Thursday, December 30, 2010

2010 Year In Review

Lead Investigator Thomas H. Humphreys takes a minute to reflect.

Seth Godin's blog suggested that we take just a minute to brag, share with you, our friends and colleagues, what we've accomplished over the past year. It's both embarrassing and inspiring to put these things in a list. I am proud of the work our team did last year. Thank you David W. Green, PI and Kimberly D. Green, PI. The support and hard work you provide is priceless.

In 2010 we...
1. Completed over 50 hours of continuing education (State of TN requires 12 hours).
2. Published 48 blog posts.
3. Closed 45 cases.
4. Released 10 Newsletters.
5. Published 5 articles for magazines.
6. Took 3 educational field trips: FBI Academy, International Spy Museum, and New Orleans Retreat.
7. Celebrated two year anniversary for [FIND] Investigations.
8. Sent one crook to jail.
9. Completed one Certified Fraud Examiners Designation.
10. Located, cataloged, and analyzed in excess of $65,000,000 in assets.
11. Served process/located several hard-to-find people.
12. Had one fantastic year.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

[FIND] Vice - Lisbeth Salander

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, who Played with Fire and Kicked the Hornet's Nest
from the novels by Stieg Larsson

The four-foot-eleven, twenty-something, heavily inked and pierced, ass-kicking Lisbeth Salander has a serious axe to grind.

The backstory: victimized as a child by a sociopathic father and a sadistic psychiatrist, Salander has learned to trust no one and to take justice into her own hands. 

In adulthood, Salander becomes a covert researcher. She is known in the hacker underground as a computer wizard with a nearly photographic memory. She uses her mad skills to earn a living doing investigative work for a security firm. 

Her combination of extreme wariness, fearlessness, and tech genius has equipped Salander with a singular ability to exact justice and fend for herself. From fighting off large and numerous attackers and raining down a hellfire of punishment upon anyone who harms her to embezzling a fortune and using it to disappear at will, Salander is as capable and fierce an adversary as you would never care to meet. She takes no prisoners.

If you are unwise enough to $#@% with her, you may quickly find your bank accounts drained, your credit rating decimated, your assets frozen, and an exploding milk carton in your lap. To her enemies, she's a typhoon of whupass in a petite, ripped, punk-rock package. To her friends...actually, she doesn't so much have friends.

The Cocktail

James Hensley, manager of that inimitable speakeasy, The Patterson House, offers his take on the perfect drink for our diminutive detective, that tiny whirlwind of mayhem. A match to the garnish converts this tasty beverage to a relatively harmless version of the Molotov variety of cocktail. 
The Dragon Tattoo

2 oz     Vodka
3/4 oz  Lemon juice
3/4 oz  Ginger Syrup
1/2 oz  Cherry Heering
13 drops Kubler Absinthe.

Place all ingredients in a shaker and shake. Strain into a collins glass with a single large shard of ice. Top with club soda and stir two times. Garnish with  a large piece of ginger candy with a Luxardo cherry on top. Put three drops of Absinthe over the cherry and set it ablaze.

The Cigar
La Flor Dominicana Double Ligero Chiselito 

Filler: Dominican Republic 
Binder: Dominican Republic 
Wrapper: Ecuador 
Length: 5" 
Ring Gauge: 44 

Looks can be deceiving. 

Lisbeth Salander, as a consequence of her formative years, has an accidental sagacity and thick-proved skin that allows her to be a dangerous, desired asset. She ain't bad to look at. Some might describe her with the archaic "firecracker," but that is a misnomer. She's stronger. 

In choosing a cigar, she wouldn't be deceived by the numerous huge cigars that are a transference for some closeted men. She would smoke the Chiselito--as small and deceptive as she is. The cigar is small and looks good, but the ligero makes it extremely strong. It has more pepper and spice than some people can handle. You would eat before you smoked it for fear of turning green, or stomach turning. It's a pleasant kick in the ass. 

Lisbeth would probably smoke it between cigarettes on an empty stomach with a little black coffee for 
sipping. It is the cigar for someone with enough resolve to dig herself out of her grave.

by Joe Zike, UPtown's Smoke Shop

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Science of Anxiety

The Two Faces of Infidelity

In this business we often see checklists--catalogs of clues that a spouse might be cheating.

A quick Google search for “signs of infidelity” returns no fewer than 200,000 hits for How to spot a cheating spouse, How to tell if he’s stepping out, Ways to tell if he’s got a new lover. These lists are almost always the same: new perfume, new interest in physical appearance, secretive phone calls, mysterious expenditures, etc.

If you've ever had reason to perform that particular Google search, you know the feeling: it's that little kernel of doubt that sneaks into a marriage and destroys confidence, trust, and peace. Maybe it presents itself in small doses, meting out insecurity in infinitesimal portions. Maybe it walks into the room and screams.

Either way, those lurking unknowns and suspicions fuel a growing unease that can rapidly escalate to anxiety, stress, even a sort of mental paralysis. And the cheater experiences a form of anxiety as well—the stress that accompanies the need to lie to maintain a façade of normalcy.

Anxiety – The cuckold/cuckquean’s perspective
Anxiety is a byproduct of fear, and fear of the unknown is, perhaps, the most distressing variety. Anxiety closes down the thinking brain and activates the body-protecting lizard brain, the reacting brain. As Gregory Hartley puts it in his book, How to Spot a Liar, philanderers are, “…brokers of anxiety.” When a person thinks his spouse is cheating on him, he receives a jolt to his idea of self and his frame of reference.

We organize our idea of self by assembling input from others and various situations. Our frame of reference, our view of the outside world, is prejudiced by experience. When one suspects infidelity, both self and frame of reference are questioned. Confusion and emotion take charge…anxiety rents space in the brain. 

Anxiety – The cheater’s perspective
When people have affairs, they lie to maintain their cover. Big and small non-truths leak out in a sludge of constant mendacity. From hiding credit card receipts to sneaking off to the back porch for late-night small talk via cell phone, every aspect of a deceptive person’s life is caught up in half-truths, fabrication, and deceit. And when someone tells a lie, he places himself under stress. He lives in constant fear of discovery.

Stress and the Sympathetic Nervous System
When the mammalian body perceives a threat, the sympathetic nervous system takes over and kick-starts the body's "fight-or-flight" response. Blood is routed away from the face and skin to the muscles. Blood is diverted away from the digestive tract. The bladder no longer has the ability to contract and expel waste. The liver floods the blood stream with glucose, preparing for physical activity. Heart rate and respiration increase and nostrils flare, offering the lizard brain a heavy dose of oxygenated blood. Metabolism is heightened, sweating intensifies. Pupils dilate to collect as much data about the threat as possible. Gregory Hartley calls this, "your mind at war.”

The outward signs are always visible, if sometimes only in very minute forms. The stressed person’s hands may shake. His complexion may appear pallid. His mouth and lips dry out, a result of dramatically reduced blood flow. Mucosa shrink, leading to pale thin lips and drooping lower eyelids. The brow clinches and draws downward. Shoulders draw tight in preparation for defense. Elbows are in, close to the ribcage in a defensive posture.

Inside, the stressed person feels jittery, hypersensitive. Thanks to a lack of blood in the digestive system, the person feels a sensation of butterflies in the stomach; he may even feel nausea. With the heart racing blood away from the skin, the anxious person feels a high core temperature and cool skin, that clammy feeling. His focus becomes narrow and sense of hearing is directed at the source of the threat. He hears his own heartbeat. His mind recedes to a primitive state, and emotions work their way involuntarily to the fore. The person under stress often becomes defensive, argumentative, and emotional.

These systems turn on at the cost of rational thought, leading to what Seth Godin calls “lizard brain.” Irrationality is the rule at this point.

How to stop the cycle 
The Simple (well…maybe not so simple) Fix for Stress

The cheater
Simple answer - Do not cheat. Alternative answer – stop telling lies.

In one case last year, we were hired by a woman's attorney to document a philandering husband’s activities. We placed him under heavy surveillance--three cars and four investigators. We documented the man’s every move, dates, picnics, overnight visits, etc. Confronted with his lies, the man took an unusual tack, opting to eliminate his ongoing stress and simply carry on the affair in the open. He even brought his new girlfriend to a meeting at the attorney’s office. He thereby removed the burden of a lie, and his stress level seemed to drop. From a purely practical perspective, this wasn't a bad call.

Ending the affair is always the best solution. But coming clean about an affair can at least remove the deceit variable from the equation and, along with it, some of the accompanying stress. And it might even allow the dallier to regain access to rational thought, which just might lead to more productive discourse.

The Cuckold/Cuckquean
Simple answer – remove the unknown.
Again, anxiety is a byproduct of fear, often fear of the unknown. Do not guess. Do not assume. Know. Anxiety leads  to "lizard brain," and in that state, irrationality is the rule.

Shakepeare didn't need to understand the sympathetic nervous system to recognize it at work on the human rational mind. He sketched this lizard-brain descent from suspicion to anxiety to madness (to brilliant effect) in his 1603 play "Othello" in which a man desperately in love with his wife allows his unwarranted suspicions to prompt a series of escalating irrational acts, ending in tragedy—the old one-two punch of murder-suicide, always, unfortunately, performed in that order.

Though potentially painful, it is always best to eliminate the unknown. Once a person has the facts…once he eliminates the unknown, he can remove anxiety, and (potentially) act rationally.

For the cheating spouse:  Gregory Hartley says, “You will simplify your life enormously if you eliminate complete fabrication from your repertoire.” Simply put, stop lying and placing yourself under needless stress.

For the spouse who fears a partner is having an affair: get the facts. Consider hiring a competent and qualified investigator to learn the facts on your behalf. Find out what's really happening, then act rationally from a place of knowledge and power.

Here at [FIND] Investigations, we believe that our role is to help our clients contain the unknown. By gathering documented and verifiable information, we hope to help people move from a state of fear and helplessness to higher cognitive function…and rational action.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Address Change for [FIND] Investigations

[FIND] Investigations has a new address: 

[FIND] Investigations
P. O. Box 120086
Nashville, TN 37212

One of my favorite recollections from growing up in a small town is walking with my dad to the post office. When school was out my dad would haul me to his office on Main Street and let me hang out for the day. It didn't matter if it was 100 degrees and steamy hot or 6 inches of snow and tooth-chilling cold; Tom dressed accordingly, lit out the door, and strolled down 14th Avenue to the intersection of 14th and Osborne to gather the post. 

This daily ritual was a social affair. We'd stop by Gibby's and chat, trek over to the bank and have a coffee, walk an extra block down to Simmons' Shoe Store and spend a few minutes chatting with Bill, one of my mentors. The walk, the ritual, the time spent sharing time seems to be a rapidly disappearing memory, an anachronism. 

Well, here at [FIND] Investigations, we celebrate the anachronistic. Each month we highlight a fictional PI, usually some gumshoe from history. We do not hide from the widely-held perception that this business is somehow more fun than it should be. Our new post office is exactly 1.98 miles from the office. The walk takes us past our favorite coffee shop, along one of Nashville's oldest boulevards, and by some of our best friends' houses and offices. In short, it's perfect. 

I made the stroll down 12th over to Belmont this morning. There was no snow on the ground, but it was tooth-chilling cold. Next time my dad's in town, I think I'll haul him to the office and let him hang out for the day. Maybe we can make the hike to the post office together, drop by my buddy Austin's office for a cup of coffee and a few minutes of chatting. 


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Camera to Help Your Life Safe and Happiness

Key Fob Camera
I just love the translated grammar issues with spy gear. We just picked up a new covert camera. (Pictured at right)

I love the camera. It creates wonderful covert video and still photos and is as innocuous looking as, well...a standard remote access for a car. I did, however, get a huge kick out of the sparse and syntaxically challenged instructions for operation. Opening sentence, "...hope it can help your life safe and happiness."

There is only one warning noted in the brief instructions pamphlet. It reads as follows:

"Serious Statement: This product is used in the illicit use is strictly prohibited, the consequence of self."

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

[FIND] VICE - Shaft, the black private dick, sex-machine to all the chicks.

This month’s installment of [FIND] Vice brings us the black private dick who’s a sex-machine for all the chicks, John Shaft. Of all the fictional P.I.’s, Shaft is one of the strongest. Thanks to Isaac Hayes and his Academy-Award-winning-pulsating-throbfest of a theme song, everybody knows SHAFT. Aaahh…that harbinger of blaxploitation, that first hint of what a black P.I. could be…. The 1971 film, SHAFT, announced a new decade of African-American cinema. Thank you Richard Roundtree (the original and, for many, the only Shaft.).

As the thrilling detective website puts it, John Shaft, “..wasn’t just black. He was in-yer-motherfucking-face black.” And thank God for that. Here’s to John Shaft. 

The Cigar
We welcome our new cigar connoisseur, Joe Zike (great name for a PI). Joe slings verbs at journalism school and moonlights as a cigar hound at one of our favorite man-cave cigar shops, UpTowns in green hills. Here’s what Joe has to say about which cigar corresponds perfectly to the attitude and character of SHAFT.

Gran Cojonu
Country of Origin: Miami, USA Nicaraguan binder Nicaraguan filler Habano Ecuadorian
Wrapper 6 1/2" long; 60 ring gage; come in a 12 count box; strength-strong

John Shaft walks the streets of New York, surveying his turf, collecting information and sending a message without sending one. He smokes a cigar, and it is the Gran Cojonu by Tatuaje. It doesn't come with a cigar band on it. It doesn't need to. It just is, and people who know, know. It's a large, strong cigar with rich palate-coating flavors (coffee, chocolate and pepper that balance into a creamy smoothness) and an easy draw. The Gran Cojonu, here interpreted as 'the greatest of the ballsiest,' is the cigar for the badass "black private dick" who's a "sex machine to all the chicks."

– Joe Zike, [FIND] Investigations Cigar Connoisseur, UpTowns Smokeshop

The Cocktail

The Patterson House, aaahhh…the Patterson House. Thanks again to our very own spirit monkey, James Hensley, manager at the Patterson House, for another brilliant take on pairing a cocktail with a P.I. Here’s James’ concoction created specifically for SHAFT.


2 oz  Cognac
1/4 oz  Marie Brizzard White Creme de Cacao
13 drops of Regan's Orange Biters

Place all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice and stir. Strain into a rocks glass over ice and express orange zest over the surface of the drink. Insert the orange peel as garnish.

Our man shaft doesn’t walk with a strut, he embodies it. He’s tall, proud, strong, and oh so charming. Cross him and you’ll know pain. Respect him and you’ll experience a terse since of peace. If you happen to be a lady, just ask yourself, “Do you want to be held, or do you want the L.D.?”

Hensley says, “This brandy old fashioned is just what you need before you fight the man and land lady.” The drink is, “Smooth yet potent, much like the man they call Shaft.” Drop by the Patterson House any time and ask for The SHAFT.

- James Hensley, Manager, The Patterson House

Friday, November 19, 2010

Infidelity in the Digital Age

Can social media break up a marriage? asks NPR in a recent feature on All Things Considered.

Not exactly. But sites like Facebook open a world of possibilities for connecting with people in a low-risk and socially acceptable way--people like old flames or co-workers whom you might not consider it appropriate to call at home or meet in person, especially if you, and they, are attached.

There's a casualness and anonymity to email, texting, and Facebook that make it easier to cross lines that felt a little more solid before communications went digital. "In fact," reporter Jenifer Ludden points out, "...a partner can easily carry on an affair in the same house, even the same room."

People often behave more boldly in the digital shadows, where rejection, as simple as hitting an "ignore" button or just failing to reply to a text, feels less threatening than an in-person blow-off. That's why it's so easy to launch the kind of online intimacy that can (as Ludden posits) quickly spiral into an affair. And relationships that begin online can often escalate a lot faster than the more traditional variety.

"When you don't have nonverbal communication, the likelihood of being able to disclose at a deeper level is greater, because there's less inhibition," says Bob Rosenwein of Lehigh University. "So it's going to feel like a more intimate relationship."

Extramarital Facebook flirting and romance have apparently become common enough that a New Jersey pastor has cautioned his church community to give up Facebook. JJ Sutherland's NPR News blog quotes Reverend Cedric Miller as saying he's seen a huge rise in couples among his flock who say Facebook is a main source of their marital problems. "The temptation is just too great," he says.

Sutherland also links to this Telegraph article, in which UK divorce lawyers claim that 20% of their clients cite Facebook as a reason for their divorce, often because a spouse has discovered evidence of sexual flirtation on a partner's Facebook site.

The rather sad upside of this for private investigators and family attorneys is that today's straying spouses often leave a digital fingerprint. The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (again, thanks JJ Sutherland for this) reports that 81% of divorce lawyers say they've seen an increase in the number of cases using social media evidence.

We at [FIND] are seeing more of this kind of thing as well--affairs in which the main evidence is a log of text messages or Facebook posts of spouses photographed with their suspected illicit paramours, for all the world to see.

Frankly, you'd think folks would be a little smarter. But it seems that, sometimes, people may begin a digital affair in a way that feels almost innocent. It might even start with a simple, "Whatcha doin'?" text to an attractive casual acquaintance. But when the intimate contact is returned in kind, it can quickly become addictive. The next thing you know, you're stashing the phone under your pillow to intercept 2am texts from someone you barely knew 3 weeks ago.

Here's my personal philosophy on the matter: if it feels wrong, it probably is. I try not to say, type, or text anything I wouldn't be proud for my favorite guy to hear or read. That seems to work pretty darned well for us. But if you're determined to cheat, help a PI out: Facebook-flirt and "sext" as much as you please. We also appreciate any photographic evidence you can provide.  

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

[FIND] VICE - A Reasonable Amount of Trouble

“Spade has no original. He is a dream man in the sense that he is what most of the private detectives I worked with would like to have been and in their cockier moments thought they approached. For your private detective does not — or did not ten years ago when he was my colleague — want to be an erudite solver of riddles in the Sherlock Holmes manner; he wants to be a hard and shifty fellow, able to take care of himself in any situation, able to get the best of anybody he comes in contact with, whether criminal, innocent by-stander or client."

- Dashiell Hammett, introduction to the Maltese Falcon, 1934 edition.

Dashiell Hammett's Samuel Spade is, many would say, the most important figure in the entire private eye genre. He made his debut in 1929 in the pages of Black Mask, in the serialized first part of The Maltese Falcon, and detective fiction has never been the same. He's a "hard and shifty fellow," a partner in the Archer and Spade Detective Agency of San Francisco. He doesn't particularly like his partner, and he's not above sleeping with his wife. He’s a man’s man through and through.

Spade is known to have a penchant for good rum.

One of my favorite lines from the Maltese Falcon is when Sam Spade says, “Oh…I don’t mind a reasonable amount of trouble.” James Hensley, manager of our favorite speak easy, The Patterson House, has crafted a new cocktail based on this one single quote. Drop by any time and ask for…

A Reasonable Amount of Trouble

2 oz. Matusalem Classico Rum

1/4 oz. Lyle's Golden Syrup

7 drops Lime bitters

1 dash Peychaud's Bitters

Mezcal Rinsed Glass

In a mixing glass stir the Lyle's, Rum, and Lime bitters with ice. Strain over ice in a rocks glass that has been rinsed with Creme de Mezcal. Next add the dash of Peychauds' to the top and zest some orange peel over the drink.

Sam Spade loves his rum, even offers a shot to Polhouse and Dundy when they come by to interrogate him. Clearly, the base spirit must be rum. The Lyles is an old school product that's off the beaten path, not unlike like Sam’s detective agency. The Peychaud's Bitters are there to add complexity and like Mr. Spade's wit they are dry. The Lime Bitters liven things up because though Mr. Spade is quick of intellect he is also a man of action. The Mezcal represents the mystery, the unexpected, the twist if you will. This tasty beverage is, in many ways, like Ms. O’Shaughnessy’s $200 retainer to Sam…. more than if you had been telling us the truth, and enough more to make it all right.

A Spy's Guide to Halloween - Deep Cover, Pocket Litter, and a Marble in My Shoe.

Halloween. Best holiday of the year, bar none. Several reasons for this. First, everyone gets candy. Second, everybody gets to go in disguise, costume, as someone or something else. Finally, Halloween is the birthday of [FIND] Investigations Lead Investigator, Thomas H. Humphreys.

To go into deep cover, you'll need a good disguise. A proper disguise is not just spirit gum and fake mustaches. You'll need to build a legend, a fake background story. You'll need paperwork, credit cards, diplomas, etc. to support the legend. These items are what spies call "pocket litter." For a simple Halloween costume you can probably skip this part.

Jack Platt is somewhat of a CIA legend himself. He was the master at operating in denied areas, countries where he was not allowed to travel. Platt says, in the Handbook of Practical Spying, that he used to, "...put a marble in one shoe - man, am I going to walk Different." Platt goes on to say, "...take the marble out, 'the guy with the limp' has disappeared forever." You could actually give this one a try. It's the perfect way to disguise your usual gait.

[FIND] Investigations', Lead Investigator, Thomas H. Humphreys often wears a full beard. While this is a distinguishing feature, it's easily removed. In parts even. Somewhere out on the interwebs for computers, there is a set of photos of Mr. Humphreys in various states of facial hair. Shaving parts of a beard can change the shape and profile of the face. Slap on a different outfit, and're someone else.

This Halloween, give a little bit of thought to your disguise. Go to a party and see if you can avoid being identified by your friends. Better yet, crash another party, one where you don't know anyone. Go ahead, make some new friends. For that matter, if you feel up to it, drop by Rumours Wine Bar on 12th South in Nashville, TN this Sunday. It's the annual hal-o-birth-ween-day party. Disguise is encouraged. The password phrase to gain access is:

Life, The Universe, and Everything

Drop by any time.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

[FIND] Travels – Washington, DC Tours – Part Two

800 F Street NW, Washington, DC

Friday, October 1, 2010, Mid-afternoon

It’s afternoon in the nation’s capitol, fresh, almost painful blue skies. There’s a hint of something cool just around the corner, fall maybe. Steve and I casually glance both directions along the 800 block of F Street NW, scanning the crowd, alert, ready. Across the street, unsuspecting tourists stroll in and out of the National Portrait Gallery, used to be the old Patent Office. They’re unaware, ignorant.

Steve snuffs a cigarette between his thumb and forefinger, tosses the butt into a nearby trash can. We steal quietly into the door just under the staircase that leads up to Zola, haunt for agents, raconteurs. The Le Droit building’s historic façade presents itself to the world, all neat and Italianate, the way McGill intended it back in 1875. But, once inside… the building immediately restyles itself into an ultra-modern interactive guide through the history of espionage.

The International Spy Museum is the only public museum that dedicates itself to the tradecraft of spies. Now…in a nod to full disclosure, it is only fair to point out that I have always been enamored of spies, I’m a geek, a fiend, I love spy lore, history, movies…so…I may not be entirely unbiased. But…this place is…, simply put, cool.

The best way to get the point across is to just list some of the things we witnessed here and then direct you to the website, which is an experience in itself.

A few things we saw:

Lipstick Pistol

Enigma (the cipher machine)

Tree stump listening device

1970’s vintage button hole camera (KGB)

Shoe heel transmitter

Aston Martin DB5 (Bond, James Bond)

and on

and on

The thing I like the most about this museum is the interactive nature of the place. Kids dig it, no doubt. But the museum directors do not in any way neglect the adults. There’s enough literature and information to keep the intellectually curious among us occupied for hours. There are enough cool spy gadgets to entertain those of us who have difficulty maintaining focus for any period of time. And then there are the experiences.

Spy in the city, spy at night, and operation spy, all mission based, all incredibly fun.

As with any self-respecting museum, this one employs the obligatory exit through the gift shop. But this gift shop may be the best I’ve ever seen. Seriously…they have actual spy gear for purchase. 4 gig button-hole cameras, 4 gig key-fob cameras, actual working spy gear, things we use on a daily basis. This is also my new source for spy literature. Last year for our holiday season newsletter, we bragged on a book called The Real Spy’s Guide, written by Peter Earnest, Executive Director of the Museum. We still highly recommend this book, but the more important thing is…this museum’s book store is a dream. They have stacks upon stacks of fantastic books.

We picked up a copy of The Handbook of Practical Spying, a tongue-in-cheek handbook that actually offers useful tips, and The Private Investigator’s Handbook, a kind of do-it-yourself PI guide. Had I enough money and space in my luggage, I could have done some real damage in this store. Check it out online, here.

If, by chance, you find yourself strolling around DC in the vicinity of Ford’s Theater, or just north of the National Archives, make the hike to 800 F Street NW. Look for the stairway that leads up to Zola. Just underneath that, you’ll find the entrance to the International Spy Museum. Just incase you’re afraid it’s going to be hard to find, the Le Droit building, in all of it’s Italianate glory, has a huge sign on the corner that reads, International Spy Museum. Drop by and check it out.

Friday, October 15, 2010

[FIND] Travels - Washington, DC, Part One

FBI Academy, Quantico, VA

Friday, October 1, 2010, Early AM

Friday morning breaks cool and cloudy, wet streets and scattered layer of scud slowly burning off above the Anacostia River. My buddy Steve and I meet up at the Eisenhower Avenue stop, I getting off the yellow line train and he in a rented, nondescript Ford. We wheel onto the I-95 southbound towards Quantico, VA and the FBI Academy.

Our contact has arranged for us to clear security. Marines in starched utility caps, neatly creased uniforms, and not-so-modest 9-MM sidearms ask us questions, verify ID, wave us through. Steve smokes a Marlboro, we pass a group of Marines, prone facing north, aiming at targets so far away, we can’t make them out. The soothing sound of a .50 caliber sniper rifle roars through the North Virginia woods. Steve drops his cigarette in his lap.

We stroll into the Jefferson Dormitory building thirty minutes early. We’re told to sit and wait. Our good friend, the one we call Agent X, has a buddy come to the lobby to check up on us. He’s a Tennessee native too, slow drawl, familiar, comfortable. We chat, tell war stories, and wait.

In walk several retired agents. You can tell because they’re all 60ish, unnaturally handsome men with smart, good-looking wives. We make introductions and wait.

Our tour guide, we’ll call him Agent Y, walks into the lobby all smiles and charisma. He’s done this before. He’s comfortable. He explains that they usually don’t do tours on Fridays, but…well…Agent X vouched for us, introduced us as “friends of the Bureau” and we’re with a batch of 1979 graduates of the Academy, so….

The lot of us pile into a short bus and the tour starts. HRT shooting gallery, indoor sniper range, Tevocistan (the tactical driving course), all the while hearing tales told tall by the retired agents. Agent Y takes the time to explain the inside chatter to Steve and me. He also takes the time to answer all questions, and there are a lot of questions.

Why all the doors? (This one side of the building looks like a Lowe’s, 200 or so wood and steel doors stacked up like a display.) Agent Y says, “you’ll see in a minute.” As we exit the building, on the opposite side, there’s a complementary pile of splintered doors. Shattered over and over, practicing “entry techniques.” Agent Y tells us that they have a staff of carpenters who just install and replace doors. Cool.

Why the multiple building finishes? (Same building has several different finishes, brick, stone, wood, etc.) Agent Y says, “We like for our guys to practice climbing all kinds of buildings.” Cool.

We make a swing by the Lab, what I can only guess is several thousand square feet of state–of-the-art analytical ability. The campus is huge. We roll down to the TEVOC (Tactical Emergency Vehicle Operators Course), watch some newbies spin and spin.

On foot now, we amble the quiet, small town streets of Hogan’s Alley. If you’ve never seen this place on TV, just picture any small town in America; a bank, a dry cleaner, a bar. There’s a post office, a motel, even a fully functioning movie theater. There are row houses, store fronts, even a used car lot. Agent Y explains how the trainees practice their surveillance skills, learn how to do a proper “take down,” and handle almost any situation.

Just across the main entrance to Hogan’s Alley, there’s a small residential subdivision. Three brick-veneer houses on a quiet cul-de-sac, fully furnished and empty, sit waiting for the next lesson on how to breach the door on a bad guy’s house. Agents even get a taste of how to deal with nosy neighbors.

We make our way back to the main academy building, the classroom building. Watch a class full of fit, good-looking, 30ish-year-old agents-in-training repeatedly slam one another to submission, muscle memories being made. The other room has several 45ish-year-old not-so-fit cops going through the National Academy. These guys are just starting their path to becoming some of America’s best trained, most fit, and well qualified police officers. They have some pain ahead of them, but every one of them is giving 100%.

Agent Y guides us through the maze of hallways, past the weapons locker, past the wall of fame, into a memorial plaza where the names and stories of fallen agents are honored. We stop and take pictures. The class of ’79 asks us to snap a few for them. Happily, we oblige.

Our final stop, as with any good tour, is the gift shop. Yes, they have a gift shop. And I have to admit that I was a bit kid-in-a-candy-shop. Now when I go to the Y for my thrice weekly strength training, I wear my new Under Armor shorts. They’re dark blue and have a simple three-letter logo on the left leg. Cool.

Steve and I load back into our nondescript ford. He sparks a match and takes a long pull on a new Marlboro. We are, three hours later, retracing our steps to the I-95 under a brilliant blue sky. On our left, to the north, the same group of Marines lets loose another barrage of .50 caliber pain on distant targets. Steve drops his cigarette in his lap.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Solving Murders Over Lunch

Once a month, a Victorian-era private dining room in downtown Philly becomes a hotbed of crime--a course of murder served cold, right after dessert.

More than twenty years ago, three unlikely friends--a cop (who now runs a PI agency), a sculptor with a gift for reconstructing the faces of the long-dead, and a criminal psychologist--started meeting for lunch to brainstorm solutions to cold crimes. They invited a few friends--detectives, forensics experts, criminologists--and asked law enforcement agents to bring this de facto crimefighters' think tank their cold case files.

Today, the Vidocq Society, named for a 19th Century French detective who pioneered the use of fingerprinting and ballistics as evidence, brings together crime experts from all over the world every month to consider unsolved murder cases. And they've solved quite a few, among them a murder in a small Pennsylvania town that confounded investigators: a woman had been wrapped in cellophane and stabbed brutallly inside a local restaurant, presumably to rob the place. But criminal psychologist Richard Walters saw through the staged burglary.

"What robbery suspect would stab someone so viciously that the knife enters the tile floor and wrap the head in cellophane?" says Walters, in an interview with NPR's Fresh Air. "A robber is simply not going to do that. It's not efficient." He pointed investigators towards an angry ex boyfriend, who is now serving a life sentence for murder.

Journalist Michael Capuzzo profiles the Vidocq Society in his new book, The Murder Room. To read an excerpt and hear an interview with the author and with society co-founder and crime psychologist Richard Walters, visit the Fresh Air archive.

You can also read a feature story on the Vidocq Society in The UK Telegraph here.