Guns, Gams & Gumshoes

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Posts Tagged ‘PIs’

Part 2: Interview with Steven Brown, author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Private Investigating”

Posted by Writing PIs on December 29, 2019

Today is part 2 of our interview with former FBI agent, private investigator and author Steven Kerry Brown where we discuss the world of real-life private eyes and their fictional counterparts.

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOES: Some people view private investigations as a “recession-proof” business.  Do you agree?  If not, how has the economy affected private investigation businesses, and in what areas of investigative work?

STEVEN: All of the private investigators I know are suffering from loss of business. I would guess there are some that might be prospering, those doing process service with mortgage related clients perhaps. But while we too, do serve process, I don’t consider process serving as “real PI work.” It doesn’t require a PI license to serve process.

My criminal defense workload is up, so maybe there’s an upside to the downturn in the economy. More crime, more criminal defense cases. A lot of those are “indigent for expenses” so I get paid, but less than my normal rate. Generally my family law clients have less money to spend. I’ve had several that wanted to continue with their cases but were forced to stop because their own businesses were losing money and they couldn’t afford us. The pre-employment background screening business is way down as you can imagine. Fewer people being hired so there’s less need for background screening. So if there are some PIs whose business profits are up, I’d like to know their secrets.

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOES: You’re also a “writing PI.” How long have you been writing fiction? And please tell us about your PI fiction novel that’s currently being shopped to publishers.

STEVEN: Just because I enjoy listening to classical music doesn’t mean I can write a concerto. Likewise, because I can read and write English, it doesn’t mean I can craft a novel. There is a craft to writing fiction that must be learned before your writing is going to be publishable. I’m a slow learner. I’ve been writing fiction for 15 years and haven’t made the grade yet. I have a mentor that says you have to write at least a million words before you can produce a well-worked novel.

People ask me how long it took me to write The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Private Investigating. With tongue in cheek I tell them 20 years. Non-fiction I find much easier to write. I wrote the CIG to PI in about 3 months. The Second Edition (which you said you don’t have and you need to buy it) took me less time. It has about 40 percent new and different material than the first edition.

My first novel was about an ex-FBI agent working a one-sailboat charter business in the Bahamas. It was pretty damn good if I say so myself and it was good enough to land me a fine literary agent. We’re both surprised that book didn’t sell. It took me eight years to write it.

The second novel, a Mormon PI murder mystery set in St. Augustine, Florida is being shopped now by my agent. It took me about three years to write it so I guess I’m getting faster. In this novel, the PI, Winchester Young, risks jail time, fights though a midnight tropical storm, and explores ancient Timucuan ruins to expose the genesis behind multiple murders. We’ll just have to wait and see if it sells. Winchester, by the way was one of the few “gun” names I could come up with that hadn’t been used already. Magnum, Beretta, Cannon, Remington.

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOES:  In your fiction writing, do you feel it’s necessary to portray, down to the “last scrap” so to speak, the work of private investigators?

STEVEN: I had a fellow PI call me yesterday and wanted to know if it was difficult to find a publisher. I asked him if he was writing fiction or non-fiction. The book he had in mind was really a novel but with “actual details” of how he went about working his cases. But he said it was both fiction and non-fiction. I told him he had to choose unless it was a memoir which is really a bit of both. Bottom line was he didn’t have a clue as to what he was doing.

In the PI novel that is being shopped now, I tried to include as many “real life” PI details as possible. I think one of the joys of reading is entering and learning about a world that the reader knows nothing about. So I tried to let my readers enter the PI world. One of the great things about writing is you can condense time, so it doesn’t take four hours to read about a four hour surveillance. But other than that, I think it pretty well immerses the reader in the world of this PI who has to solve a present day murder in order to solve one from twenty-five years ago.

I also tried to stay away from the stereotypic PIs, ex-cops, ex-military etc. My guy is ex-nothing and inherited the agency from his uncle. He is smart and resourceful but he’s not ex-CIA. I also tried to stay away from a lot of gunplay in the book. This PI doesn’t shoot anyone. There is a lot of action and the body count is pretty high but he is not directly responsible for any deaths. Really, how many real-life PIs do you know that have shot someone? I’ve been in the PI business for 25 years and I don’t know any. I do have some real-life clients that have committed multiple murders though. I’m a frequent visitor to death row at the Florida State Prison so I think I have a pretty good idea of how to portray crime and those who commit it. I guess we’ll see if any publishers agree.

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOES: We look forward to reading about Winchester Young in your to-be-published novel because some smart publisher will snap it up. Thank you, Steven, for being part of Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes.

Amazon link to The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Private Investigating:


Posted in Interviews, Steven Kerry Brown | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Cold Case Squad Blog: A Homicide Investigators’ Portal

Posted by Writing PIs on July 21, 2011

We’ve recently gotten to know Joseph Giacalone, veteran NYPD detective sergeant and commanding officer of their Cold Case Squad, which has investigated hundreds of homicides, cold cases and missing persons. Joe is also the author of the Criminal Investigative Function: A Guide for New Investigators published by Looseleaf Law Publications, Inc.

Whether you’re a writer, researcher, investigator or simply curious about cold cases and how they’re investigated and solved, this blog is for you.  The blog also promotes public awareness about the missing, investigative tips, and guests posts such as “The Art of Lying” by a lawyer with expertise in criminology.

Today, the Cold Case Squad hosts a guest post by the Writing PIs, your hosts at Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes, where we write about a cold case that took us to the vast, cold high plains during winter to find what others hadn’t been able to find: 4 slugs on 800 acres of ranch land. The placement of those slugs could prove that a man was innocent…

Check out our guest post “Cold Case: Bullets in the Field” by clicking here.

Have a great week, Writing PIs

Posted in Cold Case: Bullets in the Field | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

How to Order Criminal Records

Posted by Writing PIs on April 13, 2011

Three tips for how to order criminal records.

Tip #1. Check your local police department website. Many departments offer means for people to order offense reports–at minimum, a person’s name and offense date are typically required. If there is no online order form, call the police station and inquire how to order offense reports. There is typically a $6 to $10 dollar fee.

Tip #2. Order your FBI criminal records. Called an “FBI Identification Record”–the FBI only provides these arrest records to the subject of those records (you must provide an ID, a written request and an $18 payment by certified check or money order). They show arrest charges, dates, and dispositions. Go to FBI Identification Record Request.

Tip #3. Go to county courthouses. The most relevant, current criminal records are maintained in the county courts where the person resided, worked or attended school. Obviously, you know which counties you’ve lived in, but if you’re wanting the criminal records for someone else, you’ll need to know which counties are in their residential/work history. Ask the court clerk their procedures for obtaining criminal records, which typically include a search fee and copying costs.

Note: Don’t fall for those online ads that promise “nationwide criminal records” for $19.95 (or whatever they charge). Sorry, but there’s no such thing as a national repository of criminal records. See Tip #3, above.

Have a great week, Writing PIs

Posted in How to Order Criminal Records, PI Topics | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Is the Private Eye Going the Way of the Dinosaur?

Posted by Writing PIs on February 4, 2011

In today’s world where everyone Googles, tweets, posts, emails, YouTubes, webcams and more, when nanny cams capture illegal activities, and downloaded videos on YouTube reveal undercover scams…what’s the purpose of hiring a private investigator?  Has the private eye gone the way of the Stegosaurus?


Actually, the private eye has evolved right along with our fast-paced, electro-digital world. Even some of those tried-and-true techniques that Sam Space employed on the silver screen — following someone on foot, tailing in a car — are still “tools of the trade” best left to a professional private eye.  Let’s look at a few reasons why private eyes are needed today more than ever.

1. Private eyes understand the court system. You’re dating someone, want to know if something dark is lurking in his or her background? You want to hire someone, but want to make sure the candidate isn’t a felon?  You can go down to the courthouse yourself, but do you know what to look for?  Do you even know which courthouse to go to?  Private eyes do. They understand which municipality, county, federal district or state a person’s criminal records might be housed. And when they get there, they know how to order records, how to read them…and better yet, how to read between the lines. You say you can order these same records for $19.95 from one of those snazzy online databases?  Can I sell you a bridge?  The most accurate, relevant criminal histories are at courthouses, period.

2. Private eyes are specialists. Gone are the days of the generalist.  Oh, a few private eyes advertise they do general investigations, but most specialize in a field. You want to know if someone’s downloaded spyware onto your cell phone? There’s private eyes who specialize in cell phone forensics. You’ve just hired an attorney to represent your case for trial — there’s private eyes who specialize in legal investigations and understand how to prepare evidence, interview witnesses, and other tasks for trial. You lost your dog?  There’s private eyes who’re pet detectives.

3. Private eyes understand what’s legal, what’s not. All but 5 states require a private eye to be licensed, and licensure involves private eyes passing exams that prove their knowledge of the statutes affecting their work. Just because you think it’s cheaper and easier to hire your buddy to conduct surveillance on your almost-ex-wife, doesn’t mean your buddy understands which surveillance activities constitute eavesdropping, trespassing, harassment, or other legal no-nos. In our state, a husband was up on felony charges for surveilling his own wife — he didn’t understand he was breaking the law. In the long run, it’s cheaper, easier and smarter to hire a professional private eye.

Dinosaurs may have gone extinct, but the private eye is here to stay, baby.

Have a great weekend, Writing PIs

Posted in Is the PI Going the Way of the Dinosaur? | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

What Do Bounty Hunters and Private Eyes Have in Common?

Posted by Writing PIs on January 30, 2011

A lot actually.

But first, let’s get rid of the notion that private eyes strap on pepper spray a la Dog the Bounty Hunter and track fugitives who’ve skipped court dates. That is, unless the private eye has met state regulations to conduct bounty hunting, also called fugitive recovery (by the way, bounty hunting is illegal in some states).

On the other hand, some bounty hunters are also private investigators. For example, Dog the Bounty Hunter’s sidekick Bobby Brown is a professional private investigator, bail bond agent, and a bounty hunter (he also gives classes for bounty hunting in Colorado).

What do bounty hunters and private eyes have in common?

  • They both conduct people locates (also called skip tracing). Both conduct online searches, court records searches, know how to follow up on leads, and so on.
  • They both conduct surveillances, from stationary (literally, being stationary, such as sitting in a vehicle), mobile (again, sounds like its literal meaning, being mobile such as in a car), or on foot.
  • They conduct interviews. Although a private investigator is more likely to conduct interviews (open-ended questions) vs. interrogations (going for an answer).
  • They must have excellent interpersonal and communication skills. That is, if they want to be successful. If a private eye needs information from a witness, she needs to know how to gain the person’s trust, ask the right questions, not intimidate or anger people to the point they refuse to talk. Same with a bounty hunter–he needs information, can’t afford to alienate contacts who may have knowledge on a fugitive’s whereabouts. You’ve probably seen Duane “Dog” Chapman in action on his TV show–he relates to a person’s need to be valued, to the need to do the right thing. He might be built like a truck, have pepper stray and other intimidating paraphernalia strapped on like some kind of street Rambo, but his voice is warm, his body language open, and he asks sincere questions that make people open up and talk, talk, talk.
  • They must understand the state regulations and statutes that affect their work.

Wish I could say most private eyes are in the kind of physical shape Dog is, but that’s another post.

Wishing you a great week, Writing PIs

Posted in What Do Private Eyes Have in Common with Bounty Hunters? | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Private Eyes in the News, from Crime to Slime

Posted by Writing PIs on January 21, 2011

People often think we lead an exciting, action-packed life as private investigators, but for the most part, it feels relatively normal. Oh, the odd case comes in, and sometimes there’s a touch of high drama in a situation, but a lot of the work can be almost mundane.

And then we read headlines in the news about private investigators, and it sounds awfully exciting out there for others in this profession.  Today, we share a few recent PI news items:

Indian River Private Detective Gains Fame in the “Case of the Vanishing Blonde”

Nurse Alleges Slander, Name Shared with Tiger Woods’ Lawyer and Private Investigator

Halle Berry’s Ex Concerned She Hired Private Investigator to Tail Him

D.A. Drops Felony Charge Against Man Who Hired Private Investigator to Follow His Wife

Wait, that last case is from our state, one we and other private investigators have been watching for a while. The PI had first been charged with two felony counts for stalking the wife (he’d been hired by the husband during a custody case), charges which were eventually reduced to misdemeanor harassment. The case raised questions for all of us who work in private investigations as to the work we do, how we conduct surveillances, and when a subject might accuse us of crossing the line.

Fortunately, we here at Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes have never been accused or charged with anything illegal, and that’s because we’re diligent about following the law, but we’ve had things get out of control in the course of an investigation (a woman once sic’d her dog on us (fortunately, the dog wasn’t aware what it was supposed to do), people have done whacky things with legal papers we’ve served them, from driving over them in their car to dramatically tossing them into trash cans (services were still legal), and once we had our very own stalker (an attorney took care of that).

On second thought, maybe our work isn’t all that mundane.

Posted in from Crime to Slime, Private Eye Headlines | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Line Between Investigation and Intimidation: How Not to Cross It

Posted by Writing PIs on December 15, 2010

There’s a line between investigation and intimidation.  Anthony Pelicano not only crossed it, but stomped on it, when he left a dead fish with a rose in its mouth on a witness’s windshield.  Then there’s the recent media story about a famous movie star who hired private investigators to visit witnesses and make a “forceful impression” so they wouldn’t testify in a legal proceeding.  Sounds like the movie star had been in a few too many movies.  In the real world, the law steps in when an investigator causes a reasonable person to become fearful–in such cases, the investigator may be charged with intimidation.

But the line between investigation and intimidation can get fuzzy.  A private investigator may feel confident he calmly asked a few questions in a direct but unimposing way, then later be accused of intimidating behavior.

There are techniques investigators can use to protect themselves from being accused of intimidation, from documenting encounters to keeping clients under control and at a distance.  One of our Writing PIs wrote about these techniques in her article “When Does Legitimate Investigative Activity Become Intimidation” at (click on article title to read it).

Have a good week, Writing PIs

Posted in Writing About PIs | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Four Free Tips to Find a Long-Lost Friend

Posted by Writing PIs on December 4, 2010

Just last week, a fellow private eye was prepping his family’s Thanksgiving turkey when he spied an article in the local paper about a woman wanting to find a long-lost relative so she could pass on the family Bible.  He used a proprietary database that many private investigators use to locate people, and within minutes had found several people who might be that woman’s relative–turned out one of them was the right person and on Thanksgiving, a very grateful woman found the long-lost heir to their family Bible.

Although most people don’t have access to such proprietary databases–which are fee-based, and available only to professional PIs and other professions such as law enforcement, law firms, collection agencies–there are several free resources people can use to search for a long-lost friend, high school sweetheart, neighbor, or other acquaintance.  Let’s look at 4 of these free resources:

Free Tip #1: Look up the person’s name in Google.  At our investigations agency, Google is the first place we’ll run a name (phone number, address, or other identifying information) because it’s still the most comprehensive, public, and free search engine available. Let’s say you’re looking for Billy Jones, and the two of you went to high school in SmallTown Nebraska.  In the Google browser, type “Billy Jones SmallTown Nebraska” (without the quotation marks), press the Google Search button, then review the results.  All instances that Google finds of Billy Jones in that town/state will display as links to websites, blogs, social networking engines, online documents (such as resumes), and much more.  Click on a link and search that online site/document for additional contact information for Billy Jones–this will require some patience and sleuthing on your part as you’ll be reading through information and picking out relevant bits to aid your search (for example, you might see Billy Jones’s name in a roster for an upcoming high school reunion, or a reference to a relative of Billy Jones still living in SmallTown). Use those bits of information to continue your search (for example, contact the high school reunion committee and request they send a message from you to Billy Jones, or call directory assistance for SmallTown Nebraska and ask for Billy Jones’s relative’s phone number).  You might also get lucky and find a website for Billy Jones with an email address that you can use to write him directly.

Note: If you’re looking for a woman’s name, keep in mind her surname may have changed due to marriage.

Free Tip #2: Conduct a deep web name search using Pipl. Some statistics claim the deep web (also called the invisible web) is 500 times more comprehensive than the surface web because its web crawlers find information traditional web crawlers can’t.  One useful free deep web search engine is Pipl, which searches websites, social networking sites, online profiles, online news articles, and much more. Go to, enter the person’s first and last names, and a known city and state.  As in the above Google search, click on links in the results, and look for any relevant information that can help you find more contact information for the person.

Note: The results in Pipl are littered with pay-for research sites (usually highlighted in yellow).  Skip these and search the other, free links.

Free Tip #3: Check the name in Kgbpeople.  This search engine breaks down results in 4 categories: social networks, search engines, photo/video/audio, and personal.  As in the above searches, click on a link and review its contents for any relevant information that might lead you to contact information for that name.  You can also filter your search with keywords, or click on one of the tags associated with that name.

Free Tip #4: Check a local criss-cross directory. Did the person live in your city or neighboring region?  One free, and very handy resource is your local library.  Often, they maintain criss-cross directories (also called reverse directories) that go back a decade or more, and in which you can search by surname and other identifiers (such as occupation, former phone number, street address).  It’s possible a criss-cross directory reveals Billy Jones still lives in the region.  Or you might find a relative’s or former employer’s name who can provide you with current contact information for Billy.  Ask your reference librarian to show you where they keep their criss-cross directories.

Not a free resource, but the best way to locate a person if other attempts fail: Hire a professional private investigator.  At our agency, we’re often tasked with locating people not only in our region, but throughout the United States as well.  For our services, contact us at Highlands Investigations 303-500-9604 (

To find a professional private investigator in your state, contact your state professional private investigator association (for a listing of all state PI associations, go to (under “PI Links” in the top blue bar, select “State Associations – USA”).

Posted in Writing About PIs | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Bored to Death: A Few Surveillance Tips for Jonathan

Posted by Writing PIs on October 18, 2010

We’re big “Bored to Death” fans, the HBO series about a private eye who’s also a writer.  In last night’s episode, Jonathan (the PI-writer) conducted a foot surveillance, and miraculously he wasn’t caught (which was good for the story, of course).  But how could he have prepared better for this “on foot” surveillance?

While waiting for the subject, don’t look as though you’re waiting. You looked fab in your sports coat and slicked back PI ‘do, but you were obviously standing in the middle of campus, waiting for something.  Why not sit on a bench, pretending to read a book?  After all, the last thing you want is for people (especially the subject!) to notice you, and wonder what–or who–you’re waiting for.

Don’t wear loud prints–they make you stand out. Jonathan, we know you love that sports coat (you mentioned several times it’s what PIs and writers wear), but that print was loud.  You might as well have worn a red blazer.  Pick clothes that don’t stand out–a brown jacket, for example.

Bring extra attire. Always a good idea, especially when you’re on foot and following someone, to bring an extra piece of clothing so you can change your look.  Instead of a loud print sports jacket, how about a reversible jacket?  You can quickly step into a protected area where you’re not seen (inside a store, for example), turn the jacket inside out, and re-emerge on the street with a different look.

What about a hat? Hey, we dig that new PI haircut you’re sporting, but wearing a hat is a good idea.  For example, wearing a simple baseball cap not only disguises the shape of your head and color of your hair, it can be pulled down to cover your eyes.   If the guy you’re following notices you, toss the hat (and maybe put on sunglasses).

Don’t follow so closely. You were within a few feet of the guy you were following (with your buddy within feet behind you, following the two of you!).   Surprising that the guy–who was a drug dealer–didn’t notice the two of you.

What you did right. You entertained us!  Bored to Death isn’t about your being the best PI in the world, it’s about the funny, funky circumstances a regular guy gets into when he decides, without training or licensing, to be a PI.  You make us laugh with your antics, and that’s what the show is about.  We look forward to seeing you–and that loud sports coat–next week.

Posted in Bored to Death: Foot Surveillance | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Infidelity Investigations: The Signs and How to Hire a Qualified PI

Posted by Writing PIs on August 23, 2010

It’s interesting how often people, when learning we run an investigations agency, immediately assume all we do is chase cheaters.  We perform infidelity investigations sometimes, but not often, as we specialize in legal investigations (working with attorneys to gather evidence, interview witnesses, provide pre-litigation support, etc.).

But sometimes a person calls, requesting an investigator to surveil a spouse/significant other who the person thinks might be cheating.  We’re cautious taking these cases, as any PI should be.  We interview the person to learn more about the relationship, their reasons for hiring a PI, their background (and we inform them, if we take the case, that we’ll be conducting a criminal background check on them as well).

We’ll often review the signs of infidelity with our client, ask if they’ve experienced their spouse/SO doing any of the following:

  • Avoiding answering the phone when you’re around?
  • Regularly going to work early or coming home late?
  • Displaying a lack of affection?
  • Referring to a new “friend” at work?
  • Having unexplained credit card charges?
  • Saying it’s “in your imagination”?
  • Spending less time with you and the children?
  • Having  scents of cologne or perfume on their clothes?

If five or more of the above signs apply to the client’s situation, we’ll suggest they first consider marriage counseling. It’s common for couples to hit rough times, and a qualified therapist can help couples identify and resolve their differences, as well help them to communicate more effectively.

But if a person is resolved to hire a PI, below are a few tips for hiring a qualified investigator who’s qualified in infidelity investigations, has experience conducting such cases, and is ethical, discreet, and professional:

  • Check your state’s private investigator associations, most of which have web sites that post their membership directory.
  • Ask friends, business associates, your lawyer for a referral. Word of mouth gives you the inside scoop, and the opportunity to ask questions specific to your needs.
  • Check Internet and Yellow Pages for private investigator listings, but remember these are paid-for ads. Ask for references. If you’re going before a judge and jury, ask if the PI has courtroom experience. NOTE: An untrained investigator may not know the laws and end up doing something illegal during an investigation-which will cause you problems.
  • After you select a PI, interview him/her. Gauge your comfort level, ensure you have good communication, and agree on a retainer. After all, this person will be working closely with you as he/she gathers evidence that you will use to make a life-changing decision.

Stay cool, Writing PIs

Posted in Infidelity Investigations | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

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