Case of the Leaping Larcenist: A South African PI is mystified (and amused) when an accused pilferer disappears from a locked room three floors up.
The life of a private investigator in our fledgling Rainbow Nation is interesting, to say the least.
A multicultural melting pot of ideologies, religions, and traditions forms the backdrop of my daily life as a PI in one of the most beautiful cities in Africa, if not the world. The nature reserves of KwaZulu-Natal Province and shining coastline of Durban draw thousands of visitors every year. But like any big port city, she has another, more sinister side to her.
My background as a member of the South Africa Police Service has prepared me with the skills needed to be effective in the colourful world of the South African “gumshoe.” As one of the officers lining the streets at Nelson Mandela’s inauguration ceremony in the mid-90s, I realised that I would be in for a very interesting ride.
How right I was.
As a private investigator in this town, I get to see the good and the bad side of life in Africa, and there is never a dull moment.
Case Closed! Window Open.
A few years back, I was hired by a company in Westmead that had been losing stock mysteriously. We pressed a witness, and he identified who was responsible. The two staff members who had been “fingered” by the witness were taken to our offices in Pinetown and questioned in separate offices. Our office was on the third floor of an office block in the CBD, and we quickly began interviewing the protesting pair with vigour.
I was interviewing the main culprit in my office and took a quick break to check on my colleagues’ progress with the other suspect. Careful to lock my office door, I walked down the passage and checked with my investigator, who was taking down a statement confirming the suspects’ involvement.
I headed back to my office and opened the door, my mind awash with probing questions for the suspect, and found my office eerily empty. Looking around in disbelief, I called my assistant and asked if she had unwittingly opened my office door. She replied that she had not. My colleague heard the commotion and joined me at the entrance to my office.
Only then did we notice the wide-open window.
We crossed the office and peered out. Startled passersby had gathered on the street below, looking up at the window and gesturing down the road. It slowly dawned on us that the suspect had exited via the window.
It turned out that the suspect had, in fact, jumped from our office window to the street, three stories below. Adding injury to insult, he was rearrested after he crawled into the emergency room at Crompton Hospital with a broken ankle. He eventually confessed his involvement in the pilfering scam…and then he claimed that he’d been thrown from the window that day. Just muddying the waters, I guess.
Things aren’t always what they seem in this line of work, and you need to keep your wits about you—especially when dealing with the enterprising Durban criminal.
I’ll never forget the looks on the faces of passersby in the street as they gestured, open-mouthed, in the direction that our suspect had hobbled.
In changing times in a country that is both my home and my area of operation—a country I love—knowing that what I do makes a difference to both ordinary and corporate South Africa is what inspires me to keep going.
Life moves fast here, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Ryan King is a private investigator in Durban, South Africa and managing member of Edge Investigations. To read more of his adventures in the field, check out his Facebook page.