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Rammstein
01-04-2012, 04:44 PM
This is set in the USA in 1979. I want my character to hire someone to find information on two people - one adult in his forties who has a pretty distinctive name and a supposed former military career, but not much else is known about him. Someone believes he is from Chicago. The other person is a girl, perhaps 15 years old, whose real name is not known. All we know about her is that she was freed from a Las Vegas luxury brothel by the man already mentioned - but whether or not she really is from Las Vegas, nobody knows.

My MC is in the company of these two, and wants to find out more without them knowing, by hiring someone to do the job. How would the PI go about finding out more, given that he knows only their physical appearance and the information given above? Remember, this is 1979...

I would be extremely grateful for any response, and please ask for more if this isn't enough input!

ironmikezero
01-04-2012, 11:36 PM
In that time frame there were a number of databases available to LE that any good PI may have had "backdoor access" to through personal contacts. Other sources (non-digital hard copies) would have included birth records, school records/yearbooks, military records, arrest records, fingerprint records, DMVs, property transfers (county clerks' offices), mortgage/lease/rental applications, utility records (bills), credit reports, job applications, old phone books, etc.

Just because it wasn't in an easily searched database doesn't mean the information wasn't available; it just took more effort to acquire it.

Drachen Jager
01-05-2012, 12:26 AM
Without real names, DOBs, place of birth etc. all that information is useless ironmike.

For the girl I'd think looking at missing persons databases would be a good start. It would have taken a long time in 1979 though, flipping through pages of photographs. Naturally he'd start with Las Vegas and work outward from there.

For the military guy if the PI can access military records (doubtful, unless he has a very strong connection) he'd just scan through records of men about the right age looking at the photos. It could take a very long time that way though, I'd imagine the PI would take some assistance there. If he didn't have access to the military records there wouldn't be much hope on this one.

In both cases it's more about man-hours than any particular skill. The girl would be easiest, if she had been abducted at an age where her face looked similar she'd pop off the missing person records. It would take a while to find her but not too long, depends on whether she's from Vegas, and how long ago the abduction took place.

Buffysquirrel
01-05-2012, 12:44 AM
The best resource your MC has is the people themselves. He can search their stuff for identification, letters, and so on, and also glean information through conversations.

Al Stevens
01-05-2012, 12:45 AM
The PI could scope out the two people's habits, then break into their domiciles when they are known to be elsewhere. He'd look for letters, diaries, photos, yearbooks, old identification cards, and other documents that might provide clues about their identities.

A photo from the past with an identifying sign on a nearby building could give him a place to start looking.

Cassette tapes with handwritten local band's name. Find the band, show them her picture...

If he knows the brothel, he can stake it out and question the patrons, showing her picture around. That alone provides an opportunity for some conflict.

Don't worry about how likely all this is. It's a story. Take it where it needs to go.

Drachen Jager
01-05-2012, 04:29 AM
Don't worry about how likely all this is. It's a story. Take it where it needs to go.

1) I believe that is terrible advice.

2) If he just wanted a half-assed, make-it-up-as-you-go-along answer, he wouldn't be asking the question here.

jclarkdawe
01-05-2012, 04:35 AM
How much money do they have to spend? Or how much time?

However, assuming they have the name on the birth certificate of the guy, and the approximate date of birth (plus or minus ten years is good enough), you probably can find out quite a bit. But you need to remember this is based on working with percentages.

In the US, our population is not very evenly distributed. So you start with the ten most populous states and search the bureau of vital statistics for a birth certificate. You either traveled to those states or hired someone to do it for you. The top ten states for population account for something like 50% of the country's population.

But this is just going to be as much a matter of luck as anything else. You have enough money, you probably find something.

And if he wants to hide, you're probably not going to get anywhere. Centralized data bases were very weak back then. For example, if you got your driver's license suspended in state A, a lot of other states would never know about it. This was about when commercial driving licenses went into existence to remove the problem. A fair number of truck drivers would have three, four, or even more different licenses, all in their name, from different states.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

Al Stevens
01-05-2012, 05:04 AM
2) If he just wanted a half-assed, make-it-up-as-you-go-along answer, he wouldn't be asking the question here.
Sorry, I should have given a full-assed answer. :)

Rammstein
01-05-2012, 02:43 PM
You've been very helpful, thank you all!

I'm beginning to suspect that in the time frame I have in mind, my PI wouldn't be able to get the info required to move the story along. Unless he hired help, of course, but that would still take a long time. This means that I will probably need to divulge a little more information in the story itself. I can extend the period of work to perhaps 3 weeks at the most - what do you think that will do?

Shakesbear
01-05-2012, 03:48 PM
Um ... could you find a PI/police officer who was working in '79 and ask them how they would have done that sort of research? You could contact the senior police officer at your local station, explaining that you are researching for a book and would like to interview someone who was working back then in the area you are interested in and ask how you could go about finding an officer who could help. The SPO may even offer their services.

jclarkdawe
01-05-2012, 06:05 PM
I started searching for missing heirs to real estate back in about 1987. There's a saying among shipwreck hunters that no shipwreck is found before it's ready. Neither is a person.

There's a lot of just grunt work involved here. It takes time to look up things, even if you're finding them. Back then the process was slower because you actually had to go places to do the research. (On the flip side, if you were actually there, and not having luck with one approach, you could shift your approach fairly easily.)

But there is an incredible amount of luck involved here, which I think is what Al Stevens was getting at. I had one case involving a missing right of way (all we knew was that the right of way that everybody thought existed didn't). Among other problems was that the town's records had gone up in flames not once, but twice. Talk about bad luck.

On the other hand, I had one case where a branch of the family had moved about 1910, and should have received a share of the estate of the father when he died about 1925, owning some real estate. Managed to find the little old lady who had sent Christmas cards to just about everybody and knew who was who. Two hours of talking with her and nearly all of my work was done.

So the reality here can be anywhere from getting lucky immediately to never finding anything (I've got a few of those). So going back to Al's answer. What does the story need and what could reasonably accomplish it?

For example, with former military, a search of the military's records will disclose where the person served, including such information as unit and commanding officer. My father served on the USS Eager during WWII. Guess what? There's a guy who maintains contact records with everybody he can who served on the ship. Contact him and you can find someone to whom my father poured out his life story. Or the same thing can be done through a high school reunion (why do you think they're used so often in books and movies?).

Things go right, and you can find out a lot in a short amount of time. Things go wrong and you don't. In the real world, this takes time and money. In books and movies, we practice selective compression, compressing the amount of time things happen in. It's a time honored technique.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

Rammstein
01-08-2012, 06:32 PM
Thanks a bunch.

My story doesn't really need that much. I only need my MC to understand that the man he wants the PI to investigate is dangerous, and the girl a runaway that the man has abducted while she was being held against her will at a brothel. He has never any intention of returning her to her folks though, he just wanted her for himself.

I've decided to have my PI get lucky in case of the girl - she was reported missing, and my guy found her fairly quickly by going through photos. This means that the PI will have new information that is basically 100% certain that this is the girl in question. What will happen then? I mean, in this case, the girl was reported missing at the age of 11. She is now 15 and the PI has found her (but wouldn't even be looking if it weren't for my MC). Is he obliged by law to report it to the police? What will happen to my MC once the PI does - I imagine he will be requested to subject himself to interrogation and possibly appearing as a witness if necessary. I don't need a lot of detail here, I just want my PI to explain to my MC what will happen next.

If you're wondering why I'm so out of touch with US police procedure, it's because I am Swedish Swedish (and my MC is too).

ironmikezero
01-09-2012, 12:43 AM
If your PI has found a missing juvenile, he would be legally and ethically bound to report it to the appropriate authorities.

If she is found with him, your MC would have some explaining to do... He'd likely be facing the jurisdictional equivalent charges of kidnapping/abduction, human trafficking, Mann Act violations, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, etc. It'd be a hornets' nest of state and federal law violations that could put him away for a very long time.

You might want to keep your MC out of law enforcement's hands, because he'd have one helluva time trying to explain this away...

Rammstein
01-09-2012, 10:36 PM
She's not with my MC, but with another man, her abductor. However, my MC and a few other people have been in their company for a few weeks. The MC arrived in the country a few weeks prior to the PI's discovery, and the girl vanished and was abducted more than a couple of years before his arrival. He did know that the girl was underage and was being taken advantage of sexually. Moreover, she has been to his bedroom some nights, but only to sleep (and it's certain that her abductor knows), so he is sure to be very, very nervous about this.

So anyway... it's complicated...

jaksen
01-09-2012, 11:02 PM
Your basic PI would start by questioning everyone who knew this girl, friends, other girls in the brothel, and for any lead, he'd go to that next person and question them. People do talk. Few people keep everything they do a secret. I heard a PI say once that all he did was talk-talk-talk on the phone. (And he was using the internet, too.)

In 1920 a PI hunted down an ancestor of mine who changed his name, lied about his background and ran away to marry a woman who also changed her name. The PI found them because she told one friend what she was doing, but still not all the info. was given out. She told this one friend she was running off to get married in Connecticut.

Now this was 1920 and the PI found the guy (who'd abandoned a wife and two children) and discovered he was using a dead brother's birth certificate as ID. The PI didn't even know the guy had a dead brother - he died at birth. I still have all the old records, notes and other details the PI finally handed over to the member of the family who initiated this search almost 100 years ago.

Private investigators talk and ask questions, over and over, and in 1979 there were databases available and phones and talkative people happy enough to divulge all the secrets they're supposed to keep - especially for a price.

horrorshowjack
01-14-2012, 09:43 AM
If your PI has found a missing juvenile, he would be legally and ethically bound to report it to the appropriate authorities.

If she is found with him, your MC would have some explaining to do... He'd likely be facing the jurisdictional equivalent charges of kidnapping/abduction, human trafficking, Mann Act violations, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, etc. It'd be a hornets' nest of state and federal law violations that could put him away for a very long time.

You might want to keep your MC out of law enforcement's hands, because he'd have one helluva time trying to explain this away...

The PI might have the legal and ethical duty now, but I'm not certain that was the case in 1979. I believe the Mann Act was the only white-slavery/human trafficking federal law at that point, and primarily applies to prostitution. Or being a rich, non-white man with a white girlfriend. The law is so vaguely written that taking your mistress across state lines for a weekend has been prosecutable in the past.

If it takes place entirely in Nevada, the Mann act is inapplicable due to no state lines being crossed. Age of Consent was 14 in Nevada iirc. It was under 18 in a lot of states. I'm not sure about kidnapping, but if she would already have been considered a runaway before he met her it doesn't seem like a slam dunk.

There's potential for trouble, but nowhere near what thirty years of histrionics would cause now.