Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Horror! The Horror!

Click on the title of this post to link to an article Called The Horror! The Horror! written by Paula Uruburu of Hofstra University. I found the story on In Cold Blog. Paula knew Dawn Defoe one the victims of the mass murder in the notorious house. She knew the family.
It's a a great true crime tale on a Halloween night like this.... when the allegedly thin veil between the spirit world and the living one reveals itself.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Rotten Rottie

It started off like any other day. I had another Private Investigator with me on this day. He was armed. I was not.

And I'd like to clarify I did not ask him to come armed, that was just what he did by nature whenever he accompanied me to some of the rougher neighborhoods I often frequent.

It wasn't until the day was done he showed me to his new gun, a Glock 40 Semi Automatic.
I was very glad he chose not to use it. In my opinion, that's what the police are for.

That said, I asked him to accompany me for two reasons. I was going to a bad place, one of those apartment complexes that a white girl like me is noticed the minute I exit my vehicle. Normally this is not a problem because I am there to help someone in those word has already been circulating that an investigator.... "My Investigator"... is coming. So the gang bangers and busy bodies just leave me be.

On this day, however, I was hired to photograph a dog, a Rottweiler, living in the apartment manager's unit. The Rottweiler bit one of the tenants of the apartment. And what added insult to injury was the fact that the bitten tenant was one the apartment manager's friends.

My assignment was to get a picture of the dog still tied up outside the apartment manager's door, despite the bite. I thought it absurd the manager would have a vicious dog to begin with, let alone leave it tied up outside after it attacked one person.

I photographed the victim and the bite just before going to see the dog.
The dog bit the attorney's client on the arm.
"He had me in the death grip" I recall her telling me.
I asked what every investigator asks countless times.
"And then what happened?"
"He sniffed me," she said, "realized he knew me...that I was a friend.... and let me go"

I photographed the white wrap on her arm and then the shredded flesh underneath it as the victim's mother unwrapped the wound so she could treat it and I could see it.. As I took my pictures I could not help thinking of all the dogs my clients have in their homes... how they run to greet me...and how one of them could smell one of my dogs on me... and get me in a death grip.
My unfamiliar scent, would tighten... not release... that death grip.

So after I photographed the injury, my job was to photograph the dog. I couldn't get too close but did climb to the top of the small metal fence to snap pictures of the dog who paced like a wild hungry lion.

Meantime the P.I. behind me, in the driver's seat of my vehicle who kept watch, said, "someone's watching you." I kept clicking away.

The dog noticed me and then turned my way, started barking viciously, my camera closed in on him pulling at his chain as I got close ups of his killer jaws.

"There are more guys heading your way. You got enough pictures, get out of there!"

I ignored him and kept snapping the dog until I heard my partner's command, "Now! Leave!"

I turned, ran, and lept into the passenger seat as my partner and savior of the day peeled away from the curb.

"That was close" I said, the adrenalin rush raw and fresh.

"Still close," my partner said as he looked in the rear view mirror. "They're following us."

We were being chased by a car full of gang-bangers. This was not good.
Though, given the choice of getting a ticket by the police... or being shot by gang bangers we chose option A.

We ran several red lights and took some quick turns until we found our way to I5 and headed north, weaving in and out of traffic, then exited quickly enough to lose them.

I delivered the pictures of the victim's wounds and the close-ups of the vicious dog's grizzly whites to the attorney two days later.

As I shared our adventure with the attorney, I couldn't tell whether he wasn't listening... or he just didn't care. All the attorney wanted was his shots, he got them and was already onto the next case.

We pushed the limits that day for someone who really didn't care that we did.
There was a lesson in that for me.
Some attorneys see their investigators as teammates, others as tool-heads.
I prefer to work for the former.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Teen Drinking

There's an area north, then west of where I live, where you cross the Hood Canal Bridge which takes you to the northern tip of the Olympic Penninsula. When you hit Port Angeles and hang a left, there's a highway that goes up to the Olympic Mountains to a place called Hurricane Ridge, which I've written about here before.

It was on this road the accident happened. Another investigator joined me on a scene investigation in which we were asked to assess a driver's liability. Because the location was remote, the highway narrow and the tasks complex, I did not feel comfortable working the case alone. The investigator I brought with me was armed. We were as likely to encounter a cougar as we were a psycho.

What happened in the accident we were investigating was allegedly this:
The attorney's client, who is essence was our client, let's call him "Darren"... was asleep in the back seat of a male friend's car while driving the mountain road at night. The driver was drunk, 18, the front seat male passenger was 18 and had been drinking with him. As did our potential client Darren, also 18. They'd been friends since childhood.

What the driver contended was this:
A he took a curve, there was a pile of gravel that had been dumped before sunset by a road crew for laying out the following day.
The driver said he hit the gravel and that's what caused the accident.
The car flipped vertically from head (front end), to toe(rear end) before landing upside down in the bushes in a culvert by the side of side of the road.
Our guy Darren , the guy in the back seat who was sleeping or passed out drunk, remembered waking up after the accident on the roof of the car and climbed out through the broken windshield.

Everyone survived. Darren was the most injured, his cheekbone and eye orbit were shattered. His right knee was crushed, his right leg was broken.
His medical bills started off sky-high with the airlift.
And there were years of surgeries ahead guaranteed to send those medical bills into the stratosphere.

There was minimal insurance on the car Darren was driving. 25K per occurance, 50k per accident. Darren had no car and therefore, no auto insurance of his own.
Darren's parents had no auto or health insurance

So what's the victim of a drunk driver with the lowest of insurance limits to do?
Claim faulty road construction.
The sue the state.

Problem was it wasn't faulty road construction.

We measured the scene, the skid marks, photographed the road from all directions, correlated our scene sketch to the ones attached to the police report. We got pictures of chunks of wood ripped from massive tree trunks by the metal 2500 pound missile.

We both became one with the car, the road, the curve and the path it took when it went airborn and landed upside down in the tree.

There was no pile of gravel to be found anywhere. No road obstructions.

There was however, twice the legal limit of alcohol in the drivers blood. Just about the same amount Darren's.

Plus there was a road sign indicating a curve up ahead, a speed limit sign that said 35 mph. The car was going an estimated 65 mph.

We advised the attorneys not to take the case and they concurred.

Parents never know what their kids are up to once they start driving.
Auto accidents are the number one cause of death among teenagers. Alcohol ups the ante considerably.
So if you teach your kids nothing else, teach them about not getting into a car with anyone who's been drinking. Themselves included.
If you tell them this true story, maybe they'll even get the point.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Suicide By Cop

It's been a while since I posted. I just got back from a conference... 91 licensed P.I.'s all in one place... talking about things related to the business of Private Investigation.

We P.I.'s are, by nature and avocation, solitary creatures. Put us all in one room with the best in the business ...teaching, speaking, sharing.... and you can't help but be a sponge and soak it all in. There is great pleasure in learning, particularly from the best of the best.

When it was over, a small group of us splintered off before heading home. We caught a quick happy hour before parting ways: sharing backgrounds, swapping stories, discussing cases.... feeling comfortable, maybe even "normal," in the company of those who walk in the same moccasins I do.

And so, the topic of this blog came up. One of the people with us was "Lil," the subject of my last blog. The previous post about Lil and Ed wasn't a particularly meaningful post in terms of lessons learned, helpful advice or investigative technique.

We talked about the blog, she told the others about the post and we we laughed again, all of us, at how tough we can be and what wooses P.I.'s are when threatened by a flu bug named after a pig.

As we discussed how the rest of our Saturday night would play out, I said what I really wanted to to was catch the next ferry out and write a blog. The writing I said, is like a hunger, a craving that must be fed.
That led to to a discussion of what I would blog about.
After all, my brain was somewhat weary, the hour late. The group suggested I blog about our evening, or one of the tales we were telling. The laughter was rich, deep and resonant.

"I already know what I want to write about," I declared. "Suicide by Cop."

"Too serious" I recall someone saying.
I explained this was a story that has been with me for years.
One of our table-mates was former cop turned P.I.
He understood, I think, the need to sometimes release the tension in a way other than humor. Often, the telling of a darker truth can be liberating.

And that is the story I will tell tonight.
I have never written about it. Yet this story, this case is real.
It was the first time I realized some people who want to commit suicide really do choose to have others take them out rather than doing it themselves.
And some people choose to commit suicide by cop.

Yet, as so often happens in life, things seldom go down the way you'd expect.
So here's what went upside down.

I was told by a Seattle woman who tried to hire me, that her brother was in jail in Los Angeles for a second time.
She told me the first time he was broke, had taken to robbing banks and got caught.

He was sent to prison and he wasn't happy about it. He said "jail sucked big-time" and he had no choice but to "do his time."
Though he did say to anyone who'd listen, he would never stay in prison again.
If he was arrested, he said, he'd eat a plastic fork in jail which he was fairly certain would kill him.
That was a concept that was both original and hard for me to wrap my head around.

When he was released from prison, he was sent to live with my prospective client's older sister, in Los Angeles.
He repeated the story about eating the plastic fork if he was arrested to a number of witnesses because he said he would prefer suicide rather than staying in prison.

And it wasn't long before he repeated his prior past habit of bank robbing.
He wasn't very good at it.
While he pointed a gun at the teller, the alarm was set off while he was in the bank.

As he headed out out of the final bank he was ever to rob, the bank was surrounded by police. He walked out the front door, lifted his gun and allegedly aimed it at a police officer. He was shot four times and went down.

Amazingly enough, he lived.
There was triage, an airlift and a very long hospital stay.
End result, he was a paralyzed from the waist down. At 24, his sister told me, he would waste his life away in prison in a wheelchair.

However, someone in the family got the brilliant idea that it wasn't his fault he was stuck in the position. It was the fault of the police. They paralyzed him and wanted to to file a lawsuit against the police, the City of Los Angeles, , whoever, for civil damages. The family wanted me to work the case.

I passed.

Then three years passed before I saw his sister again.

To my complete and total amazement, he won a $9 million judgement.

I still haven't figured that one out. Mainly because I don't care to.
Some things not worth fathoming... are still worth writing about.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Swine Flu

I think we were both a little too tense today. It just happens, two people share a single moment that can be a force for a positive or negative release of pent up tension.

As a P.I., you develop other investigator friends.
And when you hit a crossroads in a case.... like when you are asked to do something questionable.... you question someone else you trust about whether it's worth, or legal, doing. In my case, my advisors and friends happen to include investigators and attorneys.

I was on my way to a case this morning talking on my cell to a female Private Investigator friend named Lil. As I grow my business in the day's ahead, Lil will be one of my key operatives. Her favorite work is undercover.

So Lil and I had been playing telephone tag. On my trip to the IRS this a.m. (what a joy to be audited) Lil called. We talked a litle while about our days ahead .

I tend to live in 24 hour increments so we started there... and I noticed she sounded particularly anxious.

"Where are you?" I asked. She said she'd give me the nutshell version.

Lil's boyfriend, a single widow.... we'll call him Ed.... lives with his two girls. My friend Lil, a single mom divorced from a very handsome charming psychopath who tried to posion her, lives with her daughter in separate house.
The two separate houses are a good thing in my opinion.
Because blended families, when not handled right are dynamite.

So while Ed and Lil love each other, they also love their independence. Therefore, they maintain separate residences.

Regardless, Lil tells me breathlessly that she just ran to Costco, bought a case of chicken soup and saltines.... and she's on her way to Ed's front porch... juggling her cell phone on her ear as we speak... to drop the soup and saltines by the front door, ring the bell and run away.

"Why run away?" I ask.

"Ed and the two girls have the swine flu" she whispers. I hear her drop the soup by the door, "I'm ringing the bell now" she rasps...
Then I hear her footsteps and she runs to car, starts it, and says, "I'm back and outa' here."

I couldn't help myself. It was like a dam had burst. I started laughing.
"They ALL have the swine flu?" I asked .
"All three of 'em," Lil said as she started laughing. Before we knew it we were gasping for air.
"Somethings seriously wrong with us." I said, "People are dying from this."
And that only caused us to laugh harder.

"Why don't you blog about this missy?" Lil said, giggling. " Why don't you write about how we tough PI's face stare down rats and walk through piss and deal with bums, metheads and lunatics. Yet you say swine flu and we run like chickens."

And off we went again. Laughing at something not meant to be funny.
It's like... you have to let it out somehow.
Police have shrinks. Who do PI's have? Each other.

We are a rare breed of people. Some of us choose to be highly visible, almost transparent with an eye for the public eye.

Others, like me, are public reluctantly.
I am here with said reluctance, responding to the economic turndown in an attempt to stay in tune with the new media.
I also see this as a means to do some good -- to educate the general public and to add legitimacy to a profession that has been unfairly tarnished in media portrayals and by unethical sleazeball P.I.'s.

And let me add one more note.

I woke up early this am to a call from another friend.
She also had the swine flu.
She is in private practice and has lost two weeks work. Her husband was just laid off. I spent my morning beachwalk on the cell phone plumbing her depths... and mine... to see if there was a financial way out. She was terrfied and I have been there.

So I don't take this stuff lightly.
Swine flu is taking out many people now, it's no laughing matter.
Unless, of course, it becomes an excuse to release the stresss we all feel.
And you have a blog to write about it on.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Auto Accident Survivors

Okay, so I have this saying:

"When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on."
For me, one knot usually does the trick.
Today I tied several knots. And go figure... I'm still here.

It seem many of my client's universes collided at the same and I got lots of calls of panic between cases. So there was a lot of listening while driving, some soothing, then a re-direct of those calls to the law firm. I explained I am out of the loop until I come back later.... if and when needed for witness interviews, further investigation, deposition or trial.
I explain that I am a subcontractor, not an employee of the law firm.
I'm a cost in a legal action, like medical records, police reports, experts, copies... all the out of pocket expenses an attorney has to invest to land or win a case. If the attorneys don't in they pay no costs.

What I do, is come in a white horse (actually a blue Trail Blazer), at the beginning of a case, as close to the time of injury as possible. I have the easiest part of the job because once I get to a injured victim's hospital room or house, they want me there. They see me... an agent of the attorney... as an agent of hope.

What I, the Private Investigator is, in essence, is a messenger, evaluator...
and a legitimately and gainfully-employed voyeur.

I am the eyes and ears of the attorney in the field.
I strive to weed out the scammers from the truth-tellers...
the sizzle from the substance...
the prospective clients who are into claims for the money and not the healing.

I strive to protect both clients and attorneys from false claims or the smaller ones, where the return on the attorney's investments would not be in the client's or attorney's best interest.
For instance, in cases where insurance limits are 25k and medical bills are already 30k, it doesn't make sense to hire an attorney and give him or her a third..
the only insurance company you are dealing with is your own.
That would make it an UIM claim (Uninsured Motorists Or Underinsured Motorist)... which means your insurance company is allowed by certain state laws to take an "adversarial posture." Once a UIM claim is opened by your insurance company, they can act like the Defendant.

That is why attorneys take on clients who have to sue their own insurance company to get benefits they paid for... when the other guy, the car at fault, has no insurance or too little to cover a fair settlement.

I hope that's not too boring a tale. But those are the facts of auto accident investigation, among many. I do more vehicle collisions than any kind of accident and I have learned how to drive as a result.


No road rage, no left lane driving,
No hanging in groups.
And never, ever will I drive in front of a semi because, according to to one friend, a former Investigator and Instructor for a State Patrol's Major Accident Investigation squad, something like 80% of all semi's allegedly have faulty brakes.

Now that's I've totally pushed your paranoia button, let me take it one step further.
This being both diary and confessional, let me tell you ever so briefly about who I saw today.

There was the old lady in whose bedroom room I sat. She was a passenger in a car that was hit head on by a teenager texting. The elderly woman got punched and burnt bad in the face by an airbag deployment. She is 92. She also broke her hip when it hit the door and her back, she said, "is sorer than hell."

She told me, in the same matter-of-fact way we talked about the torrents of rain hitting the roof of her retirement home, that she could die any minute.

"And maybe it'll be from the accident. or maybe because I'm old," she said. "Truth be told, I Iived to 92 able to walk on my own, now I'm in a wheelchair and if the sons of a bitches who hit me take one more thing... one more day... one more year off my life... I want them to pay me or my kids."

All I could think to say, which now, as I reflect was quite stupid... was, "you go girl."
Though it did make her laugh.

What didn't make me last was my last stop of the day. It was a little boy, age 8 comatose with a brain injury in ICU. It's hard to think of anything to say to parents who are facing such a tragedy on so many levels. The little boy was in a crosswalk when a drunk driver hit and ran. She was stopped at a light by Good Sams who chased and held her there until the police report.

"What if the drunk driver has no insurance?" the father asked. "All we have is about 100k in UIM (Under or Uninsured Motorist).

I told Dad there were no guarantees in this business, though the job of the Investigator is to look for all sources of liability. Meaning we look for sources of insurance money.

"It is possible," I explained slowly as I studied the police report. " to investigate the last place the drunk driver drank. We might be able to make an over-service case."

According the Police Report, the officer said the DEF Drunk Driver admitted she had a few shots at local bar before exiting. The same bar had video cameras, I was told. There'd been a stabbing there before.

So if the DEF arrived drunk or was over-served, perhaps we could request or subpeona the bar's videos. Then maybe we could tap into the bar's insurance company... to cover their little boy's medical bills. Because it was within 5 minutes of exiting the bar, the DWI DEF hit the little boy and attempted to run.

And so as I crossed the Puget Sound tonight... just about sunset... I thought of the little boy in a coma and the old lady in a wheelchair and the irony was inescapable.
I... free, safe, healthy heading home on my White Horse... the Washington State ferry... until tomorrow and whatever it brings.

Meantime to my new FB friends and blog readers including my new students at UW....
It was a pleasure meeting you all last night.
It's a little intimidating... the backgrounds some of you have.
I suspect, however, I'll get over it.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Balloon Boy

Before I head out, which involves many hours on the road, I know what talk radio will be covering today. The little boy allegedly swept away in the dad's balloon.
Was it a fraud?

Or were the parents justified because they truly believed their kid went up in the balloon? Investigators have to remain objective,...however.... it appears the local police chief has already convicted the weatherman (the kid's dad) in the court of public opinion.
Will police press charges next week?
Will authorities attempt to recoup the cost of their in flight and road rescues?

Hard for me to imagine its a publicity stunt. Though stranger things have happened.
Just know, once the wind comes out of this balloon story, another tale will be inflated by the media to take its place.
When the media rides the winds of our justice system, storms inevitably follow.

Objectivity is what makes an investigator different than a judge, jury or the media.
The truth ultimately reveals itself in the facts.
In this investigator's experience, people with nothing to hide, hide nothing.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Jury's $1.8 million verdict a call for privacy rights --

Jury's $1.8 million verdict a call for privacy rights --

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Chest Tube

He was movie star handsome. A dead-ringer for a young Hugh Jackson.
So let's just call him Hugh.
Just 24 years old.
His shirt was buttoned down to expose his chest. Full six pack present.
There was just one near fatal flaw to Hugh's look of perfection.
That was a horizontal plastic box sticking out of his chest with tubes connected to it.
It's purpose was to keep his left lung lung inflated.
If it doesn't work, and we will know that tomorrow.... he will need lung surgery for the deflated lung he got when he as hit.

Hugh was driving, his 4 and 6 year old sons in the booster seats behind him in his fully paid for 99 Toyota Corolla, with only 75,000 miles on it, he said. A young woman came from his right, and ran a stop sign. Fortunately there were plenty of witnesses, including an ambulance behing the car that ran the stop sign.
Hugh was airlifted to Harborview, the kids taken to Mary Bridge. Mom, Hugh's ex met the kids there.
It happen Friday, 3 days ago. The hospital send Hugh home after five hours with the thing in his chest because he had no medical insurance or Personal Injury Protection on his auto insurance. I met him yesterday, Sunday, in his living room and handed in his case this morning.

After visiting Hugh Sunday morning, I headed north to " Deliverlance Land"at the base of the Cascade Mountains.
Dad, the client the attorney sent me to see, was rear-ended by a drunk driver and can't work because he blew three discs in his back and one in his neck.
Everyone in the house, Mom, Dad and two kids, including the 6 month sneezing baby had a "cold' they said.
I kept hearing swine snorfing in in my head.

I decided not to shake hands. They bought my excuse that I didn't want to expose them to anything. I decided to to leave my pen they used to sign their documents behind.
And when I got in my car, I swathed myself in the antibiotic hand stuff in my vehicle.
Then... wrote a note to self.
"Get swine flu shot. Tell Doctor my job is just like a health care worker and I should be one of the ones who get the vaccine first. "
The swine flu is heading here to Seattle mas rapido from Vancouver B.C.

I made the 7:30 ferry home last night (Sun), wrote up the cases, assembled the photos which I processed at stops throughout the day, wrote up the notes, the invoices then climbed in the sack by midnight.

Made the 7:50 ferry out this morning, dropped the cases at the law firm in Seattle. Then met one more injury victim and her husband in Federal Way. She was 7 months pregnant and a passenger, her husband driving, at the time of the hit. The seat belt pressed hard on her belly. The airbag deployed. The baby's heartbeat is slow now, they are watching it closely.

And then, there's tomorrow.

A brain injury in the morning....
a trip the vet for my rescue pup Bubba who has an ear infection...
a visit to a collision yard to photograph "Hugh Jackman's" car...
then to the the law firm to drop off cases.
After that, dinner with a friend in downtown Seattle....
then to UW by 6:00 to meet the new students in this years P.I. class.

I teach spring semester, though we three teachers work as a team. And this year, we have more students than we ever have had. At the beginning of every school year, all three teachers sit with the students, we go around the room, get to know them, we hear where they came from and why they want to be P.I.s. It's always fascinating because we have students of all ages, from the 20's to a couple 75 years old. We also tell our stories.

I am writing this kind of day-to-dayness... because I figure its better than writing nothing.
And after all, this is a diary... albeit the Diary of A Private Eye.

So tonight I say:
Dear Diary,
I am wiped out.
Weary to the bones.
Smelling the chicken thighs coated in olive and garlic slowing roasting near the potatoes.
I closed my last case file of the night before writing this blog,
Time to eat and then...
in just a few hours, close my eyes.

Problem is, we P.I.'s dream about cases.
And we wake up thinking about them.
So it never really stops.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

It's Raining Accidents

Car accidents happened 24/7. They happen during commutes to and from work, shopping, taking kids to school, going to the doctor, checking the PO Box.

Unlike the big cities where many commute via mass transit.... here where I live, and in most places, the car is an extension of the body. Most of us need a car to get somewhere.
It is vital to my job because I go to the injured who can't get out of their homes or hospital beds.
So I drive... ever drive.
Yesterday I logged 182 miles.
Tomorrow I head to a small mountain town... which will require a ferry crossing, a freeway trip north then up mountain road east to the base of the Cascades.... amid what is predicted to be a torrential downpour. The town I'm going to tomorrow is like a scene out of Deliverance. But that's another blog post, another time.

Today, I was stationary, writing up cases, answering calls from attorneys who refer their weekend injured my way.
A man I just spoke with told me he was calling from his living room. He was released from the hospital with a collapsed lung and a tube sticking out of his chest. He's supposed to call a doctor for a "follow" Monday, can barely speak and has no clue what to do.
He said yesterday, at 5:00 pm... he, and his passengers -- two sons, age 5 and 8 -- had right of way on a two lane road when a female driver, 23, allegedly on a cell phone, pulled out in front of them from a stop sign on their left. They couldn't stop in time. They T-Boned her. There were poilce, ambulances, ER's
And then phone call for me this morning and we were on the case by 11:00 am.

So I have to get moving now and because of the weather and the nature of this job, I never know when I get back. That's why I decided to borrow someone else's words and post the following now. I am hoping none of you have seen it yet. Maybe it has already circulated around the net and I am the last one to discover it.

I have no idea who wrote it. I can not find a copyright notice or author.
I received it from a friend in one of those email strings and promised myself it would find its way here.
I'm not sure if you will enjoy or dispute it.
I just couldn't resist posting it.

Sometimes I think men and women are from different planets. Othertimes I think we are a different species. Either way, its a wonder some of us manage to co-exist in peace.
This would illustrate said point.



He writes:

I was riding to work yesterday when I observed a female
driver, who cut right in front of a pickup truck, causing
the driver to drive onto the shoulder to avoid hitting her.

This evidently angered the driver enough that he hung his
arm out his window and gave the woman the finger.

'Man, that guy is stupid,' I thought to myself. I ALWAYS
smile nicely and wave in a sheepish manner whenever a female
does anything to me in traffic, and here's why:

I drive 48 miles each way every day to work.

That's 96 miles each day.

Of these, 16 miles each way is bumper-to-bumper

Most of the bumper-to-bumper is on an 8 lane highway.

There are 7 cars every 40 feet for 32 miles.

That works out to 982 cars every mile, or 31,424 cars.

Even though the rest of the 32 miles is not bumper-to-bumper, I figure I pass at least another 4000 cars.

That brings the number to something like 36,000 cars that I
pass every day.

Statistically, females drive half of these.

That's 18,000 women drivers!

In any given group of females, 1 in 28 has PMS.

That's 642.

According to Cosmopolitan, 70% describe their love life as
dissatisfying or unrewarding.

That's 449.

According to the National Institute of Health, 22% of all
females have seriously considered suicide or homicide.

That's 98.

And 34% describe men as their biggest problem.

That's 33.

According to the National Rifle Association, 5% of all
females carry weapons and this number is increasing.That means that EVERY SINGLE DAY, I drive past at least one female who has a lousy love life, thinks men are her biggest problem, has seriously considered suicide or homicide, has PMS, and is ARMED.

Give her the finger?

I don't think so.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Pain and Suffering

Normally when I investigate an accident on behalf of the victim, I focus on specifics that will ultimately comprise the personal injury settlement. Those specifics are: medical bills, future, medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering. (Some states have punitive damages instead of pain and suffering)

Medical bills and lost wages, while complex, are relatively quantifiable and more easily translated into a monetary value. Pain and suffering, however, is an entirely different and much more complex equation. Because accidents that cause injuries also cause a great deal of pain and suffering.

Not just pain and suffering in "the ouch it hurts" sense...
rather, pain and suffering on an emotional level for the injured party... and the people around that injured person. This would be the deep, soul-searing psychological pain and suffering that happens after an accident.

Pain and suffering is one of the factors I assess when I am investigating an injury case -- from dog bites to vehicle fatalities, patio collapses to drive-by shootings.
Pain and suffering is about the after-shocks, the post traumatic stress, the under currents of terror that come from being victimized out of the blue.

In every personal injury case I've investigated -- and there have been thousands -- the victims I interviewed had no clue the world was about to crash in on him, her and/or their families, friends and co-workers.

The injury, the accident, the blow... it comes out of the blue.
And when something horrible happens to you in an instant, there comes a "knowingness,"
a previously inconceivable knowledge...
that you can be hit head-on by a drunk driver while taking the kids home from school....
or your kid can be standing at a bus stop when a drive-by gang-banger misses his target and the bullet ends in your 17 years old's spine...
or you could be a a mailman walking the same route every day for 10 years when one day a pit bull runs from someone's backyard and nearly takes your arm off.
How do put a price tag on knowing that stuff can happen again... because it happened to you once already. How do you quantity that level of pain and suffering?

Fortunately, the monetary part of the equation is not my job. The lawyers handle that. My role is to uncover, observe, photograph and describe true pain and suffering in a way the attorney can grasp it. And then... the attorney must somehow translate my words into numbers an insurance adjustor, judge or jury can accept or dispute.

So as I said when I started this post, my job is to observe, then document, pain and suffering regarding the specific case or accident I am investigating.
I tend to ask about the past, yet not delve in it.
My main focus is what has happened since the injury.
And while I must document prior accident, injuries, illness, pre-existing conditions, all of that... the lifetime before the accident is a place I visit, yet rarely linger.

Yet this morning, on my first case of the day, the pain and suffering a 35 year old woman endured in the single year before this accident stopped me in my tracks.

Shakira (a pseudonym) was a single mother of accountant. Somehow she found her way to Seattle about 5 years ago. Ever since she arrived she'd been trying to leave. All her family lived in California, she followed her boyfriend-turned-fiance here. He turned out to be a parasite who went about cleaning out her bank account. The accident I investigated was her final straw. As I walked in the living room, all her belonging were packed or in the process thereof.

The facts of her accident were simple enough. She was in her beloved Lexus at a complete stop at a crosswalk when she was rear-ended by a woman in her 80's who stepped on the gas instead of the brake. My client was more concerned about the old lady than herself, she said. The old lady kept apologizing.

Shakira called 911... but I suspect... because of the neighborhood and nationality of people who live there... the police were not sent to the scene. (I wrote a note to order the 911 call and transcript).
Instead, the 911 operator said to exchange insurance information, drive their cars home or call tow trucks if necessary. There was no mention of ambulances.
Information was exchanged at the scene, Shakira's car was towed to a shop and the old woman drove away.

Shakira started to feel bad about two hours after the accident. Within 4 hours she was at the ER. She has been off work ever since. An MRI revealed torn ligaments in her neck, a bulging disc in her back. Despite her injuries, Shakira said, since both parties have insurance and the Defendant's insurance company accepted liability, you would think the whole thing could be settled without an attorney.
After all, Shakira was an accountant. So at first, she figured she could figure the whole thing out without giving an attorney a piece of her settlement pie.
Not so.

Shakira said she was treated so rudely by the Defendant's insurance adjustor that she cursed at her. That prompted a three way conversation between Shakira's insurance adjustor and the cursed-at Defendant adjustor.

All Shakira wanted immediately was a rental car to use while hers was in the shop. All the Defendant's insurance company wanted to to do was to say "in due time". Meantime Shakira had to pay a friend to take her kids to and from school every day, to take them to classes, to take her shopping.

Shakira was at the end of her rope when I arrived. Her neighbor told her to call the attorney who called me. It was just after I gathered all the info critical to the accident that Shakira began to tell me about her past year.

"It's been a horrible year," she whispered
"What happened?" I asked.

In January, she said, her grandfather died.
In February, her step-mother died.
In March, her father died. He was the glue of the whole family she said.
In April her 37 year old sister had a stroke.
In March, her mother fell and broke her hip.
In May she lent her fiancee $40,000 he said he would pay back in three months.
I asked, "$40K? At your age? How'd you come into that?"

I"m an accountant" she said,"I don't party, don't drug, don't go to clubs. I take care of my girls. I saved every cent I made in the stock market and sold before the bubble burst. Before the accident I had 60k in the bank and when my fiance said he needed a loan of 40k... and he would pay it back... I trusted him."

I asked if he worked.
"Yes, he did at the time of the loan," she said, "He was a mortgage broker."
The irony didn't escape either of us.

"So in September," she continued,"my house was robbed."
In August, her fiance skipped town.
In September, they discovered toxic mold growing in her closets.
And now, this accident.

I did what I could, and said what I could, to let her know that now, maybe the tide was turning. The attorneys would help her get her rental car when they spoke with Defendant's insurance company. The doctors would continue to treat her. And the lawyers would cover her back. All she had to do was survive and heal.

"I know, " I said "easier said than done" as I watched the tears finally flow from her eyes down her cheeks.
I reminded her of all she'd been through and endured.
She said she prays to God every day for the strength to go on.
I told her to keep praying because evidently, its working.
I said of she were in a smaller car and not her beloved Lexus, she would could have been critically injured.
I said her children still have their mother, soon she'll have a rental car and life will begin again.
I also made her promise me she would tell no one about any settlement she might get. It was hers and hers alone.

She walked me outside and we parted on the street corner.
I reached for her hand to shake it, she reached out to me for a hug.
That is unusual for me with clients, there are boundaries I generally do not cross as an investigator. Goodbye hugs is one of those. This girl needed it, and I appreciated it.
I slipped my business card in her hand and we parted ways.

I watched her as she walked slowly to her chiro,who was just down the street.
I walked back to my car and felt grateful for my job and the ability the attorneys have given me to help.

Tomorrow's case is south of Tacoma, at a military base. One more soldier mowed down by a drunk driver. Once I make it through the security gate at the entrance to the base, which is an ordeal in itself, who knows what awaits.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Rear Ender

I am thinking about a woman I saw last night. Let's call her Gina.
She's very attractive as was her fiance, both mid forties. She has a high powered job as does he. Their home was meticulous. Every item a work of art, placed "just so." She was gracious, intelligent, hospitable. He was handsome, rugged and clearly had her back.

She was in her beloved Dodge Ram Pick-U 1500, the same kind we own. It seems like a big truck to me. Just not as big as the Ford F-350 that rear-ended her at 50 miles per hour.

We all found it interesting the vehicle that sustained the greatest impact was the Defendant's vehicle, the big Ford-350. Its entire front end was crunched and pushed towards the front seat. Both airbags in the 350 deployed, it had to be towed and was ultimately totaled.

Gina's truck was crunched in the rear, the back panel pushed in a "v" formation, the bumper ripped off... to the tune of to the tune of several thousand in repairs.

It wasn't to Gina's advantage that there were no police called to the scene. No ambulance. No 911 call. The guy in the F-350 took charge, called the tow trucks, gave her his insurance info, called his auto insurance company on the spot and said it was his fault. He said the police would take forever to get there. Neither one claimed at the time to be hurt.
She said felt like he was a good enough guy and trusted him.

And he was true to his word. His insurance company accepted liability.

There was no loan on Gina's truck, so after fixing it, she probably would have had a diminished value claim since it was new. But she knew nothing of how this car accident business works... so once the truck was fixed she decided she could never drive it again. She traded it in for a Lincoln.

The property/vehicle settlement was a done deal long before Gina's boyfriend called the attorney who called me. In fact, the accident happened in June. I asked Gina why she was calling an attorney now. Why wait so long?

She said the insurance company of the guy who hit her was so nice.
Besides, she said, she had coverage on her own car for medical bills (it's called PIP, Personal Injury Protection in Washington State).
So she figured why bother with lawyers?
She was a high powered exec with a well known company. She negotiated complex contracts daily.
She figured she could surely deal with an insurance adjuster who she likened to a bill collector.
Then... she started getting headaches, nausea, neck aches and back pain.

Her pain began to increase exponentially until two days after the accident, she went to to the ER, got X-Rays, they didn't show anything. Her auto insurance company picked up the bill because she had PIP, they said. They didn't say how much PIP she had. To me, that was a sign that maybe she had a lot of PIP funds available. She saw a chiro three times a week, a massage twice. Always after work.

Everything was fine until one day at home, she bent and sneezed at the same time and down she went. It was as simple as that. A sneeze and she laid on the floor, flat out on a her back in spasms.

An ambulance ride to the ER and one MRI later revealed a small crack in her back that grew much bigger when she sneezed.
Now with her broken back, she can't work, she can't sleep, she's hooked on pain Meds, she and her husband are fighting and she is terrified of driving.
Her own insurance company has said she used up her P.I.P. (Personal Injury Protection) -- and from here on in, either she or her health insurance pay doctors bills until the Defendants company (the F-350) settles at the end.

Thing is Gina has no health insurance now that she has no job.
She has no way to keep paying her doctor.
She told me, when her fiance left the room, that she felt she was losing her mind.
There was no more intimacy between them.
"We fight like pitbulls" she said. "I feel like I'm sinking in quicksand."
I watched the water well in her eyes and then turned to study the pile of paperwork she laid before me earlier.

It was one of those "AHA" moments when you feel a quick rush of adrenalin.
She had a lot more PIP than she knew, because her insurance company neglected to tell her she had $35,000 in PIP benefits, not just the average $10,000.
And, her own insurance company also neglected to tell her PIP also provides up to $35,000 in lost ages -- at the rate of up to $700 a week if she makes that amount (minus the first two weeks pay). I told her the lawyers get the difference in lost wages at the end of the case if they can.

She was astounded. It was then that she confessed she was in foreclosure because she didn't know she had lost wages available to her through her insurance company. She been off work almost four months and they couldn't survive one one income.
I asked her to give me the papers the insurance companies sent her. They neglected to include the application for PIP lost wages.

It felt real good to tell her I think the lawyers could likely help her. I said there are never any guarantees in the legal business, however, I thought they could have her doctors continue to see her on a lien against the case.
Hopefully, the lawyers could help her could get her back lost wages... which may help towards stopping their foreclosure.
I laid out what her rights are, explained the statutes of limitations.
As I explained all the things I tell injured people, they begin to realize the sky is not falling.
You can actually see the bulb go off in their heads, the light return to their eyes, a smile form at the corner of their lips.
They have advocates now. Me.... and the Attorney. Gina called her fiance back in the room and asked me to repeat everything I said to her to him... again.

It was a good night. Albeit a long late one.
I took some photos of the circles under Gina's eyes; of the odd way her head tilted on her neck; the bulge in her back. I took all her paperwork with me, got the appropriate signatures and by the time I was back in my car it was about 7:00. I stopped at the local photo place, printed up her photos and made the 7:50 Ferry.

I made it home just in time to write up her case to the background of "NCIS," and a new show called the "Forgotten." It felt like only minutes after I climbed in the sack about midnight, set the alarm and was on the 5:50 ferry this morning. A big storm hit during the night. I drove over branches and leaves to get off our dirt road to the main road where other sleepy workers like me were commuting to the boat.

I delivered the case to the doorstep of someone who works at the law firm who lives about 15 minutes from the Ferry. She would bring the file to the office when they opened 8:30 am. I headed back to the Ferry, the sunrise and home again.

Just now I got a call from Gina. She said she wanted to thank me for the visit last night, the information, the attorneys.
She said she had already spoken to her attorney and they already faxed the paperwork off to insurance companies so we could get her lost wages going and they would stop calling her. She said the law firm got her doctor to treat on a lien against the case and all bills will be sent to the attorneys not to her home.

And she said for the first time in months, she felt hope again.
That would be one of the bennies of being a Private Investigator working a personal injury case.
Because every problem becomes an opportunity for resolution.

With recent government infusions of capital into insurance companies...
and the fact that they accept billions of dollars every month of our lives for accidents that don't happen...
you'd think the auto insurance companies would have enough money to buy a clue: that they are here to service their clients and the people they injure. Not to undermine them.

After I post this today, I will prep for the cases I have tomorrow. There is a never-ended cycling of cases out there -- injuries, vehicles, victims, defendants, insurance companies attorneys, mediators, judges and juries doing a dance of legal liability, and trying to put a monetary value on it all.

If you find yourself the victim of an accident, whatever you do --do not sign anything, settle anything with an insurance company until you consult an attorney, study the subject on the net, and know your stuff. In this investigator's humble opinion, no matter who you are, you are no match for an insurance adjuster without an attorney to look out for your interests.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Latest Auto Insurance Scams

Investigating all day can be a drain on the brain. Every now and then, you get done with your work too late to blog intelligently.
Besides... for an investigator.... the time NOT to plumb the depths of cases and places you've been... or are heading... is before bedtime.
Such memories and experiences are the stuff nightmares are made of.
So rather than miss a day here dredging up a long disturbing bedtime story, I'd like to make a short point.... and then lead you to a great link my friend B.g. sent me.

There's a huge rise in injury and accident claims associated with this alleged recession -- which I really suspect is a depression.
Terminology isn't the point though.
Criminality is.
And staging fake insurance claims is not only criminal, it's also big business.

A while ago a friend called me for advice. Her allegedly perfect daughter's slime-ball older boyfriend "borrowed" her car, which her mother co-signed the loan for. Said slime-ball boyfriend was drunk, went joyriding and smashed two park cars.
Rather than get caught, he chose a rather bizarre path of concealment that involved my friend's daughter. He drove the car to a secluded location and set it on fire. The girlfriend, my friend's daughter, followed him there and drove him home.
Then she went to sleep until she got a phone call the next morning from her mom saying the police called. Their car had been found burnt to a crisp. The daughter feigned shock. She said when she went to sleep the car was parked out front.

In their tiny brains, the daughter and her boyfriend figured the car could be reported as stolen, torched and a settlement would ensue.
Not so.
The auto insurance company's SPU (Special Investigations Units) are much smarter than two pea brains combined.
The SPU Investigators got the whole thing figured out before the daughter and her boyfriend confessed the crime to Mom.

And this true story is just the tip of a criminal iceberg in a sea littered with unempolyment, overextended budgets and predatory car loans.
Unethical people unable to make car payments are reporting their vehicles stolen.
They are staging accidents they think will total out cars and their loans. And they are getting caught.

Others, more criminal initially, than desperate, stage accidents purely for profit.

And this is where I bring to you B.g's addition to this blog post. Just go to the story that follows to get to the the post B.g. sent me to --"Driver's Beware".

Drivers beware: Latest insurance scam could cost you

Drivers beware: Latest insurance scam could cost you

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Sunday, October 11, 2009

Becoming Unhinged

I wrote on a reply on my Facebook page this morning that said I was feeling people around me were becoming "unhinged." It occurred to me, during this morning's beach walk, that perhaps I was projecting. Perhaps I was projecting my feeling unhinged from myself to others. Perhaps I am the one who is really unhinged... and the rest of the world is sealed tight. All bolts secure, all screws in place.

I think the blessing...and the burden...of this P.I.'s life is that I care. So much. Too much.
I am one of those investigators with hope/help in the eyes first, dollar signs second. And therefore, I spend more time than necessary with a client, a victim, a student, friend, my animals. The longer I take someone in, the more I absorb them.

In my youth and all through my life, I always identified with a character on the original Star Trek who was what they called an "Empath". This was the original Star Trek, the TV show, many many moons ago.

Kirk, McCoy and Spock were strung from the rafters by big-headed aliens appearing to test the guys' ability to withstand torture. Then the Empath... this beautiful, perfect. non-speaking sensual women some/most men us to be aspire to be... reached out and touched their wounds. One of the guys, I think McCoy, told her to stop, she might die. She didn't care. She healed them absorbed their pain with her touch, processed through it. And then everybody was all good.

Turned out the big-headed aliens felt the humans, who suggested the Empath save herself, were worthy of being saved as a species and decided not to blow up earth.
And they also discovered their beautiful Empath was in perfect working order.
The aliens transported Spock, McCoy and Kirk, back to their ship.
And they took their Empath back with them for her to do whatever.

It didn't occur to me as the episode ended, that time would pass and one day the Empath would go on to start in a key role in Guiding Light. And Kirk would one day appear on John Stewart citing Sarah Palin poetry.

I think we grow old slowly at first and feel like no one or no thing can bring us down. Our twenties, our thirties are challenging. It's when he hit our fourties and then the big 50, that the clock begins to speed up and suddenly all the people on tv were grew up with, like the Beaver, The Fonz and Opie are old. Physically, there is no "forever young." Instead, we, as Picasso said, "are only as old as we think we are."

The new generations, our children and the children of others, evolved as we grew up.
At times, my kids and their friends, this whole young generation, appear more like
aliens to me, than humanoid. More technoid than home-spun. More self-entitled than self-deprecating. More sedentary than driven.

And I imagine my parents.... and their parents.... and all those before them.... who fought wars and crossed seas; who blasted away to mountains to build our roads, train tracks, cities... they must've thought the same of us.

I, the P.I., write this to let you know we see it all. And we feel it all.
Even when we pretend we don't.
Even when our apprehension turns to strength as we walk through the door of an Intensive Care Unit to see and photograph a tough Harley biker broken into pieces.
Even when we take photographs of a fatal accident scene, while hearing the sobs of the mother, father, family who led you there and stayed.... so they could mourn at the road-side wooden cross honoring their dead. while you photograph the scene and their pain and suffering.

Living here in the Pacific Northwest, surrounded by military bases and forces...
I spend a fair amount of time with soldiers who survived Iraq, Afghanistan, Granada, Vietnam... only to be mowed down in a crosswalk or hit head on by a drunk driver. The soldiers are stunned that the worst disability they sustained, the straw that broke their camel's proverbial back, was back home in their own country.

It works that way with civilians too.
Some one goes out to get their mail, or take their little dog for a walk...when out of nowhere... a raging attack dog or two, feeds on them.

Last week, I sat with a woman who was a Sargent Major in the Army, served two "tours" of combat (I really wouldn't consider a war a "tour")... and got out to become a supervisor of over 30 people in a job she loves.
So just a few days ago, she was out taking the beloved Harley she wanted all her life.... the one she just bought four months earlier...
the one she added about 4k in after-market stuff to...
the one she took two safe driving courses just to get it all right...
"that" Harley.
She took it to her friend's house and at sunset, decided to take a ride towards Mount Rainier, which is an awesome sight to behold, especially as close as she was tp the mountain.
She approached an intersection.
She had right of way.
She had a green light.
She saw the car stopped at the light ahead of her.

Then to her disbelief, just as they got to the intersection, the stopped car turned left. The car smashed into her right leg breaking it.
She separated from the bike, flew onto the hood of the car, hit the windshield, did a complete somersault and hit the concrete with her left shoulder, then left elbow, then left wrist.

There were witnesses everywhere. An Army Medic happened to be stopped behind the car that hit her. Everyone, including the Police Officer who wrote the report, agreed the 24 year old driver who turned left at the light was at fault. She said she didn't see the Harley. She was cited.

So my job was to meet the attorney's client in the far away place she was staying because her leg was broken, her shoulder was dislocated, her elbow was chipped, and her ankle was twisted. There were other injuries, I will spare you those.
They figured she'd be down for 3 to 6 months.
She was staying with her female boss and her female boss' husband, kind people who evidently loved her.
"I just moved to Washington 6 months ago," she said, "I have no family here, No one"

She was emotionless as we talked about her 60% military disability, and how she survived that and the surgeries from an enemy attack.
An she was quite courageous despite the pain as we removed the brace on her leg so I could photograph the full extent of her damages to her legs. The right one was a mess.

And so I did my thing, went back to my place, wrote up her case. I realized I needed just a little more info before I handed it in, so I called her. I asked my questions. She answered them.

As the investigation questions drew to an end, I asked how she was doing.
It was with those words I think, that the wall around her crumbled down. She fell apart. She could not comprehend how a simple drive down the road in a Harley would lead her to a clueless young woman who made an illegal left turn and destroyed not just her beloved Harley. The young woman destroyed her life.

"I am broken. I can't work. I am helpless and dependent" she said. I could hear her voice crack, I heard her tears.

I told her what I tell all bikers I work for who survive hit like hers.
"Well, the way I see it, either you've got an angel protecting you or you're just a walking miracle, because many of my clients on bikes hit by cars are dead or in intensive care"

She told me her mother recently died, she thought she felt her mom's presence as she flew over the car.
"You did feel her, " I said, "she was there."
Usually, clients go on and ask why I know that.
This one just said "I agree."

It was in her becoming unhinged that she was able to put herself back together.
And it is in writing about that moment, I too feel myself coming together....
on one of those mornings you wake up unsettled and feeling, on one level or another, "unhinged"... sorry for yourself, your circumstances, whatever.

Every day, every moment above ground is a good day. As dark as it gets, as hard as it gets, as long as you've got the day to think about, to move freely through, then that's as good as it gets.

I think so many people spend so much money to find or buy happiness outside themselves, that they haven't figured out, it's all in our heads.
We can be happy anywhere as long as we can control our movements, our days. As long as we are free.

Youth can not be contained forever. When the lights aren't shining on Cher, or Donnie and Marie, when they're in their homes, in real life, real time, their age shows. Take away the surgeries, the make-up, the masks, mirages and pretense.... and you see one generation... mine... giving way to a new generation, theirs. Whatever it becomes.

And all those video games and texts and violent movies and high tech Twitter conveniences of this new world.... they will evolve, mutate or morph into a new life form when we are long gone.
Meantime, all we can do is the best we can do...
keep the bolts tightened, the body lubed, the mind stimulated so we do not become... unhinged.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Investigating Death

No one really knows how Napoleon died. Some call it the legend of Saint Helena.

Napoleon was sent from France to an island called Elba on Saint Helena to live for the second and final time in exile. This was off the coast of Africa. Many people were with him. His loyal servant, who kept a diary, led many to the conclusion of cancer as cause of death.

Some said he never showed any of the symptoms of cancer. And more people believe Napoleon died by poison -- specifically arsenic -- because of the high toxic levels of arsenic found in his hair. And the symptoms he had were similar to arsenic poisoning.

What is unknown is this: whether the arsenic was in his hair because of high levels of arsenic in his environment. Or whether he was murdered – the arsenic mixed into his drink or food. If you Google “Napoleon + arsenic” you’ll see the whole story there.

There’s also a theory about a tumor being found in Napoleon’s stomach in an alleged autopsy that could have contributed to his death.

Napoleon was exiled twice to the Island of Elba in Saint Helens. He spent only the first year in exile, tried to be a conqueror again and failed. So he was sent back into a second exile, which was where he died May 5, 1821. At each place, and other places, snips were taken of Napoleon's hair.

Since 1932 more than 60 tests have been conducted on Napoleon's hair.

I find it fascinating that so many strands of his hair existed; though I guess when you’re Napoleon… and you’re living in an age that was before there were photographed fan photos… people want your hair.

For example, Napoleon befriended, then allowed a young woman staying at St. Helena who was leaving with her family, to cut some locks of hair from his head before she left for good. These were among the samples tested.

All tests results from Napoleon’s hair at various stages of Napoleon’s life concur his hair contained high levels of arsenic.

Some say the arsenic got there naturally.
For instance, there may have been high levels of arsenic in the green wallpaper of his bedroom.
Some say he used hair tonic containing arsenic.
In Napoleon's day, old mothers gave a locket of their hair to children. To preserve the lockets, they dusted them with arsenic powder.
So maybe the death was accidental.

Or maybe it was murder. The French Officer in charge of his care didn't like Napoleon very much. And a number of women hung around him. Any one of them could have wanted to off the wife. Or maybe his wife didn't like the little gal Napoleon gave his hair to. Women are especially fond of killing by poison.

There is also one more fly in the theoretical ointment of Napoleon's death. He was given an orange drink the night before he died for an upset stomach. Upset stomachs are symptomatic of arsenic poisoning. The medicine given him contained a newer chemical that had a form of mercury in it. That too may have killed him.

So bottom line... how Napoleon died, to this very day, is still subject of discussion and debate on the net, TV documentaries, magazine articles, among collectors of Napoleon’s thing and on the blogs.

I believe that’s because speculation about how, when and why we die, are the ultimate questions we seek answers for and never quite get.

We spend so much time and energy on births. Months of waiting, planning, purchases, discussions, parties and then the actual birthing process -- over hours, days, in quiet safe birthing rooms. We come into life with a great big welcome.

Most of us exit life in darkened, depressing rooms, or brightly lit intensive care units amid hushed whispers.
So many of us are taken down by the unexpectedness of the body's undoing; unavoidable accidents; or violence. And always under the specter of darkness and grief.
Death has always been and still remains the great unknown.

Death and death investigations carry the color of black, the tone of loss, grief, and darkness. And for some many emotional despair that can turn into deep depression, or much worse, trigger psychosis.

Yet I… like many…. are fascinated by death investigations. I am especially intrigued by the deaths themselves, the means by which people die and if that death were natural, caused by medicines, people, or other things.

I have investigated many homicide vs. suicide claims. They are among my most fascinating cases. Most of the homicide v. suicide investigations I’ve conducted as a P.I. have been initiated for financial reasons.

For example... let's say one female family member died suddenly. That family member had a life insurance policy. That insurance company who underwrote the life insurance may feel the death was a suicide and not covered under the suicide clause.

The family who loved her may believe her husband who wanted the proceeds from the life insurance to pay off some debts killed her.

The family may not want the killer husband to get the death benefits. Instead, the family might want to disprove the insurance company’s suicide defense. They may want to pursue the husband as murderer in order to collect on the policy for the dead woman's children.

Meantime, the husband who killed her may want to collect because he doesn't love her anyway, he may indeed have debts, a lover, he may have been found out to be a fraud. Whatever the reason, his intent was to make the death look natural.

A Private Investigator who conducts death investigations becomes somewhat adapted to the whole process of death. It is just one more stage in life.

I say often "none of us gets out of here alive" despite what we try to do to prevent it.
No amount of botox, silicone, plastic surgery, holistic eating or exercise can stop the evitable aging process. Good eating and exercise and health habits can prolong life -- they just can't prevent death.

You could be the healthiest, happiest, debt free, person on the planet…. and on your way home tonight you could be rear-ended by a semi, hit head on by drink driver, or have an embolism pop in your head that you didn’t know was there.

Seems to this investigator, for as long as we could communicate or write, civilization seems more concerned about: what standards they consider ethically, morally, religiously consistent to their specific beliefs; what they believe happens in the after life; and who, ultimately is in charge of our salvation.

Today I blog about death because I am getting or hearing about quite a few lately
So today, let me tell you two true death stories, both of which I heard last night.

Story number one came during dinner. A dear friend was talking about another dear friend’s paternal grandfather.

Evidently, Granddad was a POW in a notoriously horrible prison for years. When the American soldiers released him and the other Americans, they were given guns to seek retribution.

Granddad, having been locked up in a prison camp and having gone understandably batty, associated everyone in nearby village who was the same nationality as his captors, and started shooting. He killed lots of people, many innocent men women and children.

Eventually he made it home, made it through whatever POW’s go through to pass from hell back to some semblance of reality.
He was ultimately integrated back into society, built a life and a family.

No one had an inkling, however, of the thoughts in his head. Until one day, when he poured gasoline all over his body, set himself on fire and successfully killed himself.

"Maybe he just couldn't live with demons in his head, all the innocent people he killed." our friend said over dinner last night.

What we all couldn't come to grips with was the “means,” the way he chose to do it.

"I could see taking pills, a gun, hanging yourself, slitting your wrists," my friend said, "But setting yourself on fire? That’s gotta’ be the most horrible way to go"

I told him of a case recently on the UW campus here recently. It happened earlier this year, if not at the very end of last. An older employee, I think he was just laid off, poured gas on himself and mid-day, set himself on fire in front of students in the quad. There were lots of witnesses. Many of the students rushed to help him. Some tried to get him to stop pouring the gas, others begged him not to ignite whatever devise he used to light himself up. It was too late. He’d made his decision. The amount of pain he experienced in life… he would inflict upon himself in death

When he died, the stunned young witnesses and community were left with that one word question. “Why”. My second question is, “Why that way?”

I think in the case of my friend's Grandpa, we all concluded he must have thought his crimes of revenge… killing the kids and women and innocent civilians were so horrible… he must punish himself in a more horrible way, And maybe self-immolation, the most ultimate painful, horrible suicide he could imagine…. would actually be his salvation.

After last night’s dinner death discussion, we stopped at another friend’s to say hey.

I knew the man first, met his girl friends later. While the guys were inside, we stepped outside on the patio and talked. She works in a very reputable hospital. Her first husband died of cancer. Her boyfriend, a friend since childhood, reunited with her after her husband’s death.

She told me she always wanted to be a P.I. (I hear that a lot) and then she asked me to tell her about a case.

I said I had a death investigation earlier that fascinated me. I told her we didn't know how the woman died, they just found her dead. She smashed head-on into a light pole. The airbags didn’t deploy in her car because it appeared, before she bought the car, someone removed them.

I told my new friend on the patio, that it wasn't until further in my investigation it was discovered the dead cistim had prior DWI's. Though, I said, on afternoon she was killed, blood tox tests were taken and there was below the legal limit of alcohol in her system. Plus Benedryl.

I watched my listener’s eyes open wider as she said, "My brother died a year ago. He was on pain pills from back surgery. He developed a cold, they gave him Benedryl one night, the next day he was dead in bed. We think it was the Benadryl that killed him."

I asked how old her brother was, she said fifty. I expressed my condolences. And noticed she was drinking red wine. She asked me if I wanted a glass. I declined… told her there was this story going around that as people grow older they develop an intolerance to red wine. It’s happened to me. I get headaches and don’t feel good.

I told her that when someone offered me red wine somewhere recently, I declined. I said out loud, it gave me headaches.

A man who overheard me said, “It’s true. As you grow older, you tolerate an ingredient in red wine less. So if you like red wine, you need to take Benedryl first. I always do,” he said. “So does my wife.”

I found the whole concept incongruous.
Mixing one drug with another.
Yet the woman whose brother died from the Benedryl painkiller combo said she heard of another case.
A woman on anti depressants took Benedryl and she too died the next day.

We left their house and while I waited for the ferry home to arrive, I googled: “Benedryl + death” on my Blackberry. If you do it too, you’ll see there may be some truth there.

The last task of my evening last night was a call back to a family member's daughter. She just lost her mother. Her mother died in a hospice, quietly, peacefully, painlessly thanks to morphine. Scented flowers surrounded her, soft music, loved ones at the age of 90. Her daughter told me she was relieved her mother was out of pain now. There was no mention of money, estates, just the beloved passing of a loved one. In this Investigators humble opinion that’s the way it should always be.

Thursday, October 8, 2009


Fraud, fraud everywhere. As a PI, I'm seeing it expanding exponentially, are you?
People try to separate you from your money by any number of means. All of them illegal.

Usually it's best on financial fraud cases for Private Investigators like me to work with Forensic Accountants. Yet there are many forms of fraud that a savvy Private Eye can uncover on his or her own.

I have caught book keepers writing checks to themselves, their kids. I have seen receipts falsified. I have uncovered illegal and unethical business practices. And it only promises to get worse as the economy continues to tank.

Most fraud cases are the Soduku puzzles of investigation.
Though some are so obvious, so blatant, you wonder, "do they want to be caught?"

And research has shown, some fraudsters think the are "borrowing" the money and plan to return it later. It's delusional thinking, like a gambler's mindset.
Other fraudsters are more subtle and pull in the weak, the hungry, the desperate, or simply, the unsuspecting.

I like this story about fraud from Pursuit Magazine.
So let it tell tell you more than I ever could today.
To get there...
Click on the title of this article to link to Pursuit Magazine's excellent article "Understanding and Fighting Fraud."

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Smell of Death

In this Investigator's opinion, TV shows do no justice to what the real world out there is like for a Police Detective or a Private Detective. There are sights, sounds, smells tastes that defy description even though you try to put them in words.

Endless TV shows present one hour of a condensed murder, investigation: overnight or instantaneous blood, hair, fiber tests conducted by quirky, hothigh tech geeks in the labs; a crew of wise, good-looking Hollywood-esque investigators in the field who bring it together in an hour; all amid chatty social banter filled with sexual innuendo or an undercurrent of their own personal life mysteries. And always while they work, there's music in the background pulsing away as they do their mojo.
One hour later and "POOF!", murder, crime solved. As the music reaches its final beats, the bad guy does the perp walk and all is well in the world again.

Sometimes, I watch CSI, or NCIS, or Law & Order and I actually get P.O.'ed. If only solving a crime or resolving a case were that easy.

Law enforcement files and those of PI's are filled with cold cases we don't give up on or forget. One of my associates, a retired homicide detective, has a blog and wrote a post a day or so ago that talks of the smell... the experiences of a death investigation.... in a way only reading it for yourself can do justice to.

So while I head off on my day's rounds, just click on the title of this post and it will take you to Steve Spignola's most recent blog post. He's a retired homicide detective and I've posted a link to his post here before, he just started blogging and his blog "slueth with the proof" gets better every day.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Jams And Scams

I decided I better blog early because this one of those days you head down the road and don't know what time you come home. And I think the key to having a successful blog is to keep it live and active, not static.

Self-employed Private Investigators spend many days and long nights on the road. Then after the work out there is done, the second wave of work begins. The processing of photos, the writing of case notes, the compiling of the paperwork, the evidence, the package, you hand to the attorney it to whoever it is that hired you.

Today I am off to see a bright guy I talked to about 10:00 last night. An attorney referred him to the personal injury firm called me and asked me to investigate his case. He was driving an 08 Pick Up. He was next in the line of cars turning left at a green light when

"Boom!" he said " I just started rolling."
The roll started on the passenger side, he recalled hitting his head as the truck's top hit the pavement, then the truck righted itself.

I figured he had to have been hit by another truck to make those kind of moves post hit. The he said, witness tolled him his truck did a 180.
Turns out, the other guy was driving a Ford Focus. It was totalled too. . He was texting while he was driving, the Police officer who cited him said.

Everyone survived, but the victim, the driver of the truck is not happy with the damage to his body. Not to mention the totaling of his brand new truck, which has a loan over 20k on it. So I made an appointment to see him mid day, just across the Puget Sound then south to Seattle to investigate his case further.

So while I'm away, go to the title on my post and click on it. It'll take you to a place that explain a scam on Facebook -- a criminal act that has scammed so many people they're issuing a national alert.

This scam doesn't start on Facebook. It just ends there, where the crime happens.

It starts when you get an email from someone you don't know in your regular gmail. yahoo, facebook whatever account email account. It says something like "Pictures you have to see" or "something you must know" It is an invite into something... and can take many forms.
This is the portal of entry.
Do not allow access through this door.
These are the same guys that ran the Nigerian check scam rings.
Don't open any email from anyone you know that invites you in... to do... or see... . or hear about something. Once you enter this door, they enter your account then instantly access your email account and your Facebook. if you write an email they see it.
Talk about creepy. It's like an electronic clone.

Once in Facebook they pretend to be you asking your friends for help. Your friends being your friends bite. Some don't get off the hook.

So welcome to the new electronic media.
Like all people, places and things, it has its blessing and its burdens.
The burdens of fraud in this arena are heavy.
If you use Facebook, it would be wise of you to click on the title of this post to read this story it links to.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

A Medical Trilogy

It was an over-the-counter cold medicine. There were a few with the same ingredient in them, but I was investigating one particular brand whose name I will wisely choose not to mention here.
This product was pulled off the shelves years ago because it contained an element called Phenylpropylene. (Google: phenylpropylene + strokes)

It was one of the first over-the-counter cold medicines you might buy when a cold hits.
It was in my medicine cabinet.
It was in a lot of people's.
Many companies, schools, hospitals kept it stocked in their medicine cabinets for cold relief.
What happened... and this was years ago... it was discovered the phenylpropylene in this medicine caused strokes.

A recall was put in place.
Press releases were sent out.
Doctors were notified.
Products were pulled off some, but not all shelves.
Some companies said they didn't get the recall. Others ignored it.
Either way a whole lot of people of all ages were taken down by strokes caused after they took this cold medicine containing phenylpropylene.

For a while, no one knew what caused these strokes.

It was only when some savvy ER doctors saw the similar brain bleeds in a wide age range of otherwise healthy clients who all had recent colds; then reviewed the medicines the patients had taken; that they figured out phenylpropylene was the culprit.

Until the doctors put two and two together, who knows how many people were taken down... some unable to speak or walk, from strokes due to the ingredient in this medicine.

My job in this investigation was to travel Western Washington and interview the worst of these stroke victims. The youngest was 25, the oldest was 65. One couldn't speak, several couldn't walk, and most couldn't move a side of their body. Some had saved the actual medicines, which I took into evidence. Others had thrown them out.

I recall meeting a logger near Hoquiam, on the Washing Coast. Turns out, the company he worked for gave him the cold medicine when he visited the company nurse. I thought I might stop by the logging company while I was in the area. Sure enough, they had the medicine with Phenylpropylene on the shelf. They told me they never got the recall letter, which I carried with me. The medicines were pulled from the medicine cabinet that day.

There was another medicine I investigated. Lipitor. (Google: Lipitor + "muscle breakdown")
It was taken to lower cholesterol, but it had one nasty side effect. The medication ate away at the leg and arm muscles, causing them to break down... liquefy. The liquefied muscles mass was more like a gooey gel that got stuck in the kidneys. I always imagined it to be like old dirty motor oil stuck in a plug of sludge.
The stuff stuck in the kidneys caused a back up that led to renal failure and death.
And if you did live, you had muscles of goo.

Again, my job was to interview the worst of these victims across Western Washington. I recall one man, a fisherman, who lost use of his leg muscles and lost his career at sea. He saved the original medication bottle he had. I placed it in the evidence bag. His was one more voice in a sea of many heard in a suit against those who ignored the recall.

And the third story in this P.I. trilogy is about Pacemakers...faulty ones placed in patients over a two-year period.
Some of the patients came to the attorney after the Pacemakers, which were defective, shocked and scared them to death.
Others contacted the attorneys after they heard about the recall.

Some still had the defective pacemakers in their chest, wanted them out and wanted the attorneys to hold someone accountable for the bills and pain and suffering incurred in living in fear of their Pacemaker going off at the wrong time. Or, worse, not going off at the right time.

My job, per usual, was to travel the state, visit the worst of the worst... hear the stories from one man young as 21 to another man 79, who kept getting shocked all day long.

The purpose of this trilogy is not to frighten, rather to educate. We think of pills as the be-all and end-all of for cold relief, high blood pressure, cholesterol, pain relief, anxiety, and depression. The question you must ask yourself is this:
When is the alleged "cure" worse than the disease?

And beyond that, there comes a choice where we don't have choice. We need a Pacemaker; we rely on the company that makes it to get it right.

Investigating cases like these is just one of many things Private Investigators do. This job is not about hiding in bushes and catching cheating partners for all of us.

For many PI's, myself included, it's about catching companies that are negligent in their manufacture or distribution of products which cause irreparable harm to countless of innocent people. And then, making those companies pay to make our clients well again.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

"We Don't Need No Stinking License"

Today, I am doing something a little different with this blog because I have a load of work to get done today. If you missed last nights story about rats and fountains it's a bit disgusting, albeit entertaining. Meanwhile, I'm going to to link you to a couple of articles and blogs I want to share. This one is about a guy of many aliases, named Michael Hilton. I found it on Doomdaily. Felix Barbour wrote the story, it's one fine piece of investigation. Just click on the title of this post and it will take you there. Look for the picture of the guy pretending to be someone he's not. That's Hilton or whoever he is.

The Best True Crime Book Review Blog Ever.

With the onslaught of true crime books out there and the folks who love them, this is the place to go. Yvette Kelly has an absolutely awesome blog.... with a great way to sort through the good, the bag and the ugly. To get to her blog just click on the title of this blog post.

Retired Homicide Detective Starts Blog

I'd like to introduce my blog readers to Steve Spingola. I consider him a friend. Like me, he is a writer and P.I.. Unlike like me he is a retired Milwaukeee Police homicide detective. He worked the Northside Strangler case and wrote a book about it. I led him to blogspot . Now I want to lead you to him. Just click on the title of this post to get to his blog and then his book. I am still such a technospazz, I haven't figure out a better way to do this link thing.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Rats and Fountains

It was an interesting case, not just in the details -- also in the way it affected me. Ever since working this investigation, I have a level of unease when I enter motel or hotel rooms. Doesn't matter whether the room is a palace or a dump, all I know is when I enter a room to interview a witness or an attorney's clients room, I feel a primal, involuntary shudder.

The reason for this is a client we will call Ramone, his wife Celia and their two kids, one about 6 months old, the other just about two.

Ramone just moved to the Seattle area from Portland. This was a couple years ago, when construction was booming. Ramone landed a job a job as a foreman on a commercial building.
The pay was good, the company was legit and had a great reputation -- he worked for them in Portland. There were even health benefits.

Both Hispanic and legal American citizens, Ramone told me he and Celia felt like they were beginning the American dream when he checked into the little motel on Highway 99, just south of the airport. It wasn't far from the building site.

Though the quarters were cramped for a family of four , it looked nice enough. It wasn't one of those pay-by-the-hour hooker motels. Nor, was it part of an chain. It was just an independent business entity, a family owned motel, along Highway 99 that catered to those in transition. From the outside it looked fairly nice on the outside.

Ramone paid weekly for the family's room, planned to stay a month...while they checked out the housing opportunities in their new city, Seattle.

It was the very first night in the motel when the first incident happened.

Ramone was laying in the big king-sized bed and turned out the lights, when, within seconds of darkness, he heard movement, scratching. His wife and children had fallen asleep earlier with the lights on. They were still asleep when he turned off the tv, the lights and heard the sounds. He described them as scratching and scraping sounds from other the bed. Then he felt something crawling over him.Lots of somethings.

Ramone turned to his right and flipped on the night lamp beside his bed. What he saw mortified him. Rats covered the beds, small rats and loads of them, streaming like army ants. As he looked around, he said he saw what was hundreds of them crawling out from under the bed.

As his eyes fully adjusted to the light and his brain kicked into gear, he realized the rats were escaping a hole in the inner spring where they lived, running over his sleeping wife and baby, also in the bed...
he could not stop from screaming.
"Ayyyyyyyy Celia" he said he shouted.
His wife and children woke groggily as he got them to flee the room in their night clothes. Ramone never went anywhere without his wallet, so he grabbed that and his cell phone on the way out. Then he slammed the rat room door shut and they went into the manager's office.

The motel owners were profusely apologetic Ramone said. As Ramone dialed 911, the manager said they said they'd give him another room complementary. Ramone would hear none of it.

The police arrived, opened the door to Ramone's ex-room and closed it quickly. One officer told me another officer with a rat phobia puked.
It was filled with rats everywhere. Turned out they'd been living for "who knows how long" the officer said, in the box springs. When the lights turned out at night, they snuck out. How long this had been going on before Ramone busted them is a thought I care not to ponder.

Obviously, when I met Ramone and Celia and the kids to hear their story, it was in their new hotel room. This was fancier hotel, part of a chain, just about a mile north and across the street. Evidently the rat hotel owner had a heart, or maybe the police forced him to have one.
Either way, they agreed to put him up in this fancy chain hotel for two weeks free if Ramone didn't sue the rat hotel. Ramone agreed and moved to the hotel a little north and whole lot fancier.

I noted the two spouting fountains each set back from the fancy hotel's entrance by bushes before I walked into the vast, upscale lobby. Those fountains and the hotel I was entering was the target of my investigation, only they didn't know it.

I smiled at the front desk clerk, then headed straight to Ramone's room. Ramone was still horrified by the rat episodes he recounted it to me. He said he was scared to sleep at night even in this fancy hotel at first. Turning off the lights triggered "great fear in me" Ramone said.
But by the fourth night, he was sleeping sound next to his beloved Celia.

It was the next morning when everything went belly up for Ramone and his family again.
Because it was on that particular morning, the fancy hotel decided to install the two fancy fountains I had noted on my way into hotel.

When they were first installed, they were not installed properly and they leaked. So on day four, Ramone exited the hotel to go to work while his wife slept. He said at 6:00 am, he walked through the front door and the fountains, which had an excessive water supply leak overnight that flooded the marble entry way leading to the exit.

Just as Ramonr stepped from the inside to the outside, he slipped on the slick surface, landed on the wet concrete and broke his right wrist and shattered his right kneecap. The broken wrist and shattered kneecap shattered Ramone's job possibilities and his family's future. And because it didn't happen on the job, he wasn't entitled to L&I.

So there I sat in a chair next to Ramone who was splayed oput on the fancy hotel bed, Celia tending to to the children while they both took turns telling me the whole story. The rats... the fall... and the most recent twist.

Fearing they might be sued, the owners of the fancy hotel chain told them they would have only a one week comp stay instead of two. They said this was because the rat motel had been condemned and shut down due to infestation. The fancy hotel decided since the rat hotel couldn't pay the extra week, they wouldn't. Even though it was the fancy hotel's fault Ramone fell and broke his bones in the first place.

I couldn't understand the logic in this. Nor could Ramone. And that's why he called the lawyer who called me.

Ramone wanted to sue the hotel for his medical bills, future medical bills, lost wages/career and pain and suffering. He could no longer provide for his family, lost his job, had no idea where his next dollar was coming from and would be homeless in one week without income.
And all, he said, because "some pinche didn't install a fountain right."

When I left the family and headed through the fancy hotel to get some photos then hopefully, get to my care without any confrontations, I pondered the possibilities of a settlement or suit.

My feeling was the lawyers would have to sue, because the hotel manager told Ramone he should have looked more carefully where he walking. They'd deny liability, I thought.

I took pictures of the hotel exterior, the fountains recently moved.
No one at the hotel asked me what I was doing or why. I am used to be chased out of places I am investigating. Being ignored made my job that made my job much easier.
I photographed the circular marks in the concrete where the fountains originally stood. By the time my photos were done, I agreed with Ramone.

Ramone said the hotel should have put up warning signs, "caution, wet". Ramone also said the hotel knew there was leak in the fountains because the morning he slipped, they had a repair crew on the spot and moved the fountains much further from the entrance. I had pictures of that.

Fortunately for Ramone, the lawyers agreed with him and took his case.

I have no idea how it ended... whether it went to trial or it was settled. I just do my job and step away until I am called back if and when necessary for further investigations, a deposition or jury testimony.

In Ramone's case all I know is his story is always with me.
I even have dreams of rats running from beds and fountains running amuk.
Sometime, this business... Private Investigation, it's like a Grade B movie. Only worse.
Because it's real.