“My Son Is Missing” by Colleen Collins & Shaun Kaufman. How to Write a Dick: A Guide for Writing Fictional Sleuths from a Couple of Real-Life Sleuths, available on Kindle
Thank you for hosting us today at Defrosting Cold Cases. We are a husband and wife investigative team who own Highlands Investigations & Legal Services, Inc. in Denver, Colorado. One of us is a former trial attorney, so it’s probably no surprise we specialize in legal investigations.
We occasionally get a cold case, which we define as one law enforcement has closed after not finding evidence or solving it. One cold case that haunted us for months was a missing young man who we found living in a cult.
It started with a phone call from the mother nearly three years ago…
“My son has been missing for over a month. The police have no leads. Can you help me find him?”
We were deeply moved by the mother’s story. She had helped her son move across the country to our state to attend college. He was a shy boy, didn’t easily make friends, but after several months it had seemed he was gradually adjusting to the new city and school.
Then he started telling his mother about a mysterious figure who called himself “Silver Puma” (the real name has been changed for this story). The son told his mother that Silver Puma was teaching him more than he could ever learn at college. Within weeks, he dropped out of college and moved into a community with Silver Puma, although he was evasive about its whereabouts. He announced he would no longer refer to her as his “mother” but would instead call her his “friend” as the community was now his real family.
Then he stopped responding to her phone calls. Letters went unanswered. She contacted the sheriff’s office for that region, but they weren’t aware of anyone by the name Silver Puma. She hired a PI who charged several thousand dollars and did little more than run a database report that contained no helpful information. Another PI recommended she call our agency.
By the time the mother contacted us, she was distraught and frantic. A credit card she had provided him had been run to its limit. Its charges showed that he was apparently paying for moving expenses and lodging for himself and others.
Over the following weeks, we dug for information, piecing together nuggets of information. Our investigations included Internet and database research, cold calls to possible contacts, and after we pinpointed a possible former address, interviews with those neighbors. After learning he once dated a waitress who worked in a brewery in a small nearby town, we contacted the brewery. Although the former girlfriend no longer worked there, we found a waitress who remembered him. She gave us a key piece of information: he had once worked as a sales rep for a type of beverage although she forgot the company name.
We started calling every beverage company in the region that manufactured that type of beverage, and eventually we found a former employer. Unfortunately, she’d paid him under the table and only knew him as Silver Puma, but she recalled another company he’d worked at. We contacted that company and through a manager, finally learned Silver Puma’s real name.
Researching his name, we learned he’d had several monikers like Silver Puma, that he was in his mid-forties, that he was not a U.S. citizen, and that he had a history of living with groups of young people who apparently worked menial jobs to support themselves and him. We uncovered a criminal history that included assault charges. We found a former landlord who’d rented a home several years before Silver Puma and some people. Although he seemed “nice enough” at first, neighbors were soon complaining about loud chanting and drumming at all hours from the house. Whenever she visited the residence, they refused her entry. She thought the tenants, some of whom appeared to be teenagers, acted oddly as though drugged. After evicting them, she was alarmed to find the inner walls of the house blackened with soot as though they’d regularly lighted fires indoors.
By this point, we believed we were dealing with a cult.
Eventually, we tracked Silver Puma to an address in another state, confirmed the son was living there and looking fit, then researched a competent PI in that state to take over the case. We had accomplished our goal: we’d found the son. Unfortunately, he didn’t want to leave the cult.
Fast forward several years. A few months ago, out of the blue, the mother called and told us her son had been back home for several months. We were thrilled to hear this news. She also told us other parents whose children were still in the cult were appearing on a prominent talk show host’s program the next day and thought we might want to watch it. She wasn’t telling her son about the show, however, because she didn’t want to upset him.
We watched the program. Sadly, we recognized a photo of another young man as it flashed on the TV screen. We had learned about him in the course of our own investigation, although we’d never learned his name. This boy’s mother looked at the camera, her face strained with worry, begging her son to please come home.
As of this writing, we’ve seen there have been many newspaper and television stations in the region where this cult is located, broadcasting stories about Silver Puma and the suspected cult activities. Parents whose children are in this cult have banded together, are telling their stories to the media, and hopefully the cult can be disbanded and other young people will soon return home.
Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman are co-owners of Highlands Investigations in Denver, Colorado. Their ebook How to Write a Dick: A Guide for Writing Fictional Sleuths from a Couple of Real-Life Sleuths is available on Kindle.
The private eye genre has come a long way, baby, with new subgenres – from teenage PIs to vampire gumshoes to geriatric sleuths – attracting new readers every year. Although it can be safely said that all fictional sleuths, such as Edgar Allan Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin and Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski, are thinking machines, depending on their powers of observation, analysis and curiosity, the 21st century has opened up a brave new world of investigative technology, tools and Internet resources that would have made Sherlock Holmes weep with joy.
Unfortunately, most writers are not aware of these state-of-the-art developments that shape today’s professional private dick, which sometimes leave writers floundering with impossible and antiquated devices, characters and methods in stories. Which is why we wrote How to Write a Dick: A Guide for Writing Fictional Sleuths from a Couple of Real-Life Sleuths, whose material we culled from our working a combined 14 years as private investigators (and for one of us, a former lawyer, several decades hiring, training and managing private investigators). As a team, we have taught online classes and presented workshops at writers’ conferences about writing private investigators, and we write the blog Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes on a variety of investigative topics.
How to Write a Dick isn’t about how to write a novel, but what you need to know to write an authentic, compelling 21st-century sleuth character or story.
For the 2011 Book Blog Tour Schedule, Book Excerpts, and Investigative blog posts, click here.
Colleen Collins is a PI by day, a multi-published author by night. She is co-owner of Highlands Investigations in Denver, Colorado, where she specializes in witness locates and interviews, surveillance and infidelity investigations. Her articles have appeared on various Internet sites as well as in PI Magazine, USA Today, Cosmopolitan, PInow.com and other publications. She is an active member of the Private Eye Writers of America and the Mystery Writers of America. Along with a background as a technical writer and editor developing non-fiction publications, she has also written 20 novels for both Harlequin and Dorchester. Several of her novels have placed in the finals for national competitions, including the prestigious Holt Medallion and RITA awards.
Shaun Kaufman, co-owner of Highlands Investigations, has worked in and around the criminal justice field for more than 30 years, as a former trial attorney and a current legal investigator. He has published articles in PI Magazine, the Denver Law Review, as well as authored many briefs for the Colorado Court of Appeals, Colorado Supreme Court and the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. In his former career, Shaun has hired and managed private investigators, training them on such issues as ethics, death penalty litigation, homicide and gang evidence, and search and seizure techniques.
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