Guns, Gams & Gumshoes

A defense attorney & PI who also happen to be writers

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Posts Tagged ‘real-life detective stories’

The Witness Who Came in from the Cold

Posted by Writing PIs on February 23, 2017

black-white-woman-along-at-table-drinking-gratisograph-ryan-mcguire

(Image courtesy of Ryan McGuire)

We worked this case as an investigative team, with our results helping a defense lawyer to obtain a dismissal for his client. Also, we worked this case the old-fashioned way, on foot, as a key witness was afraid for her identity to be traced digitally (email, phone, etc.).

Late One Summer Night…

…a resident in a home near a park called 911 after hearing sounds of yelling and fighting (the caller couldn’t see the park itself as the view was obstructed by other homes). When police arrived at the park, they found three local gang members with knife wounds, lying on the ground. The gang members said two rival gang members from another city had stabbed them. One ran away, whereabouts unknown. The other had flagged down a car for a ride (they gave the license plate and description of that car.) Police found no weapons on the three gang members—it was later learned that others in their gang had gathered all the weapons and left before the police arrived.

Charge: Felony 3, First-Degree Assault

Police found the described car parked at a home in the neighborhood. The driver admitted he’d given a ride to a young man (whom we’ll call “E”), who had flagged him down and asked for a lift to a friend’s home. The police went to that address and found E, who matched the description given by the stabbed gang members.

handcuffed-hands

With no witnesses to confirm E’s claim of self-defense, police arrested him (image licensed by Colleen Collins)

Although E claimed self-defense, saying the rival gang had harassed, punched, and threatened him with their weaponry, the police charged him with the stabbings, a felony 3, first-degree assault.

Following the code of gang members, E refused to give any information about his fellow gang member who’d run away (later we learned this gang member had returned to his car and driven back to the neighboring city that night).

Goal: Find a Witness

E hired a defense lawyer (for whom we worked as defense investigators at the time). The lawyer informed the court and opposing counsel that our client was claiming self-defense.

Because E refused to identify his fellow gang member, the case lacked an independent corroborating witness. Based on the 911 call, people in the neighborhood had obviously heard the fighting, but no one had yet come forward to say that E had fought in self-defense.

As investigators we could have driven to the neighboring city and tried to root out this gang-member-witness—yeah, that would have been an easy, fruitful enterprise (not).

Bottom line: we had one weapon, the old “neighborhood canvas” or knock and talk.

Fear of Gang Retaliation

Problem was, people didn’t want to talk. An elderly man confided that people were afraid to talk out of fear of gang retaliation.

Next, we printed posters asking anyone who had seen an incident on [date] and [park name] to call [phone number], and the conversation would remain confidential. Whenever we’ve posted flyers like this, we use a dedicated, virtual phone number (meaning we set up a unique number that can’t be traced, and rings through to one of our office phones).

Then we walked up and down the sidewalks of this east Denver gang-infested, lower middle-class neighborhood, sticking our posters on street light poles, the fence around the park, and other such public spots (didn’t leave any on people’s doors as we didn’t want any third parties later assuming so-and-so, who had had a flyer on their door, was probably the snitch).

The Clock Was Ticking

Days later, we began to panic. E had to decide on a 5- to 12-year prison-only plea offer in the coming week, and no one had called us.

One late afternoon, we got a call from a coffee shop phone number in a different part of the city. The caller identified herself as a mother who lived near the park, but refused to give her name, or any digital means of contacting her (email address, cell phone number, etc.) as she was afraid of being traced. She said she’d seen local gang members threatening and taunting E, who at first had run from them, but after being cornered, fought back in self-defense. She wanted to do the right thing and “help that young man.”

A Secret Night Meeting

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The witness met us in the park shadows (image courtesy of Ryan McGuire)

She agreed to meet us in the park, at night, and point out where the young men had fought. We arrived at the park one weekday night and waited. An older woman walked toward us from a corner of the park.

In the shadows, she pointed out where she’d seen E running from the others, and where E had ended up with his back to a fence. We gave her our lawyer’s card and asked her to call him, and that the lawyer would protect her identity by sealing her statement in the court file.

D.A. Reviews Investigative Report

With a reliable, independent witness supporting E’s story, the defense lawyer took our interview and case report to the prosecution, who agreed to dismiss the charges against E.

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman, and any use of the content requires specific, written authority. Please do not copy/distribute mages licensed by Colleen Collins as she does not have the authority to share with others. All other images are in the public domain, with the caveat by the photographer, Ryan McGuire, to please credit them with his name.

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A True Story: The Case of the Bride Who Faked Evidence to Get Money

Posted by Writing PIs on June 4, 2016

She thought she'd be smiling all the way to the bank...

She thought she’d be smiling all the way to the bank (photo licensed by Colleen Collins)

The media has been buzzing lately with Johnny Depp and his wife Amber Heard’s divorce drama. As with any legal fracas, it is the evidence that will ultimately prove or disprove the charges being made.

Years ago we had a case where a woman, angry over her boyfriend terminating their love affair, decided to go after half of his assets by faking that they had been secretly married. Sounds crazy, right? Well, she’d successfully pulled this secret-marriage stunt before with another former boyfriend (we discovered later in our investigations), so she was quite savvy about how to legally pull this off. And she almost succeeded, too, because she worked hard to fabricate evidence of their having said “I do.”

Here’s the true story of…

 

The Bride Who Faked It for Money

She smiled almost all the way to the bank (image licensed by Colleen Collins)

A fake bride, a fake wedding, even a fake reception! (image licensed by Colleen Collins)

Our agency was hired by a local family lawyer to disprove a common law marriage between his client, Clay, and Clay’s last live-in girlfriend, Patty, a paralegal for an attorney in the area (Clay and Patty are not their real names).

Patty had just filed for divorce claiming that she and Clay were “common law” married. She asserted this based on the fact that they had lived together for a few years with what she said were multiple instances of representations to other people and to government agencies that they were married. In the language of common law marriage this is called “holding oneself out as married.”  A court can find this status in a divorce proceeding based on such evidence as the couple telling others they are married and that they conduct transactions as a married couple – for example, filing taxes, signing deeds, registering for a hotel or registering an auto under a married name.

In her divorce filing from their common law marriage, Patty made substantial claims against Clay’s retirement account and home equity in addition to demanding alimony. In short, this was a full-on divorce and if the court agreed with Patty, she would be entitled to a large settlement. Therefore, our goal was to show that although the couple had lived together, their conduct did not match the legal formula for being married. In short, we had to show that Patty was faking it for money.

Our investigative strategy was to attack the validity of Patty’s claims, one by one:

  • First, she claimed that she and Clay had registered as a married couple at a posh downtown Denver hotel the previous summer. Additionally, she claimed that during this stay, they had a small, informal ceremony in a hotel reception room. By contrast, our client claimed that they had stayed there for a weekend and had attended a Colorado Rockies baseball game with both Clay and Patty’s children. We knew that Clay had paid for the room, and Patty had registered them as using the same last name.
  • Second, Patty also claimed that they had received Christmas cards as “Mr. and Mrs. Clay” as well as other correspondence from friends and family members addressed to “Mr. and Mrs. Clay.”
  • Third, Patty had two friends from the mixed softball league that she and Clay had played in who were ready to testify that throughout the last league season, Clay and Patty had openly told other people that they were married.

Investigation Tasks

To disprove her assertions we:

Lou bellman-valet Oxford Thanksgiving 2015

Bellman in Denver hotel where Patty claimed there had been a secret wedding (image copyrighted by Colleen Collins)

  • Researched public records filed by the couple to determine if they filed public, official documents indicating that they were either married or single. We confirmed, at the DMV that Clay bought a BMW convertible two years before the break up. Clay told us that Patty drove the car exclusively. Patty asserted in the divorce papers that the car was hers. We learned from registration records that the car was not registered jointly, and that only Clay was on the title and registration. This contradicted what Patty had said. We also learned from bankruptcy records that Patty had filed for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy eighteen months before the break up, and she had listed herself on those papers as single with no spouse. Coincidentally, she left out any mention of “her” BMW in the bankruptcy papers. Patty had to either admit to lying to the bankruptcy court or she would have to agree, in our case, that just months before, she had told a federal bankruptcy judge, in a sworn statement, that she was single.
  • Contacted recipients of the Christmas cards and interviewed each of them. They denied receiving cards signed by both Clay and Patty, and one told us that they had never even seen Clay’s handwriting.
  • Interviewed the softball coach who told us that during each softball game in the previous season, Clay and Patty had stood in separate groups. The coach also said that Patty spent all of her off-field time in a corner chatting with the two women who were to testify on Patty’s behalf. The softball coach looked up Patty’s softball registration for that season, and that paperwork did not show Clay’s name in the space for “emergency contact/spouse.”

Unforeseen Glitches

We were stymied by hotel management when we tried to get information about the room that Clay and Patty had rented the previous summer. The hotel management would not release information about the room, even though Clay had paid for it, because Patty was the person who had signed the room registration. Since registration made it “her” room, we were denied access to these records.

Ultimately, the attorney we worked for had us return with a subpoena for these records. The hotel billing records showed that there was never a “reception” room rented for the ceremony as Patty had claimed.

Writing Tip: Keep in mind that your fictional PI will not always have an easy time getting hotel registrations, unlike sensationalized accounts in stories.

She Doctored Emails, Too

Patty also presented emails from her “husband” where he discussed their secret wedding and reception. The emails looked real enough, so we contacted a computer guru who specialized in email software to analyze them…he checked out the headers & code and said, “They’ve been doctored. Somebody took the original emails from this guy, deleted the text, and replaced it with this new text on [date].”

End Result

Patty and her lawyer agreed to a tiny settlement, and that there was no marriage, hence no divorce with Clay.

The Lingering Result

Patty gave us a kind of backhand compliment. Obviously stung by our work, she wanted revenge and she wanted it bad. She located our names and our business name in court records. For months after the case had been closed, we received angry emails, written both under her name and under assumed identities. Funny how the language, grammar, even the misspellings were identical in her emails and the “other sender’s” emails!

As time progressed, she also made false reports to government agencies about us. One agency took her claims seriously and conducted an investigation into our business and us, but found nothing to substantiate her rantings.

She finally disappeared from our lives, but we always suspect she is out there somewhere, looking for the next big fake one.

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

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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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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

 
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