When the average person thinks of a private investigator, it is tempting to immediately picture the stereotypical white male in a long mac and trilby hat, peering over a newspaper to spy on the subject of his investigation. However, the industry is much more complicated than that, and nowadays Private Detectives work with the organisations responsible for the administration of justice, as well as individuals. In their most simple form, they are paid ‘fact gatherers’, but they can be involved in a number of sectors and work on both criminal and domestic cases:
- Criminal Defence cases and seeking out evidence in support of defendants.
- Informant work on behalf of the Police.
- Infiltration of investigated parties.
- The investigation of infidelity by spouses, particularly in countries where there isn’t an established ‘no-fault divorce’ rule.
- The investigation of improper business practices.
- The investigation of cases of embezzlement, or situation where individuals are withholding money from associates improperly.
- The tracing of missing people.
- Tracking down absconded debtors.
- Providing background checks on employees for firms.
- Professional witness work, which typically involves agents purposely situating themselves to observe key events with a view to testifying.
This list is extensive, but not exhaustive, and private investigation is a complex and nuanced industry, with different agencies often specializing in one particular aspect of investigation. Techniques have become increasingly sophisticated, particularly with regard to technology.
Investigative measures nowadays will inevitably include some level of internet research, with the monitoring of social media, blogging and other activity crucial to building a profile of a case. Bugging, tapping and other methods typically associated with espionage are also common techniques, along with the infiltration of business and social circles. The modern day Sherlock Holmes would undoubtedly spend much of his time buried in a laptop or mobile phone.
Famous Private Investigators
Private Investigators have long been a fascinating subject for many great writers, and many fictional examples have entered into the general public consciousness as a consequence. The list of famous PIs extends beyond Sherlock Holmes and his deerstalker hat, to Agatha Christie’s characters Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot through to the Feluda, a detective made famous in a series of Bengali novels.
Less examples of famous real life detectives are well known by a wider audience. Private Investigators by their very nature, perform their work in a way which ensures it frequently goes unnoticed or unheralded. However, there are a few notable individuals who have crossed the boundary from private eye to public eye, usually because of appearances in the media or because they have gained some form of notoriety. The vast majority of private investigators, however, go unnoticed despite performing some extremely important work. This is one sector, in which the fictional characters are typically more famous than the real life examples.
Famous Private Investigators in Real Life
Daniel Ribacoff – A private investigator who specializes in lie detector (or ‘polygraph’) analysis, Ribacoff has become famous for his regular appearances on The Steve Wilkos Show in the United States, although he also boasts a number of other TV credits to his name. Ribacoff’s lie detector tests are used as part of investigations into serious crimes like child molestation, assault, rape and even murder, as well as domestic issues like infidelity. He maintains an office for his PI agency in Oceanside, New York
Rick Crouch – Became known as a ‘PI to the Stars’ following his work with well-known celebrities in the United States. He was typically employed by attorneys rather than the famous folk themselves, but one way or another has helped with investigations on behalf of Michael Jackson, actress Winona Ryder, R&B singer Chris Brown and Robyn Astaire (wife of Fred) among many others. He established a company that operated as bounty hunters and assisted the FBI in a number of cases, before returning to his native South Africa where he became a politician.
Anthony Pellicano – Another Investigator famed for his work with celebrities, Pellicano’s story has a rather less wholesome ending than Crouch’s. He gained a reputation in Los Angeles for helping famous faces solve problems with the tabloid press, but was later convicted of more than 100 crimes ranging from racketeering and conspiracy to identity theft, witness tampering and destruction of evidence.
Famous Private Investigators in Fiction
Sherlock Holmes – Probably the most famous Private Investigator of all, Sherlock Holmes was the creation of British author Arthur Conan Doyle and is famous for skills in forensics, logical reasoning and disguise. He featured in a total of four novels and 56 short stories from 1887 onwards. The character has been the subject of numerous movies and TV series following the advent of digital media and is considered a literary icon.
Philip Marlowe – Created by author Raymond Chandler, Philip Marlowe is a sophisticated, pipe smoking chess player who appeared as the main protagonist in a series of novels and short stories. He is known for his charm and classic inquisitive manner, as well as his ability to use alcohol to ‘loosen tongues’.
Feluda – Most fictional private detectives have cropped up in western literature, but Feluda breaks that particular mold. He appears in a series of Bengali novels written by Satyajit Ray. The character first appeared in publish in 1965 and has also featured in several films. Feluda is a strongly built man, adept in martial arts and the use of weaponry, and was typically accompanied by his cousin Tapesh, continuing a long tradition of private investigators and sidekicks, which dates back to Sherlock Holmes’ relationship with Dr Watson.