Guns, Gams & Gumshoes

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

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Posts Tagged ‘real-life private detective stories’

Funny Holiday Investigation Tales

Posted by Writing PIs on December 21, 2016

One of the Writing PIs and Santa (image copyrighted)

One of the Writing PIs and Santa (image copyrighted)

 

Not all private investigations are serious affairs—sometimes they’re funny. Below are two of those cases, along with a third that doesn’t involve investigators, but a deputy district attorney and a very drunk, and surprised, young man.

“I want my husband served his divorce papers on Christmas day–tell him they’re his gift from me.”

We had a thoroughly irked wife who’d found out about her husband’s blatant philandering, and made a special request through her divorce attorney: she wanted the cheater served on Christmas Day. Had to be served on Christmas Day, no other day would do.  To top it off, he was working at a local jail on Christmas Day. So, we showed up at the jail and politely asked to see him. Minutes later, he appeared–a handsome, cocky 30-something–who took the envelope we handed him, opened it, read that his wife was filing for divorce, and after thanking us, said,”This is the best Christmas gift!”

“My husband’s in the alley going for Krispy Kremes—serve him, quick!”

Another wife wanting a divorce served. Seemed her husband, who she still lived with, had done her wrong and she wanted him served ASAP, which happened to be the day after Christmas. We showed up at the front door with the papers, rang the bell, and the wife (our client) answered. She whispered that her husband was pretending to take a shower because he was afraid she wanted to have him served divorce papers, and would we mind coming back in a half hour when he did his usual Saturday morning run for Krispy Kremes? We said sure, we’d come back.

Thirty minutes later, we parked in the alley behind the house and, to our surprise, saw the wife running down the alley, waving frantically at us, yelling, “He’s pulling out of the driveway any minute!”

We happened to be parked in front of the driveway, so when the garage door opened and he attempted to back out, there we were, papers in hand. He refused to open his driver’s window, so we placed the papers on his windshield, told him he was served, and drove away.  We suppose he left and got his Krispy Kremes after that.

“Stop or I’ll shoot, wherever you are!”

A young man on New Year’s Eve had been drinking with some friends and wandered away from the bar shortly after midnight. That he could still walk after all he’d consumed was a miracle. He ended up walking up the driveway of a house that he thought he still lived in (but, in fact, he’d moved from years ago). Finding the front door locked, he went to the back porch and opened the sliding glass door. After entering the living room, he curled up on the couch and began playing with the video game console in front of him.

Moments later, the current owner of the house, who happened to be legally blind (as well as being a deputy D.A. for that jurisdiction), heard noises, got his gun, and walked into the living room yelling, “Stop!  Get down, wherever you are, I have a gun!”

Chaos ensued as the highly intoxicated young man fell over more furniture than the legally blind D.A. with the gun did. Fortunately, the D.A.’s young son (hiding in a back room) had already dialed 911, so the police arrived before more damage could be done. Although charges were filed, the D.A. recommended all charges be dropped and the young man undergo in-patient alcohol treatment.

Hopefully your holidays are less eventful and more fun!

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Real-Life Private Detective Tales: Three Memorable Christmas Investigations

Posted by Writing PIs on December 12, 2016

Christmas horizontal wreath

As Christmas approaches, we remember a few of our favorite investigation stories that occurred during the holidays, from the silly to the heartfelt.

Story #1: Serving Christmas Divorce Papers to a Happy Jailer

Several years ago, an angry soon-to-be-ex-wife told her attorney that she wanted divorce papers served on her soon-to-be-ex-husband on Christmas Day. No other day would do. Not Christmas Eve, not the day after Christmas. Had to be Christmas Day. The Happy Holidaysdivorce papers were to be her Christmas gift to the husband whom she had recently learned was keeping a girlfriend on the side.

The attorney contacted us and asked if we’d be willing to fulfill her Christmas wish. After hearing the story, we said yes. The husband was a deputy in a local jail, and was scheduled to work on Christmas Day.

That day, we drove to the jail, politely asked for him, and after he confirmed his identity, we served him the papers.

He read the first page, looked up at us, grinned, then exclaimed, “This might be the best Christmas gift I’ve ever had!”

Story #2: The Rancher Who Was Staring at 48 Years in Prison

Eight years ago, an attorney hired us to prove that his client (who became our client as well) had not aimed and fired a gun directly at a couple who had intruded on his land. In September, the rancher had been charged with two counts of attempted first-degree murder and was currently  incarcerated. The D.A. was hot to find him guilty, which meant our client might not see freedom for 24 years minimum, 48 years maximum.

This rancher had never done anything criminal in his entire life. Had never even gotten a speeding ticket. He and his family were devastated at the accusations, and the possibility of his being in prison for decades to come.

detective with flashlight

(Image licensed, please do not copy or distribute)

This was a physically demanding, gritty case where we searched acres and acres of cold ranch land (a little over 800 acres to be exact) in bone-chilling late fall and winter temperatures. We used metal detectors to meticulously search laid-out crime scene areas where we believed (after consulting with a ballistics expert) the slugs may have fallen. It was critical to find these slugs—their placement would show the rancher had fired warning shots, not intentionally lethal shots.

Burrs worked their way up through the soles of our shoes, our bodies ached from hours of bending over, searching the ground, fighting disappointment whenever we hit false leads (years ago, parts of the land had been a dump, so the metal detectors kept pinging that they’d found metal, and we’d dig to find not slugs, but rusted bedsprings, nails, and the like).

Then one day, we found the first slug! Then the second, the third…finally the fourth! Out there on those hundreds of acres of chilly prairie, we whooped and hollered with joy! The rancher’s mother heard us and ran, tears streaming down her face, to see if we’d found the evidence to prove her son’s innocence.

The D.A. dropped the more serious charges, and the rancher was released on a much-lower bond on Christmas Eve. His family had an especially meaningful Christmas that year.

Story #3: The Young Father Facing Months in Jail

handcuffed hands

(Image licensed, please do not copy or distribute)

One Christmas Eve, Shaun (Gums, Gams and Gumshoes co-author, former PI, and now a criminal defense attorney) went to court for the initial appearance of a young father accused of a restraining order violation on his ex-wife. Without a lower bond, he could lose his job, his home, and miss opportunities to spend time with his sons.  The young father, who told Shaun he was innocent of the charges, was facing up to six months in jail if found guilty on all counts.

Shaun pointed out to the judge that, at worst, the young man was guilty of contacting his ex-wife so that he could obtain some much-needed antibiotic medicine for the youngest son, who had a bad ear infection. The judge saw through the ex-wife’s hysterics and false accusations, and set bail at a Christmas Eve bargain of $50 cash.

We were asleep last night when awoken by the beeping of Shaun’s cell phone. The young man had texted Shaun to let him know he’d been released from jail and would be spending Christmas with his sons. We didn’t mind being woken up—it was a terrific way to start Christmas Day.

For those who celebrate it, have a wonderful Christmas, Writing PIs

The Zen Man by Colleen Collins

Click on above banner to go to Amazon page (copyright Colleen Collins)

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Please do not copy/distribute any images noted as copyrighted or licensed. 

Posted in Perspectives from a Criminal Defense Attorney, Real-Life Private Investigator Stories | Tagged: , , | Comments Off on Real-Life Private Detective Tales: Three Memorable Christmas Investigations

How Well Do You Know Your Valentine?

Posted by Writing PIs on February 4, 2016

Valentine’s Day vintage postcard (image is in the public domain)

It’s almost Valentine’s Day, a time when couples celebrate their love with candlelit dinners, flowers, champagne…and some even become engaged.

Spending your life with someone, sharing sensitive financial data and resources, possibly raising children together, combining assets and more, is a business commitment. How well do you know this person and his/her background?

A Background Check = Heart Smart

Knowing your significant other’s background is important. Not the background they choose to share, but the black-and-white background documented in public records, such as a criminal history, arrest history, driving history, previous marriages and divorces. Even if you’re planning to only live together, co-habitation is still a business venture.

We’ve had cases come into our office where a man or woman either has an inkling, or a reason to be concerned, that the person they’re involved with has a shady past. One case ended up with the client calling us one night and saying, “Quick, turn on the news! That guy you did a background check on? He’s in a high-speed chase with police!”

That’s the most bizarre, dramatic ending we’ve ever had in a case that started out as a simple background check, so let’s start at the beginning…

Hi, you were recommended by my lawyer…

An initial search revealed multiple felonies (image licensed by Colleen Collins)

This client called several years back, referred to us by an attorney who’d handled her previous divorce. After she’d told the attorney she had fallen for this great guy, but knew very little about him, he told her to contact us for a background check.

I was alone in the office when she called. After ending the call, I ran a quick criminal background check…and couldn’t believe the number of felonies this guy had racked up! Plus he’d served time in a federal prison. Digging deeper, I discovered he had a pattern of embezzlement.

I called her immediately and broke the news. She was upset, and admitted she’d been “loaning” him a lot of money, to the tune of thousands of dollars.

After terminating the relationship, she started carefully reviewing her credit card statements and bank statements, and learned he’d misappropriated her credit card information, forged checks, and promised various lenders and businesses that she would co-sign on loans.

He’s in a high-speed chase with police!

Approximately six months later, we got a late-night call from her. “Quick, turn on the news! That guy you did a background check on? He’s in a high-speed chase with police!”

Indeed he was. Helicopters were tracking him from above, their lights beaming down on his car, which was followed by police units, their lights flashing. It was bizarre watching this real-life cop chase on TV.

This is an extreme example of the end result of a background check, but nevertheless, it’s a real story that happened to real people. If she had checked his background when she first met him, she could saved herself thousands of dollars.

A Happy Ending

Her story has a happy ending, though. She called back a year or so later, said she’d met a wonderful guy but before they got more involved, she wanted us to conduct a background check.

He had no criminal records, no secret wife, no arrests. Everything he had shared about his past (that we could verify through public records) was true. Months later, we saw the two of them having dinner at a restaurant. She wore a sparkling diamond ring.

How to Obtain a Background Check

An easy way to find a PI who specializes in background checks is to contact your state professional private investigators association. Below is a link, courtesy of PI Magazine, that lists state PI associations:

Private Investigator Associations (USA)

Have Valentine’s Day, Writing PIs


All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Any use of the content requires specific, written authority. Please do not copy/distribute images that are marked copyrighted or licensed—images in the public domain are yours to use.

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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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Dealing with Cyberstalkers

Posted by Writing PIs on May 13, 2015

Internet investigations

A few weeks ago, a defamatory “book review” showed up on Amazon — the term book review is in quotes because in no way was it a review of a book. Instead, it was a malicious character attack written by someone hiding behind a bogus ID. Unfortunately, I’m not the only author to deal with such non-book-related reviews written by people with personal agendas.

Contacting Amazon About Vengeful Reviews

By vengeful, I mean reviews that contain no analysis of the book, only mean-spirited, spiteful content directed at the author.

Letter Template

Below is part of the letter I wrote to abuse@amazonaws.com. I have replaced real names and titles so this letter is basically a template.


Dear Amazon:

An abusive comment written by “[bogus ID]” remains in a book review for [book title] [link to book review]:
 
[screen shot of review here]
 
This review does not meet Amazon’s review submission guidelines because:
  • It contains no information about the book itself
  • Content is spiteful
  • Content directs readers to go to other sites that are not associated with the book or Amazon
  • Content only contains malicious attacks on the author

For the above reasons, I request you to please delete this review.

Sincerely, [name]


The above bulleted list specifically addresses content Amazon deems unacceptable in reviews. To read more about Amazon’s review guidelines, click here.

I Found More Evidence About This Cyberstalker

Some cyber-searching revealed this person had cyberstalked before

Internet searches revealed this person had cyberstalked before

Additionally, I did some Internet research on this “reviewer” (thanks to a writer-friend’s lead) and found a connection that revealed his real name. From there, I conducted background research and found a police report where this individual had been reported for cyberstalking several years earlier. I forwarded all of that data to Amazon.

This evidence was powerful, but it’s not always the case that such compelling data is discovered. But even without it, I believe Amazon would have taken down the review due to it violating its review policies.

By the way, it might take Amazon several weeks, even a month, to follow up on a takedown request. If you are waiting for Amazon’s response, resist the urge to click on the bad review link, and ask friends and family not to click it, either. Simply put, clicking = interest and interest = higher ranking. You don’t want that vengeful “review” getting more attention.

Others Stalked on Amazon

Sometimes in a big way. Some of you might recall several years back when a Michael Jackson fan group bombarded a book on Amazon (which they felt was derogatory about MJ) with hundreds of one-star reviews.

Below are some articles and threads written by writers on this topic. Although some say Amazon suggests responding to a stalker’s comment, we at Guns, Gams and Gumshoes advise against it (see “Tips for Handling a Cyberstalker” below).

KDP Thread: Dealing with a Stalker

I Was Stalked on Amazon.com

Wish I could say this recent cyberstalking episode was our first, but it’s not.

A Book Blog Tour Stalker

This happened almost five years ago, only this stalker didn’t stop at fake reviews. He saw where we were on a book blog tour and posted derogatory comments at each site. Yes, we had our own tag-a-long book-blog stalker. He hadn’t even read the book, how rude.

Working with Blog Hosts

We contacted our blog hosts ahead of time, briefly explained that we had our very own personal stalker and suggested the host monitor all comments and delete his offensive rants. Oh, and to please forward us the stalker’s IP address, thank you. Gee, imagine our surprise (not) to see all these derogatory comments were from the same IP address.

Blog Host Put a Stop to It

One of our hosts (decorated ex-military, unafraid to tangle with anyone) posted one of the stalker’s rants, and publicly censured the stalker for acting like a cowardly baby hiding behind his mommy’s skirts. Yes, those were his exact words. Must have hurt the stalker’s feelings because after that his public shenanigans stopped cold. He just…disappeared. Poof! Like smoke.

smoke from empty boots

We didn’t know that particular host would do that — in fact, if we had been told ahead of time that he was going to post a public comment to embarrass the stalker, we would have requested there be no public exchange.

We don’t specialize in stalking cases, but we have been contacted by writers and others who are being stalked, and we always suggest they ignore the stalker and document all activity in case the person wishes to later involve the police or hire an attorney.

What Is Stalking?

Classically, it is a repeated pattern of unwanted, offensive contact intended to harass or frighten the subject. The Internet, unfortunately, provides opportunities for stalkers to anonymously intimidate their victims.

Tips for Handling a Cyberstalker

Here are some tips for handling a cyberstalker.

1. Save all correspondence, including header information in emails and other forms of electronic correspondence.

2. If you are 18 or under, let your parent (or an adult you trust) know about the cyberstalking.

3. Respond in writing with a cease & desist request. Then do not engage further with the cyberstalker. Clearly state that the contact is unwanted and that the cyberstalker should immediately stop all forms of communication. Check the filtering options on your email (and other communication services, such as social media) and apply the filtering options to halt the cyberstalker’s messages from reaching you.

4. Contact your Internet Service Provider (ISP) and file a complaint. If you’ve learned the cyberstalker’s ISP, also file a complaint with their ISP, too. ISPs have policies in place to handle cyberstalking, such as eliminating incoming messages from the cyberstalker, if known.

5. If the cyberstalking continues, contact your local law enforcement or local prosecutor’s office to see what charges (if any) can be filed. Save these communications as well, including any police reports.

6. Consider changing your email address, phone numbers, ISP, and other contact information the cyberstalker is using. Also considering using encryption software.

Resources on Cyberstalking

HaltAbuse.org: Working to Halt Online Abuse

Reputation.com: How to Prevent or Defend Against Online Stalking

Women’s Web: Violence Against Women – Stalking

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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Yes, Virginia, There Really Were Female Private Eyes In Hard-Boiled Stories

Posted by Writing PIs on November 17, 2014

woman looking thru mag glass black and white2

One of the Guns, Gams and Gumshoes, Colleen, just finished writing an article about female private eyes in literature, so it was surprising to read the November 14, 2014 article “The Death of the Private Eye” by John Semley in the New York Times and see references to only men being shamuses in hardboiled fiction.

There Were Lady Dicks, Too

The hardboiled private dicks in pulp fiction’s hard-hitting, heart-pumping stories included numerous female characters as the main protagonists, although you’d never know it from Semley’s text:

“The hard-boiled gumshoes were men…”

“If the private dick has all but disappeared, something of his DNA is woven into the biology of the authority-bucking hackers…”

“This is the real essence of the P.I….despite his venality…”

Miss Marple: An Amateur Sleuth

Semley does, however, give a passing nod to Miss Marple (“the old-school gumshoe feels as irrelevant as Sherlock Holmes and Miss Marple felt a generation before”) except that Miss Marple was an amateur sleuth, not a professional private investigator (definition from Private Eye Writers of America: A private investigator is a private citizen [not a member of the military, federal agency, or civic or state police force] who is paid to investigate crimes).

Tip of the Fedora to Hard-Boiled Female PIs

Secret Agent

Let’s look at a few female private eye characters who made their appearances during the hard-boiled era:

Grace “Redsie” Culver, an operative for the Noonan Detective Agency, starred in 20 stories in The Shadow Magazine from 1934-1937.

Carrie Cashin, owner of the Cash and Carry Detective Agency in Manhattan, first hit the fiction scene in 1937 and went on to star in 38 stories.

Dol Bonner started walking the mean streets in The Hand in the Glove (1937) by Rex Stout, who later included Bonner as a supporting character in several novels featuring Nero Wolfe.

The Death of the Private Eye Genre?

This is the real point of Semley’s article, and it’s a valid one. Yes, technological tools, available to just about anyone, have cast a cold shadow on many of the private investigator’s tricks of the trade. My husband and I have an entire room filled with cameras and other equipment that are hopelessly outdated. A lot of the smartphone apps I use for investigations any kid can buy.

Walking the Mean Streets: Still in Vogue

But not all investigations are about being technically hip. When a law firm hired us to find the names of people who had worked on a building nearly 50 years ago, there were no databases, even proprietary ones, that contained a shred of evidence to these people’s identities, so we sleuthed the old-fashioned way: On foot. Talked to people, reviewed old reverse phone directories, ended up digging through dusty boxes in a storage facility (where we finally found the people’s names).

We know a homicide detective who resorts to some old-fashioned tricks when he wants to get people to answer the door: He finds their electrical box and turns off the power. Within seconds, they’ve opened their door and he’s there with a few questions he’d like them to answer.

A Witness Wrote Us a Letter

When a lawyer hired us to find a gang member who had tried to kill his client, we headed to the gang member’s neighborhood and knocked on doors. Nobody wanted to talk to us because they were either frightened or protective of the gang. Later we returned to the neighborhood with signs that we posted on trees, bus benches, a fence at a park. A few days later, we received a letter written by someone who didn’t want to give their name, and who was writing with paper and pen because they didn’t want their identity traced electronically. They wrote that they would meet us at the park at a certain date and time and talk with us, for fifteen minutes only.

Was this witness for real? We didn’t know, but we showed up at the park at the designated time…and found a woman in her fifties who quietly told us the gang member’s name and address. She refused to give us her name, and to be on the safe side she hadn’t even driven to the park in her car (she’d walked). Her information cracked the case.

Semley claims that “All P.I. stories are now period pieces.” Hmm…maybe that’s even more of a cliche than thinking only tough, wisecracking guys were gumshoes.

fedora black and white

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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The Drug Smuggler Who Wore Gucci

Posted by Writing PIs on August 28, 2014

Today Guns, Gams and Gumshoes’s Colleen is the guest at mystery writer Lois Winston’s blog. Below is an excerpt from Colleen’s article about a high-style drug smuggler with a link to the full article at the end.

The Felonious Fashionista

by Colleen Collins

fedora on woman black and white

My husband and I ran a private investigations agency for a decade, which has since morphed into his criminal law practice where I’m his part-time P.I. Or as I  call myself, his “live-in P.I.”

Occasionally, we’ve had clients give us thank-you gifts for handling their cases, from Starbucks cards to homemade tamales. But the most surprising gift offer was from a client who committed crimes in the high style she also liked to wear.  For this article, I’ll call her the felonious fashionista.

How We Met the Felonious Fashionista

A case came into our office a few years ago, where a man said his sister had been arrested on drug charges, and could our law firm handle her case? We get similar calls every month or so, usually for someone who’s been busted for recreational amounts of illicit drugs such as cocaine, ecstasy, Oxycontin. When we asked the particulars of his sister’s charges, he said, “She had ten pounds of heroin packed in the air cleaner of the Mercedes she was driving, and fifty pounds of marijuana in the luggage carrier on top of the car.”

Our jaws dropped.

“Walk like you have three men walking behind you.”
– Oscar de la Renta

Because we were hired quickly after the fashionista had fired another lawyer, we didn’t meet her until her second appearance in court. Imagine our surprise when a Sofia Vergara clone sashayed into the courthouse as if she were prowling a catwalk. She wore insanely high heels, a silk blouse and a front-split skirt that flashed glimpses of her tan, toned thighs. Later we learned she had been a fashion model in a European country.

Other lawyers in the hallway looked like a tableau, frozen as they stared in awe at this beautiful woman, their looks turning to surprise and curiosity as she greeted us warmly. As the three of us walked into the courtroom, she glanced at my husband’s green nylon briefcase decorated with several ink smudges, then at my purse, which is more like an oversized messenger bag as I cram everything into it, from books to my computer.

After the hearing, she took us aside and said she wanted to gift us both with designer luggage briefcases as ours were in serious need of an “upgrade.” Did we like Saint Laurent? Gucci?

“We like REI,” my husband quipped.

That evening, I found him looking up Gucci briefcases on the internet.

Let’s pause a moment and discuss what this drug smuggler gained from her fashionista ways.

To read the full article click here.

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Answering Writers’ Questions: Finding Evidence Long After a Crime and A Cheating Spouse Case

Posted by Writing PIs on September 8, 2013

Below we’ve posted several writer’s questions and our answers about evidence and cheating spouses.  We provide background to some of the questions in brackets.

Finding Evidence Months After a Crime

[This first question was in response to our describing how PIs might find evidence months after a crime has occurred.  In this instance, Shaun, one of the Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’s PIs, had found a .44 casing outside our client’s residence]

WRITER’S  QUESTION: In the case where Shaun found the .44 casing … did he leave it alone and call the police so they could photograph it in place? Or did he take pictures of it and put it in a bag and take it to the police? What happened?

The casings proved that the neighborhood was crime-ridden

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOES’S RESPONSE: The .44 casing was found months after the charged crime and it was not material evidence in our case. However, the casing was proof that the neighborhood where this occurred was extremely crime-ridden, and that our client had a reasonable belief that he had to resort to deadly force to protect himself and his son.

Had the casing been found the morning after the confrontation where our client shot his .357, Shaun would have done the following:

  • Not touched it
  • Left the casing exactly where he found it
  • Contacted the police
  • Taken a photo of it for our client’s attorney

To bring this story up to date, the photograph Shaun took was listed as evidence at the trial, at which he also testified about the nature of the neighborhood (it being crime-ridden, which was backed by data from various interactive crime maps), and how he found the casing.  Our client was found not guilty.

WRITER’S QUESTION: Couldn’t the defense (or prosecution depending which side your client was on) claim that the casing had been placed there later? Or was from a different incident at another time?

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOES’S RESPONSE: In this case, our client was the defense attorney, and it didn’t matter how the casing got there months later–what mattered in this particular case is that it showed how reasonable our client was in pulling his gun in self-defense.

Answering Writers’ Questions: Cheating Spouses

[This next question pertains to our sharing a story how we interviewed the “other woman” in a cheating spouse case]

WRITER’S QUESTION: And about interviewing the woman in the cheating husband case – I take it there’s no concern about tipping off the cheating husband that he’s being investigated?

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOES’S RESPONSE: For this case, no, as he’d already seen the photographs (because his wife had filed for divorce and her attorney had the photographs) by the time we’d interviewed the “other woman.” Generally speaking, however, we wouldn’t want to tip off the cheating spouse that they’re being investigated.

WRITER’S QUESTION: Have either of you ever been threatened by a spouse who has been caught? Or by the person they’ve caught them with? Without wanting to give away too much from my WIP, I’m thinking that might be a possible threat to my guys. I’m just wondering if it’s a credible storyline that the cheater might go after the private investigators for destroying their marriage.

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOES’S RESPONSE: In the “other woman” case we’ve been discussing, she was also married.  A week or so after we interviewed the other woman, she contacted us saying she’d hired an attorney and we were to not contact her again for any reason. We didn’t believe she’d hired an attorney, and figured she was bluffing because she was scared, but we had no reason to contact her again (after interviewing her).  In fact, we felt sorry for her (she had two young children, and her husband was devastated that his wife had fooled around).

To answer your question whether we think it’s  credible in a storyline that the other woman or other man might get so freaked out, have so much to protect, that they’d go after the PI?  Yes, that’s credible.  We’ve been threatened in other situations that weren’t cheating spouse cases (we’ve had dogs sic’d on us during process services, and Shaun once had a woman follow him, pounding her fists on his back, after he served her legal papers). The worst threat by far was a case where the woman to whom we served a restraining order mounted a full-on cyber-stalking attack on our business/reputations.  This woman had a lot to protect–five million dollars she’d stolen, and which by the way has never been found.  Colleen wrote about this case in her nonfiction book Secrets of a Real-Life Female Private Eye.

Have a great week, Writing PIs

 

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Pretexting: Okay for Jim Rockford, But Not Always for Real-Life P.I.s

Posted by Writing PIs on July 26, 2013

We own the complete DVD set of the The Rockford Files TV show that ran from 1974-1980.  Love James Garner in that show as the droll, I’d-rather-be-fishing private eye Jim Rockford.  He kept his gun in a cookie jar and carried around a printing device so he could quickly imprint a business card with a bogus ID whenever necessary.

Ah, those bogus IDs.  Along with bogus stories.  The stuff of private eye fiction.

But when it comes to real-life private investigators, fabricating bogus IDs and stories can get the P.I. into a lot of trouble.   Below is an excerpt from “P.I.s, Pretexting, and the Law: Tips for Crime Writers,” an article by one of the Guns, Gams and Gumshoes’s authors, Colleen, for Pursuit Magazine.  It outlines some illegal investigative pretexts, and gives tips to crime writers crafting P.I. characters who might use this technique.

“To Tell the Truth, I Lied a Little”
~Private eye Jake Gittes in Chinatown

by Colleen Collins

The private eye genre has long been a favorite for writers, from the novel The Maltese Falcon by Maltese Falcon book coverDashiell Hammett to the current hard-boiled hoax by J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books, who secretly penned a private-eye novel, The Cuckoo’s Calling, under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith.

Besides having owned my own private detective agency for a decade, I’m also a multi-published fiction author. For the past three years I’ve also been a judge for the Private Eye Writers of America, in which capacity I’ve read over two hundred hardcover private eye novels. Sometimes writers have done their research and compose compellingly realistic investigative scenarios, from conducting witness interviews to what it’s like working for a defense attorney.

And sometimes, writers being writers, they make stuff up. Stuff that no real-world private investigator would do unless he or she liked the word “felon” tarnishing their reputation and deep-sixing their P.I. career.

In this article, I discuss the investigative practice of pretexting, with tips for writers on how their private eye characters can come across as realistic, not ridiculous, when using it.

What Is Pretexting?

Pretexting is, basically, using a phony script to obtain information from someone, often playing on people’s natural desire to talk and be helpful. The pretexter might pretend to be someone else, tell a white lie, or create some other deception to acquire this information. Although in recent years pretexting has gotten a bad rap, when used legally and with good judgment, it can be an indispensable investigative technique.

Private investigators might pretext via an email

Private investigators might pretext via an email

Often a P.I. will pretext over the phone, although it can also be done in person, by mail, email or phishing. However, fabricating stories to obtain information isn’t typically the first avenue of approach for an investigator. Often, the information a P.I. needs can be found in public records as well as through Internet and database searches. Sometimes, a P.I. can get the information you want by simply asking for it.

Whether a P.I. chooses to pretext, or a writer crafts a scene using this tactic, keep in mind that in certain situations, pretexting is against the law. I’ve outlined three of these situations below:

Illegal: Impersonating a Police Officer, Lawyer, or Doctor

A private investigator must never impersonate a police officer, lawyer, or doctor. Doing so sets the stage for the P.I. spending some quality time behind bars. In our state a few years ago, a P.I. was nailed for not only impersonating an officer, but threatening the subject with a firearm while assaulting the subject. (And this was for a process service!) The subject, after learning the guy wasn’t a law enforcement officer but a P.I., hired an attorney—who filed a lawsuit against the private investigator.

In your story, the fictional P.I. might pretend he’s an officer knowing full well he’s courting a felony charge by doing so (which cranks up the tension). But if your character does this without a second thought, as though pretending to be a cop or lawyer has no possible repercussions, your P.I character could look amateur at best, or just plain dumb.

To read the full article, click here.

Have a great weekend, Writing PIs

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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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