Guns, Gams & Gumshoes

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Posts Tagged ‘private detective’

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

Posted by Writing PIs on February 16, 2014

This is an update on P.I.-author Steven Kerry Brown, followed by a two-part interview Guns, Gams and Gumshoes did with Steven in 2009.

Bio: Steven Kerry Brown

Steven Kerry Brown is a former FBI special agent and supervisory special agent, founder and president of Millennial Investigative Agency in Florida, novelist, author of magazine articles and nonfiction books, blogger, and has spent two years as captain of a sixty-foot ketch running sailing charters in the Bahamas.

He’s appeared on such television programs as Hard Copy and 60 Minutes, and is the author of one of the best books on private investigations around (The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Private Investigating — its third edition was released March 2013). He is also the author of 5 Things Women Need to Know About the Men They Date, released in April 2013.

The Idiot’s Guide to Private Investigating

The first time I met Steven was back in 2004 when he called our agency and retained our services for an investigative task in Colorado. The prior year I had attended an intensive, 16-week on-site investigative course that used the The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Private Investigating in its course material. I had read that book front to back, then back to front, scribbled notes in the margins, re-read — and then re-read again — numerous sections to ensure my grasp of a topic. Steven writes in a clear, straightforward manner, and sprinkles factual material with his own personal experiences.

That same year, I took another course on process service.  One day, the instructor played a Q&A game with the class — the prize for the most correct answers was a copy of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Private Investigating. 

So a year later, when the author called out of the blue and requested our P.I. services, I was honored.

Writing the Private Eye Novel

Years later, Steven’s and my paths crossed again, but this time as novelists. We both have written private-eye genre novels, and have chatted off and on about agents, publishers, even WordPress. He co-authors the blog Handcuffed to the Ocean with several other writers, one being James N. Frey, a novelist and author of one of the better books on fiction writing, How to Write a Damn Good Novel.

Undergoing a Bone Marrow Transplant

Over the past few years, I’ve grown to admire Steven even more for his gutsy perseverance as he’s undergone a bone marrow transplant. Below is the beginning of a post he wrote last June:

I’m sitting here at 11 pm eating out of a carton of Edy’s Double Fudge Brownie ice cream. Got to love life. On Saturday June 15 I passed the one year mark since some nice guy over in Germany donated his bone marrow stem cells to me. I haven’t checked the statistics this year but when I agreed to enter the BMT Clinic at Shands Cancer Institute in Gainesville, Florida the mortality rate for bone marrow transplant patients was fairly high. 

Many of Steven’s friends and colleagues in the P.I. industry have contributed to his Bone Marrow Transplant Fund to help with the $500,000 in expenses for this procedure. Recently, there have been complications, which Steven wrote about in September 2013 — below is the beginning of that post:

I really thought I would have my immune system back by now. Most of the BMT transplant patients I’ve met received their shots by the end of the first year. But, now I’m convinced that I may never get it back. I’ve had a few set backs these last few weeks. I encountered a big flare up of GVHD that took over my entire torso. The doctors put me back on prednisone and other immune suppressant medication. I told the doctors I’d rather have the GVHD than the prednisone. But they said this flare up was life threatening, so I really didn’t have a choice.

Despite what he’s going through, his humor shines through — check out this poem to his doctors (posted on his September 2013 blog):

I wrote a little poem for the doctors about GVHD.

GVHD

Itch, itch, Itch,

Like a son of a 

Bitch, bitch, bitch.

By the way, this post includes photos of his symptoms (he does this to help others who might be contemplating a bone marrow transplant). Be forewarned — these photos are graphic.

At the end of this post, Steven writes:

Thanks for the well wishes and the donations. I promise as soon as I can I’ll get back to investigating the Haleigh Cummings case. I do have more posts on that coming up soon.

Amazes me that while dealing with his health challenges over the last year+ he has also self-published one nonfiction book and revised another. Puts the notion of “writer’s block” to shame.

To donate to Steven’s Bone Marrow Transplant Fund, click here (Donate button is on left side of screen).

Now to the 2009 interview with P.I.-author Steven Kerry Brown…

Steven Kerry Brown post 2-16-2014

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes: Good morning, Steven, and welcome to Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes. First, we have to say that The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Private Investigating  is one of our favorite resource books. As we haven’t seen this second edition, we imagine you’ve updated it with more technology and tools–saying that, what is one of the more useful technological techniques you’ve recently started using in your investigative work?

Steven: There are three really useful techniques that are relatively new that I use a lot.  Two of them I describe in detail in my book. The first is the GPS tracking device. Below is a photo with the unit in a waterproof Pelican case and a 50 pound pull magnet and a long life lithium-ion battery pack. (Not much larger than a man’s hand.)

I set this unit (I have two of them) to report in every 10 minutes. I change the batteries out once a week. I also have the capability of clicking on “tracking now” on the unit’s website and receive a real-time location of where the unit is. So you or your client can sit in front of their computer and see where the unit is at any given time.  Of course, the primary use of this is in family law cases. Even though Florida is a “no fault” divorce state (meaning that proof of adultery doesn’t have a real impact on property settlement), still the client needs to know the facts of their situation before they can make an informed decision. Hence, using the GPS to track the spouse.

We follow-up the use of the GPS with a little judicious surveillance. Even though the GPS will tell us where the spouse is, it won’t tell us who he/she is with, so a few photos of the spouse and the other party will usually do the trick. And don’t be fooled by clichés. There are not more men than women committing adultery. We find it splits about 50-50.

The second technique I like a lot is Spoofing Caller ID. Now you have to be careful with this as it is now illegal in some states, like Florida, if you spoof a caller ID with the intent to deceive. How does it work and how do I use it? You can do a websearch on Spoofing Caller ID and find lots of folks who will sell you spoofing time. I use Spoofcard.com  For $5.00 you get 25 minutes of spoofing time. Basically spoofing caller ID means that you can use this service to call a target number and the incoming caller ID will display any number you want it to show. The technology behind it is the spoofing company uses Voice Over IP (VOIP) to make the call and in doing so can send whatever Caller ID data you want sent. (You can find full details in the CIG to PI pages 184-188)

How do you use caller ID spoofing? Well, you might for instance, want to see if a certain person is at a particular residence. Before the law changed in Florida, I called a witness to a case that I needed to talk to. He wouldn’t answer my calls so I spoofed my number to look like his mother’s phone was calling him. He answered the call.

The third technique I like only works on cell phone numbers. You can use this service and it will bypass the phone and go directly to the cell phone’s voice mail. That way you can hear the message on the voice mail and sometimes figure out who the phone belongs to without them ever knowing you called the phone. It’s not perfect and your number might show up as a missed call on their phone. The service is called Slydial and their number is 267-759-3425. It’s free, give it a try. A database only available to PIs called Skipsmasher, has a much improved version of this service which will not leave your number on the target’s phone as a missed call and it will record the voice mail message for you. I love it and use it often. Kudos to Skipsmasher.com.

End of interview, Part 1. Check back in on Thursday, January 14, for Part 2 where Steven discusses the recession and private eyes, crafting non-fiction vs. fiction, and how much real-world PI dirt he puts into a fictional-world PI story.

 

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Private Investigating, Third Edition

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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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Top Mistakes Writers Make When Depicting Crime Scenes

Posted by Writing PIs on May 18, 2012

Today Novel Rockets, one of the Writer’s Digest 101 Top Websites for Writers, has posted an article by Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’s PI, Colleen Collins: “Top 5 Mistakes Writers Make at a Crime Scene.”  Besides offering a PI’s perspective on crime scene faux pas, Colleen interviewed other experts for this article: Joe Giacalone, veteran NYPD detective sergeant and commanding officer of their Cold Case Squad and author of  The Criminal Investigative Function; David Swinson, retired Washington, DC, detective and author of A Detailed Man; and Denver criminal defense attorney Shaun Kaufman.

Below we post an excerpt.  To read it in its entirety, click on the “To read the full article, click here” link at the bottom of the article.

2018 update: Since this post was originally written, David Swinson has gone on to become a New York Times bestselling crime fiction writer. Here’s a list of his books on Amazon: David Swinson Novels.

Top 5 Mistakes Writers Make at a Crime Scene

by Colleen Collins

Incorrectly describing a crime scene can hurt the credibility of a story

Next to confessions, crime scenes contain the most first-hand evidence explaining the who, what and whys of a crime.  Unfortunately, sometimes writers get aspects of a crime scene wrong, which puts a dent in the credibility of a story.

David Swinson, a retired Washington, DC, detective and author of A Detailed Man (available in most bookstores and Amazon), calls these dents “Aw c’mon, man” moments.  “I have been to countless crime scenes,” says David.  “When you respond to a scene that is related to a violent crime, especially homicide, even the smallest mistake can ruin the outcome of the case. I’m especially tough on some authors who write crime fiction — it’s what we in law enforcement call an ‘Aw c’mon, man’ moment.’”

Let’s look at the top five mistakes, or “Aw c’mon, man” blunders, in no particular order, that writers make at crime scenes.

Using incorrect terminology. One popular misconception is that the words cartridges and bullets are synonymous. A bullet, the projectile that fires from a rifle, revolver or other small firearm, is one part of a cartridge. Two other words that writers sometimes use interchangeably: spent bullets and spent casings. A spent bullet, sometimes called a slug, is one that has stopped moving after being fired. Spent bullets are often pretty distorted after hitting objects on their way to a resting place. A spent casing is one from which a bullet has been fired. Although spent bullets and casings might be found at a crime scene, casings are more likely to be lying in plain sight.

Mishandling evidence. “First rule of any crime scene investigation,” says Swinson, “is when you observe what is obviously evidence, leave it where it is. Don’t move it!”  An “Aw c’mon, man” crime scene scenario for Swinson: “Spent casings are visible on the floor beside the body, a semi auto is a few feet away, and a little baggy that contains what appears to be a white powdery substance is near the weapon. The detective picks up the gun and inspects it and then picks up the baggy, opens it and smells or takes a taste using his finger. This makes me crazy! A detective would never pick up crucial evidence before it is photographed or, if necessary, dusted for prints. This contaminates evidence and can jeopardize the prosecutor’s case. And a detective would never, ever pick up what might be illegal narcotics and taste it!”

To read the full article, click here

Related articles

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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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Answering Writers’ Questions: What Records Can PIs Get via Databases or by Phone?

Posted by Writing PIs on March 20, 2012

Writer’s Question: I know private investigators have access to both proprietary and public online databases. What about obtaining a birth certificate? In my story, I need to reveal that no father was listed on suspect’s birth certificate, but from what I’ve read, these certificates are hard to get. Is that true? Maybe a private investigator could purchase one through a database or make a phone call to request one?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’s Answer: No, one cannot get birth certificates through proprietary/public databases or by phone. One needs to have permission (power of attorney) from the parents or from the individual. Or, permission via a court order.

Writer’s Question: What about employment records? My amateur sleuth wants to compile another person’s work history — is there a way to do this?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoe’s Answer: Well, it’s possible to piece together some work history via proprietary/public databases, but this is getting more and more difficult due to identity theft legislation. There are some PIs who specialize in employment work histories (or they advertise they can retrieve such histories) but we’re not sure a legal means exists to get a complete work history. On the other hand, many people’s LinkedIn profiles (for example) reveal partial (sometimes full) work histories.  Sometimes other social media sites, such as Facebook, also show people’s work histories (that is, whatever the people wish to share via those sites).

Writer’s Question: Is it easy for PIs to find out what degrees a college graduate earned?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoe’s Answer: Colleges & other educational institutions will provide the dates and degrees earned for an individual. Anyone can call and request this information. Same with accreditation. Professional organizations will release (via phone call) the type of accreditation a person earned and the dates the person belonged to the organization.

Writer’s Question: I understand police records are generally only available for a brief time after an incident, which is when the press gets them. True?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’s Answer: False. Most police agencies now keep records for a minimum of 5-7 years. Sometimes we have found that when a case is currently open, a police department might not release those records to us. However, recently we were able to obtain (via a written request…these forms are often online within the PD website) records for a case that was open.

Writer’s Question: I also understand that a PI can get only convictions, not arrests. True?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’s Answer: False. Many state police agencies keep records of arrests and release them to the public upon request and fee payment. However, these records caution that they are not to be relied on as any indication of conviction.

Have a great week, Writing PIs

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PIs and Cases: Attempted Murder, Smalltown Cop, Infidelity

Posted by Writing PIs on February 11, 2012

Solving an Attempted Murder Case

Today we’re highlighting some investigations cases, from one of ours to a small down in Wisconsin to an impressive infographic that offers stats from dozens of PIs on infidelity cases.

Solving an Attempted Murder Case

At The Zen Man site, one of the Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes PIs describes one of the more challenging cases we’ve ever worked…and thankfully solved: Attempted Murder, 4 Bullet Slugs, and a Dog Named Gus

A Small Town Hires a PI to Investigate the Town’s Only Cop

It almost seems like a Mayberry sitcom plot, but it’s real. A small town in Wisconsin has hired a PI to investigate its one and only cop — who’s afraid to leave his house because of death threats:

Village Hires Private Investigator to Investigate Its Only Police Officer

Signs of a Cheating Spouse

PINow.com details signs of a cheating spouse, based on interviews with dozens of private investigators, in an impressive infographic. To view, click here.

Have a great weekend, Writing PIs

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When Muffy Goes for the Munch: Investigating Dog Bite Cases

Posted by Writing PIs on October 23, 2011

Typically, a PI is asked to investigate a dog-bite case through an attorney. Such investigations might involve:

  • Interviews with neighbors and other witnesses. This helps to establish the dog’s vicious temperment/propensities because in these kind of cases, the investigator is gathering proof that the owner had knowledge of the dog’s dangerous habits and traits. Also, such interviews help to establish if the dog owner has made changes to the yard or other confinement system (including warning signs) that indicate the dog has exhibited menacing tendencies.
  • Speaking to local animal control officers. This determines if the dog’s owner has been previously cited for vicious-dog or dog-at-large violations.
  • Taking photos of dog at the animal shelter (typically, dogs in dog-bite cases are seized and immediately transported to a local humane society/shelter where the dog is kept in isolation and examined by a vet). Taking photos of the dog produces effective evidence for a jury as to the size of the animal, its strength and any unusual behaviors.
  • Taking photos where the dog-bite/attack took place. Most state laws on dog bites exempt dogs acting to protect their owners’ property. So if the bite/attack took place in the street in front of the owner’s house, such photographs would be conclusive evidence to rebut a claim of property protection. The sooner a PI gets to the scene of the attack, the better (blood speaks loudly to a jury).

Another perspective on dog-bite cases is posted this week at Shaun Kaufman Law: “Dog Owners, Dog Bites, Jack Nicholson, and Aretha Franklin.”

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Private Investigator Technique: Canvassing Neighborhoods

Posted by Writing PIs on October 4, 2011

What Does “Canvassing a Neighborhood” Mean?

Canvassing a neighborhood (also referred to as simply “canvassing”) means checking a neighborhood for:

  • Evidence of someone living or visiting the area (such as locating the person’s vehicle).
  • Verification from a neighbor or family member that someone lives at an address or may have recently visited there.
  • Suggestions from friends or family members as to where a person might be.

Often, a PI will be straight-up and say she’s an investigator looking for an individual (this is what Dog the Bounty Hunter does—although some people he interviews will refuse to give up information about the skip (person being located), he usually convinces others it’s in the skip’s best interest to be found, and they give him the information he needs).

On the other hand, a PI might use a pretext (a story) or another identity (for example, pretend to be an old friend) to get people to divulge information.  In our business, we once pretended to be taking a survey (we showed up at every door in the neighborhood with our clipboards and pencils).  In the course of conversations with people who answered their doors, we slipped in questions about a particular person we were skiptracing (who used to live in the neighborhood) to see what information we could mine to his current whereabouts.

A Pet Investigation: Canvassing the Local Parks

We’re not pet detectives, but once we fell into just such a case.  A client lost several (three or four) Norwegian Elkhounds and asked if we could please help.  Our first thought was to do what we often do to find people: canvas the neighborhoods.  But instead of local residential streets, we canvassed parks.  And guess what.  We found the Norwegian Elkhounds in a park that had an undeveloped wildlife section and a lake.  In this case, canvassing neighborhoods worked.

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The Story of a Private Eye: From Romance Writing to Private Investigating

Posted by Writing PIs on August 29, 2011

Before we started our investigations business nearly 8 years ago, one of us was a full-time writer (with 20 published novels to her credit) and the other a trial attorney turned legal researcher (who had trained many private investigators in his decades-long career in the criminal justice system). Today at New York Times bestselling author Lori Wilde’s blog, the writer half  (Colleen Collins) tells the tale of how the Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes team decided to start their own private investigations business.  Leave a comment & be eligible to win a Kindle version of How to Write a Dick.

Click the below link to read the article:

From the Desk of New York Times Bestselling Author Lori Wilde: From Romance to Surveillance

Have a great week, Writing PIs

 

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Excerpt from How to Write a Dick: Catching the Cheater

Posted by Writing PIs on July 12, 2011

How to Write a Dick: A Guide to Writing Fictional Sleuths from a Couple of Real-Life Sleuths, available on Kindle

Infidelity Investigations: Catching the Cheater

When we accept an infidelity case, we request:

  • Information about the suspected cheater’s habits, work schedule, days off and so forth.
  • Photographs of the suspected cheater (and the suspected girlfriend/boyfriend, if available)
  • Addresses and phone numbers (for the suspected cheater’s home, businesses, other places of note as well as the addresses/phone numbers for suspected girlfriend/boyfriend, if known)
  • Any known routes suspected cheater takes on way to work, home, to exercise gym and so forth
  • Vehicle descriptions, license plate numbers for suspected cheater (and suspected girlfriend/boyfriend)
  • Contact information for client, preferred times to call, private numbers person can be reached at, preferred means of contact (work email, cell phone).
  • Any other pertinent information.

As with any other case, we then devise an investigative strategy.  Sometimes the client will call and inform us if the suspected cheater has changed his/her work schedule, is taking off for a surprise appointment or other event.  We can’t always comply with last-minute schedule changes (which we’ve made clear to the client up front) but if time permits, we do.

Part of our contract is that we’ll provide reports on either a biweekly or monthly basis.  However, we’ll work with the client on a different report scheme as long as it’s appropriate, workable and legal.  For example, we’ve had clients who like to call periodically and discuss the case.  We don’t mind discussing the current progress on a case as long as the client remains professional and courteous.  Sometimes a client might request an email update the morning after an evening surveillance, and we’re happy to comply.

The most difficult thing we’re ever had to do was tell a client that we had garnered photographic evidence that her husband was being unfaithful.  It had been a lengthy investigation (several months) and the husband (who had a background in military investigations) had covered his tracks exceptionally well, so well we believed her suspicions were unfounded.  We had scheduled one last surveillance, which she asked us to continue doing, and after that we mutually agreed to terminate the investigations.

It was during that very last surveillance that we saw, and photographed, his infidelity.  The wife’s suspicions of his infidelity had been right on — he was involved with her best friend.  We finished the surveillance, did a wrap-up meeting where we discussed how to present the evidence to the client, then we made the call.  The client immediately wanted to know if her husband and her girlfriend were still at the location where they’d been photographed. We explained the husband and girlfriend had already left the scene, but we had photographic evidence that we would forward in a report.

We’ve since talked to this client and learned that after being confronted with the evidence, he admitted to the affair, and they are now in marriage counseling.  This was a happy ending.  More often, a client’s next call to us is requesting a recommendation for a good divorce lawyer.

PI Wise:  Except in only a few cases, a PI shouldn’t contact a client while the investigation is in process.  Especially in a cheating spouse case, a PI never tells a client, in real time, where her/his spouse is in flagrante delicto.  Remember the woman who ran over her philandering husband three times in the Texas parking lot?  That’s because the PI she’d hired to follow her husband called from the hotel where he was rendezvousing with his mistress and reported the infidelity in real time.  Wifey, enraged, drove over and…let’s just say if the PI hadn’t made that call, wifey might not now be spending years behind bars.

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