A change of unform from the Sheriff’s Department
West Coast Detectives International is now one hundred years old. Founded in 1922, and within those one hundred years, a lot has happened to WCDI and the world. King Solomon said, “So there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one might say, “See this, it is new”? It has already existed for ages which were before us.” And while change does happen all around us, some things never change, such as a client needing investigative help 100 years ago, 50 years ago, or today. The needs are the same. Helping people has been the number one focus for WCDI these past one hundred years and will always be our number one focus.
I cannot remember how many times I have been asked about the types of cases that I have worked on. How exciting it must be to be a P.I. Well, I can say that after 200,000 or so cases in our history, we have had some interesting, exciting, crazy, and heart-breaking cases.
After a recent conversation, it was mentioned that I should share case stories, some of our history, from some of our more interesting case files. Why not, I thought, it would be fun to go through our archives and share cases and some of the “old-school” investigative techniques used before the Internet.
Here we go.
Case 1: Murder for Millions
Los Angeles, California
A call came in from Dallas, Texas. The President of an insurance company informed me that a man, a policyholder with a multimillion-dollar payout, was found dead in our area, Ventura County. He asked if I could meet with him at their headquarters in Dallas and retain our services.
Within 48-hours, I was in a meeting gathering all the facts and victim information. A few hours later, I was on a flight back to L.A. with a briefcase full of documents and a retainer check.
I contacted the local Sheriffs office and spoke with the two detectives assigned to the case. I informed them on what background information I currently had on the victim and that I was headed to Washington State to gather more information and build a profile. We shared our contact information and agreed to keep each other updated. I also found out that the victim was shot in the head with what looked to be a 22 slug. The autopsy confirmed that the bullet was not there. Victim Information (Name changed for privacy issues):
The victim, John Jones, was a successful businessman from the Northwest who traveled to Los Angeles regularly. We soon discovered that the life Mr. Jones lived in Washington State was polar opposite of the life he led in L.A.
- Washington: Mr. Jones was married, a family man who was active in his church.
- A.: Mr. Jones had a flashy younger girlfriend and loved the nightlife.
Upon our learning the girlfriend’s name, I sent some of our investigators out to the streets of L.A., asking around and checking out the clubs they frequented. At first, we could not find anyone who knew them or offered any new leads or tips.
You’ve heard the saying, “It’s always darkest before the dawn,” for us, it was dead ends before the big tip or hot lead. By chance, we found a former friend of the girlfriend who was more than willing to provide us with her name and address. She was a eureka moment in the investigation for us.
We notified the sheriff’s detectives and set up twenty-four-hour surveillance on the subject’s residence. Our objective was now to confirm the I.D. of the subject and see where she went and who she was associating with.
While my investigators watched the girlfriend, I met with the detectives in their office. They had discovered similar M.O.’s in other unsolved murder cases. Male victims with large life insurance payouts after the policy had been recently taken out. The detectives believe that it was part of an organized crime operation. The FBI, LAPD, LASO, and the Texas Rangers all had similar open cases that they were investigating. The detectives also informed me that their department did not have the budget to handle a multi-state investigative operation. I asked them if I could use their phone, and I made a call to my client.
After updating the client, they agreed to underwrite the task force’s cost. The cost of the investigation versus the policy payout would save them millions. It was a risk worth them taking.
Within a week, I and agents and officers from the various jurisdictions were sitting in a hotel room in Ventura County reviewing timelines, sharing information, and strategizing as tasks were assigned to each agency. I continued working with the same detectives from Ventura County.
Police officers, especially homicide detectives, regularly see the brutality of humankind. They often develop a thick skin or what some outsiders would call callousness or a dark sense of humor. The two detectives I was working with had developed a close friendship and often joked with each other. I was surprised that it was often light-hearted humor and not the other type. I recall when we all flew to Dallas as part of the investigation, and after arriving at the airport, one of the detectives jumped into a wheelchair as the other pushed him wildly through the airport. It was a wild Code 3 wheelchair response. You couldn’t help but laugh at the two kids; I mean homicide detectives as they ripped through the airport.
After the task force began its investigation, on one occasion I flew into San Antonio, and upon my arrival at the airport, I was discreetly met by some Texas Rangers. They asked me if I had noticed the beautiful blonde woman that was on my flight. Of course, I thought to myself; everyone noticed her. I casually responded that I was aware of her. They informed me that she was working with the “bad guys,” and she was sent to follow me. My thoughts quickly went to my family back in California and their safety. I quickly realized that although I was living and working in the heart of the T.V. and moviemaking industry, this was no T.V. show or movie. This was real life, and I needed to be very careful.
In case you haven’t realized yet, this investigation took place in the 1970s, before the Internet and being able to conduct a background from your office computer. Obtain a person’s I.D. information, current and historical addresses, telephones, court records, financial history, etc. While there are restrictions on what can be accessed today, in the 70s, every investigation was worked by hand or more accurately, by foot. The P.I. world has evolved with the technological developments, but a case of this type still requires fieldwork and boots on the ground.
Our investigators hit the streets, following up on leads as our investigation continued. With the information that we were gathering along with the task force, we connected the dots to the organized crime ring to a string of murders. We identified bodies and victims from Mexico to Panama and across the U.S.
A break in the case came when we identified a prime suspect and the gun we believed was used in our murder and many others. But we still had one essential missing part, a body with the bullet still in it that we could match.
Maybe the big break was here. We received a call about a body in Mexico that had been sent back to the states for burial. Everything about this death matched our investigation, so one of our law enforcement partners quickly obtained a court order to exhume the body. We grew excited with anticipation that we finally would be able to have the evidence to make an arrest and stop these murderers.
When the casket arrived at the coroner’s office, there were representatives from every jurisdiction of the task force, including myself, inside a private room. We all positioned ourselves around the casket as the attendants began opening it. It felt like an eternity. As the lid was raised open, we all gasped as we could not believe our eyes. The body was there, but one part was missing, the part with the bullet, the head. Someone in Mexico had beaten us to the evidence. As disappointed as we were, we were not defeated. We got back to work and on the streets while law enforcement did their part.
As our investigation unfolded, we learned that Mr. Jones had severe money needs. As the story went, his girlfriend set him up with some money people, and they had a business opportunity for him. Part of this opportunity required that a key man’s life insurance policy be opened on him, and he would need to provide some “good faith” up-front money. Mr. Jones would fly into L.A. to meet the money person, give the money, and sign the papers.
Mr. Jones did receive a call from the money person, and a meeting was arranged. The victim would fly into Los Angeles International Airport for the meeting. The victim did have one question for the money person, “how will I recognize you?” Mr. Jones was informed that this wasn’t a problem and knew what he looked like. Unfortunately, this did not raise a warning in Mr. Jones’ mind.
After over three years of investigative casework being open through all the investigative work, we were able to identify the ringleader of the organization. We uncovered the money person who met Mr. Jones and the other victims. We learned that every victim was told the same story about the money-making opportunity and that a life insurance policy was needed to protect them. The ghoulish part was that each victim was paying for their murder. The up-front money was handed directly to the hitman, so there was no connection between the crime ring and the hitman.
Our investigation also found the travel schedule and flight information for the hitman. We confirmed he was on flights into LAX and other cities where the murders occurred.
When Mr. Jones met the money person/hitman, they left in a vehicle together, and the money was given to the hitman. Somewhere along the drive from LAX to Ventura County, Mr. Jones was shot in the back of his head with a .22 slug. And his body was dumped off the side of a hill. The hitman then returned to LAX, bordered a plane, and left the state. He was in Los Angeles for less than 12 hours.
As I previously mentioned, we identified the ringleader, and when he was interviewed on his deathbed, he confessed to his involvement in the murders.
Hollywood has traditionally depicted an adversarial relationship between private investigators and the police. Where law enforcement refuses to work with P.I.’s, while this can happen, at WCDI, we have always had a good relationship with law enforcement. We understand that we can assist and provide services to benefit their work. And in the end, the community benefits as well.
Until next time be safe.