Friday, July 31, 2009


When I was a brand new investigator, I was investigating a man we'll call Sam... who was part of a family of that was allegedly linked to organized crime.

Sam owned many businesses. Some legitimate, some not. Some of the women who worked for Sam approached a law firm about his sexual harassment of them. They wanted to hold him accountable for his actions. Two lost their jobs, two still worked for him. They all felt threatened by Sam.

I was hired by the attorney and sent southbound to discreetly investigate the case in the city Sam operated out of. My base of operations was a large hotel on the Washington side of the river that separates our state from Oregon.

I did a lot of research on Sam before I left town.
He was the subject of a Federal Investigation into organized crime. Active Department of Justice Investigations are not public record, so I could get no information re: the Federal Investigation, other than the alleged links to organized crime. Through databases, I linked him and his family to several businesses I could see the Feds considering questionable.

Sam was also running for political office in the area he lived.
That information was passed on to the same attorneys who hired me to investigate the sexual harassment allegations in the civil arena.
I was told that a group of "concerned citizens" had upped the investigation ante. They requested any information found in the harassment suit, particularly info of the illegal variety, be disclosed to them.... so they, in turn, might disclose relevant information to the media and a deserving public before the election.

So I headed south with a list of details I gathered about my subject running through my head.
He was a scumbag.
A kid who never grew up.
He was 35. Went from high school into family businesses.
Wore Armanis.
Drove a Ferrari. And a Hummer.
Wouldn't shake hands.
Only smoked Cuban cigars.
Did not like anyone to argue with him, especially women.
Also liked to play cruel practical jokes.

He put pepper powder on the rolls of toilet paper in the women's restroom at work.
He bugged offices.
He touched women's bottoms, leered at their tops and exposed himself to two different women.
And one day, when the whole office got the runs, everyone suspected he put x-lax in the water cooler.

He had a wife at home and a bunch of sugar babies on the side.
Definitely not the kind of guy you'd want your kid, sister or mother to marry.
Maybe that's why he was married 4 times.
Not including number 5, the current wife, who was 20 years younger than him.

My job was to dig up even more dirt on him without being seen by him. I studied him through my binoculars, shot him with my camera, followed his tracks through the front windshield of my vehicle through out the day.

I also had plenty of contacts in place in his town, people of the good-guy variety, willing to come forward and talk to me in a variety of places they felt safe.

People who behave badly leave enemies in their wake.
So I found those enemies and befriended them. They had information regarding the sexual harassment action... and other potentially illegal actions and associations.

I parked in the city center and went to city hall, the assessors office, municipal, superior court and district court. I hand pulled files... did all the old fashioned footwork private investigators do more often by computer.

It took three days, several legal pads and a lot of reassurance before witnesses would talk... then trust... then confide.
Finally, I felt I had enough evidence on him to close the case and hand my case file to attorneys.

So I decided on a mini-celebration, choosing to spend one last night in the hotel before heading home.
I left my notes in my room, stopped by the hotel lobby for a newspaper.
Then to the hotel restaurant for something to eat and a glass of wine to honor the completion of my investigation.

It was 4 pm. The restaurant wasn't open. I sat at the bar. The bartender was nice enough. I ordered my wine and got it. Ordered my crab and spinach salad and got it. I ate and read my newspaper, sipping and savoring the wine.

Somewhere in the middle of the eating and sipping and reading, an old man sat next to me.
"This seat taken?" he asked, sitting on my right.
He was old, I guessed late 70's. Well dressed. Nice enough.
"Not anymore" I said with a smile.

He ordered a gin and tonic, a double. I went back to my paper, he got his drink. Then he started talking and I figured I'd listen, so I did. He talked about the weather, the news, politics, the economy, the good old days, the H Bomb his life, his wife , his grand kids.

And this is where I made my mistake.
I had to pee.
That part wasn't the mistake.
What was, was my asking him to watch my wine and salad while I headed to the rest room for a minute.
My glass was still half full of Merlot. I was drinking slowly. My mistake was leaving it.
He said "Of course" and off I went. Then back I came.

I finished my salad, drank the rest of my wine.The bartender asked if I wanted another wine, I said no thank you and asked for my bill. I had cash in my pocket, I didn't want to use a credit card with my name on it in the bar.

As the bill arrived the old man stopped talking and asked me what I did for a living.
I decided what the heck, I'd tell him the truth.
I said I was a P.I. working an investigation.
He looked at me and said, "I know."

My internal alarm rang loud and clear. How would he know? I looked in his eyes, and suddenly the innocent old man morphed into a potential predator before my eyes. Just as suddenly, I started feeling sick. Dizzy. I wondered briefly if the man sitting next to me could be Sam's father.

I peeled off a big bill and told the bartender to keep the change. He looked at me with surprise and gave a loud thanks.
I turned to the old man and said, something about how nice it was to meet him and I was going to my room like right now.

The old man said I didn't look good. He said he'd walk me to my room.
I said not necessary, I'd be fine.
He insisted.
I wondered if my mind was playing games on me as we walked quietly. Maybe he really was a harmless old man helping me out and not some Mafia don who spiked my drink..
Either way I felt his hand on my elbow as we walked to my room.
We stood outside the door.
I pulled the key card from my pocket and slowly slid it through the door. The old man could hear the TV was on as I opened the door a crack.
I always left the TV on when I travel alone and leave a hotel/motel room. It sounds like some one's in there and keeps people away.
"Hey it's just me" I said as I opened the door.
The old man look quizzically at me.
"My partner, another investigator." I lied, "He wasn't hungry."

I pushed the door open with my right shoulder, squeezed through without opening it fully, then
closed it fast and hard. Dead bolted it. Chained it. Remember I moved a chair up against it. Then I passed out on the floor.

I didn't wake up until the next morning, about 9:00 am, coughed from vomit in my mouth.
The place was a puke-filled mess. I was sick from what I knew right then and there from some kind of drug.

It took me several hours before I could get myself together and get the place cleaned-up. I called the front desk, extended my checkout time another hour. I was registered under a different name.

As I showered and pondered the events of the evening I realized how dangerous this profession I had chosen could really be.

I didn't check out at the front desk. I slipped out the back door, got in my car, hit the freeway and called the attorney as I hightailed it back to Seattle. I drove directly to a doctor the attorney referred me to.

Blood was taken. They found rohypnol... roofies... in my blood. I'd indeed been drugged. And had I not closed that door, or convinced him someone was in that room, that old man might have entered my room. He would have had access to me and all the notes of my five day investigation.

I felt I had dodged a bullet.
A hollow point bullet, no less.
It was my own stupidity that left my drink unguarded.
It was my own newbie investigative ignorance that allowed me to believe the gestures of an old man could only be altruistic.

Ultimately, the information I uncovered was helpful. It was released to key sources in both the Justice Department and the media.
The sexual harassment civil suit was settled favorably out of court.
Sam was not elected to office.
As for the organized crime investigation, I never asked about it and do not care.
To me the case is closed.
Just as doors I use to leave open are also closed.

The X-Files credo was "Trust No One"
It's my credo to this day, on every investigation I do.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

What Was She Thinking?

A single decision, action, injury, results in what I called the ripple effect.
Like a pebble you throw in the water... that decision, action, injury, ripples out in layers, to one life... then another... and another.
The rings continue to ripple out... to family, friends, witnesses, and strangers, like us.
All profoundly affected and connected by the "why" of it.
Always the "why."
Why was she driving the wrong way... in the wrong lane... with her children in the car... for so long, despite countless warning?
I suspect the answer may lie in the detox results.

Click on the title of this post, it takes you to the story.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Pedal To The Metal

There is this phenomena I have encountered over the years out there on the streets.
I wish there were a name for it.
It's something that happens when groups of young people -- usually teenagers, or the twenty- somethingers -- they all crowd into one car as they often do, after a night of partying.

In the true cases I am referring to in this post, it is the occasional person who is the driver that decides -- because he or she is behind the wheel and controls the pedals -- he can drive as fast as he or she wants. High as a kite. Drunk as a skunk. It's all good. And to hell with what the passenger wants. It's all about the driver's need for control.

These drivers think they're in a movie or video game.
They continue to press the accelerator, while all the other people in the car -- the passengers -- are screaming. One... then two... until ultimately, all yell "Stop!"

The fears builds in their voices.
"Dude, chill!"
"What's wrong with you Bro?"
"Slow Down!"
"You're scaring me!"
"Slow the freaking car down."
Then it's a cacophony of "SLOW DOWNNNNN" and screams as the driver is no longer in charge and the car is driving itself and its passengers to self destruction.

In every such case I've investigated, the passengers demanded, then screamed "STOP!"
And in all these cases, the driver ignored them and responded by speeding up and either smirking, smiling, laughing or calling his passengers, weenies or wooses. In every single such case, the driver is transformed into a speed demon, control freak who gets
of on terrified passengers.

Sooner or later physics come into play and between the speed, the road, its construction, curvature, and direction of the vehicle, among countless other variables, it is not the driver, but the out of control car in control.

I had a set of clients once.
They both died with four others when their car crashed into a pillar beneath a freeway south of Seattle. A passenger was videotaping the evening's escapades. She filmed from the back seat of the car.

She also videotaped their death because the camera was running when the car hit the pillar. It gave me and all who saw it a first-hand look inside what goes on insides some drivers' heads when they are under the influence and behind the wheel.

Not all kids can afford cars, so they generally move in swarms linked to one or two people in the hives called cars.

From there, after the sun sets, they join the gaggles of party geese traveling through roads, streets and highways; to parks, parking lots.. and ultimately parties in homes or bars.

Just now I was writing up case notes up about such a case and decided to blog on first.
My client was one such statistic.
She, a single mother, aged 24, got in a small SUV with 6 people in it.

I drew a box on my legal pad and had her put dots on it to indicate where everyone was sitting and who they were. There were four people in the back seat, only two in the back had seat belts. My client Melissa had hers on and was sitting in the front passenger seat.

First they went to Walmart.
Then they went to a local bar "Billies" (a pseudonym) for supper. I asked Melanie how much she had to drink. She said she ordered one drink, shared maybe of half of it. Said she had to get home to her baby.
I asked what she ordered, she said a Shirley temple with Grey Goose.
I laughed and told her that sounded delicious, I would have to try one. A perfect blend of past and present.
"Yeah, " she replied, "it's great. I ordered it and everyone else was drinking it. That's why I only had half."
She finished her drink with her friends who were drinking more. But she wasn't keeping score.

After midnight it came time to drive home. The sister of the man who owned the car asked her is she could drive his car.
Melissa and the other witness heard him say to her, "Okay but my car is easy to flip so you be sure to drive safe."
Melissa said the driver did not act drunk or appear to be drunk and Melissa said she would not drive with a drunk driver.

So they all got in the the car. Four in the back seat, my client, in the passenger front seat next to the driver.

The driver took off -- a bat out of hell. And the passenger clung to their seats and each other, screamed at the driver to slow down. Like in all such cases, the driver did not accept the passengers' advice and invariably slams into something. Hopefully, not another car with people in it. Mostly, I see the ones that went over a gully or cliff, hit a tree, a telephone pole, a building, landed in a river. You name it, chances are good, I've seen it.

In this case, Melissa's, they were on a freeway.
Melissa's driver was going fast, changing lanes. The passengers saw traffic ahead slowing.
They all screamed slow down.
Melissa's driver stepped on the accelerator instead,
Then reality hit some part of the driver's brain and she stepped on the brakes.
That caused the car to flip three times.
It was totalled and so was my client Melissa.

I need to write up her case, because she has two torn vertebrae in her neck and two ruptured disks in her back.
The lawyers need all her information so they can get take off running in the morning.
Meantime, Melissa is not running or walking anywhere.

She has been off work since the May accident.
Although she dodged a bullet, she still sees the glass as half empty.
She was the victim of a reckless driver she once considered a friend. She is terrified of being in cars. She can not hold or lift her 11 month old baby who doesn't understand why mommy has disconnected with her physically.

I tell her what she is entitled by law to: her medical bills; future medical bills; lost wages; pain and suffering. I explained the three year statute of limitations on civil cases such as hers.
She is 24 and may lose a great job, complete benefits.

I anticipate a battle, possibly a war. I suspect the driver's insurance company attorney will contend, she chose to get in the car with a drunk driver.

I ask her about that again. Did she know the driver was drunk?
"Absolutely not" she said adamently.
"I am the single parent of a baby.
I would never put myself in harm's way.
I call cabs all the time.
I did not know the driver was drunk."

Regardless, it happened.
One more case on the concrete sea I navigate daily. Like the police and the fire trucks, paramedics and ambulances, haz mat trucks... the injury attorneys and their private investigators pick up where the police investigation leaves off.

Often the last time the victims of a drunk driver, gun shot, dog mauling, or car wreck, etc., see a police officer is in the hospital room when the officer is getting information for his report. Or in the courtroom when a case goes to trial.
The investigator and the attorney step in, when everyone else steps out.

Tonight's moral is this:

If you have a teenager or a twenty-something...
know or are related to one one...
connected to, work for, or with one...
tell them you have a friend, an investigator, who knows sometimes anyone, especially teens and young adults, tweek, go nuts, act crazy when they are drunk. So never ever get in the car with any driver who has been drinking.

This is an undeniable truth -- people have their own reasons for continuing to deny
their truths.
People who drink enough do go into blackouts and have no conscious awareness of what they are doing, saying, where they are going.
Blackouts... and just poor behavior... cause some drivers to distort themselves into another reality they are playing in the movies in their heads.

They are The Fast and the Furious running the Death Race.
They are players in a make believe reality video that results in real injuries every day.
Smashed heads. Snapped necks. Broken limbs. Severed spinal chords. Torn hearts. Catastrophic head injuries. And deaths.

The number one cause of death today to teenagers and twenties-somethings is not drugs or alcohol anymore.
It's car accidents.
And I have seen enough of them to learn average, every day looking people, young and old, turn into demons when they get behind the wheel.

Young people who think drinking adds to the cool or the loose factor, don't grasp the concept that alcohol (which is now being added to a whole new line of energy drinks targeted at teens and young adults), is a drug heavily marketed to them by liquor companies and state liquor boards.

The objective is to get teenagers to drink and associate that drinking with a good time.
Then, if they drink enough, just like cigarettes, the physiologically addictive ingredients of the substance and then the psychological behaviors associated with it, take hold until the addiction is complete. And the media, advertisers and government have an on-going source of revenue thanks to said addiction. Which keeps the jails and rehabs very busy.

The driver of the vehicle Melissa was double the limit in Washington. Yet to witnesses in the bar and car, she seemed just fine. And that's no surprise to me, because the more addicted one is to a substance, the more normalized he appears on it to an unsuspecting eye. And if you get one of those loony tune drivers, who has a lead foot when it comes to the accelerator and a deaf ear when it comes to the passengers, the combination is combustible.

Be ever vigilant.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Rising Temperatures

It was a long day out there, on the hot streets with hurt, angry people.... victims of accidents or attacks. My job is rougher in the heat, people's tempers rise with the mercury. A hot day like today out there always leads me back here.... to this cool sacred space and place on the shores of Port Gamble Bay.

This is a wild place. In a natural kind of way.
We have a small cluster of hermit like neighbors. We are all surrounded by trees on a circular road along a remote beach. We're the very last house on the edge of the beach.
There are twenty acres of forest and wetlands to the right of us. And a bay with oysters, crabs, clams and a sand spit that runs just shy of a mile.

At low tide, you might be able to walk across to a far shore, but it's not likely you will survive because you will be sucked under the mud as one of our dogs was... only her head exposed... when the high tide came rushing in and threatened to drown her.

It took my soldier husband with a dislocated shoulder to shimmy out on a tree branch and haul them both back to safety. They were covered in mud from head to toe and literally crawled to my car where I found them on a dirt road. It was Apocalypse now, then.

When the sun finally descends around here after long summer days (it gets dark around 10:00), it gets so dark, you don't venture far without a flashlight. There are howls in the woods, screeches of the skin-curling variety, gunshots or fire crackers every now and then. There is also a great deep darkness speckled by a sea of stars the likes of which I have never seen elsewhere.

Last night, about 3:00 am. I took the dogs out just outside the sliding doors that lead to the beach.

There was a low growl and a deep rustle to our right. The dogs and I responded exactly the same primal way -- we jumped, turned, stared into the darkness, then froze for a sequential beat before we retreated, mas rapido, into the sanctuary of our little beach house with the fire I lit earlier waiting for us.

Tonight we are all quiet and calm.
I, one of the natives, remains restless while everyone else sleeps soundly.

I am thinking of the 41 year old man I saw for the first time hours earlier, while the sun was still high. He had a machine breathing for him in intensive care. He was in a coma, surrounded by his stunned family -- two teenage sons and a younger daughter. Plus a wife. And two parents.

They live in Rochester WA, hours from Seattle. He was one more motorcyclist not granted the right of way he deserved. He ended up under a semi.

I did my interview with his wife in the family's waiting room at the hospital.
Then when I returned to his room to take photos, I realized... between his coma, brain injury, broken bones and loss of wages as the family's soul bread-winner... the family may lose their house and the life as they know it forever.
They have no auto insurance -- and because they don't, they will get no lost wages until the case settles or ends after trial.

As I said my good-byes, the numb wife thanked me for coming out to see them.
I thanked her for her trust and told her how sorry I was for her, her husband, her children.
She politely asked me where I live.

I considered telling her of the fairytale place I found so late in life where time seems to stand still.
I think better of that though, knowing her fairytale has now become a nightmare she hasn't even even begun to imagine.
I tell her I live a ways north and west. I noticed she wasn't listening.

I grew up on Aesop's fables. He always closed his story with a lesson or moral.
Mine is a bit too blunt for Aesop.

There's a reason why ER Doctors call motorcyclists kidney donors.
People either don't see them coming or deliberately hit them.

The worse the economy gets, the more people are turning to scooters and motorcycles.
So tomorrow, be kind to your local biker. He's some one's, brother, son, father, or friend ...who deserves a second glance.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Her Missing Children

This will be a shorter post, albeit an important one.
Shorter, because it's painful to write about it.
Important, because it deals with a quandary licensed private investigators often face in their careers.

Someone calls out of the blue and says someone is lost or missing.
There are many reasons why people disappear. High on the list is murder -- inspired by rage, envy, desire, jealousy, insurance money. Or, by simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

This story, however, is about those missing by force, choice or design.
Plumb the depth of those statistics and you find layers upon layers of reasons woven into the fabric of those unexplained disappearances: runaways; abductions; wander-offs.
Or a group I named based on this case.

Misappropriated children are the ones stolen stolen from good families and placed in another home not for the right reasons. But the wrong ones. In some cases, children are taken from their homes by some angry, evil, jealous or psychotic neighbor, family member or friend -- who decided to call CPS -- Child Protective Services, with false allegations.

The case I am going to tell you about involves the latter and the quandary inherent in investigating it.

My decision to pursue this investigation has carried me through public records, to the state's capitol, I've invoked the Freedom Of Information Act. Twice. I'm getting closer to the girls, though still not there. I'm still cautious about how I approach the reunion. And whether the girls will want one.

Most of us know about false memories.
These are ideas seeded into our brains externally by other people. Or they are self-generated internally. False memories tell a story we believe is real and is not.

I believe the two little girls, and CPS, have had false memories planted into their heads. This falsehood is the story, the fabrication, the lie. It was the undoing of the ties that bind families forever.

When the girls were 2 and 4, my client -- her mother -- was a full time mom devoted to her husband and her children. The mother treated the youngest, who was two for diaper rash.
This required the slathering of a diaper rash medicine around the little girl's private parts. Because the rash was bad, mom looked closely and wiped gently, careful not to to hurt the child.

As the eldest girl looked on, Mommy explained what diaper rash is and how this helps.
The older girl said "Mommy, I have an itch there, could you look and see?"
Mommy said okay, put the baby in her crib. Then mommy and the the 4 year old daughter went into the bathroom. The little girl showed mommy her itchy area. Mommy inspected, said she saw nothing there.

Mommy said, "You don't wear diapers honey, so any itching you have could be just because you see your sisters rash. Let's wait and see how it feels tomorrow."

That was then.
This is also then.
Because my client, the mother, has not seen her children since a few days after that application of diaper appointment and the examination of other other daughter, at her daughter's request.

What happened is next is this.
One lie.
One lie woven into dark thread woven by a venomous spider. My client's next door neighbor.

My client meddled. She said she will be the first to admit it.
My client told the neighbor's husband that his wife, her neighbor, was cheating on him with a number of different guys while he worked. She figured someone ought to tell the guy what was happening, so she did. That's what set the ball in motion.
The first strike.

The woman cheating on her husband had a few screws loose to begin with. One more loosened when her husband left her because of for the multiple affairs reported by my client and his wife's alcoholism. He took his son with him and they moved back to the family farm in Iowa. just like that.

So the disgruntled, abandoned neighbor, sought revenge. She called CPS and reported my client for frequent and repeated sexual assault on the two girls.

Apparently my client's older daughter, who played with the neighbors daughter told the neighbor's daughter that her mommy put medicine on the baby's private parts and then checked her. This was what the whole thing boiled down to.

CPS workers came out. My client explained the affair thing, the diaper rash thing, the fact that her neighbor was an alcoholic and had been in treatment twice, the whole thing . CPS didn't believe my client and removed the two beautiful little girls from the home. The father, a trucker, was on the road at the time.

As of today, the children, who were taken from their mother at the age of 2 and 4 have not seen their mother since. Nor has she seen them. The trucker husband, on the road at the time, never came back to claim or find his kids. It turned out he had two warrants out for his arrest in Washington under an alias my client swore she did not know about. He divorced her, changed his name and remarried.

The girls are now 23 and 21 respectively. My client received a single phone call from the eldest daughter a year ago. No caller ID showed up.
It was very tentative call, that resulted in no information from the daughter except that she lived in Oregon, had children of her own and she was not going to say any more or reveal any information about herself. She hung up. That was it. Last contact.

Unfortunately, my client, the mother and her current boyfriend of 15 years, are broke and broker.
Not only don't they have two dimes to rub together, they don't even have one.
They work in construction as day laborers and nothing more needs to be said about the construction industry and lack of jobs in it.

So, when the mother hired me, she told me she couldn't pay me. She just needed help finding the daughters who were now 21 and 23. She hadn't seen then since they were 2 and 4. She told me the story about why they were taken.

Turned out they arrested her for sexual abuse. She plead because they said if she didn't, she'd go to jail for 10 years or more. She was deemed a sex offender who molested her own daughters she told me, outraged. She said she was completely innocent and ultimately, the State Supreme Court over ruled her conviction. I asked if there was evidence of the Supreme Court ruling. She said yes, she had it.

She said the neighbor was one of two key witnesses against her. The other witness against my client was her own mother, an alcoholic who chose to believe and side with the neighbor. They were friends and drinking buddies. Their master plan was to get custody of the girls and grandma would raise them with the mother's help and financial aid from the state.
The plan failed.

Instead, the state took the two sisters, changed their names, changed their social security numbers and moved them together from one foster home to another which ultimately adopted them.

Today the two girls live in Portland.
Their mother wants me to find them.
I have been looking.
So far I have been unsuccessful. Old adoption records are housed in a great big, highly secure, warehouse in our state's Capitol, Olympia. We have ordered them, been denied them, so we did another request.

I told my client if we find the girls, I will do the case for free, pro bono. I had some conditions she had to agree to, however and she did so willingly.

I said I will be the one to make the initial contact with them. To explain I am a licensed Private Investigator hired by their birth mother to find them.

I said I would not release their new names and addresses to her unless they said it is okay.

And I said I will deliver the girls a note from, her, the mother -- to them. It will be okay for her to leave her telephone number in the note for the girls in case they ever have a medical emergency for one of their own children where her blood, organs, medical background... something might be required.

She agreed and I began the case.

First thing I did was get Superior Court and Supreme Court records.
Criminal, Civil, District, Municipal, I got them all.
Yes... my client, the mother, was investigated, accused, interrogated, arrested, convicted, booked, sentenced and served.
Then I read the State Supreme Court Records.
After serving a 3 year sentence and being released, the Supreme Court concluded she did not abuse the girls and overturned the conviction.

Now, I get calls from my client, the mom with the missing girls, every few weeks... just to be sure I am still on it.

"If I didn't have this hope," she said on the last call, "I know I'd kill myself."

Now that worries me.
I think the person who lost the child... and the child removed from the parent... each have unique issues of grave proportions they bring to the table.

The implications and dangers inherent in re-uniting a healthy well-balanced child to a financially and emotionally desperate woman demand serious consideration.

Also the girls may have been told their mother did abuse them... and they may believe it. My phone call to them could terrify rather than please them.
A private investigator could be perceived by their adoptive parents, the girls, the legal system, as a threat and that is not a good thing.

Thus you see my quandary in this case.
Writing here in a vacuum, I am curious what you would do?
Facebook me, or comment here. Feedback is not only welcome, it is encouraged.

In September, the records arrive.
If they don't come as requested I have a Plan D, E, and F in place.
Some cases just take so, way tooo long. And when you're doing them pro bono, you can only do so much.

Meantime a mother waits for word of her two daughters who may or may never want to see her again.
I don't think this story will have a miserable ending, though I'm not sure it will have a happy one either.
Instead, I think it will end in the gray space between the two... when and if.... I find the girls.

Friday, July 24, 2009


We were undercover after the World Trade Center riots in Seattle. They made a movie about those riots, maybe you've seen it.

This was years ago, it was protesters vs. the police. The police won the first round with tear gas and clubs. They came on way too strong in my opinion.

About the time the real World Trade Center protest turned into a riot, police surveillance budgets were cut and there were only so many hours allotted for the police to do certain kinds of surveillance. New intelligence was required because another, more violent protest than Seattle's was being planned in Washington, D.C., the nation's capitol.

Therefore, private subcontractors like me, licensed private investigators, were hired to infiltrate the groups that evolved from non-violent sit-ins or protests, to well-coordinated forces of civil disruption.

Our objective was to gather info from the violent groups -- the ones that smashed the windows, threw the rocks, flipped the cards, targeted specific companies, broke laws. Words was, these groups were organizing into a militia that planned to wreak havoc in Washington DC at meeting of the International Monetary Fund.

There are a lot of well known national companies based companies in Seattle. Maybe you've heard of some of them, Boeing, Starbucks, Microsoft, to name a few. Many companies here have a stake in what went down in Washington DC. They wanted a peaceful protest and knew that was unlikely. At the very least, they wanted a way to protect their interests there.

My job, my partner's and the other undercover investigators involved around the area, was to infiltrate the groups and gather information about what was planned to protect both people and property that were targets. Who hired us was hired by a consortium of concerned citizens unknown to me.

The group's meeting was in a bad neighborhood, close to the Mission, where a young woman had recently been murdered.

My partner in the pretext was my own own husband, also a licensed investigator, and a vet with 15 years in the military behind him (hoo rah). When he put on a ball cap, jeans, a flannel shirt and flashed his huge grin, he was the good old northwest guy next door. At the time he had a full beard, the perfect look for the three-day training in civil disobedience.

We entered what appeared to be an abandoned warehouse. There were about 30 people in the room. Almost all of the group members were young, in their 20's. I was in my late 30's then,
clearly older than most.

We posed as married hippies who'd never grown up. We dressed the part, laid back. He did the Jimmy Buffet thing. I was more the earth-mother type, right down to the Birkenstock sandals with colored socks and a big multicolored rainbow bag dangling off my shoulder. I had a pony tail and peace sign earrings

We all sat on the floor in a circle. The leader was white guy closer to thirty, with a paramilitary air. He was dressed in black leather pants, black combat boots, a black vest over a black t-shirt. He topped off the look with a black beret on his black pony-tailed hair. He was stern and loud as as he spoke his first words. When he stood up I noticed the black leather fanny-type pack on his side and wondered if he was packing.

"Is anyone here a member of the police, media, or any other group here who does not belong?" he asked.

No response. Just collective nods of no.
He continued.

"Is there anyone here for the purpose of infiltrating this group? Does any one have a camera or recording equipment? Is any one a member of the media? is there an undercover police officer here?

More silence. More passionate nods of no. I sure wasn't going to raise me hand.

" Let me just advise you now. If you do not belong here, you best leave. Is there anyone here who does not belong?"

Again, no one said a word.

We were asked to go around the circle and introduce ourselves.

I said I was Lilly, introduced my husband as Bud. That earned a chuckle or two.
Said we were radical environmentalists, "old tree hugging hippies," I laughed, who'd been arrested twice during protests. I explained I'd been pissed off ever since ever since Ohio State. I said the police tear gassed me during W.T.C. and that was the last straw. I concluded my introduction by saying I was consumed by a fear that corporations would soon rule the world.

I got a good response from the group. Nods, smiles, welcomes.
Then it was my husband's turn to speak. They all looked to him expectantly.

"What she said," is all he said.

They all laughed and the circle stories continued until it was time to train.

It was a three-day crash course: how to be civilly disruptive; how to stage a protest; resist arrest; throw pies in someone's face; break windows; communicate in code; subvert; get bail. How to find emergency response teams.

We broke into groups and did role play.

In one group I was cop telling a stubborn protester to move. The protester said no, so I got tougher.

I pulled on his shirt, prodded him with the billy club I was given. I tried reason, logic, nothing worked. He wouldn't move. I chose to call one of my fellow cop role players for an assist and together we dragged him across the black line on the floor to an imaginary paddy wagon.

When it was my turn to be the protester, the pretend policeman I had was not as nice as I was. He told me to move while I sat on the floor in my pre-assigned cross-legged, arms-folded protest position.
I said no and gave him the story I was trained to -- about how I am an American and I am allowed to protest. And just before I got to the part about civil liberties, he grabbed me by my hair, took my pony tail in both his hands and dragged me across the floor.
I started to fight back.
The leader stepped next to us.
"Don't resist, Don't fight," he said to me, "They'll just make it worst for you. Just submit, speak with the guy, try to change his mind."

Trust me on this.
There is no way to reason with a guy dragging you by the hair when what you need to do is kick him in the nuts and say f.u.
However, I played my role to perfection.

I told him I was protesting for him, for the children, for the planet.
I told him it was my civil right to disobey and he was violating it.
Then I told him I was going to sue his ass if he didn't take his hands off me right now.
He let go.
I walked across the black line on the floor into the imaginary paddy wagon with all the other protesters who'd been pretend arrested.

The whole idea of the group going to the events was to wreak havoc in the name of civil liberty.
I learned how to be disruptive. How to break through security. How disrupt a speech. How to smash a window while avoiding any harm to civilians.

I also knew who the group was planning to target at the protests. What companies , people, and places were in danger and when. This was the information our clients needed. And I believe this is what prevented the I.T.C. from becoming another W.T.C. riot.

There's an old saying.
Some days you get the bear.
Some days the bear gets you.
In this case, we got the bear.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Tide Turns - A Case Update

A few days ago, I wrote a post based on a case was investigating. The blog post is called "Bad Karma: DWI" and you can link to it through my blog archives if you'd like. It's fairly recent, though a bit lengthy. So let me sum it up for you in just a few sentences.

Guy at age 16, drunk, fell off Deception Pass and lived to tell about it. He broke every bone in his body he said.

When I met him he was in his 30's, in a wheelchair. He had one good leg he used to push himself around in his wheelchair. He lived in an old age home. I was meeting with him because he got hit in his wheelchair in a crosswalk by a car that ran a red light. The hit broke his other leg. So now he had two legs he couldn't use. Plus a broken wrist.

So when I closed my post back then, story had a miserable ending. The man called me, crying. He told me the law firm called him. They said they got the police report we were waiting for. It said the Defendant/the person who hit him had no auto insurance. He said the law firm couldn't take his case.

I talked to him a bit about crime victims compensation; said I would get the number; and also told him I would call the law firm, see what they had in their file about his case.

I never called him back. Nor did I call the law firm. No excuses. Just one more to do on a list of things undone.

So he called me back again this morning on my ferry crossing to Seattle. He asked me if I found out anything. He said he was so depressed, he was feeling suicidal. I told him I was very sorry. I screwed up and hadn't called the law firm yet or gotten the crime victims number. I didn't bother with excuses.

I told him to give me a few hours. If he didn't hear from me or the law firm by five to call me back.

I called the law firm immediately. Told the attorney I received a call from this man. That he said they resigned the case. Turned out -- not only was the case still open -- the lawyer had the police report in front of him and the Defendant did have auto insurance.

The attorney and I discussed who called the client in the nursing home and said there was no auto insurance.
The law firm combed through their database and emails.
No one from the firm made that call.
I asked if the insurance companies might stoop so low as to call and pretend to be an attorney resigning a case.
"I wouldn't put it past them," the attorney replied.

I told the attorney one of us needed to call the guy back immediately with the good news.
"He's suicidal," I said.
"I'll do it, " the Attorney volunteered. "Right now."

That was fine by me. I knew the call would happen.
I knew on this day, some one's frown would turn upside down... thanks to a call from an an auto insurance policy in force.

The client in the wheelchair called me back just an hour ago as I was in my car, on the ferry crossing home.

He said he wanted to say thank you. He said he felt there was no hope left for him, he was so desperate, how much he appreciated my help. When I told him it was my pleasure, I meant it.
I told him how I excited I was to learn the was an insurance policy in place. I said next step is to hope for a big one, because he had three shattered bones in his leg and they need surgery.

We chatted more about who could've placed that mysterious call to him convincing him there was no insurance. We lost the cell signal as the ferry was docking.

Driving off the boat and heading home tonight with the sun setting, I thought this story would make a great blog post, if only because it's history-making -- being the second true story I wrote in a row that has a happy ending.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


At first, I knew her only as the "Mailbox Lady."

She owned the little storefront mailing business where I had a P.O. box in a community I used to live in. The good thing about her place was, it gave you a street and a number that looked like a residence, not a P.O. Box. It was a good mail cover for an investigator.

Kim (a culturally-appropriate pseudonym) was Korean, in her late 30's or early 40's, I never asked. She spoke English well with a distinctive Korean accent. She also had a great sense of humor.

She was thrilled when she discovered I was a private investigator. Every visit to drop off or pick up something at my P.O. Box brought a cheerful greeting and many excited questions.

"I work for you?" she used to ask. "I work for you for free!"
I would smile, change the subject, deflect.

Until one day, I took her up on her offer.

When I came in, I asked, "You work for me?"
"Yes!" Kim shouted with delight.

I told her I was trying to catch a cheating husband. I told her he would be mailing letters to a woman named Tatiana, at my P.O. Box.
I told her that I was pretending to be Tatiana.
She understood.
I told her a man, my subject, may come in and check out the place and ask about Tatiana. He may want a description.
She responded quickly, "I will tell him Tatiana is a very beautiful and mysterious young woman, with long dark hair, flowing dress and many jewels."

I told her I was impressed with her detective skills, then asked if she'd mind getting his license plate number as well.

The call came within days.
"He here!" she whispered in her phone.
"He here right now! He ask about Tatiana! He left letter. He looking at greeting cards"
I told her I'll be right there, to stall him if she could.

I was nearby but not near enough. So the only photo I got was the rear-end of his car as he drove away. Kim was thrilled beyond belief as she gave me a complete description of the man and handed me the letter he gave her to put in my P.O. box.

I opened the letter in front of Kim. It contained the evidence I needed to prove to my client her husband was a lying cheating scumbag who was trying to get a woman named Tatiana to spend a tantra-filled weekend in Las Vegas with him.

I told Kim I was proud of her and I genuinely was.
If I had a gold deputy star, I would have pinned it on her.

Fast forward. A year passes.
I go into the P.O. Box Place.
Only this time, the worm turned.

Kim said, "You work for me?"

I asked what she needed.
She told me she thought her Korean husband of 25 years was cheating on her. She explained why. She wanted me to follow him and find out what he was up to.
I figured I owed her that much.

I followed him. For three days in a row, I parked across from his car repair business. I watched him and his crew close up for the day. I watch him get in his black van and followed him home while Kim still worked at the P.O. Box place.
On day four, I stopped by Kim's workplace and said, "I'm done Kim. Three days, nothing."

She said, "Just one more time. Tonight please. I close early and come with you."

Now, I am not proud of having done this. I was a new investigator then. It was wrong and I would never do it again. For a multitude of stupid reasons, the greatest of which was boredom, I decided to let Kim join me on what I believed was the last night of an uneventful surveillance on her husband. I truly believed he would do what he did the last three nights, get in his van and go home.

I laid out the ground rules.
Kim would lay low in the back seat of my Jeep with deeply tinted windows. I gave her a baseball cap and sunglasses. I pulled into my previous surveillance spot. We waited and watched until Kim's husband locked the doors of his business and drove away in his van. I followed him.
Only this time, he turned right instead of left.... and then into to a convenience store.

This was a first for him.
I watched as he entered the store and walked out of it with an Asian woman, taller than Kim, younger. Kim wasn't looking at the time, she was checking her cell phone. I told her
a woman just got in the car with her husband at the convenience store. She bolted upright at high alert.

"What she look like?" she demanded.
"She look better than me? I hope she fat and ugly."
I told Kim I didn't get a real good look at her and suggested she just chill quietly in the car while I followed her husband's van. They drove to a side lot at a local movie theater.
I parked a few rows directly behind them. We waited maybe five minutes before the van started rocking in "that" way.

Kim was aghast.
"They doing it? Right there? He doing it with her? Right here in the parking lot?"
I turned, looked at her and told her, "Yep, they're doing it."
There was maybe five seconds of silence.
Then she said, "I have gun! I shoot him!"

She pulled a pistol out of her pocket with her left hand and pointed it upward. She was reaching for the door handle with her right hand. Fortunately, I was faster than she was.
I hit the automatic lock button on my door panel and flew over front seat, grabbing the gun from Kim's hand and physically restraining her. She was so angry, she was hyperventilating.
"Time Out Kim" I said.

I told her she was not going to shoot her husband.
Not here. Not ever.
I also told her she had no right to bring a loaded gun into my car.
I was more pissed, however, at myself -- for putting Kim, her husband, his paramour and my business license, in harm's way.
I imagined the headlines, "Investigator Leads Wife to Cheating Husband - Wife Shoots Him and Lover."

Kim and I were locked in a thick, tense silence while we stared at the van. Then it started rocking again.

"Again?" Kim shouted. "They do it again? He never do it again with me! He do just once, then good night! He snore like fat pig."

My Jeep doors locked, the gun secured, Kim had no choice but to sit, watch, rant and rave. While I had no choice but to listen.
Finally, the van stopped rocking.

Then... the final act.

As Kim watched and I photographed it, the passenger door of the van opened, the woman got out, she was wearing a skirt. She lifted her skirt, squatted in the parking lot and peed.

"Ohhhhhh" Kim groaned and moaned all at once.
"What kind of woman take another woman's man and pee in parking lot?"
"A very nasty woman" I replied.

The story goes on and on. We followed them, they eventually saw us. We were burned. Busted. No more surveillance.

It was major crisis management time.
I arranged for two people to be with Kim when she went home and confronted her husband.
I had a marraige counselor waiting for them the next morning.

I also made Kim swear in her dead father's name, she had no guns in her home and she wouldn't harm her husband.
"Men cheat for a reason, " I told her. "Find out why. Maybe it's something you can change."

Kim's husband, confronted, told Kim it was a cultural thing for Korean men to stray. He felt nothing for this woman. He loved Kim and said he will never do it again.

When Kim asked him why he did it, he said Kim had gained so much weight... and she seemed to pull away from him at night... he thought she didn't want him.
The truth revealed, they decided to work out it.

Last time I saw Kim was the day she was closing the P.O. Box place for good. She said she didn't like the hours, it wasn't profitable. Instead, she joined a gym and swam every day.

Things were better than ever with her husband, she said.
In fact, they were planning their 30th wedding anniversary party.

I wasn't invited.
And I haven't heard from Kim since.
Though I never expect to hear from clients once my job is done.
In this case, exposing the affair helped saved their marriage.
It was a happy ending I never expected.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Wheelchair Vs. Suburban

This will be a brief blog post because it's one of those cases where there's nothing to say, or do. Just report.

Jim, a pseudonym, was 35 years old, in a nursing home. He spoke with a slur... like a stroke victim... he struggled to get the words out in a raspy whisper. However, all the bulbs in Jim's head were lit, said the attorney who sent me to Jim via email.

The attorney said Jim had serious pre-existing injuries due to a prior accident. As a result of those injuries, Jim was confined to a wheelchair in a nursing home. The attorney said Jim was difficult to understand when speaking. He did manage to get the facts of the accident out of Jim.

Jim was in his wheelchair, he had one good foot he could push with. Every morning when it wasn't raining, he'd wheel himself from the nursing home to the corner convenience store for his coffee.

Jim said he waited at the crosswalk until "the little white man in the walk sign said Go."
Jim entered the crosswalk, pushed himself along in his wheelchair with his one good leg. He was half-way through the intersection when a woman in a black Suburban ran her red light and struck Jim.

The woman tried to flee the scene, but couldn't because Jim's wheelchair and Jim, were stuck under her car. And lots of Good Sams and witnesses were present, so they blocked her and her car until the police arrived.

It was evident to all, the woman was intoxicated, she reeked of gin. She was arrested at the scene.

When I met with Jim in the nursing home, I explained to him that the lawyers would investigate his case at their cost. If the woman had no auto insurance, that meant there was no insurance to go after and the lawyers would resign his case. Also at no cost to him.

Jim asked why, if it turned out there was no auto insurance, the lawyers don't sue her personally: take her house; her car; freeze her bank account; dock her pay. I explained the attorneys I work for go after insurance money not personal assets. That's because people who are sued, declare bankruptcy and you never collect anyway.

I studied Jim as we talked in the nursing home. As a result of the crosswalk hit, his good leg,the one he used to push himself with, was broken in two places.
"Both my legs are dead," he said.

He also got a nasty head injury when his wheelchair toppled, and his head hit the pavement. I photographed the wound and his right wrist, which was also broken in the fall. Add insult to injury -- he was right-handed.

As Jim spoke, he whispered in a long, drawn out slur. I had to put my head very close to his mouth to understand his words.

I asked him what injury brought him to nursing home in the first place. I said that it appeared to me, something worse happened to him many years ago... before I was sent to see him.

He told me when he was 16 years old, he got drunk and he fell off Deception pass.

For those of you who don't know what Deception Pass is, click on the title of this blog post, it will take you there.

Bottom line, Jim hit the bottom from a very high top and broke, he said, every bone in his body.
"I'm more metal than man," he told me.
He'd been in nursing homes ever since.

My response to Jim's story was calm on the outside. On the inside, I was blown away by the facts just served up. I had never met anyone who had fallen off Deception Pass. I didn't think anyone would live to tell of that.

I was further blown away by the fact that he survived all these years, made it this far, still had one good leg.... until the DWI in the Suburban hit him in his wheelchair.

Jim was concerned with practicalities. He wanted insurance money, he wanted the woman to pay his medical bills, his future medical bills. He wanted her to pay for his pain and suffering.
I told him the attorney and I wanted the same thing for him.
However, first things first.
We needed the Police Report.
The lawyers had to order it.
I told him it could take two weeks to much longer to get it, depending on whether there was an on-going criminal investigation.

But, I added, if he went to the police station himself, the police would give him the report sooner.
Jim shook his head slowly and said, "I ain't going nowhere."
And he was right.
Even if he wanted to go somewhere, he couldn't.
He was trapped in a body that did not work.

Last night Jim called me. He was crying. He said the law firm just called him. The police report arrived. The Defendant driver, the lady in the Suburban had no auto insurance. She was cited for DWI, driving with no insurance and driving with a suspended license. But that was of little comfort to Jim.

I listened as Jim released venom directed at his life, the system, the woman, his losses and pain. He said the lawyers resigned his case. He asked what else he could do.

The only thing I could suggest was crime victim's compensation. It isn't much... I told Jim... but maybe he qualifies and something is better than nothing. I gave him the contact number, told him how sorry I was for him, wished him well and closed the conversation.

When I hung up the phone, I returned to my life.
And Jim did the same, only his life is no kind of life.
Yet somehow... he manages to live it.

Being a private investigator is finding the truth even when the truth is painful, unjust, or just plain wrong.

I and the attorneys hoped for the best case scenario: a huge insurance policy in place; money for Jim's medical bills and pain and suffering.
Instead, worst case scenario.
One more beaten down human being who deserves a whole lot better.

Case closed.
But not satisfactorily so.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Sea Monster In The Lake

His father told me that he and his wife moved to America and became citizens a year and a half before their son, Elijah (a pseudonym) was born.

Apartheid was and still is alive and well in South Africa, Elijah's mother said. The young native couple wanted a future, a life. They'd heard of other Africans who emigrated to America. They followed suit and ended up in Seattle where Elijah was born one year later.

He was their pride, joy and only child, because Elijah's mother said there was something wrong with her insides and she could have no more children.

She glowed as she described Elijah to me, how he had taken to playing with balls as a baby, then kicking them as he learned to walk. Over the years he became the star of every soccer team he was on. His coaches told his parents he would be World Class.

He was a typical pre-teen in the melting pot called America. Popular at his school, he was a handsome, friendly, funny, lean, soccer-playing machine. Every day after school, every weekend, Saturdays and Sundays, whenever he could, he played soccer.

So one day, two summers ago, he was playing soccer, with some friends, by Lake Washington. There is swimming area near where they played.

The swimming area in Lake Washington was roped off, had a life guard, a secured wooden float in the middle, and signs posted everywhere with hours and rules. People picnicked on the beach and swam to the wooden float where they sat, sunned, dove off and swam back to shore.

Elijah and his friends been playing soccer for hours that day. It was in the upper 80's.
The boys were hot and decided to go for a swim.

Elijah was a good swimmer his parents said. They gave him swimming lessons since he was a baby. He spent countless summer days in that very lake with his friends.

On this particular day, three days after his 12th birthday, the boys jumped in the water in their soccer shorts and swam to the wooden float. There were four people on the float that day, one was a doctor and his 10 year old son. The water was about 10 feet deep at the float.

From this point forward, what happened next is both a known and unknown.

One of Elijah's friends said Elijah smiled, waved at him, pointed at the wooden float, then dove under the water and never came up.

Elijah's friend called his name, then the other kids started calling out and pointing to where Elijah disappeared.

The doctor on the wooden float saw the kids screaming and pointing. The doctor told his son to stay put and dove into the water looking for Elijah. After surfacing and resurfacing unsuccessfully three time -- it was on the fourth attempt when the doctor said his hand grabbed what he thought at first was seaweed, then turned out to be Elijah's fingers.

With the help of others, the doctors got Elijah's lifeless body on the raft and attempted to revive him. Meantime, people alerted by the chain of of cries and screams from the wooden float to the beach, made multiple calls to 911 on their cell phones.

Despite the speed of the paramedics' arrival, despite the collective and desperate desire of everyone present for the best outcome, the worst happened.

Elijah died.

Two weeks after his death, Elijah's father called an attorney who called me because the family wanted to know why Elijah really died. They didn't believe he simply drowned. They thought there was more to the story than that because they said there were rumors of several deaths of children in that area of the lake.

Elijah's mother said he was a good swimmer. He was healthy. She said the police told her and her husband, that Elijah's death was an accidental drowning, but they didn't believe it.

The lawyer who sent me to see Elijah's parents was a compassionate guy with a set of 12 year old twin boys. He said after hearing the story over the phone, after feeling the pain in Elijah's dad's voice, he couldn't turn the man away.

So he told the parents he would open the case for investigation purposes only.
That meant the attorney would pay me to investigate the drowning and... if some person or some entity is found liable and... there is insurance money available... then, the attorney will proceed further.

Otherwise , if it was tragic drowning and there was no fault on the part of anyone else, the lawyers would step away from the case at no cost to Elijah's parents.

I made this all clear to Elijah's mother and father as I met them in their living room and they showed me the shrine they'd built to their son. I went through photo albums, saw videotapes of his soccer playing.

I conducted my interview in their home, got the facts of the accident, the witnesses, time-line, then asked them two key questions.

First, I asked them if they believed it was possible their son just drowned. Maybe he got some kind of cramp, or maybe got caught in something underwater, or maybe swallowed too much water that quickly got into his lungs. Maybe he just drowned. They both said "No!" at exactly the same time.

The next question was the obvious. Then what do you think happened?

The mother spoke first.

"We think he was eaten by a sea monster."

The father went on to explain there is a rumor among all the young people and others who frequent that lake that a sea monster has been sighted in it.

The kids say if you are there at night, you can sometimes see its long, spiky silver back glistening along the surface of the water. They say there are weird sounds by the lake at night, deep hums and moans. They said many other children have drowned in that area and the sea monster got them too. They said everyone knows about the monster in the lake and someone is keeping it a big secret.

"We're not doing this for the money," Elijah's father said. "We're doing this to save other children who swim there every day."

I will spare you the thoughts that ran through my head as this story was woven for me.

Suffice to say, there is no accounting for grief, loss, the death of a child. And if these parents believed their son was eaten by a sea monster, then I would help them determine whether or not that was true.

I asked them for their son's death certificate. They had one ready.
I looked first at cause of death. The Medical examiner wrote, "accidental drowning."

I asked them if they had, or we could get, an autopsy report. The father said no. In their faith and beliefs, an autopsy is not allowed. The human body cannot be desecrated in any way after death. It had something to do with the afterlife.

They were very insistent with everyone -- the police, doctors, and Medical Examiner -- that no autopsy was to be performed.

The M.E. honored their request. After all, there were witnesses present, the boy was swimming, something happened, he drowned. It happens all the time.

If there had been evidence of a sea monster attack, or any attack, the M.E. would do an autposy regardless of the family's request.

I called the attorney from my car and gave him this info while I followed Elijah's mother and father in their car to the lake, so they could show me the exact spot where their son, their only child, drowned.

I talked to lifeguards, other swimmers. I photographed the scene, the signs, kids swimming, the dock in the middle of the lake. I photographed Elijah's parents holding each other, sobbing, at the shore near where their son died. Then I sent his parents home and told them I needed to work the investigation on my own. I said the attorney would get back to them.

I stayed at that lake that night until after dark. People swam despite the fact the lifeguards left. I came came a few more times at odd hours after dark. I did sea monster surveillance -- looked for movement and shadows in the water, listened for Sea Monster sounds. There's was nothing but the usual cars of kids, lovers and drug deals.

I researched the lake, its history, strange occurances, and drownings. I found plenty of legends -- from giant sturgeon to a rampant caiman, but no evidence of a real life sea monster devouring children.

By the time I finished my investigation, the attonrey had the M.E.'s file. The body was intact, not autopsied per the parents request.

All findings and evidence, including the photos I studied of Elijah's dead body, indicated no bruises, bites, cuts, rips, tears. This as what led the police, doctors, the M.E., attorney and me to the conclusion that the boy suffered an accidental downing.

I suspect, had an autopsy been performed, water would have found in Elijah's lungs. But without that autopsy, that is simply suspicion, not fact.

The boy could have swallowed too much water, had a cramp, a heart attack, a brain embolism. The universe is random, ruthless and inconsistent in its dealings with the young, old and everyone inbetween.

I left it to the attorney to tell Elijah's parents our investigation concluded their son was not eaten by a sea monster.

Elijah is gone. I like to believe he is in whatever version of heaven his parent's religious beliefs are consistent with. I know he is at peace. I know his parents are not. They never will be.

The blessing and burden of being a private investigator lies is one word: "truth."
People pay you for it, yet sometimes they don't want it... don't believe it... and won't accept it.

Last I heard, Elijah's father was on his third private investigator, still looking for that Sea Monster in Washington.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Air Bag

This is an true, short story from my case files. It's about airbags and those in the passenger front seat.

Some people disconnect those airbags because they can hurt a small person or even big ones when they deploy. These people, via personal experience... or heresay... are aware airbag deployments can cause damages greater than damage done to other parts of the human body were the airbag not there. People have been killed by airbags. But more people have been killed without them.

I too have seen and photographed the injuries left by airbag deployments: the bruises; burns; broken glasses; blackened eyes, the broken sternums.

However, it's a fact... and it's a law in many cases... that kids and people of a specific age, height and weight, are safer in the back seat.

I have also seen the damages caused by airbags that don't deploy. The result is catastrophic injuries to brain, hearts, often resulting in death.

Whenever you buy used a car you figure is new enough to have airbags... appears to have airbags... and the dealer says there are airbags, often the are airbags aren't there.

Either the newer cars without air bags had them stolen, because airbags are a hot property on the black market. Used car dealers also sell cars that were in prior accidents involving airbag deployments. The deployed airbags were not replaced and the airbag cover panel is snapped securely in place. So buyer beware.

Because I have seen airbags save lives...
Because I have witnessed airbags do more good than harm...
the passenger front seat airbag in my car remains in "on" or active status.

The passenger airbag control was also "on" in the car when my client, called Martha for these purposes, was seated in the passenger seat of her daughter's car.

Martha was 72 and was just released from the hospital after a long stay which resulted in a Trach tube being put in her neck. Martha was excited to be going home, despite the tube she'd need to keep there. She said she figured it was small price to pay for being out of the hospital and being with the grandkids who were all waiting for her at home.

They were one mile from the daughter's home, on a rural two-lane road, when a teenager driving at a high rate of speed while texting on a cell phone neglected to notice the double yellow line in the middle of the road.

The teenager hit the car Martha and her daughter were in head-on... at what police believe was an estimated 55 mph. Airbags deployed in all vehicles as they are programmed to do in a direct head-on hit at a high rate of speed.

The airbag in the passenger seat Martha was sitting in hit her in the neck, the primary impact was to her face and neck where the trach tube was.

The airbag knocked the trach tube out of Martha's neck and sent its black smoke of chemicals and other toxic particles into the open trach hole in Martha's throat. The smoke and air bag particles entered Martha's entire body, first down her trachea, then occupying her lungs, and ultimately commandeering her entire body.

Martha's daughter made a U-turn and raced Martha back to the hospital. The hospital did triage, then Martha was airlifted to a trauma hospital in Seattle. By then, though, it was too late. Her system was taken over by all the airbag chemical attack.

By the time I met with Martha she'd been told she would die within the month.

She wanted to to sue the insurance company of the parents who owned and insured the car their teenager was driving while texting. She wanted the proceeds from the case to go to her children and grandchildren.

She also asked about suing the airbag company. I said that was a question to ask the attorney.
I told Martha I don't know whether a jury would consider the airbag company liable. The airbag deployed as it was programmed to. It didn't know Martha had a trach tube in. The jury might also also say everyone knows car have airbags. They might say it was incumbent upon Martha and her daughter to mitigate their own injuries or damages.

Martha talked to me about about her impending death calmly, like it was just another "to-do" on her list. She was resigned to her fate, she said, and determined to go out with dignity.

Live long enough and you learn.
Some people go out fighting, screaming, kicking, resisting.
Others, they exit gracefully, with dignity, acceptance, a resolute calm.
That would be Martha.

She lived the one month the doctors predicted. She's been dead three years now.

I told the attorney on the case the auto companies need a "Trach" passenger front airbag warning just as they have a size and weight warning for children. He said it was good idea but it wasn't going to happen. He said the voluntary airbag control switch in the passenger seat puts liability in the driver's hands. Not the airbag's.

There was enough insurance in the teenagers parents policy to provide for Martha's family in a manner she would have been pleased with. Despite Martha's wishes, the lawyers chose not to go after the airbag company. Ultimately she'd agreed with their position before she passed.

Today, someone, somewhere, will be released from a hospital with a trach tube.
All I can do is tell this story... and hope they don't sit in the front passenger seat.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Bad Karma - DWI

I was sent to see a 34 year old man in his trailer. Let's call him Joe.

Joe's trailer was parked beside a pre-fab house. I saw an old man and woman, both with long white hair, peer at me through the dirty front window of the house as I walked past it, towards Joe's trailer. I gave the couple a wave. The old man returned a toothless grin. The old woman's blank expression didn't change.

I passed the house and stepped into the side yard where the trailer was. A pit bull with a giant head and wild eyes appeared from nowhere in the unfenced backyard. He barked and lunged at me, then was stopped by a chain which flung him back by the neck in the unfenced yard.

It was one of those instant adrenalin rush moments that are part of the private investigator's job description. All senses remained on high alert when I knocked on the trailer door and Joe opened it.

On paper, Joe's case appeared a no-brainer to both myself and the attorney who assigned it.

Joe was in an old Honda 4 door, when he was hit by a new BMW that crossed the center line and hit Joe's vehicle head on.

Joe's car didn't have airbags. He sustained multiple injuries: concussion, cracked sternum, torn rotator cuff and a broken ankle. Plus abrasions, contusions, rips and tears in various ligaments.

The man in the new BMW that hit Joe was wearing a suit and tie when he was arrested at the scene for DWI and taken away in a squad car. Joe was taken by ambulance to the hospital. Both cars were totalled and towed.

Joe's car was not insured. The BMW was.

My job was to meet and greet Joe, then investigate Joe's story and persona... to assess whether the personal injury attorney investing time and money in his case... could win if it went to trial.

I shook Joe's hand. He was 34 years old, decent looking, unshaven, rough around the edges.
It was a hot day, he was wearing a t-shirt with a Harley Logo on it. I observed the inside of his arms were speckled with faded track marks.

The interview started as they all do. He had a copy of the police report. The Defendant was cited on the police report and had insurance. The insurance company had been calling and Joe didn't want to talk to them. He wanted his own attorney to deal with the insurance company.

One part of my job is to evaluate a potential client, to see if his story and his presence are credible. I asked about pre-existing injuries, prior accidents. I asked about the track marks on his arms.

Joe said he used to be a heroin user, he stopped a month ago. Now he does methadone at the community clinic.

I looked from his arms to his eyes and asked him if there was anything else he wanted to tell me.
Any secrets confidences, priors?

He asked what I meant.

You know, I said, Any criminal charges? Any dead bodies buried in your backyard the attorney needs to know about?

Almost always, that question evokes a laugh of innocence. Occasionally, it strikes the raw nerve of guilt. In this case, it was the latter.

Well, Joe said, I did kill my sister and paralyze my brother in law.

I asked how it happened.
Jow said it was a drunk driving accident. He was driving. It was all his fault.

Ain't it ironic, Joe said, as lit up his cigarette and took a deep drag.

He said he was partying all day, then went to hang out with his younger sister and her husband at their new house. At some point before sundown, they ran out of booze. Joe said he'd drive them all to the the gas station about 3 miles up the rural road for some more beer and cigarettes. Joe said his sister and brother in law insisted on coming with him.

Joe said he was drunker than a skunk, nearly triple the legal blood alcohol limit, when he took a curve the wrong way and slammed the little car into the massive trunk of huge tree. The impact was to the right side of the car. His sister was killed instantly, her husband in the passenger seat behind his sister had to be cut from the car. Her husband's legs were both shattered. His spinal column was crushed. Doctors said he would never walk again.

Joe said the Medical Examiner discovered his sister was pregnant at the autopsy. Joe didn't know that, she didn't tell anyone before the accident. The baby died when Joe's sister died.

didn't have auto insurance on that car either.

Joe ended up in Wallla Walla penitentiary for 10 years.
I just got out one month ago, Joe told me.

Clearly the laws of karma were in effect.
Joe was a drunk driver who killed his own sister, paralyzed her husband, did time. And within one month of his release from prison, got hit by a drunk driver.

I thought the situation wasn't a good fit for the attorney. I didn't know what a jury would think if Joe refused a settlement offer and wanted to go trial. I thought Joe's past will always come back to haunt him and his attorney.

I told Joe the same thing I tell a potential client who I think is not in the attorney's best interests to represent. I told him I'd call him later if I have more questions. Otherwise, the law firm will get back to him when they make a final decision.

I got into my Jeep and exited the driveway.
As I turned the corner, I was surrounded by police.

They approached my car. I displayed my state P.I. license out the open driver's window and Identified myself verbally. One officer took the license, studied it, then asked me what my business was in that house. I said I was investigating a drunk driving accident for an attorney.

Another officer asked me if I knew the guy I was talking to in the trailer had killed his sister and paralyzed her husband. I said, Yes, I know that now. Didn't have a clue until the guy told me.

Then I asked the officers why they stopped and surrounded my car.

They said that the house was a well known crack house which runs a car theft ring. Allegedly, the leader of that ring drove a silver Jeep. The same color Jeep I drove. They thought I was doing illegal business at the residence. After more chatter about their surveillance on the property, the police gave me back my license and a couple of their business cards. We parted ways amiably.

I decided the victim didn't have the two things personal injury attorneys need most in their clients A.K.A. Plaintiffs: credibility; and what we call "jury presence" or appeal.

I called the attorney who hired me and told him about the track marks, pit bull, the deadly family dynamics and the cop stop. The attorney said it was the right decision to walk away from the case. I told the attorney I wanted hazard pay. He laughed, thought I was kidding.

Indeed, the law firm did step away from the case. I'm sure some other attorney took it on. However, the quality of a law firm is reflected by the quality of their clients. And this potential client was not of the higher quality variety.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

A Survival Story

This post is dedicated Kent Sturgis, a publisher who owns Epicenter Press. Kent was kind enough to give me some advice about this blog and my writing. So it's quid pro quo time. Click on the title of this blog post and it will take you to Kent's website and some GREAT books you won't see anywhere else. Honor the independent press and order from Epicenter.

A Survival Story

Once upon a time, there was a man we'll call Dan who was working on a fishing boat in the Bering sea.

Dan was in the main cabin working on an electrical problem, a panel was open. The circuit was live and he was linked to it with one of his tools. At the same time, a rogue wave hit the boat... busted the window.... and a flood of seawater threw Dan's back flat against the open electrical panel he was still connected to. Water and electricity do not mix.

"You know those old cartoons where Wiley Coyote sticks his finger in a socket or something?" he asked me.

"You know how suddenly Wiley goes into this electrical spread eagle pose.... shakes and stutters, yells Yai-Yai-Yai-Yai-Yai? Well, that was me! I was pinned to that panel like a stuck pig being electrocuted!" he laughed.

His crew members, an airlift and many years of medical treatments saved him.
When we met, 10 years had passed. Now 45, he was in the living room of a low-income house north of Seattle.

His body was mottled with festering boils and sores left, he said, by the electricity. "It happens in some people struck by lightening," he told me. "The electricity re-wires your whole immune system"

And his left arm was amputated just below the shoulder.

"Electricity fried it right off," he said.
"Worst part was, I was left handed. Go figure. That's the arm I lose. Took me a while, but I finally learned to do everything pretty good with my right," he said. "Until this happened."

Which is why I was there.

The law firm sent me to see him because he was hit by a police car two days earlier. The police car... sirens screaming, lights flashing... was chasing a stolen car through an intersection.

The police car T-Boned Dan's car on the driver's side door. His left arm and shoulder took the brunt of the hit. He had a broken collar bone, torn rotator cuff and two fractures.

"Fingers still work though," he said, as he flapped his left hand in the sling he now wore.

"Wanna see my stump?" he added.

"Sure," I said, "And I'll have you know that's the first time a guy's ever used that line on me".

He laughed loudly, tension loosened. With the assist of a public health aid who was present, he was wrangled out of his shirt and photos were taken of new injuries and old. My camera zoomed in on the boils and burns covering his chest, neck. Then the stump of his right arm.

As I moved around him taking photos, I asked him how it was he kept it so together.
He had a great sense of humor, a calm disposition, a quiet strength and some kind of resolve I did not understand. Had I gone through what he did, I told him, I might walk off a cliff.

"Attitude is everything" he said.

He told me, as bad as it gets for him, "there's someone out there who has it worse. "

He talked about all the children in the burn unit at the Children's Hospital. He spoke of brain injury victims in Harborview. He talked about other fishermen he knew who died at sea.

We parted with a shake of his remaining five fingers. And I didn't lose touch with his case.

His left arm healed, the insurance company for the police paid his medical bills and his pain and suffering. He remains in the same house, the same space, the same mental place.... with grace.
Much much grace than I would ever have under that kind of pressure.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Killer Stories

First, her ears caught the sound of a hum, a buzz, but not like bees, in front of her. That's what drew her eyes to what she thought was fog ahead of her.

She left the familiar trail to the campground's bathroom and stepped into the woods, drawn toward the sunlight breaking through the forest, then a swarm of flies hovering mid-air like a helicopter, she said to the police. They were above something behind a log down to the right of the trail she'd walked off.

She looked up, big birds were circling over head. Then her nose alerted to the sweet, sickly smell.

And so she followed the primal forces called her senses through the forest until she came to the body of a woman, dead, and partially covered by a mattress

She was only 8 years old the day she found the dead woman.
I asked her how she felt when she found the body.
She answered me in just one word."Gross."
She ran and yelled for her father. Her father called the police.

It was supposed to be a father daughter camping weekend, with mama at home with her new baby. It turned into a whole different scenario.

The Police, Rangers, M.E.,... everyone... swarmed on the scene and took her daddy back to the police hive and took the terrified 9 year old home to her horrified mother and newborn sister.

The police first thought since she found the body and she was camping with her daddy, maybe daddy was the bad dude.

Turned out her daddy didn't do it. Daddy was set free. And the killer still roams free, identity unknown.

Fast forward.

I am talking to a 12 year old girl. They found her best friend, also 12 years old, who was missing two nights. She was dead and stuffed in a sewer pipe near a shopping mall I usually go to.
In fact, I was at that mall today. But this story I am telling you about happened maybe 7 years ago.

I asked the 12 year old how she felt when she heard what happened to her friend.
Again, just one word.
Eventually, they found the guys who did that one.

Keep fast forwarding.
For every year, there are more memories.
Another day, another dead body and broken family. Which makes tonight's blog post not the most pleasant of reads, I know.
However, it is a pertinent subject.

And I suspect if you've made it this far, you are one of us.
One of those with a strong stomach and a curious mind... one of those fascinated, compelled and motivated to bring justice to those who can not bring it on by themselves.

Our friend this weekend told me of a walk on the beach when she was 8. A man coming out of an old boarded up shack on the beach, grabbed her, and began pulling her to the shack. She said he stunk and he said something about how she was his now.

Instinct kicked in she became a tiger. Somehow, she said, she jammed her elbow into his crotch and ran screaming home. The cops found his stuff in the shack, but never found him. He'd been squatting there a long time.

Unless you live where we do, you may not be aware the Chief of the Tacoma police, who shot his wife in the head in a parking lot, then himself, while his kids sat waiting in the other car. These are the big stories, the public stories, we hear about on TV and the papers.

And then there are the other stories, the ones that don't get the press. The Vignettes. Blurbs. Short stories. Sidebars. Flashes in the pan. Cases we private investigators are assigned to. The cases where the families hire attorneys who hire private investigators because the police are either too busy or at a dead-end in the case and can't help them.

I teach investigation with a well-known and highly respected criminal defense investigator who was one of the investigators representing the Green River Killer. She was one who, according to stories I have heard, made maps marking dumping grounds and body finds. She realized some one else did some of the killings her client, Ridgeway, was accused of. She came up with a code name for another killer, the Red River Killer.

That name never has and never will make the news.
Nor will the other bodies scattered in the same areas serial killers use to dump, bury or revisit their victims.

Some of those bodies were placed there by opportunists... plankton hitching a ride on a killer whale's burial ground.
It is both possible and likely, a husband who felt angry, betrayed or justified, would kill his wife and place her where Gary Ridgeway put his victims. The hope being, that a body well-placed will deflect suspicion from them, by placing it on the obvious.

Dead body here. Another there. Killer stories in my head.

Man shot in sleeping bag left by I-5.

Young woman, I met at a party recently found dead strangled under a highway overpass.

I know people who've hung themselves, jumped off bridges. But this was their choice.

The dead clients I, as an investigator, represent... leave this planet with extreme reluctance and put up one hell of fight on the way out.

The identities of so many killers remain unknown during their lives.
We got lucky BTK resurfaced and blew his own cover after decades, before he could kill again.
Most, like Jack the Ripper, and The Zodiak, they walk among us, live among us and often die until, many years later, we sometimes figure out who they were.

I once lived in the same LA neighborhood as the Hillside strangler. I teach at a Univerity that Ted Bundy attended briefly. He could have had a very promising legal career, one judge told him (and I paraphrase), had he not chosen to become a serial killer.

Ted Bundy tried to pick up one of my best friends in his brown VW one day while she was walking to work. He tried to charm her, insisted he give her a ride so she get out of the rain. She said though he was quite handsome, she felt something wasn't right and walked away from him and his car. She later testified in his case.

In college, a close friend of mine was stabbed in the neck by a random insane stranger while on her way to the library.

Another disappeared after accepting a ride-share posted on a college bulletin board.

And just last year, a 17 year old client of mine, leaving a non-alcoholic christian night club, was shot in the neck and paralyzed when she left the club. She lived. But she will not live a life she deserves to have.

It was a drive by shooting. Shooter unknown. When I saw her paralyzed at 17 in her wheelchair at Harborview, she seemed to me in a trance. She could not process or fathom what the doctors told her parents. She would never walk again . She would never have children. She would never be able to live or eat or pee without the assist of tubes.
Before that, she was one of the most popular girls in her school.

I was hired to see if we could find someone liable. Meaning, find some money, somewhere, to pay her medical bills, her future medical bills, her lost wages (she worked after school and planned to become a nurse) and her pain and suffering. Her family had no money, she had three younger siblings and no health insurance. Harborview took her on as a charity case as they do for so many trauma patients here the northwest.

Since we couldn't find the shooter, and shooters usually don't have insurance anyway, we did find out that the the nightclub where she was leaving that night about 11:00 pm did have insurance. And for some reason the private security firm they usually hired was not at the club that night. Normally there's a lot of security, because there are minors in that club and it's not in the best area of town. However, there is a no drinking policy and it is a Christian based organization. So when mom let her daughter go there that Friday night, mom had expectations of security and her daughter's safety.

But on this night, for whatever reason you care to use to explain it, there was a horrific transgression... or transmutation... in time and space, that caused a random bullet to meet, then penetrate, a fragile young neck and obliterate a promising future.

As I write this post, the losses of friends, clients and strangers flood over me.... a hurricane Katrina in this investigator's head.... that's usually contained behind a dam of determination to make a miserable situation better.

I tell the families of the injured or dead this:
It's like throwing a pebble in the water. An accident, injury, death, causes a ripple effect, with smaller circles first... to family, friends, community, co-workers... then beyond. Everyone is affected in some way.

And this is the point where I say no more because there's no more to be said.
What's done can't be undone.

All we have... really... is now. This moment, this day, this night.
From this point on, it's all a go-forward. Unless...
we stop and look back.