Guns, Gams & Gumshoes

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

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Posts Tagged ‘real-life stories of private detectives’

Can a Private Investigator Obtain a Police File?

Posted by Writing PIs on March 10, 2014

private investigator

A writer asks how a P.I. might obtain a law enforcement report.

Writer’s Question: In the book I’m trying to write, the sister of a woman is missing. The police have finished their investigation and decided that the woman ran off. (Maybe not closed the investigation, not sure how that works in real life.) Her sister doesn’t believe that, so goes to my P.I. for help. My questions are: Can a P.I. get the file on the woman from the authorities? Is there sharing and corporation or is there conflict between them?

Answer: It’s very difficult for anyone from the private sector to obtain an open investigation file, although any private citizen can obtain access to a closed file.

But back to an open investigation file: Law enforcement officials might share verbal conclusions, but they would not share the entire body of the file. Often, there is conflict (or at least a lack of cooperation) between the private and public sectors. Things get even more complicated when you factor in the federal agencies because they consider most local law enforcement to be inferior agencies. For example, federal agencies frequently defer missing person investigations to local authorities absent special factors, which include kidnap with inter-state transport, kidnap with ransom, child kidnap, international kidnap, and  kidnapping related to international or domestic terrorism.

Saying that, there are a number of famous cases where private investigators have solved missing person and homicide cases. Not so long ago, several retired El Paso County Colorado law enforcement agents formed a private investigations agency that uncovered a serial murderer responsible for anywhere between 7-30 deaths (many of which had been unsolved for more than 10 years). This is an example of dedicated law enforcement work by those in the private sector, although we also surmise they must have had a tremendous amount of cooperation from their former agencies.

Holmes

Posted in Q&As | Tagged: , , , | Comments Off on Can a Private Investigator Obtain a Police File?

Answering Writers’ Questions About Private Detectives: Stalking Charges and Credit Card Records

Posted by Writing PIs on August 15, 2013

The Writing PIs

The Writing PIs

Today we’re answering writers’ questions about tracking credit cards and what happens when law enforcement is called on a PI.

English: First 4 digits of a credit card

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

WRITER’S QUESTION: We often see in police shows that the cops or feds are keeping tabs on someone’s credit card and as soon as it’s used somewhere they’re alerted and close in on that location. First of all, would they get the info that quickly or would it be hours/days delay? Secondly, could a licensed PI access that information?

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOE’S S ANSWER: No, PIs don’t have access to credit card transactions. Cops and feds would have pretty quick access (probably within approx. 30 minutes) to credit card transaction data because they would be working closely with investigators in the credit card fraud/security department.

WRITER’S QUESTION: If a PI is watching a person and that person clues in that they’re being

Can the law charge a P.I. with stalking?

watched/followed and calls the police. If the police figure out it’s a PI, could the PI still be charged with stalking or something?

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOE’S S ANSWER: We’ve had people call the police on several occasions, and our experience has been that as long as our communication with law enforcement is professional, there’s no problem. Steven Brown in his book THE COMPLETE IDIOT’S GUIDE TO PRIVATE INVESTIGATING suggests a PI to be upfront when working a case, but to never give away the identity of who’s being surveilled (in fact, in the book he suggests saying it’s a totally different address being surveilled).

Stalking is when a person who is prohibited by a court order violates that court order. A PI who is acting lawfully and/or is working under the supervision of an attorney is specifically excluded from stalking. Saying that, this does not mean that the PI can burglarize, trespass, wiretap or eavesdrop the person they’re surveilling.  Below is an article Colleen, one of the Gums, Gams, and Gumshoes PIs,  wrote a few years back about PIs and stalking:

Pursuit Magazine: “When Does Surveillance Become Stalking?”

Related article on Guns, Gams and Gumshoes:
What to Do If You’re Stalked on Amazon or Anywhere on the Internet

Click on image to go to book's Amazon page

Click on image to go to book’s Amazon page

Posted in Hiring Private Investigators, Law Enforcement Arresting P.I.s, Q&As, Real-Life Private Investigator Stories | Tagged: , , , , | Comments Off on Answering Writers’ Questions About Private Detectives: Stalking Charges and Credit Card Records

The Day the Sheriffs Escorted Us to Another County

Posted by Writing PIs on August 8, 2013

 

To go to book's Amazon page, click on cover

To go to book’s Amazon page, click on cover

This true-story excerpt from Guns, Gams and Gumshoes’s Colleen Collins, Secrets of a Real-Life Female Private Eyeconcerns a divorce case seven or so years ago where the almost-ex-husband, in an enraged phone call to his vodka-and-cocaine-loving almost-ex-wife, spilled everything his attorney had told him in confidence about his private investigators (us) and our investigation plans. Another fitting title for this case story could be “A Lawyer’s Big Mouth Almost Landed Us in Jail” but instead Colleen titled it…

The Day The Sheriffs Escorted Us to Another County

One thing we’ve learned at our investigations agency is to never provide details about an investigative task to a client until after the task is completed. Unfortunately, years ago one of our lawyer-clients spilled the “investigation beans” to his/ our client, which caused all kinds of problems.

A Lawyer Hired Us for a Nasty Divorce Case

The husband had recently moved out of his mountain home, leaving his wife and two small children there. The problem was, the wife was overly fond of cocaine and vodka, staying up partying for long periods before crashing for day-long sleeps. The children, both under six years old, had told their dad that on “Mommy’s sleep days,” they were going outside to play by themselves.

The attorney asked us to conduct a trash hit, see what evidence there was of alcohol and drug use. In preparation to visit the home, we learned it was remotely located in the mountains (very dangerous for young children to be outside for long periods by themselves). We also learned the soon-to-be ex-wife had a history of drug and alcohol abuse. In preparation for a trash hit, we learned the day the trash was set out and where the trash cans would most likely be located. As the wife didn’t have a job, it was likely she’d be at home, so we planned to work quickly.

It was going to be a long drive to the mountains, so we decided to take our Rottweiler, Aretha

Investigator Aretha

Investigator Aretha

Franklin. Although on such cases, we like to call her Investigator Aretha.

Imagine Our Surprise When We Saw…

The home, located in the mountains, was only accessible by a single dirt road that snaked around hills, boulders, trees. When we finally hit the last stretch of road leading to the house, imagine our surprise to see several sheriff’s units, including a K-9 unit and a van. These dudes, and dog, were waiting for us. Our Rottweiler, Ms. Big Bad Herself, leapt into the front seat, all hundred-plus pounds of her knocking the wind out of me as she landed in my lap where she huddled, shivering with fear. I have never seen her behave like that before or since. Maybe it was all those sheriffs in uniforms, who knows.

The sheriff approaching our vehicle had seen Ms. Big Bad clear the backseat and placed his hand on his holster. This was going to be one of those days.

My husband poked his head out the driver’s window and said loudly, calmly, “The Rottweiler is docile— she’s cowering in my wife’s lap.” I smiled at the sheriff as Investigator Aretha trembled and whined in my arms.

Wife Added Sinister Story Twists

sheriffFor the next hour or so, the sheriffs interviewed my husband and I about what we were doing there, who we were, who sent us, etc. etc. etc. From the questions, it became obvious that our chatty attorney-client had informed the almost-ex-husband that we were heading up the mountain to conduct a trash hit on his former residence. Later we learned that in a rage-fueled conversation with his estranged wife, hubby had blabbed everything the lawyer had said, down to the expected time of our arrival.

The almost-ex-wife, after hearing that a couple of P.I.s, on behalf of her husband’s divorce attorney, were on the way to the house, called the local sheriff and added all kinds of sinister twists to the tale, leading the sheriff’s office to believe we were everything from potential burglars to kidnappers.

Lovely.

The sheriffs, upon learning we were really working on behalf of a lawyer in a nasty divorce case, decided the best recourse was to escort us to another county, which was fine as that next county was the one in which we lived and worked.

Escorted in Style Down the Mountain

The sheriffs set up a caravan of their vehicles, in front and behind us, and our happy convoy proceeded down the mountain. Along the way we called our attorney-client, explained that his telling the client everything about the trash hit had resulted in this sheriff-fest.

“Are they putting you in jail?” he asked, “‘ cause if they are, call me. I’ll represent you, no charge.” He thought that was pretty funny.

We continued in our sheriff-P.I. caravan down the mountain, our steel-nerved Rottweiler refusing to leave my lap. As we crossed the county line, one of the sheriffs honked and waved good-bye. Friendly folks, those mountain sheriffs.

Since then, whenever we start working a case with a new lawyer, we insist that pertinent details of an investigation not be shared until after the task is completed. Most attorneys know this, but we’d prefer to err on the side of too much information than to be part of a law enforcement’s procession again.

Postscript: That attorney hired another investigator who safely conducted a trash hit. Significant amounts of drug evidence and alcohol were found (the wife, despite knowing her husband’s divorce attorney was keen on getting evidence of her drinking and drugging, continued to party and toss that evidence right into the trash). We’ve since heard she’s in a recovery program, so hopefully this story has a better ending for the kids.

Secrets of a Real-Life Female Private Eye by Colleen Collins, a  nonfiction, no-holes-barred, modern-day story about life in the female PI fast lane.

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

Posted in Excerpt: The Day the Sheriffs Escorted Us Down the Mountain, Secrets of a Real-Life Female Private Eye, Writing Mysteries | Tagged: , , , , | Comments Off on The Day the Sheriffs Escorted Us to Another County

 
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