters and stories.  But we’ve also written for our peers in the profession, as well as those simply curious about the real-world of private investigators.

Shoutouts to Guns, Gams & Gumshoes

Along the way, we’ve garnered some recognition:

We’re Giving Away Books!  Yeah, We’re Talking Freefree

What’s a celebration without some free stuff?  To celebrate our anniversary, we’re offering free downloads of our two nonfiction books on private investigations on June 9 and 10.  To download a book for your Kindle, PC or Mac computer, browser or a variety of mobile devices, click on the links below.

Click on the book title link (or the book cover) to open its Amazon page. Remember, these downloads are free on June 9 and 10 only:

How Do Private Eyes Do That? by Colleen Collins

HOW DO PRIVATE EYES DO THAT cover

“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

“Real-life private investigator Colleen Collins spills the beans.”
~The Thrilling Detective

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

How to Write a Dick cover

“This is an amazing book and I’m very happy that I got it. The authors cover so much ground about a PI’s life and work, I’d find it hard to get a more thorough overview. Since this book is geared towards writers, I think the authors provided just the right amount of detail regarding specific PI work.”
~Allie R.

“HOW TO WRITE A DICK is an accessible, up-to-date guide to the realities of P.I. work uniquely tuned in to what fiction writers want/need to know. If it had been around when I was fiction editor for THE THRILLING DETECTIVE WEB SITE, my job would have been much easier.”
~Gerald So

Readers’ Favorite Articles Over Four Years

In four years, we’ve written 256 posts in 165 categories, with nearly 200,000 of you dropping by to read and post comments. Below, we list our readers’ top 10 favorite articles since we opened our blog doors in 2009…

Our readers’ #1 blog post over these four years has been:

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

Below are the next most popular readers’ posts, from #2 through #10:

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

Booklist Online’s “Web Crush of the Week”:  Guns, Gams and Gumshoes

How to Find Someone: Free Online Research Tips

When the Amazing Race Reality Show Called and Invited Us to Audition

Shaun Kaufman and Colleen Collins, the Writing PIs

What’s the Importance of a Crime Scene?

Private Investigators and Murder Cases

Marketing the Private Investigations Business

How to Find Someone’s Cell Phone Number

iPhone Apps for Private Investigators

Our Other Sites

Shaun Kaufman Law

Colleen Collins Books

Thanks for dropping by, Writing PIs

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Surveillances: When in the Country, Don’t Be a City Slicker

Posted by Writing PIs on May 29, 2012

Sounds obvious, doesn’t it?  When conducting a surveillance in the country, don’t act like a city slicker.  But if you’re a citified PI who rarely, if ever, conducts rural surveillances, maybe you’re unaware that dressing in jeans, a flannel shirt and boots only goes so far if you’re also driving a spanking-clean pick-up.  Same applies if you’re a writer writing a PI-character doing a surveillance in the country — some of these tips might come in handy in your story.

Today, we’re sharing a few of our slides from a recent presentation we made at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference on Surveillance 101.

Rural Surveillances: Don’t Look Like a City Slicker

How to Not Blend in on Surveillance

On the other hand, if you’re writing a humorous character, make him/her not blend in!

Win a $10 Amazon Gift Certificate: Check out contest by clicking here.

Have a great week, Writing PIs

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Surveillance Rule Number 1: Blend In

Posted by Writing PIs on May 15, 2012

Your Writing PIs

Last month we gave several presentations at the Pike Peak Writers Conference, a fun, informative annual conference held in beautiful Colorado Springs, Colorado. We taught two workshops for writers: “Surveillance 101” and “Missing Persons 101.”

Today we’ll share a few of our “Surveillance 101” slides on the topic of “blending in” while on surveillance:

Rule Number One: Blend In!

Types of clothing to wear on surveillance, based on locale, weather, length of surveillance

Choose an Appropriate Surveillance Vehicle for the Locale

Tips for Picking Effective Surveillance Vehicles

More Tips for Effective Surveillance Vehicles

We loved The Rockford Files, but this is hardly an effective surveillance vehicle!

Have a great day, Writing PIs

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Private Eye Stories That Get It Right

Posted by Writing PIs on March 28, 2012

Today we’re looking at a few writers who nail private investigations in their stories.

Steve Hamilton, Misery Bay. In this short paragraph, he captures how it sometimes feels on stationary surveillances when you’ve been sitting and staring for a long, long time:

Another hour passed. The sun tried to come out for a few seconds, but the clouds reassembled and then it was a normal Michigan sky again. Cars went by, one by one, kicking up slush. I stayed where I was, feeling like I was slipping into some sort of trance, but always with one eye on the side-view mirror.

George Pelecanos, The Cut. Sometimes we think that if we say we’re private investigators, the person will refuse to talk to us, so we’ll simply say we’re investigators or legal investigators…omitting the word “private” can keep the conversation warm.  However, we’re careful not to lie about our work, and if asked who we’re working for, we’re upfront that we’re working on behalf of the defense.

In the below dialogue, the PI, Lucas, is looking for potential interviews on a case. Lucas speaks first.

“Look, I don’t mean to bother you, but I’m looking into a theft on this block.”

“You police?”

“I’m an investigator,” said Lucas. It didn’t answer the question exactly, and it wasn’t a lie.

Don WinslowThe Gentlemen’s Hour. Winslow is a former private investigator , so no surprise he nails the PI profession in his writing. The below excerpt, where the PI brainstorms case strategy, legal aspects and the legal players with the attorney, hit home with us. Often we work closely with defense attorneys on case/investigative strategies and issues — this type of “brainstorming” relationship is due to our backgrounds (before returning to the practice of law, one of us was a former criminal defense attorney) and also our established attorney-PI relationships that have been built over time where both sides have proven track records and mutual respect.

In this passage, the attorney-client, Petra, is speaking to the PI, Boone. Corey is the defendant whose family has retained Petra. The first line is Petra’s.

“I’m not sure it’s a viable defense anyway,” she says. “But it’s worth looking into. Where else do you want to take it?”

Boone starts off with where he can’t take it. He can’t talk to Trevor Bodin or the Knowles brothers because their lawyers know that their interests conflict with Corey’s and won’t let the interviews happen. Those kids, smarter than Corey, started making their deals right in the police interview rooms. The best they can hope for is that Alan takes a chunk or two off the rest of the crew’s credibility during cross-exam, but that’s about it. So that’s no good. But he can run down more info on the Rockpile Crew and the “gang” issue, find out what they were all about.

Boone sums all that up for Petra, and then says, “If Corey takes that attitude into a trial, Mary Lou will ride it to a max sentence.”

Have a great week, Writing PIs

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Private Investigators and Murder Cases

Posted by Writing PIs on February 27, 2012

At Elizabeth A. White’s blog, Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’s PI Colleen Collins posted a guest article that responds to novelist Ed McBain‘s comment “The last time a private eye solved a murder was never.” An excerpt from the post “Do Private Eyes Solve Murders?” is below; to read the full article, click here.

Do Private Eyes Solve Murders?

The last time a private eye solved a murder was never.” -Ed McBain *

Like many of you, I love a gritty, fast-paced private eye story where the shamus solves a grisly murder or two. Investigating death makes for compelling storytelling rift with bodies, suspects and clues. In my current novel The Zen Man, the private-eye protagonist must solve a murder in thirty days or face a life sentence behind bars.

But how true is it in real life that private investigators solve murders? Is Ed McBain right that the answer is never? I compiled a few popular theories on this topic — some from the Internet, others my PI-partner-husband and I have heard over the years – with analysis for each.

Theory #1: In stories, private eyes are often effective because they are less constrained by government rules than law enforcement. But in reality, law enforcement must be wary about endorsing a PI’s evidence because 1) it’s unknown what methods the PI used in obtaining that evidence (if the PI obtained the evidence through illegal means, it would be thrown out at trial), and 2) by accepting a PI’s evidence, the police could be seen as using the PI as a state agent (“acting under color of law”) and any improper behavior by the PI could be imputed to the police department.

Analysis: It’s true that PIs, who are civilians, are less constrained by government rules — for example, PIs are not bound to the same evidentiary laws as law enforcement. It’s an assumption, however, that an experienced PI, especially one who specializes in legal investigations, would use “unknown” methods for obtaining evidence. In our investigations agency, we’ve gathered evidence using established rules and procedures to establish chain of custody (documented procedures demonstrating how we got evidence from where it was to our evidence locker). These procedures guarantee reliability and have resulted in courtroom admissibility and victory for the lawyers who employed us.

To read the rest of this article, click here.

Examples of Private Investigators Investigating Murder Cases

Below are links to several more articles written by private investigators about their murder investigations or how they went about conducting such investigations. Also included is a recent news article about three murder suspects who’ve requested a private investigator to clear their names. Click on link to read article.

The Kurt Cobain Murder Investigation by PI Tom Grant

Private Investigators Research Murder Cases (P.I. Stories.com)

Private Investigator’s Investigation Re-Opens Murder Case (Private Investigators in Virginia)

Attempted Murder, 4 Bullet Slugs, and a Dog Named Gus (The Zen Man)

3 Suspects in Covington Dismemberment Case Request Private Investigator

Have a good day, Writing PIs

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