Private Investigators And Crime Scene Investigations, Part II

Updated April 10, 2018

Welcome to the second part of "Private Investigations and Crime Scene Investigations," based on a series of classes my husband and I taught for Kiss of Death, the mystery-suspense arm of the Romance Writers of America. It's also timely as this past week we returned to investigate a crime scene for an attempted homicide charge that involved multiple vehicles. The incident occurred several months ago, yet we found physical evidence (pieces of broken parts that matched the vehicles involved) in an area not mentioned in the police report. 

As explained in the first class, PIs typically investigate crime scenes after law enforcement/others have finished their investigations and re-opened the area, returning it to everyday use.

Now, let's kick off class II with the question...

After Police Have Completed a Crime Scene Investigation, What Might a PI Do?

A PI might be called on to visit, photograph and document a crime scene after the police have processed the crime scene. During this visit, the PI might look for evidence not found/collected by the police in their work-up. Your fictional PI could easily be at the scene to look for “things not done” by the police, which is a fruitful area for defense lawyers in criminal cases to exploit when critiquing the government’s case in trial.

Tire marks (image in public domain, attribution Robert Kroft)

Tire marks (image in public domain, attribution Robert Kroft)

In one of our experiences, we re-visited the scene of an attempted vehicular assault at least a month after it occurred (btw, this is a different case from the one mentioned above). What evidence did we gather weeks after the event? For starters, the tire marks were still clearly seen on the pavement -- we photographed these marks for the attorney. We also measured the area where a complex set of vehicular maneuvers were alleged to have occurred. Additionally, we videotaped the pattern of vehicular travel at the exact speeds alleged by the police.

When Police Don’t Want to Process a Crime Scene, What Might a PI Be Asked to Do?

There are many instances where the police don’t perform testing or otherwise process an entire crime scene because to do so doesn’t help their side of the case. To be fair, the police may feel that they’ve gathered enough evidence (by perhaps taking witness statements).

In such scenarios, criminal defendants often complain because the police didn’t perform a certain test or search an area. It is an old axiom of criminal law that the police have no duty to gather evidence helpful to an accused. This often results in criminal defense attorneys retaining a PI to perform crime scene testing so as to gather the evidence omitted by the police.

Following up with an example, our agency was once retained to find slugs from bullets fired as warning shots in the general direction of, but not directly at, a couple who claimed they were the victims of attempted first-degree murder (which requires a substantial step toward a deliberate and premeditated homicidal act). If found guilty, our client faced a possible 48-year prison sentence.

According to the accused (our client), the bullets would be located on a portion of his 886-acre ranch where it would have been impossible for him to aim at the “victims” and have the slugs land. As the sheriff's office had done a cursory, on-foot search of the ranch land for these four .357 slugs, we decided to do a more in-depth search, using metal detectors. By the way, the sheriff’s office did not own a metal detector.

Meanwhile, our client was being held in a local jail in lieu of $300,000 bail.

Using our client’s characterization of the trajectory of the bullets and factoring in the nature of the load, we were able to map out a possible area approximately a half-mile from where the incident occurred. Braving cold winds, an unusually large amount of scrap metal in the ground (which kept setting off the metal detectors), and burrs that came up through the soles of our shoes, we burned approximately 24 man hours before locating the four slugs.

The first slug we found

The first slug we found

When we found that first slug, we whooped and hollered like a couple of miners who'd just hit gold. Our client's mother, who was staying at the ranch to watch over her grandkids, heard our yells and came running across the fields to us, crying as she knew our happy yells could only mean one thing: We had found the evidence that proved her son was innocent.

After the slugs were found, we carefully photographed the site. The slugs were then shipped in evidence bags to the police, where ballistic experts matched the slugs to the firearm seized from our client on the night he was arrested.

In this example, because of the evidence obtained by PIs (several months after law enforcement had finished processing the crime scene) the D.A. reduced the charges and our client was released (on Christmas Eve, after spending over three months in jail). You can imagine how meaningful that Christmas was for his family.

Postscript: A few months later, the rancher called, said he'd like to do something special for us. He visited our home and checked our roof, water heater and fence, looking for something to repair. There wasn't anything that needing fixing, but the visit was a heartwarming reunion. Soon after, he sold his ranch and moved back to his hometown in another state so he and his kids could be near the rest of their family.

This wraps up class 2.

In the next class we cover the basics of homicide investigations, from key tasks covered by law enforcement, to an overview on estimating time of death, to how a PI might be called upon to aid in a homicide investigation. We also describe a case when a criminal defense lawyer retained us to investigate a former homicide scene, and what we learned.

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins. Any use of this content requires specific, written authority.

Book Giveaways, Crime Chats and Who's Emma Peel?


Book Giveaway: Sleepless in Las Vegas

Goodreads Contest Now Closed

Thank you to the 691 readers who entered the contest!  Twelve winners' copies are being mailed November 27.


My December release, Sleepless in Las Vegas, is the second book in the private-eye-romance series, and is available in print and e-versions.  To order your copy, click here.

I generally don’t read Harlequin books but I’m glad I set aside my bias of romance type novels because Sleepless in Las Vegas is so much more...a lot of intrigue, action, romance and excitement happening here and you’re not going to want to put the book down until you get to the end. To say that I enjoyed it immensely would be an understatement.
— Carlana Charles, book reviewer,
Absolutely delightful! As a straight romance, I found this book to be well done and thoroughly enjoyable...What made me love this [book] is that this is it is wrapped up in a great detective story. Want something more than a love story? Read this!
— Leti Del Mar, Words with Leti Del Mar

Chatting About Crime

Today my husband and I were guests of Alice de Sturler on #crimechat. Alice is a former human rights defender, educator and owner of the Defrosting Cold Cases blog. Below is an excerpt from Alice's recap on the chat, with a link to the full article at the end.

Sorry about the mishmash of green and white backgrounds -- had a little trouble cutting and pasting.

Alice de Sturler, owner  Defrosting Cold Cases

Alice de Sturler, owner Defrosting Cold Cases

Recap #CrimeChat Oct 25, 2013


Recap #CrimeChat Oct 25, 2013 with Shaun Kaufman &Colleen Collins a.k.a. the Writing PIs. It is always a pleasure to talk to these two. There are always new stories, new books they are working on, and they have a great sense of humour.

While Shaun was driving home from court, Colleen and I started off with a post I found really informative. It is about the difference between private investigators and bounty hunters. Many confuse the two. Both track people, conduct interviews, and have contact with suspects. However, they are governed by different sets of regulations.

Colleen told us that she got great reactions to her latest book “Secrets of a real life female private eye” including the comments that some younger readers did not know Emma Peel. I can still laugh about the differences in generations. As soon as that changes, I will alert you!

Shaun arrived and we spoke about the difficulties a criminal defense lawyer faces. Shaun described how law school taught him about procedure but absolutely nothing about criminal defense. He owes that to Walter Gerash.

We touched on the “chess coach case” which sadly involved child abuse. I asked them how they handle cases like this. How do you shake those images after cataloging the evidence and DNA test results? How do you move on from that? They both said that the only way to do that is to remain steadfast in the believe that the defense is about defending the system of checks & balances and not the deed.

End of excerpt.  To read the full recap, click here

Who Is Emma Peel? 

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Photo credit: Wikipedia

As Alice mentioned in her above recap, there are those in the younger generation who have no idea who Emma Peel is. No idea?  Sadly, it's true. It's also a reminder that yes, we baby boomers are getting older.

Uma Thurman recreated the role of Emma Peel in the 1998 movie The Avengers, which earned a rousing 1 star from Rotten Tomatoes.   Well, really, could any actress other than Diana Rigg be Mrs. Peel?  Yes, yes, fellow baby boomers, I know there were other actresses who tried.  Honor Blackman, who preceded Diana Rigg in the series and later played Pussy Galore in Goldfinger, and Linda Thorson who came after Diana Rigg.  But let's get real.  Diana Rigg was the Emma Peel.

Here's an article on the 50th anniversary of The Avengers TV series, written by a fellow baby boomer: Classic 1960s Brit TV series "The Avengers" turns 50

Before I sign off today's post, I'll leave the recipe for the Emma Peel Cocktail.


Emma Peel Cocktail

Sweet and tart with a kick, like its namesake, this drink is a mix of fruits and champagne.

The Emma Peel

1 measure cherry brandy
1  measure pineapple juice
Top it off with champagne







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