As Instagram influencers and podcasters with lots of fans, Atlanta bail recovery agents Alex Haynes and Jon Dalman are public-facing outliers in a field that often values anonymity.
By Susanna Speier, Ross Investigators
Anonymity Vs. Influence
“We didn’t mean to get into the social media game,” Alexandra (Alex) Haynes tells me, in a phone interview from her Atlanta office. But the Georgia-based licensed private investigator and bail recovery agent has figured out how to play it—and win: her Instagram feed @w.asp boasts 19.6K followers, and her business partner Jon Dalman’s account (@unique_skillset) has a following of 55.8K.
As bail recovery and investigative professionals who share their exploits with large Instagram fan bases, Haynes and Dalman are outliers in an industry that—let’s be honest—isn’t wildly popular with millennials, a generation fluent in the language of hashtags and Internet acronyms. And many of our colleagues in the bail and investigative fields seem to prefer keeping a lower profile: while some investigators use headshots for their social media profiles, others stay in the virtual shadows.
An informal Twitter survey about anonymity vs. visibility online (via @PursuitMag) brought forth a range of thoughtful and witty takes:
Beyond the practicalities, I’ve also sensed a quiet distaste among a few industry pros for colleagues who swagger into the spotlight (a la “Dog the Bounty Hunter”), especially if those public profiles—even ironically—lean into the negative stereotypes investigators have struggled to overcome. Case in point: this 2018 op-ed by Joe Stiles, a veteran bail industry professional in Tennessee:
“As the profile of the bail enforcer rose, thanks to movies, reality TV, social media, and opportunity seekers looking to promote books or ‘schools’ (or just the occasional wannabe looking for attention), a romantic figure from the Old West days was resurrected, and the ‘Bounty Hunter’ was reborn.
“He is a colorful character, often portrayed as a lone wolf, ‘Rambo-like’ individual who has removed himself from the confining restrictions of the law and due process to hunt down other human beings…His character, as seen on TV, is of questionable ethics and character, and is nearly indistinguishable from the ‘criminal’ he is hunting.”
There’s clearly a lot of ambivalence among investigators surrounding questions of publicity and propriety, which may be why Instagram investigator-influencers have been tough to find. I spent most of February doing my own detective work: scouring industry-relevant hashtags and investigative company websites in search of PI Grammers with large followings, who have no connection to the entertainment industry. I didn’t encounter many.
My cursory searches pointed toward Facebook groups, company blogs, and Twitter as the most popular virtual gathering places for investigators to share news and talk shop. Which makes sense: these are platforms that favor information over images. But finding an industry professional on image-centric Instagram who had actually managed to break a K (secure over 1,000 followers) was, with a few exceptions, next to impossible.
I wondered how these two had done it. Even more, I wondered why.
Nancy Drew Dreams
Like generations of American girls, Alex Haynes’ dream of becoming a detective was born in her elementary school library. “I read literally all 53 of the original Nancy Drew books,” she says. But after high school, Haynes put aside her investigative aspirations and pursued photography.
Six years ago, she was struggling to make ends meet as a photographer, living in her mom’s house, and asking herself why she didn’t follow through on her Nancy Drew dreams. She was serious about becoming a PI but had no idea where to begin.
“First, I need to learn to defend myself,” she thought, and she enrolled in an Israeli martial arts class. That’s where she met Jon Dalman, a retired military man-turned-bail enforcement agent. They realized that their skills were compatible and decided to join forces.
Dalman had just founded a bond-recovery company when Haynes came on board as his businesss partner. He named the company Fenrir Recovery after his favorite character in Norse mythology: a huge wolf, born of a god and a giantess. Soon, bail recovery and private investigation recovery jobs became their main source of income.
And then, they started posting.
Haynes and Dalman didn’t set out to become “influencers;” they just started sharing photos and videos highlighting their daily bail recovery activities on Instagram, YouTube, and Twitch. Initially, their feeds had around 500-700 followers apiece. Then a firearms industry instructor reposted one of Dalman’s videos. He quickly gained 18,000 followers, and Haynes’ following grew, too. “We were thrust into Instagram notoriety without expecting it,” she says. “People love stories and are fascinated by a world other people live in. We run into weird situations. We’re in people’s houses and in their lives. People who skip bail never have normal lives, it seems.”
Weird situations, indeed: In one post from April, 2017, Haynes points a shotgun at a red-haired female who’s lowering herself to the ground. The caption reads, “My first trip to Asheville, NC was interesting,” with hashtags like #bountyhunter, #glock, #gopro, and #prana. One of Dalman’s posts from that year is a video featuring a Pompano Beach strip club employee in black lingerie bottoms, a cap-sleeved bra-halter, and high heels. “You all scary-lookin’ right now,” she tells Dalman, who laughs. “Are we in trouble?”
“No, not at all!” he says, then asks to speak with a manager; she heads into the bar to find one. The caption: “Best part of the job is meeting new people and seeing how they live. #tinydancer#gentlemensclub #fenrirrecovery…”
Haynes’ and Dalman’s feeds are day-in-the-life glimpses of a line of work that people find mysterious and fascinating. They’re also windows into the difficult, often chaotic lives of the bail skips the Fenrir Recovery team apprehends. “Our defendants,” explains Haynes, “the structure of their lives are different than the lives of our audience. Most of them can’t imagine being in the neighborhood or parts of town they’re in … The stories are not always simple or straightforward.”
The Ethics, the Ends, and the Means
What’s also not straightforward are the ethics of photographing and filming people in such vulnerable phases of their lives. I ask Charles Rhea Shaw III, president of the Georgia Association of Professional Bondsmen (GAPB), for his take on Haynes’ and Dalman’s Instagram feeds. “I don’t know of anything unethical, illegal or improper,” he says. “These people waive any right they may have to privacy within their homes when they get out of jail on bond. When you go into somebody’s residence, they can say they don’t want to be filmed.”
Still, the line between illumination and exploitation can be tricky. Generally, these are not defendants who can afford to pay bail in cash; many of Fenrir’s posts capture scenes from hardscrabble lives, and feature visual cues any American knows instantly as shorthand for poverty: trailers and trash-strewn yards; obese bodies and missing teeth. Some commenters post laugh emojis, and there’s plenty of trolling.
But Haynes insists that she and her partner treat defendants with respect and are sensitive to privacy concerns. “We’ve been in situations that we’ve chosen not to post, where the people would have felt exploited,” she says. “So we work really hard on deciding what to post. We really vet everything we do to make sure it’s going to be fair to everyone. Even though our defendants have signed away those rights.”
“It’s like a ride along with the policeman or detective on duty,” says Shaw, of the Fenrir social media feeds. “[They] video their daily duties. Provided they’re doing their job lawfully, that’s okay. We don’t want to suppress expression.
“We certainly wouldn’t support false, deceptive or misleading representations,” he adds. “What I’ve seen is not a fantasy world. It’s their job. I think they dramatize it a bit with the hashtags. They are well-revered among professionals.”
A Day in the Life
In a sense, these are lifestyle feeds—the antithesis of breezy fashion blogs and wellness sites selling aspirational perfection. Dalman and Haynes have branded themselves as tough, gun-wielding enforcers leading outsized lives of weirdness and adventure, and making a living doing it—at significant personal risk. Haynes posts lots of selfies featuring her willowy, athletic figure clad in body armor, car selfies with her long brunette hair spilling out of a baseball cap, and older iterations of her 6’2 partner, when he was sporting an unruly beard and long hair—and occasionally, carrying his signature tool: a sledgehammer.
Some images offer ironic winks and nods to the Bonnie-and-Clyde image. In one dual selfie, she smiles sweetly while he grins madly at a switchblade—hashtags: #piratelife, #naturalbornkillers, and #viking.
Others are all about gritty realism, shining a light on the daily grind of a bail enforcer’s work. The images are compelling, funny, and occasionally disturbing—it’s hard to look away. But the question remains—for the Fenrir duo and for all of us who live dual lives in the real and virtual worlds—what’s the goal of Instagram notoriety? To bolster their business and win new clients? To shed light on a poorly-understood job? Or is the limelight an end in itself?
The Bottom Line
There’s power (and potentially, revenue) in this kind of social-media literacy; human brands like Kylie Jenner have built a billion-dollar empire on her large social media following. But for now, Haynes says bail recovery is still the primary source of revenue for Fenrir.
That could change. Their Instagram feeds are steadily driving followers toward their WantedPodcast (which has 1,622 IG followers). There’s frequent product placement within posts, including shots of field gear, footwear, artillery, and firearms, punctuated with hashtags like #tacticalgear and #pewpew and @ mentions of the brands being highlighted. Their bios also link to a Shopify site where they’re selling Fenrir-branded hats, hoodies t-shirts and coffee mugs, and there’s a link and discount code in their bio for Vertx, a tactical gear company.
Of course, in an age of humans-as-branded-products, Haynes and Dalman aren’t the only ones asking themselves what they want from Internet fame. For some, the affirmation of “likes” is the goal. Others find ways to monetize those clicks. It’s not a big leap to grasp why a pair of self-employed bounty hunters might want to capitalize on the public’s fascination with their work. And I see no reason why investigative professionals should have to linger in shadows or behind Groucho Marx glasses, so long as their clients’ safety and privacy are not compromised. But broadcasting field footage as popular reality entertainment on social media still exists, for me, in an ethical and legal gray area.
The Fenrir duo aren’t the only bail enforcers documenting their work on Instagram (or selling branded merchandise online). The bounty hunters’ feeds I found ranged from restrained to downright exploitative: video compilations of bail agents scuffling with fugitives; images of triumphant bounty hunters posed, thumbs up, beside their quarry; portraits of handcuffed defendants with expressions of despair, or stamped like memes with the word “CAPTURED” in overwrought fonts.
From what I’ve seen, Fenrir lives at the humane end of that spectrum, and the podcast tells their stories of captures and camaraderie in greater depth than the Instagram posts do. However, these stories are only being told through the bounty hunter lens. To be clear: We’re talking about suspects who failed to show up on their appointed court date and are either waiting to be convicted or sentenced. Many have not been convicted of any crime.
Bounty hunters need to document their interactions with skips for clients and for legal accountability. Whether they decide to share these chaotic captures, their “targets” hunched and cuffed in strip mall parking lots and on driveways and lawns, is entirely up to them. I do think the ethics of those decisions in the social media era may warrant further discussion.
About the Author:
In addition to contributing to PursuitMag, Susanna Speier is the chief content officer for Ross Investigators of Denver, Colorado. The Denver Private Investigator Blog was recently ranked 4th in the country by PI Now for private investigator blogs. She also consults with and offers social media seminars to private investigators around the country and is a freelancer for hire, who can be reached through Linkedin. Follow her industry updates on the Denver Private Investigator blog, on Twitter @milehipi, on Instagram @denverprivateinvestigatorblog, or on Facebook.