Guns, Gams & Gumshoes

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Posts Tagged ‘#writetip’

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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Top 100 Private Investigators on Twitter 2015

Posted by Writing PIs on January 23, 2016

Featured on PInow.com - Top Private Investigators on Twitter 2015

@writingpis, the Twitter handle of your Guns, Gams & Gumshoes hosts, is honored to be ranked #14 in PINow’s top 100 private investigators on Twitter.  PINow compiles this list every year to “recognize those in the industry who have proved to be valuable resources to their peers, specifically on the topic of investigations.” On this list you can find PIs who practice in a wide range of specializations, including corporate investigations, cell phone forensics, surveillance, insurance investigations, online intelligence gathering, legal investigations and more.

Check out the full list by clicking the article link below, or click on the image at the top of this post. This list is also a useful resource for crime fiction and mystery writers who are crafting stories about private investigators or investigations in general.

Top Investigators on Twitter 2-15

Have a great weekend, Writing PIs

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#WriteTip Answering Writer’s Question: Insurance Fraud Investigators

Posted by Writing PIs on June 20, 2015

Writer’s Question: In insurance fraud investigations, would an investigator work directly for the insurance carrier or a firm representing them?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’s Answer: Insurance fraud is often contracted through the special investigations unit, or SIU, which is a group of specialized insurance adjustors and in-house investigators for an insurance company.  These in-house investigators aren’t investigators in the purest sense of the word — they instead manage other SIU employees, outside contract investigators and attorneys (in other words, they are more managers than investigators). The reason being that insurance companies don’t want to be seen as conducting investigations that might result in the denial of their policy holders’ claims. This potential conflict of interest gives rise to the need to hire outside private investigators or investigative agencies.

Private investigators in this type of work need to have experience in insurance coverage, adjusting matters, as well as other general investigative skills. Such a PI could be hired by either the SIU, in-house counsel at the insurance company, or a private attorney who has been retained by an insurance company. Who does the hiring of a private investigator is a function of whether or not the case is in litigation or claim status.

We know a former expert insurance adjustor who left the insurance business to open his own insurance fraud investigations agency (representing bad faith insurance claimants).  He’s made a lucrative business of this because he so well understands the inner workings of insurance companies.

Have a great weekend, Writing PIs

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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#WritingTips: Creating a Pet Detective Character

Posted by Writing PIs on May 8, 2015

A Pet Is Lost Every Two Seconds

We recently read that in the U.S., 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.

True Story: Our neighbors’ lost cat was found after four months…living in a fox hole several miles away! A man saw one of their “Missing Cat” posters and recognized it as possibly being a 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.

Some skills PIs use for finding missing persons can be applied to finding missing pets

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 conduct 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.

Tips for Writing a Pet Detective

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, interview and 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/she probably has a big heart. After all, animals possess all that is best in humans.

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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Answering Writer’s Question: Do PIs Use Listening Devices?

Posted by Writing PIs on April 13, 2015

“Eavesdropping” by Théodore Jacques Ralli 1880 – image is in public domain

Since we opened our doors nearly 15 years ago, we have been invited numerous times to give workshops at writers’ conferences about crafting plausible PI characters in stories. Occasionally, we have also taught our own online classes. Below is a question that several writers have asked over the years, and it’s a good one.

We have known PIs who got into trouble after being caught illegally using listening devices, but such problems are good in fiction as tension and conflict bump up the stakes.

Writer’s Question:  Do you ever use listening devices in your investigations?  I’d like to have my fictional sleuth use a listening device while she’s driving around — is that plausible?

Answer: No, we don’t use listening devices because they intrude on others’ expectations of privacy. Also, such devices are frequently electronic in nature, and any electronically supplemented listening device meets the definition of the crime of eavesdropping. We once had an attorney ask us to use an electronic listening device in a motel room to try to listen in on a “cheating spouse” in the next room.  We refused, explaining that would be eavesdropping. Last we heard, the attorney found another PI who was willing to do it.

As to your character using a listening device in her car, yes, it’s plausible, but keep in mind that your character is technically breaking the law. But think of this…unless your character repeats conversations verbatim or admits to using a listening device, who will know?

Now let’s look at it another way — your character is caught with the device — that’s great. Throws more conflict into your story. Or a third party says there’s no way the PI-character could possibly have known about a private conversation unless the PI had been illegally using a listening device. Again, more story tension. What does the PI do?  Toss the listening device?  Yes, probably…in a dumpster far, far away from her premises.  We’re talking fiction, so having a character do things that he/she knows are illegal are great for adding conflict.  What’s key is for the writer to know certain actions and uses of certain devices are illegal to begin with (then the character must wrestle with the whys and hows of what he/she’s doing…and be prepared to pay the consequences).

Have a great week, Writing PIs

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.

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

Available on Kindle

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