Private Investigator - Case Files... Annie, Git yer guns
By: Neil Harrison ~
Annie, get yer guns...
One warm summer evening, I received a call from an older lady living in the wilds of rural Snohomish county. She was the victim of a break in at her residence and acreage two weeks ago, while she was away at work. Upon arriving home from work that day, she passed the neighbors estranged son walking down the road, then she entered the house and discovered that over thirty mostly antique and collectible firearms had been stolen, her safe had been opened, and her fridge and liquor cabinet raided.
She then did what anyone would do, and called her local sheriff to report the theft and break in. The following day the intrepid deputy arrived, filled out the incident report with a detailed description of the antique and specialized firearms stolen, and other missing items.... and then advised her to call her insurance company.
When she questioned why no fingerprinting had been done and no investigation was being conducted, she was told that detectives were too busy to get involved with this type of simple burglary case. In an attempt to appease the victim, the deputy did decide to look around the house stating that the suspect had likely entered through the downstairs window but he could see no sign of any fingerprints, or any forced entry to the home or the safe. With some further prompting the deputy also looked around the exterior of the house and about 50 feet from the house he located a two wheel dolly, some empty cardboard gun boxes, and the debris from the missing food and liquor...... but no firearms.
The following day we arrived at her residence, were retained to investigate the theft, and then proceeded to thoroughly search the house and property. We were able to determine, from the debris in the bushes, that the thief(s) likely had at least one accomplice, was probably driving a small truck or van (fresh tire tracks were found on the bordering right of way), and had holed up in the bushes for a time while smoking drugs, drinking the victims wine, and eating her pastries taken from the fridge.
It soon became apparent that we were not dealing with criminal masterminds as we found they had missed eight 1oz gold coins, sitting on a shelf, in the open gun safe.
We obtained a copy of the missing items list, from her copy of the police report, and noted that there was also an old bowie type knife in a leather scabbard that had been taken. She told us that anyone could identify the knife and scabbard as hers because her initials were printed on the back. We then took the cardboard and other debris back to our office and proceeded to process them for fingerprints. We also ran background checks on the neighbors son and discovered he had a history of drug use, theft, and had an outstanding warrant for failing to appear at his most recent court hearing.
The following day, while waiting for the chemical reagents to work on the cardboard and other debris, we attended the local sheriff's precinct to advise them that we were looking into the case. The property crimes detective advised us that it was a low priority on her schedule and to 'have at it'.
The next step was to attempt to locate the neighbors son, through his known associates, local homeless camps, and known drug houses. Forty dollars later we were able to determine, at an abandoned known heroin house, that the subject had recently been seen driving around with a friend of his, who owned an older panel truck, and they were reported to be breaking into homes and businesses to steal and sell items for drug money. At a local homeless camp, behind the grocery store, we were told where the subjects friends father lived, and that the subject was reported to have recently been arrested on his warrant.
Then we attended the county jail and visited the subject. After assuring him that we do not report back to the sheriff he consented to an interview. He told us that he knew that the victim and her late husband collected firearms, and he and his friend knew the victim was having ongoing renovation work done on her home while she was at work. So they had waited in the bushes and entered the victims house, via an unlocked door on the lower level, left when the contractor had gone for supplies. They had removed the guns and other items from the house with the dolly, and hid in the bushes eating, drinking, and smoking, while the friend went to retrieve his truck. They both loaded the truck and drove to the friends fathers home where they secreted the firearms, wrapped in a blanket, and placed them into a crawl space above the garage. The suspect also told us, when he was arrested he had the bowie knife and one of the stolen flare pistols on him, and they had been seized by city police.
We then contacted the detective, and city police, and told them that the items seized were from the burglary at the victims residence. The city police sent us color photos of the seized items, clearly showing the victims initials on the knife scabbard, which we forwarded to the detective. She told us that as there was no serial number on the antique flare pistol or on the knife, that what we believed was immaterial and there was nothing she could, or would, do about it. Even after explaining the victims initials and markings on the knife, and matching the description of the flare gun to the missing items sheet, she refused to pursue the matter any further and admonished us not to waste her time.
So...... we decided to attend the subjects friends fathers home, and see if we could confirm the presence of the missing firearms. Upon arriving in their neighborhood, we immediately identified several undercover police vehicles at multiple choke points leading into their street. We contacted the lead vehicle and were able to confirm they were a fugitive task force, watching the same residence to execute a felony warrant.
We explained what we were there for just as there was a report of activity at the residence, and the residents were departing. A traffic stop was performed by the task force and the female fugitive taken into custody, we were then given permission to attend the scene and interview the father, where we received his written consent to search the property and buildings.
He was soon released and accompanied us back to the garage, where we found the crawl space containing an empty blanket, covered in gun oil stains...... but no firearms. We appealed to his sense of empathy for the poor victims loss of her late husbands mementos, and he promised to ask around his sons associates and let us know what he found out.
A week later I received a phone call requesting that we meet at a remote location to receive the stolen firearms.... no questions asked..... as long as we could guarantee that there would be no police involvement. We agreed, and early the following morning an unknown pickup arrived at the homeless camp, where two unknown men dragged a heavy tarp from the rear of the truck onto the ground, then sped off. An immediate inventory of the tarps contents revealed that all but three of the guns from the victims inventory list, were now in our possession, and we arranged to deliver them back to the victim.
After the stolen firearms were returned to the victim and our investigation concluded, we reported our information and findings to the detective and the city police department.
To our great surprise, a few days later the detective was featured in a front page news story about how she alone had investigated, and recovered the stolen firearms which had been returned to their rightful owner.
Our client, the victim, informed us that shortly after the firearms were returned, the detective had contacted her and told her how she had wasted her money hiring private investigators, and how the police were on top of things all the time.
This was one of our more frustrating cases ....... stay tuned for more!
Private Investigator - Case Files... Hostile Takeover
By: Neil Harrison ~
Late one Saturday evening, I received a call at home from Sue, my local travel agent and franchise owner. She had several concerns about some of her employees recent changes in attitude towards their jobs, increased secrecy about their activities outside of work, and an unexplained decrease in recent customer activity. So we agreed to meet early the following morning as the office was closed Sundays, and no one else would be there.
The next morning we entered her office and discovered that the office fax machine and a computer terminal that had been turned off the previous evening, were now turned on.
A quick search of the office found that the alarm was activated, the doors were locked, and there were no signs of a break in or of anything gone missing. We deduced that one of the other employees had been in the office after hours for some unexplained reason. Sue retained us to investigate her agency and her employees activities in an attempt to identify and explain the reasons behind her concerns, and verify any misconduct of any of her employees.
The very first thing we did was to obtain a copy of the agencies employee files and copy their application forms, travel agent licenses, and any letters of reference. Complete background and verification checks would be conducted to re-verify the due diligence done during the hiring and licensing processes.
Next we were able to access the companies computer server and downloaded all emails sent and received through the agency email accounts. We also were able to access and download emails sent to and from the individual travel agents personal computers and devices, as these also went through the company server. Due to the sheer volume of these emails we loaded them onto a 500 gigabyte passport drive for review and analysis.
With Sue's assistance we also downloaded the companies client contact information and all related travel agent notes, and stored them on the passport drive for further examination, and for future interviewing purposes. We then closed up the office with Sue and agreed that she would conduct business "as usual" until we were able to examine and investigate the data on the passport drive.
The following morning I contacted the licensing department that issues the travel agents license and was able to verify that all thirteen of the travel agents in Sue's agency held valid travel agent licenses, however the licensing department explained they had recently been contacted by three of the agents, one being the office manager, inquiring how they would go about "transferring" their licenses from one agency to another agency.
We also conducted standard nationwide background checks on all of the travel agents and found that one additional travel agent had a previous felony criminal record from another state that was not disclosed, and that he lied about on his initial application, and in his hiring interview.
Over the following few days we obtained certified copies of the felony conviction from the other states superior court, and verified that they were one and the same person. We also went through the email data paying close attention to the office manager, and the other two agents, who had asked about transferring their licenses to another agency.
Our investigation revealed that the office manager had been sending and receiving emails from a rival travel company franchise based in New York. She sent these emails on her personal computer in an attempt to hide her activities from Sue, not realizing that they still went through the companies server, regardless of what computer was used.
The rival travel company was willing to back the office manager in the amount of $150,000.00 to open a new office and company name, similar to Sue's company name, and to take Sue's best agents and clientele with them. The rival travel company representative had also visited with the office manager locally, and had been given a covert after hours tour of the office facilities and files the previous week. The rival representative and the office manager had also exchanged sample logo designs for the new agency, and were joking about how closely they could match Sue's company name as they believed she would be forced to close after they left with Sue's customers.
With Sue's consent we selected a few of her clients, who had postponed and/or cancelled planned trips over the past year, and interviewed them. They informed us that they had been approached by the office manager and the other two travel agents, and had been offered cheaper deals through the rival travel company, due to the overbooking of their previously booked cruises and trips. They were shocked and angry to realize that they had been lied to, and they agreed not to contact anyone or do anything about it until the following week, after we had they opportunity to review things with Sue and the authorities.
I met with Sue the following Sunday night at her travel agency and showed her our investigative findings. We also arranged for a locksmith to be there and change the office locks, while Sue changed all of the computer and email user access and login/password accounts. I agreed to meet with her prior to the start of business the next morning and to segregate and interview the four employees as they arrived.
The first person to arrive was the young man who lied on his application and interview. After getting over his initial shock and surprise that we had discovered his prior conviction, for assault with a deadly weapon, he confessed to us that he had lied because he believed it was a minimal risk that we would find out from another state. He was terminated, given his final check, and escorted from the building with instruction to never return.
The two travel agents who conspired with the office manager arrived next and were interviewed separately. The first agent was belligerent and accusatory when shown the damning evidence against her, and threatened to sue us all for violating her privacy by reading her emails. She also threatened to file suit for wrongful dismissal and violation of her employment contract. The second travel agent broke down into tears and said that she was forced to go along with the others as she feared they would stop being her friends if she didn't.
They were both fired, given their final commission checks, and escorted from the building with instructions to never return.
The office manager arrived a few minutes later, but as we introduced ourselves and told her what the interview was about, she refused to speak to us and promptly quit.
After the interviews and investigation concluded, we forwarded our evidence and findings to the corporate lawyers at Sue's travel company, and to the licensing department.
The co-conspirators and ex employees of Sue's agency did attempt to sue for damages, loss of earnings, and violation of their privacy..... but as you can guess, they not only lost there suits but were ordered to pay for all of our legal fees and also for the cost of the investigation itself.
They also proceeded to open the rival travel agency and solicited Sue's clients, but a few short months later they closed and were out of business........ their travel agent licenses were also revoked.
This was one of our more entertaining cases ....... stay tuned for more!