“A good private investigator has the curiosity of a cat, the tenacity of a bull, the imagination of Lewis Carroll and the balls of a brass monkey.”-the private investigators’ credo
PAUL McCAGHREN says it happens at least once every week. Some man with fiery eyes and a fat wallet will drift into his office and ask the 52-year-old sleuth to burglarize his estranged wife’s apartment, or a forlorn mother will beg him to hop a plane to Houston and steal back her kids from their father. Maybe the visitor will be an angry boyfriend who will want McCaghren to plant an electronic bug in his female companion’s telephone or a sleazy-looking character offering a tidy sum to rough someone up.
Sure, McCaghren would be the first to admit there are a handful of Dallas gumshoes who would accommodate such requests if the money was right. But most PIs tell such would-be clients they’ve been watching too much TV. In the real world, most private investigators say the threat of going to jail far outweighs the lucrative fee for doing illegal work. And in the real world, the average sleuth misses out on Hollywood scenarios that include romantic encounters with attractive women, high-speed auto chases through crowded city streets, fistfights in dark bars and shootouts in penthouse suites.
“I don’t even like to tail people,” confides McCaghren. “I don’t want to carry a gun, and to tell you the truth, I don’t see that many private eyes running around trying to trick people.”
That’s certainly not to say that Dallas’ top-notch investigators don’t lead interesting lives as gumshoes or aren’t some of the more fascinating characters one might encounter. The ones we chose ranged from white-shirt-and-tie investigators like ex-FBI agent Don Schonhoff to Terri Crane, a streetwise Garland PI whose does some of her best work in topless bars and massage parlors.
Undoubtedly, any one of the 4,000-plus licensed private investigators in the state of Texas could spin a handful of juicy yarns about trailing a murderer to the scene of a crime, locating a key witness whose testimony meant that an innocent went free, or taking photos of a married man embracing his mistress. Yet those same PIs will tell you about the drudgery of the profession: the long hours spent plowing through dusty records in the basement of the county courthouse, composing meticulous reports for clients or trying to balance their office budgets. What’s so sexy about tailing a concrete truck to catch a driver selling a load or two on the side?
The PIs we talked with say the best investigators in the business tend to be the ones who possess good contacts, honesty, determination, common sense, intuition and imagination.
“It’s a lot of hard work,” says Clema Sanders, executive director of the Texas Board of Private Investigators and Private Securities Agencies. “The successful private investigators these days are also successful business people.”
A PI doesn’t have to be a smooth-talking tough guy or a good shot. In fact, in Texas it’s illegal for a private eye to pack a pistol. “The name of the game is to gather evidence, not to cause a commotion,” says Dallas gumshoe Michael Grimes. “The good PI has a feeling for and an understanding of the law.”
PIs these days tend to specialize in certain types of investigative work. The big bucks typically come from the corporate clients, or insurance companies for investigating claims. Very few private eyes say they enjoy doing domestic [divorce] work, but nearly all of them take it occasionally because the money can be good. Since sleuths tend to specialize, they constantly call upon each other, often subcontracting investigations outside their area of expertise.
Regretfully, their expertise is available only to well-to-do clients. Forget that old $200-a-day-plus-expenses fees so often quoted on the detective television reruns. Today, the average PI charges $50-an-hour plus mileage and expenses. Some charge as high as $100 an hour. For that kind of money, a client has a right to expect quality.
With that in mind, we now present some of the best private eyes in town. Some of them are seasoned and work out of cushy offices. Others are younger and work amid less opulence but nevertheless know how to get just the facts, ma’am. And if you don’t want the unvarnished truth-be it good or bad- don’t even bother to call these sleuths.
FOILING WHITE-COLLAR CRIME
FOR MORE THAN a quarter of a century, the private eyes at Dale Simpson & Associates have been discreetly catching corporate crooks all over the country. Dale Simpson founded the firm in 1957 after working 10 years as an FBI agent and serving as the first director of security for GSI, Texas Instruments’ corporate predecessor. In 1979, Simpson sold the firm to one of his investigators, Don Schonhoff.
Schonhoff, 39, is a Notre Dame Law School grad and a former FBI agent himself. He joined Simpson & Associates in 1972 and has carried on the traditions of the firm’s founder: All but one of the agency’s current 15 investigators stationed in Dallas and throughout Texas are former FBI agents.
The FBI makes a prime hunting ground for PI recruiters. Agents are well trained in the knack of writing investigation reports that hold up under legal scrutiny.
About half of the firm’s investigations are of white-collar crimes-employee transgressions such as fraud, theft or embezzlement. Schonhoff’s sleuths also work for banks, law firms, oil and gas concerns and make pre-employment background checks. “For the most part, we’re briefcase investigators,” he says. The firm’s areas of expertise even sound corporate: “ascertaining financial responsibility, bond claims investigations, business intelligence, character and fitness investigations, computer security, electronic countermeasures, inventory shortages and protection of proprietary information.”
Schonhoff doesn’t tell war stories and he won’t name any clients. Keeping quiet is another thing they teach G-men.
SOMETIMES THE best defense is a good offense, and that’s when some of Dallas’ premier criminal attorneys call on Al Teel. The owner of Al Teel & Associates acquired most of his experience chasing paper trails as a U.S. postal inspector for 10 years, but also spent six as a Los Altos, California police officer, six as an investigator for Lockheed Aircraft, and two in law school.
Many PIs with prior law-enforcement experience say they shun criminal investigative work because they dislike getting the “bad guys” off. But Teel, 37, says he has no moral quandaries about helping defendants. Ours is an adversary system, and a man accused of a crime has as much right to hire a PI as he does a lawyer, Teel claims. “But law-enforcement agencies resent investigators who work for the defense.”
Teel specializes in such white-collar cases as embezzlement and fraud, but has also been involved in murder investigations. Not only does he have an intricate knowledge of the federal criminal justice system, but he’s also known for his numerous high-level contacts in federal law-enforcement agencies. Any PI will tell you contacts are perhaps the most important investigative tools.
Although you seldom see his name in the newspaper, Teel has worked a number of high-profile criminal cases, including a recent case involving a multimillion-dollar silver fraud, as well as federal trials that resulted in the acquittals of six accused gun dealers and an accused cocaine dealer. He has also conducted investigations for such companies as Scope Industries, Playboy International and ARA Services.
“I’m the kind of guy who takes his work home with him,” says Teel. “I’ve got 11briefcases at home full of work. I’d ratherlook at files than go to a movie. To tell youthe truth, I’ve never worked a day in my life.I play”
HEART TO HEART
IN A LOT of ways, Jim and Barbara Kithas are like any other husband and wife. The co-owners of Kithas & Associates were high-school sweethearts, have been married for 22 years and have three children and one grandchild.
At first glance, they seem an unlikely investigative team. Jim, 44, is quiet. Barbara, 42, is talkative. But when they put their heads together, those in the business say, the two are dynamite, especially in the fine art of surveillance. A husband-wife surveillance team seems a natural, especially since it takes at least two cars to tail someone traveling in North Dallas traffic these days.
When Jim needed to add an extra investigator to the firm about four years ago, Barbara decided to leave her position as a loan officer at a local bank and become a sleuth. Jim is a former Pinkerton investigator who went out on his own in 1974. After Barbara joined him, the first case they worked took them on an overnight trip to Midland tailing an executive. That overnight trip turned into a week-long surveillance that led the couple to Phoenix and Palm Springs.
The Kithases say they work about 30 percent of their cases together. They do occasional domestic work, but the majority of their investigations are done for big insurance companies, many involving workman’s compensation claims. “There’s a great advantage to being married to your investigative partner,” says Barbara. “It’s total trust. You known you can rely on your partner all the time.”
Jim and Barbara like being their own bosses and say their profession affords them a comfortable standard of living. But the hours are long, and the two are virtually on call 24 hours. Like the recent Sunday afternoon when the phone rang as Jim was busy painting the garage. By that evening, he was on a plane to Sun Valley, Idaho. Only the week before he was in Montana and she, in Florida.
“All we really are is objective witnesses,” says Barbara. “We report to our clients whatever we see-good or bad.”
IT WAS IN 1982 that Martin Brown, 39, and Linda Sikes, 37, decided to do more than just pose as man and wife while investigating commercial trademark infringements. When they tied the knot that January, Brown, a Farmers Branch and Garland cop for 13 years, was a private investigator with Dale Simpson & Associates and Sikes was a legal assistant with the Dallas law firm of Strausberger & Price who volunteered to sleuth for the civil litigators.
The two first met in 1980, when they crossed paths on the same investigation, not even knowing the other was involved. Something clicked, so the duo did subsequent investigations together, often passing themselves off as man and wife on cases ranging from trademark infringements to products liability.
Then in November 1983, he formed Martin Brown & Associates, and Sikes joined him about six months later. Since then, they have become specialists and have devoted long hours to their work, mostly investigating insurance cases or looking for counterfeits of products ranging from watches and Cabbage Patch dolls to Pac-Man and Donkey Kong video games. Despite the specialty, the two say they’ll take on any type of investigation other than criminal.
Working many of the cases together has been a plus; when he’s asking the questions, she’s looking around. On past occasions when Martin’s been in a fix, Linda’s fast talking has saved the day. Martin is a master of disguises, ranging from a congressional candidate to a church minister.
“It’s all a game,” says Linda. “Every day’s different-there’s a puzzle you’ve got to solve. This whole world seems to be in search of an honest private investigator.”
THERE IS ONE aspect of sleuthing that Hollywood has been portraying accurately these days, and that’s the value of a female investigator. Even male PIs admit women make the most tenacious investigators: They seem to ask better questions and have better instincts.
The one we heard the most about was Terri Crane, chief investigator for Republic Investigative & Security Services Inc. in Garland. The 24-year-old brunette, who specializes in locating missing persons, became interested in sleuthing while working as a bill collector for a local department store. “It was then that I discovered I was more interested in finding out where the people were than actually collecting the bills,” says Crane.
Crane worked for Adak Investigation in Irving and Lane Security Consultants in Piano before joining Republic last July. She estimates she has located about 2,500 people in her four years of “skip tracing.” Many were found with just a phone call. Others led her to Arizona, Oklahoma and Louisiana. On one caper, she tracked down two men in Singapore.
The fact that Crane does much of her work for banks doesn’t mean she spends most of her time in the office. Past investigations have taken her into topless bars and massage parlors, and she spends countless hours in surveillance and has even gathered trash for information. “I have to go to the bad parts of town a lot. I’m a loner. It’s probably going to get me killed someday, but I like to work by myself.”
As an official in the North Texas Association of Private Investigators, Crane says that the group is attempting to encourage more women to become PIs. Women are more detail-minded, and they notice things about people, she says. And they’re persistent.
“When a woman gets something in her mind, it consumes her.”
SOUTH DALLAS GRAPEVINE
YOU MIGHT HAVE noticed that all the other faces in this story are white. That’s bad news. There is a growing need for good black investigators, but within the profession, they’re nearly as scarce as women.
One is Leon Johnson, 42, who runs Mat-rex Services Corp. out of an office in his home in South Dallas. If word-of-mouth in Dallas wasn’t enough to establish Johnson’s top-notch reputation, then past contracts with such national corporate giants as Xerox, Diners Club, Hilton Hotels, Southland Corp. and Coca-Cola might remove any doubts. With files that rival some of those of the Dallas Police Department, Johnson is also widely known around Dallas as the man close to the information pipeline in the black community.
Johnson began his career as a PI in 1968 with Bill Dear, a DeSoto investigator who cuts a high profile around town. Ten years later, Johnson decided to go out on his own. He currently employs two full-time investigators-both former FBI agents-and two part-time sleuths. Johnson’s specialty is locating missing persons.
Johnson, unlike most PIs, says he’s been shot at twice while conducting investigations. He’s most proud of a case he worked in 1980 for Hilton Hotels that began when a Boston University student filed a $2.5 million lawsuit against the hotel after he got into a fight with a security guard and a police officer in Dallas’ downtown Hilton lobby. Although the police couldn’t locate a missing eyewitness, Johnson found him in Great Lakes, New York, and the witness statement resulted in the suit being dropped.
STOP OFF AT the Idle Rich Bar on Canton Street any weekday morning about 11, and you’ll find Morris Brumley of Brumley-Dellinger Investigations sitting at a table playing dominoes with a couple of retired Dallas cops, sipping a Miller Lite. Because he had a heart attack about a year ago, the 60-year-old Brumley is taking life easy these days, sleuthing part-time only on the cases he wants to work. He spends the rest of his hours playing golf and fishing.
The modest Brumley comes on as a good old boy, but he has a reputation for being one of the more streetwise PIs in Dallas. He’s been working in his blue jeans, shirtsleeves and baseball cap since 1976, a far cry from the police uniforms and suits and ties he wore for more than 25 years as a Dallas policeman. About 20 of his 26 years on the force were spent as an intelligence officer working mostly white-collar crimes.
Brumley isn’t one to talk about his clients, but his peers say they have ranged from large corporations to rich old ladies. “I’m not much of a businessman,” says Brumley. “It’s not the way I intended it, but I’ve probably done more free work than work I charged for.” These days, he says, he does mostly background investigations on individuals.
“A good investigator is one who’ll spend long hours and have patience,” says Brumley. “Most of all, he’s got to be truthful with his clients. He’s got to tell it like it is. So many PIs these days flower things up in their reports to charge big fees.”
IMPECCABLY dressed and a slow, deliberate talker, Paul McCaghren, 52, looks like a Hollywood version of a gentle professor. But he has a reputation for being one of the more tenacious sleuths in the city. Operating Paul McCaghren & Associates for more than a decade, he has amassed a list of about 25 corporate clients that are today the mainstay of his business.
For 22 years, McCaghren’s employer was the Dallas Police Department. By the time he retired in 1974, he had reached the rank of assistant chief in charge of intelligence and vice control. McCaghren was the guy who led a 100-man assault on pot-smoking hippies in Lee Park one Sunday afternoon in the early Seventies. He was also the man who, along with a newspaper reporter, coined the term “Dixie Mafia” and helped form a centralized intelligence agency in Atlanta for organized criminals who moved around the South and Southwest. “I was not a hero,” McCaghren says. “In fact, I think the most publicity I ever got was for talking down a man who had barricaded himself up with a few hostages in the Inner Circle Bar on Greenville Avenue one day in 1973.”
Now McCaghren spends most of his time working preventive security and employee white-collar crime cases for such corporate notables as PepsiCo, Summers Electric and Watson Electric. “I don’t believe in tricking anyone,” he says. “I really hate to obtain confessions. I don’t want to see anybody do anything wrong. I think the best advice I ever got came a long time ago from an old boss of mine in the police department. He told me to go make something happen.”
SINCE THE DAY he turned 5, Michael Grimes, 37, says he knew he wanted to be a cop. His grandfather and father were both New York City cops, so it came as no surprise that after graduating from St. John’s University, Grimes enrolled in the New York City Police Academy.
After only two years on the New York police force, Grimes was hired by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), where for 13 years he worked as a government narcotics agent. Grimes was the lead DEA agent in the highly successful narcotics trafficking case against Denton rancher-businessman Rex Cauble. He also spent 18 months in Mexico, Australia and the Caribbean tracking the activities of a money-laundering cocaine operation headed by Harold Oldham, a convicted felon who testified before a U.S. Senate subcommittee investigating narcotics money-laundering.
Grimes says he left the DEA and formed Michael Grimes & Associates because he liked Dallas and wanted to avoid an inevitable reassignment in either Miami, New York or Los Angeles. So, he and two other federal agents last year decided to work together in the private sector. Recently, he’s investigated commercial theft and embezzlement, corporate background checks, insurance claims and large burglaries, and has even participated behind the scenes in the highly publicized child abuse probe of the La Petite child-care facility. In his spare time Grimes is pursuing a Ph.D. at the University of Texas at Dallas.
Grimes says he has been pleasantly surprised to discover that interviews tend to be easier without a badge. “People tend to clam-up when you tell them you’re a special agent. They’re more willing to talk when you don’t have to read them their rights before conducting an interview.”
Yet, he says he’ll steer clear of participating in any criminal investigations for defense attorneys. “I just don’t have the temperament for defense work,” Grimes says. “In my opinion, most of the people charged with a crime are guilty. I spent too many years putting people in jail. I’d rather hang ’em than help ’em.”
AT 38, Robert Sadler is still the kid around the office. He shares office space with Jim Abbott, a former special-agent-in-charge of the Dallas FBI office; Jim Carey, a former special-agent-in-charge of the Dallas office of the U.S. Alcohol, Tobbaco and Firearms; and McCaghren.
Not bad company for a former Dallas Police Department patrolman who worked his way up the ladder to become the department’s first central division crime analyst. He’s only been in the PI business for five years. But those who have seen him work say Sadler is a good example of the PI of the future: the slick, suave character who works mostly in a three-piece suit.
While he was a police officer, Sadler and his partner, Tom Covington, spent months tracking the infamous “friendly rapist,” a man whom police believe committed some 80 or 90 burglaries and rapes in Dallas until he was captured in 1977. It was Sadler’s and Covington’s behind-the-scenes crime analysis that helped launch a stakeout that led to the rapist’s capture.
Most of Sadler’s clients are corporate, which he prefers to the more adventurous cases. “I don’t work with people I can’t control,” he says. “I don’t get into fistfights or shootouts, and I don’t get the girls.”
Unlike many of his peers, Sadler, who is vice-president of the North Texas Association of Private Investigators, believes television has been good for the image of the private investigator. “It’s glamorized our profession and given us a sort of mystique. That results in more of an openness toward private investigators, which makes people a lot more friendly when we talk with them.”
“A good private investigator has the curiosity of a cat, the tenacity of a bull, the imagination of Lewis Carroll and the balls of a brass monkey.”-the private investigators’ credo