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HOW DO PRIVATE EYES DO THAT?
BY COLLEEN COLLINS
This second edition of How Do Private Eyes Do That? is a compilation of new and updated articles written by Colleen Collins, a real-life PI. Sample topics: History of PIs; an investigator’s equipment and online techniques; conducting surveillances; how PIs work with cold crime scenes; case studies; writing tips for crafting plausible private eye characters and stories; glossary of PI terms; and lists of PI blogs, websites, training courses, and online magazines.
Audiences: Private investigators, mystery writers, armchair detectives, fans of the private-eye genre, and those curious about the real world of private eyes.
HOW DO PRIVATE EYES DO THAT?
BY COLLEEN COLLINS
A Mysterious Blonde and a Missing Quarter-Million Dollars
I thought Karen’s Killer Book Bench readers would enjoy this real-life mystery that we solved based on a single piece of information from our client: He suspected a thirty-ish, blonde woman. That was it.
Lots of Assumptions and No Evidence
Our client told us his elderly uncle had been a Scrooge-like character who’d saved a lot of money over the years, at least a quarter million. But after his sudden death by heart attack, they discovered his savings account had next to nothing in it.
How did our client know that his uncle had previously saved a lot of money? Apparently he’d once shown a bank statement to his young great-niece who had since moved to another state to attend college.
A Neighbor Claimed the Blonde Was a Regular Visitor
Figure 18: A neighbor saw a tall blonde visiting the elderly man (image licensed by Colleen Collins)
Our client suspected a blonde woman, possibly in her early thirties, might have defrauded his uncle as she had been his only visitor in the last six months of his life, according to a neighbor who’d observed the blonde’s comings and goings. He had no idea who this blonde was or what her relationship might have been with his uncle.
The uncle liked talking to a young great-niece, but wasn’t on speaking terms with our client and other relatives. Any attempts to communicate with him were met with hostility and anger, so no one in the family had any idea who this blonde might be. One night I said to my husband, “Maybe the uncle was living the life he liked. Ignoring relatives who got on his nerves, and talking only to lovely young women.”
Was the blonde for real? The snoopy neighbor said the blonde had always “walked away from” the uncle’s house. This could mean the blonde had been walking down the sidewalk away from someone else’s house.
We decided to start canvassing the neighborhood, ask if anyone had seen this blonde actually visiting the elderly man.
Knocking on Neighbors’ Doors
We knocked on door after door, asking if anyone had noticed a thirty-something blonde visiting the man’s home. After numerous “no’s,” we finally got a yes.
A young man said he’d noticed a tall blonde entering or leaving the old man’s place several times a week, and that she drove a vintage sports car. However, he’d only caught a glimpse of the car as she always parked on the far side of the man’s home, where it wasn’t visible to most people on the block.
And another yes. A middle-aged woman said the day after the elderly man’s death, a blonde had entered his house with a key, and exited with several boxes of items.
We Extended Our Canvassing
The blonde was real. And apparently quite close to the uncle if she had a key to his place. We let our client know of our findings, and suggested he change the locks.
We brainstormed what steps to take next. Was the blonde a paid companion? If so, maybe the two of them only had visitations in his home, after which she left. In our walk-through of the house, however, we didn’t see anything that helped to identify her.
Or maybe the uncle thought she was his girlfriend? He didn’t drive, nor did he have a car, and no one had noticed the blonde driving the uncle anywhere. Maybe they walked to one of the nearby bars or restaurants for their dates? In the evenings they wouldn’t have been easily seen.
A Bartender Knew Her Name
Figure 19: A bartender recalled her name and her favorite cocktail (image in public domain)
We walked from the uncle’s house, visiting every bar and restaurant in the neighborhood, showing his photo and asking waitresses, bartenders, hostesses if they had ever seen this man with a younger blonde.
Finally, a bartender remembered the woman and the elderly uncle. “They liked to sit at the bar and enjoy a few cocktails. She always ordered a Cosmopolitan. Afterward they’d move to a back booth and have dinner.”
He even knew her first name. Said she’d once mentioned driving up from [town name] to visit the old guy.
We knew this town, approximately a forty-minute drive from the uncle’s home. Lucky for us, it was also a small town, which meant we’d have better luck identifying her via a proprietary database search, from which we learned her full name, date of birth, and that the vintage automobile had been purchased within the last six months.
We next ran her data in our state court records database, and discovered she had a criminal record for—guess what?—embezzlement.
We forwarded the information to our client, with the suggestion he contact a probate attorney ASAP.
Meet Author Colleen Collins…
Colleen Collins has worked as an improv comedienne, technical editor, telecommunications manager, and private investigator. Since selling her first novel in 1996, she has written nearly thirty novels and five nonfiction books. Her articles and book excerpts have appeared in Cosmopolitan, PI Magazine, Pursuit Magazine, USA Today, and other publications.
Links to Colleen’s website, blog, books, etc.
How Do Private Eyes Do That? is currently available on Kindle. But you don’t need a Kindle to read the book. Amazon’s easy-to-download app lets you read it in your browser and on a variety of devices. A print version will be available in the near future.
Colleen Collins Books:
Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes (PI blog):
Amazon Author Page:
**SPECIAL GIVEAWAY**: Colleen is giving away a Kindle copy of HOW DO PRIVATE EYES DO THAT? to two lucky readers who comment or ask a question about private investigations on her **Author Peek** or Karen’s Killer Book Bench blogs. Thank you, Colleen, for sharing your story with us.
Don’t miss the chance to read this book!