I'm often asked how I chose the life of a private investigator. In my case, it was an accident. Private investigators tend to be former law enforcement, but not always.
Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would have a career as a private investigator let alone a bounty hunter.
The private investigations industry is bigger in the US than in other countries. I think that other countries look to the state to solve their problems. Americans are more used to taking matters into their own hands. The litigiousness of American society is also a factor.
In popular culture, the stereotypical PI case involves marital infidelity, but a lot of domestic cases aren’t actually instigated by a spouse. It’s a relative: “My brother has been dating someone and there’s something about her that doesn’t seem right” – that kind of thing.
The most emotionally heavy and ethically difficult cases are child custody. Parents ask for your help because their ex-spouse has kidnapped their children and brought them to another country and their government isn’t moving fast enough.
I love the gadgets – pen recorders, button cameras, cameras disguised as coffee cups. But they make me paranoid. When I travel I always sweep my hotel rooms or Airbnbs for surveillance devices left by voyeurs. They’re more common than people think.
For me it began in 1986 in Anaheim California, I was at the Bank of America on State College Blvd making a deposit when it was robbed. That’s right I was in the middle of a bank robbery. I remember seeing three individuals walking into the bank while pulling ski masks down over their faces; I thought they must be playing a gag on a friend that works at the bank, crazy right? The next thing I heard was someone yelling for everyone to get on the ground face down; he had to yell it more than once because like me everyone was frozen.
Eventually, we all hit the deck and after a lot of yelling and what seemed like an hour, but was actually less than 5 minutes, it was over and they were gone. Almost instantaneously the FBI was there, they locked all the doors not letting any of us potential witnesses leave. When I was questioned by an agent the only thing I could remember was that one of the bank robbers had a silver revolver-type handgun.
That was the moment I was hooked.
I signed up as a Deputy Sheriff in California. After a number of years in the Department, I enrolled in a private investigation academy and the rest is history, as they say.
After years of training classes which included investigation, crime scene investigation etc, a bounty hunter training course in Santa Barbara California with the famous Bob Burton who served as a technical advisor on the 1988 Robert De Niro film Midnight Run, and the State of California required training with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, I hung my shingle and opened the doors to my very own detective agency.
How do you become a private investigator?
Well in California to be licensed by the state you are required to have 3 years of related experience, you must have worked for a private investigator or a police department and they must verify that employment. In South Africa to be registered by PSiRA, you must attend a private investigator training course at an institution such as Unisa, or be able to prove prior experience in the field of investigation.
The six qualities of a highly effective PI are; observation, tenacity, patience, communication, being able to adapt easily and quickly.
Most investigations involve tedious tasks such as researching court records for hours on end or sitting on surveillance for days at a time just watching and documenting. The excitement that you see on TV is a small part of the job.
When choosing a name for your investigation company, I always suggest that an investigator chooses a name that does not identify them as an investigator. The last thing you or your client wants is the name ABC Investigations appearing on their bank statement, credit card statement or as an inquiry on a credit report of someone you are investigating.
To work as a bounty hunter you have to either be a licensed private investigator or you have to be registered with the state as a Bail Enforcement Agent. Bail Enforcement Agent is the new politically correct term for a bounty hunter.
I usually describe working as a bounty hunter as hours of boredom that culminates with minutes of excitement.
It's hard work and long hours, not for the shy, squeamish or those afraid of getting hurt.
Be prepared to work every holiday and weekend. These hardened fugitives always come home to mommy for the holidays, I have spent many a Thanksgiving outside a fugitives mothers home and have never come away disappointed. Fugitives are creatures of habit.
You spend your daylight hours conducting your investigation, database searches, interviewing family friends, employers and confidential informants. Then spend your nights and early mornings, that would be the hours from 22h00 until 05h00, banging on doors and serving warrants of arrest, the best time to serve warrants is between 02h00 and 05h00 because you know they are home and that they will be groggy from having just been woken up.
Bounty hunters do not work under the same constraints as police officers, and that is because when the defendant signs that paperwork with the bail bondsman he/she is signing away his/her rights to that bail bondsman. If the "skip" has either not shown up to a court date or if the person that put up the collateral no longer wants to be responsible for them.
When searching for the skip you can enter any address on the bail application without a warrant, you can also enter any other property without a warrant if you have a reasonable suspicion that the skip may be inside that property.
Many bounty hunter cases end calmly and others can end very violently. After many decades of experience, I have found the fugitives that will fight and shoot you are those that have been charged with a DUI (driving under the influence) and domestic violence, most times they have never been arrested before and do not want to go to jail because they do not know what to expect. The gang members will go quietly after an initial fight because going to jail is a badge of honor for them. If you are a non-confrontational person being a bounty hunter is not the job for you, I have been shot, stabbed and beaten on more than one occasion – but then I am an adrenaline junkie.
My first case happened to be a bounty hunter case, I was retained by Glenda Stroobant of Glenda’s Bail Bonds in Fullerton California to locate and return a fugitive to custody, he had missed his court date. My payment, if I found him, would be the standard 10% of the $30,000 bond. What I found out later was that this was no ordinary bail skip he was Ostel Miles a former NFL football player who stood 6’4 and weighed in at 236lbs.
We drove from Los Angeles to Denver Colorado in the middle of winter tracking Ostel Miles and then back to Orange County California where we eventually used a pretext to get him to come to Glenda’s office and with the assistance of the Fullerton Police Department arrested him and returned him to the custody of the Orange County Jail.
Another memorable bounty hunter case was the case of Eddie “The Wizard” Chapin. Eddie Chapin was a wizard at manufacturing methamphetamine and I had arrested him once already for skipping out on a $100,000 bond.
This time he was being hunted by the local police department and later the FBI, they could not locate him and had no idea where he was.
I received a call from a woman who identified herself as an FBI agent and requested a meeting with me regarding Eddie Chapin.
The meeting with the FBI agent happened at a Spires coffee shop in Santa Ana California, it was like something out of a TV show. At the meeting were my senior investigator Alfredo Guerrero, me and the FBI agent. It was obvious to both Al and I that it pained the agent to ask for our help but they had hit a brick wall.
Within weeks we had located Chapin at a compound in Sinaloa Mexico controlled by the Mexican Sinaloa Cartel and it's leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, he was teaching them how to manufacture methamphetamine, just like the TV Show Breaking Bad. Long story short, we convinced his girlfriend to get him up to the border, this particular border crossing was not chosen by accident, it was one of the few, at that time, where the border was just a line painted on the ground. Al went onto the Mexican side and I waited on the US side with the US Marshals and FBI. While Chapin was engaged in conversation with his girlfriend Al simply walked up behind him and pushed him across the border where we were waiting. For this case, I received the "Citizen of the Year Award"
I have worked hundreds of fugitive cases but those were the two most memorable for me.
There were many interesting investigation cases, many involving A-List Hollywood celebrities.
One was a civil case for Robyn Astaire, the wife of Fred Astaire. She owned an airline, Robyn Air. In June 2001, RobynAir took their Aerostar airplane to Cutter Aviation for an annual inspection and other maintenance work. According to RobynAir, the plane was in very good condition when it was delivered to Cutter Aviation. RobynAir had made significant improvements to the plane in the eight years that they had owned it, and meticulously maintained it. According to Astaire's testimony, the airplane had been voted by fellow Aerostar owners as the best Aerostar airplane. Astaire also testified that the airplane had much sentimental value to her, as she and her late husband, Fred Astaire, had discussed and planned its purchase. Astaire's accusations concerned negligence by Cutter Aviation mechanics during routine maintenance that caused severe damage to the aircraft engine.
Another very interesting case was that on the pop star Michael Jackson and the child molestation case against him. A 13-year-old boy that Jackson had befriended named Gavin Arvizo accused him of sexual abuse. Jackson was indicted for four counts of molesting a minor, four counts of intoxicating a minor in order to molest him, one count of attempted child molestation, and one count of conspiring to hold the boy and his family captive at his 2,700-acre (11 km2) Neverland Ranch, as well as conspiring to commit extortion and child abduction. He denied all counts. On June 13, 2005, the jury found Jackson not guilty on all fourteen charges, which included all of the above plus four lesser-included misdemeanour counts. We were instrumental in finding the evidence that got him acquitted.
Some of our clients were not celebrities but the cases were just as interesting.
In the case of Kent Hulsey, he was accused by a 14-year-old girl of molesting her behind a booth at the Del Mar Fair in San Diego County. We were retained by his attorney Michael Cardoza to investigate the accuser. Using a variety of investigation techniques, including the one that clinched the case, we were able to get the charges reduced to a simple battery. So instead of spending up to 20 years in state prison and registering as a sex offender for the rest of his life, he received probation.
Another case was that of Christopher Fitzsimons, he was accused of molesting a 3-year-old girl and had already been in the county jail for 7 months awaiting trial because he could not afford the bail. The police arrested him and the DA charged him on the flimsiest of evidence, it was a really shoddy investigation by them. Within a week of being retained by his attorney, I found evidence that proved Fitzsimons was innocent and the guilty party was the mother’s ex-boyfriend who by now had left California and was living in Oregon. On our evidence, Fitzsimons was immediately released. This was a clear case of the justice system having gone wrong. Needless to say, I did not make any friends at the San Bernadino County DA’s office or the local police department.
There are many other more interesting cases, but unfortunately, due to confidentiality with those clients, I am unable to share them with you. The cases I shared above are all in the public domain as all were reported on in the media because of their high profile nature.
Confidentiality between the PI and his / her clients is extremely important; you do not go to the media or talk about a case unless you get permission from your client. Many PI’s think nothing about talking about their clients in the media, even going as far as casting doubt on their own clients’ case and credibility.
Because of my celebrity client list, I became widely known in California as the “PI to the stars”, National Geographic channel listed me as #6 on its list of the World’s Top 10 Bounty Hunters and Wikipedia lists me as a "notable private investigator". Coincidentally I am listed ahead of Bob Burton whose training class I attended decades before. Others on the list include Pat Garrett, Duane “Dog” Chapman, Domino Harvey and others.
If what I have relayed here interests you and you feel you have the basic qualities to be a private investigator, go for it. It is a great career, you get to meet interesting people if you are lucky you will get to travel the world. And, if you are interested in becoming a bounty hunter, I have written a Bail Investigator Training Manual (Become a bounty hunter now) for investigators interested in or currently in the field of Bail Enforcement (Bounty Hunting).
As a private investigator, no day is the same and no case is the same. One minute you could be following a vehicle from the airport to a hotel tracking a cheating partner and the next you could be sifting through archives in a library or scanning online databases on a missing person’s case.
I currently have an office Rick Crouch & Associates in Hillcrest South Africa which serves South Africa from coast to coast.
I enjoy the work I do, I am able to help people and earn a living doing it. And to top it off my kids think I am really cool.
1. Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rick_Crouch 2. The Worlds Boldest Bounty Huntershttp://www.orangecountyduilawyersblog.com/2013/05/worlds-boldest-bounty-hunters/ 3. Durban Councillor was PI to the Starshttp://www.rickcrouch.co.za/Documents/PItoStars-Mercury.pdf 4. Bail Investigator Training Manual https://payhip.com/b/f5C2