West Coast Detectives International is now one hundred years old. Founded in 1922 and within those one hundred years a lot has happened both to WCDI and the world in general. 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 type of cases that I have worked. 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.
Los Angeles, California
A call came in from Dallas, Texas. The President of an insurance company informed me that a man, a policy holder with a multimillion-dollar payout was found dead in our area, Ventura County. He asked if I could meet with him in 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 found out that the victim was shot in the head with what look to be a 22 slug and unfortunately the autopsy confirmed that the bullet was not there. 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.
Victim Information (Name changed for privacy issues):
The victim, John Jones was a successful businessman from the Northwest who traveled to Los Angeles regularly. What we soon discovered is that the life Mr. Jones lived in Washington State was polar opposite of the life he led in L.A.
State of Washington: Mr. Jones was married, a family man who was active in his church.
LA.: Mr. Jones had flashy younger girlfriend and loved the nightlife.
Upon our learning the girlfriend’s name, I sent some our investigator’s out to the streets of L.A. asking around, 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,” or in this case 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. This was definitely an eureka moment in the investigation for us.
We notified the case detectives and we set up a twenty-four-hour surveillance on the subject’s residence. Our objective now was to confirm the ID of the subject and see where she went and who she was associating with.
While my investigators were watching the girlfriend, I met with the detectives in their office. They had discovered similar MO’s on 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 and that the FBI, LAPD, LASO, and the Texas Rangers all had similar open cases that they were investigating. I was informed by the detectives that their department did not have the budge to handle an operation of this size, a multi-state investigation. 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 cost of the taskforce. The cost of the investigation verses the policy payout would save them millions. It was a risk worth them taking.
Within a week I along with agents and officers from the various jurisdictions were sitting in a hotel room in Ventura County reviewing timelines, sharing information, 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 mankind. They often develop think skin or what some outsiders would call callousness, or a dark sense of humor. The two detectives I was working with had developed 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 and 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 ripping through the airport.
After the taskforce began it’s investigation, on one occasion I flew to 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, however I casually told them 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 TV and Movie making industry, this was no TV 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 1970’s. Well before the Internet and being able to do obtain a person’s full ID information, addresses, telephones, court records, financial history, and much more. While there are restrictions on what can be accessed today, in the 70’s everything we did was by hand, or more accurately, by foot. The P.I. world has evolved with the technological developments, but a case of this type would still require field work, aka., “Boots on the ground.”
As our investigation continued our investigators continued to hit the streets and following up on leads. 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, 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 as well as many others. But we still had one key missing part, a body with the bullet still in it that we could match.
Maybe the big break came when 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. We grew excited with anticipation that we finally would be able to have the evidence to make as arrest and stop these murders. We obtained a court order to have the body exhumed and we waited.
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 took a collective gasp…yes, 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, we got back on the streets while law enforcement did their part.
As our investigation unfolded, we had learned that Mr. Ones had severe money needs. As the story went, his girlfriend set him up with some money people and they had an opportunity for him. Part of this opportunity required that a key man life insurance policy would need to 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, provide the money, and sign the papers. Mr. Jones received a call from the money person to arrange the meeting in L.A. After making the arrangements, Mr. Jones asked how he would recognize him. He was told not to worry, “I know you.” Unfortunately, this did not raise any questions in Mr. Jones’ mind.
After over a year of 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. What we learned was 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 being handed directly to the hit man so there was no connection to 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 took place.
When Mr. Ones 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. Johns was shot and killed, and his body was dumped off of the side of a hill. The hitman then returned to LAX and boarded a plane and left state. He was in Los Angeles 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. That 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.