A desperate father hires an investigator to find his ex, who has disappeared with their young son.
In March of 2015, a man picks up his son *Ray, a toddler, and takes him to the park, the movies, and dinner. The man drops Ray off, and the boy’s mother—the man’s ex-girlfriend—follows him to his car, hurling questions at him: Is it really over? Can we fix the relationship?
While their son watches from the doorway, the man tells her he doesn’t think things can be fixed. Everyone will be better off this way, he says. Ray runs to his father, and the man hugs and kisses his son goodbye.
He has no idea how final this goodbye will seem to him a few days hence—when the mother packs up Ray and her other children up and goes on the run.
It’s January 2016. I’m finishing a report when I receive a call. A man with a rough voice full of anxiety asks to speak to me. He introduces himself as Claude and explains that he and his ex-girlfriend broke up almost two years ago.
Claude has not seen his son since March of the previous year. “I haven’t spoken to my boy,” he says.” I don’t know how he is doing, or if he is being taken care of.” He asks me if I could imagine how this would feel.
I tell him that I can’t imagine anyone taking my children away from me.
After consoling Claude for a few minutes, I explain what information I need from him: his ex-girlfriend’s full name and date of birth; how many people she left with, and their ages. Who are her family and friends? What kind of work does she do? What vehicles does she own? What are her hobbies? Does she use social media?
I tell him that I can’t imagine anyone taking my children away from me.
I ask him for a recent picture of her and the boy. And I assure Claude that I will do my best to find his son. Claude says thank you, and I can hear the hope in his voice.
A few hours later, my phone buzzes—Claude has emailed me the information. The woman’s name is Elizabeth S. She is from Los Angeles and has three kids, two of them from a different relationship. She has been married once before. Betty, as she is called, has no employment. She does have a social media account, which is private.
Claude provides photographs of Betty. She’s an attractive black woman in her early forties with short black hair. She drives a black Mercedes SUV that still has the Beverly Hills auto dealer’s paper plates on it.
I start my inquiries, first running Betty through the databases that my company uses. Betty’s report indicates that she is living in Houston, TX. I call an apartment complex that shows up as the most current address, posing as a salesman hoping to verify information on an applicant.
The manager, a cheerful woman, is happy to look through her records for me. She tells me that Betty left several months ago and did not leave any change of address. I put in a forwarding address request with the post office and continue my search.
I call Betty’s family but get no useful information. I call her ex-husband, David, and explain what happened between Betty and my client. David is sympathetic; he is going through the same thing with Betty. He says he doesn’t know for sure where Betty is, but he’s heard through mutual friends that she may be in Virginia with her sister Lillian.
I learn that Lillian is married to a man named Robert, who is a pastor of a church in a small Virginia town. Lillian is listed as the first lady of the church, and the church’s website indicates that she plays an active role in the women’s ministry. I locate two potentially good addresses for Lillian, then hire an investigator in Virginia to verify whether Lillian or Betty is living at either one of these addresses.
A few hours later, the Virginia investigator lets me know that the black Mercedes SUV is not at either place, and that the occupants of both residences are white families. I instruct the investigator to have someone do surveillance at the church on Sunday.
The following Sunday, my investigator is watching the small rural church. He finds an excellent vantage point and is entertained by the chatter of birds and the occasional gospel song emanating from inside the building. At 11:00, church starts to let out.
The investigator waits for Lillian to leave, in hopes that she may visit Betty. While waiting, he sees a black Mercedes SUV pull into the parking lot and notes that it has dealer paper plates from a Beverly Hills car lot. A woman gets out of the car, and the investigator identifies her as Betty.
Betty goes into the church for a moment, exits carrying boxes, gets into her car, and drives away. He also notes that Ray is in the back seat.
Betty takes off down the highway. When my investigator follows her, she begins making random multiple turns with no clear destination. He gives her some distance, and she puts her foot on the pedal—leaving my investigator in the dust.
I refocus my efforts on Lillian. I track down her 20-year-old daughter and nail down Lillian’s physical address. I watch the house for a couple of days and never see Betty. When our team tries to speak with Lillian and her husband, they tell us they don’t not know where Betty is, then slam the door angrily.
It is now March, and a year has passed since my client last saw his son. To add to Claude’s worries, he has a California court date coming up; if we don’t find Betty and serve papers in time, Claude may lose his opportunity to prove that she has taken their son out of state against his father’s wishes.
I now have three weeks to find Betty and serve her papers.
Back to the drawing board. Searching Facebook, I find that Betty’s daughter has posted her phone number on her page. A reverse search turns up a Virginia address. My investigator sets up surveillance on the house.
Two hours into the surveillance, he spots Betty wearing a black wig, driving down her street. Betty sees the investigator and drives away. He follows her, and Betty punches the accelerator, racing through rush hour traffic at 90mph. The investigator worries that a high-speed pursuit may end in someone getting hurt.
He calls the police, only to find out that she has called them too. This would prove to be her undoing.
The Law-Enforcement Assist
The police meet with my investigator and verify his credentials. They then tell Betty to stay put.
The officers escort my investigator to Betty, who is parked in front of her sister’s house. Parked behind her are three patrol cars.
Betty sees my investigator and starts screaming that he tried to run her off the road. My investigator explains that he was following her in order to serve her. The police intervene and force her to accept the paperwork. Ray watches all of this from the backseat.
The case is finally over, with time to spare.
I hear relief and jubilation in Claude’s voice when I give him the news. He knows where to find his boy now. And most of all, he knows that Ray is ok.
*Names have been changed.
About the Author:
Steve Morrow began his career in private investigations in 2003. As a graduate of the Nick Harris Detective Academy, he learned a variety of investigative techniques including surveillance, skip tracing, asset searches, background investigations, obtaining statements and more. In 2011, he founded the Morrow Detective Agency in Simi Valley, CA. and has successfully conducted more than a thousand investigations.