Guns, Gams & Gumshoes

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

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    A Guide for Writing Fictional Sleuths from a Couple of Real-Life Sleuths

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Posts Tagged ‘true crime stories’

The Witness Who Came in from the Cold

Posted by Writing PIs on February 23, 2017

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(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.

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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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Posted in Real-Life Private Investigator Stories | Tagged: , , | Comments Off on The Witness Who Came in from the Cold

#WritingTips Two NonFiction Books for Writers Crafting Sleuths

Posted by Writing PIs on September 13, 2016

screen-shot-2016-09-13-at-11-00-51-amWe at Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes had a lovely surprise this morning—author Tina Russo Radcliffe recommended our two books, How to Write a Dick: A Guide to Writing Fictional Sleuths from a Couple of Real-Life Sleuths and How Do Private Eyes Do That? to her writing community on Facebook (see her message on the right side of this post).

Book Excerpt: How Do Private Eyes Do That?

Below is an excerpt from How Do Private Eyes Do That? by Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’s Colleen Collins.

A Pet Is Lost Every Two Seconds

I recently read that in the US, a family pet is lost every two seconds. That’s astounding, and yet within our own neighborhood we see lost pet signs posted nearly every week. According to the National Humane Society and the National Council of Pet Population Study and Policy, one out of every three pets is lost at some point in its lifetime, and only one out of ten is found.

Our neighbors’ lost cat was found after four months—it had been living in a fox hole several miles away! A man saw one of their “Missing Cat” posters and recognized it as possibly being the cat that was living in a fox hole on his elderly neighbor’s property. The older woman had been leaving cans of cat food and water outside the fox hole for the cat, who refused to leave its sanctuary. Who knows what that poor cat went through during those months, but it managed to stay alive and find protection.

We Once Found Four Missing Dogs

A few years ago we accepted a missing pet case to try and find four dogs, all the same breed. Our client was elderly, didn’t own a car, and although we weren’t pet detectives, we felt sorry for him and wanted to help.

PIs often use people-finding techniques when looking for lost pets (Image licensed by Colleen Collins)

PIs often use people-finding techniques when looking for lost pets (Image licensed by Colleen Collins)

We started out by contacting local rescue shelters, putting up flyers, calling vet hospitals and clinics; unfortunately, no one had seen the dogs, but they were willing to put the word out. By the way, the flyers had a large picture of one of the dogs, the date the dogs went missing, their names, and our phone number (a special one we set up for this case).

We then drove around the area where the dogs had lived and handed out more flyers. Then we went on foot into a large park near the elderly man’s home, and again handed out flyers and asked people if they’d seen any of these dogs. This is one of the tasks we would have conducted to find a person, too (canvas neighborhoods, show photos of the person, ask if anyone had seen him/her, and so forth).

We Found a Lead

While canvassing the park, we met a man who recognized the dog in the poster. He pointed out a remote, corner area of the park where he had seen several of them a few evenings prior.

From our research on this type of dog, we knew its history went back to the Vikings, who used these dogs to hunt moose. These dogs were known to be hardy, with thick fur to protect them from the cold, had above-average intelligence, and were pack animals. We returned to the park that evening and found all four dogs, happily hanging with their pack, foraging for food.

Writing Tips

(Image licensed by Colleen Collins)

(Image licensed by Colleen Collins)

If you’re writing a character who’s a pet detective, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does he/she own a search dog?  Many real-life pet detectives do.
  • What tools does your pet PI use? For example, night-vision binoculars, motion-activated surveillance cameras, a bionic ear to amplify sounds?
  • What investigative traits does your fictional pet PI use? As with other PIs, they might rely on their reasoning; analysis of physical evidence; and interview, interrogation, and surveillance techniques to recover lost pets.
  • Where did your fictional pet PI learn about animal behavior—for example, in college, in a veterinarian’s office, or while growing up on a farm?

Pet detectives are generally caring, tenacious, and often earn certification in the field. A well-qualified pet detective can make between $300-$1,000 a day.

There’s one last point about writing a pet detective: He or she probably has a big heart. After all, animals possess all that is best in humans.

—End of Excerpt—

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Please do not copy/distribute any articles without written permission from Colleen Collins and/or Shaun Kaufman. Do not copy/distribute or otherwise use any mages noted as copyrighted or licensed. Images noted as in the public domain are copyright-free and yours to steal.

Posted in HOW DO PRIVATE EYES DO THAT? Second Edition Aug 2016, Nonfiction book: HOW TO WRITE A DICK, Nonfiction Books on Private Investigations, Realistic Private Eye Characters, Writing Legal Characters/Stories | Tagged: , , , | Comments Off on #WritingTips Two NonFiction Books for Writers Crafting Sleuths

 
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