Do PIs really just sit at their computers these days? Not so much: Here’s a true-case story of hitting the mean streets and knocking on doors.
This article is excerpted from How Do Private Eyes Do That? by Colleen Collins.
A few years back, we were hired by a man whose elderly uncle had recently died, and the family feared someone had stolen his life savings. Our client told us his uncle had been a Scrooge-like character who’d saved at least a quarter million, but after his sudden death by heart attack, 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
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 had 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
We walked from the uncle’s house, visiting bars and restaurants in the neighborhood, showing his photo and asking waitresses, bartenders, hostesses if they had ever seen this man with a younger blonde. Once a local said the uncle looked familiar, but he’d always sat alone at the bar, never with a woman.
We returned to the neighborhood for several evenings…then one night, we found a restaurant where 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.
Before becoming a private investigator in 2003, Colleen Collins worked as a telecommunications manager at the RAND Corporation, and a technical editor/writer in California and Colorado. Since selling her first novel in 1996, she has written nearly thirty novels and five nonfiction books. Read her PI blog, Guns, Gams, & Gumshoes, or follow her on Facebook and Twitter: @WritingPIs.
This second edition of How Do Private Eyes Do That? is a compilation of new and updated articles on all things private investigations, from the history of PIs, an investigator’s equipment and techniques, case studies, online resources, and writing tips for crafting plausible private eye stories.
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.