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    • Continuing the conversation from yesterday:

      I was fortunate enough to receive an advance copy of another upcoming book in the MASTERS AT WORK series, Becoming A Private Investigator by Howie Kahn, set to be released on May 7, 2019. You may be familiar with Howie's work from his contributions to Details, GQ, O, The Oprah Magazine, WSJ, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The New York Times Magazine, Men's Journal, Departures, Travel + Leisure, Food & Wine, and more - so this is a new addition.

      If you enjoy true crime podcasts, binge-able docuseries about cold cases, or even the entire Investigation Discovery channel of programming, you may think that becoming a Private Investigator would be an exciting career. But what's fascinating about the MASTERS AT WORK series is that it goes into showing you the nuts and bolts details of what it takes to become a master Private Investigator, what their day-to-day lives may be, and what the actual career entails.

    • Our views of the field of private investigation are heavily skewed thanks to years of movies, radio serials, comics, tv shows, and more.

      Howie writes:

      "According to the US Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, 41,400 private investigators were working in the US in 2016 with a projected occupational growth rate of 11 percent by 2026. Seven percent is the average occupational growth rate for jobs here, so the number of PIs in America, accordingly the BLS, is growing 'faster than average.' That may be because of the dying nature of privacy itself. As social media has made it easier than ever to take account of the lives of others, more people spend at least some part of their day investigating somebody else in a casual way. A desire to professionalize that behavior with greater frequency seems inevitable in our burgeoning surveillance society... in talking with more than a dozen private investigators, each one emphasized behabilitating the image of their profession. There's concern, industry-wide, that there's too much confusion between their actual work and that belonging to hard-boiled detective characters from TV, on film or in literature."

      So if it's not all outrageous action, what does the realistic day-to-day look like?

    • The very first PI is said to be from the 18th century: Eugène François Vidocq, "a French criminal turned criminalist whose life story inspired several writers, including Victor Hugo, Edgar Allan Poe, and Honoré de Balzac."

      From these beginnings, Howie traces the history of the detective field to Allan Pinkerton, founder of the Pinkerton Detective Agency, which saved Abraham Lincoln from an assassination attempt, hired the first female PI, and still exists today.

      If you want to follow in these fabled footsteps, Howie cautions that:

      "Gumption, tech savvy and a high IQ aren't the only credentials needed to become a PI. Private Investigators have rules to follow and standards to meet. For the most part in America, states set the guidelines for who can be a PI and who cannot. Forty-five of our states have statewide licensing requirements. Idaho, Mississippi, and South Dakota all have private professional associations for PIs with their own bylaws. The Alaskan cities of Anchorage and Fairbanks have city-mandated requirements for PIs as does the city of Cheyenne, Wyoming, where statewide licensing doesn't exist."

      But provided you do get your approved licensing and credentials, "the scope of available work is immediately huge. Broadly, the job permits you to investigate pretty much anything on behalf of a client (within the scope of legal behavior). That may mean tracking down a serial killer or a fraud. It may mean conducting background checks on search engines not accessible to the public or surveilling cheaters, kidnappers, people running for office, or candidates for high-profile jobs. Collecting accurate, relevant information is the aim. While reporting this book a number of PIS expressed their belief to me that there are no real secrets anymore. There's only the time it takes to pry lips and information loose."

    • The most important element to being a successful PI is being tenacious. Howie writes "The PIs in this book believe justice isn't a given. Justice is the result of tenacity, pressuring public officials, continuous public outrage, and asking the right sources the right questions at exactly the right time. Collectively, these PIs also believe that they're the last line of defense for the vulnerable."

      That willingness to be there for those who are trying to make sense of a difficult situation, grieving or afraid that they've lost a loved one forever, means that a PI may be their last line of hope, and they take on a huge emotional component of the cases they work. "Unlike cops or feds who will ultimately have to move on to their next case, PIS can work a single case for as long as they agree to and for as long as their clients remain satisfied with their efforts. The best PIs take on their clients' ghosts as their own."

      Thus, the book profiles a master Private Investigator: Sheila Wysocki.

      The sudden and brutal murder of her best friend in college Angie Samota in 1984 stunned Sheila; while she went on to work in other careers and raise a family, she couldn't shake the incident from her mind and wanted to find justice for Angie. Sheila felt prompted by a "God nod" to reach out to the cold case division in Dallas, and to begin calling for months, then years, to try to find out what happened in Angie's case. As Sheila continued to follow up, her head of neighborhood security in Nashville, J.D. Skinner, encouraged her to become a private investigator there, figuring that "if she passed, Wysocki would have the kind of license Skinner figured the Dallas police would take seriously." Unsurprisingly, the brilliant and determined Sheila passed, she began learning surveillance, developing interview techniques, and building up her case file and experiences. She "began research on all unsolved murders in the Dallas area starting around the time of Angie's in 1984 and ranging through the next two decades." In 2008, the Dallas Police Department created their cold case devision and were starting to use DNA: later in 2008, Sheila got contacted by Linda Crum from the (new!) cold case division at the Dallas Police Department, and finally was starting to hear the gears moving forward in finding answers. She finally got the answer she needed.

      Sheila's story is contrasted with that of another master PI, Mark Gillespie of Austin, Texas.

      Howie profiles his extensive background with years of service, dedication, and then delves into a case of that Mark worked on that's so sensitive in nature that all the details are anonymized. You'll have to read it for yourself - no spoilers here!

    • The book goes through so many different facets of what's entailed in the world of Private Investigation, but fascinatingly at the end profiles Sheila Wysocki's attendance and participation in an event called CrimeCon. From their official event website:

      True Crime is so much more than murder recreations and dramatic courtroom showdowns. This genre is rich with real-life stories of triumph and tragedy; heartbreak and heroism. It runs the gamut from the criminal mind, to the criminal act, to the criminal justice system leaping into action. It’s about psychology, victimology, and methodology. It covers seemingly unrelated disciplines as wide-ranging as science, art, and history. And it’s always changing, evolving, and mirroring what is happening in society at large. And that is where CrimeCon comes in. From the latest cases to the latest scientific techniques. From the newest TV shows and docs to the best podcasts in the world. And from deep-dives into topics you didn’t even know existed to big ballroom sessions with personalities you watch every week—CrimeCon is the platform that delivers it all. Our events are equal parts education and experience. We work hard to curate a wide-ranging program that has something for everyone and that combines hands-on learning with plenty of chances to have fun meeting
      speakers, podcasters, and other fans.  Despite that, hardly a day goes by that our team doesn’t think about the fact that the things we cover often involve the worst day of someone’s life. Respect for victims, families, and law enforcement is always at the
      forefront of everything we do.  We’ve been humbled by the reaction to CrimeCon so far. We hope to bring our events to more cities so that even more fans of this dynamic genre will
      have a chance to experience all that true crime has to offer.

      This hugely popular event launched in 2017 "brings together all the facets of true crime entertainment and crime solving, from justice-seeking, televised rating machines like Nancy Grace to authors of novels and memoirs to podcasters who host shows like Martinis & Murder and Wine & Crime with collective listenership climbing into the millions."

      What brings Sheila to the event? She's there to help a grieving family find justice for their loved one. "Wysocki is hoping to use her platform here to help find out what happened to the children of two families who have hired her to investigate their deaths. The podcast that landed Wysocki on Podcast Row, like her investigation agency, is called Without Warning."

      In effect, Sheila is hoping to crowdsource a case, "deputizing a much larger crime-solving team than she ever could have before, not unlike what a hotel marketing executive named John Walsh did with America's Most Wanted, the 1988 television show he created to hunt down criminals after the murder of his six-year-old son Adam."

      Sheila's plan for this specific event is to divide her crowd of attendees at CrimeCon into small groups which will be guided through different pieces of a 2014 death case of a young man. I won't spoil the case details for you, or the details which are disclosed throughout the book, but it's a compelling story and you'll be rooting for Wysocki and her deputized team to find answers.

      This particular installment in the MASTERS AT WORK series is a very grounded, pragmatic description of what's a glamorized profession. I highly recommend it, if only to gain appreciation for individuals like Sheila and Mark who work so hard to answer tough questions and support grieving families.

    • Fun fact: When I first went to college, I'd read Dean Koontz's novel Servants of Twilight and foolishly thought the life of a P.I. sounded glamorous. I went to a Community College for Liberal Arts and started studying to be a police officer, but quickly realized I was definitely NOT suited for that line of work. It kinda followed the trope of my youth. Watch Indiana Jones. 'I want to be an Archaeologist.' Watch Jurassic Park. 'I want to be a Paleontologist.' Watch The Maltese Falcon and read Dean Koontz novels. 'I want to be a Private Investigator.' I slowly realized I just wanted to work on movies/tv.