Investigations Tricks of the Trade 1

Photo of looking for evidence

Scott MacLean

We all have investigative habits that we have used for years, some we share, others we don’t. This can cause some grief with your coworkers, when you pull one deep from your bag of tricks, that you had not previously shared with them. It is not that we were actually protecting tricks of the trade, just the need had not come up until now.

Basic Prerequisites

I teach, preach and act on exactly what I will be telling you here. I do it like muscle memory, with regularity, every time. It is imperative that I know the most about my defendant prior to the hunt. Since I specialize in cold cases; I don’t want to know what the previous investigator did. I don’t want his notes, opinion, ideas or conclusions, why would I, they didn’t work for him! My way may take longer in preparation but is more efficient in the long run. Let’s get in to the meat and potatoes!
I brief the case, all the paperwork provided by the client (Bondsman or Surety), to make sure I am compliant legally. This is often limited in cold cases, because usually, they only come with the power number, case name, case number, and forfeiture notice. I then proceed to build the case, so I must go to court to obtain the case information. This is beneficial because it provides missing identifiers, co-defendants, addresses, location where the crime occurred, vehicles, and the officers that made the arrest. I also look up priors to help create a profile of the defendant. Prior cases also provide if he is running with the same co-defendants, hanging in the same areas, and most importantly, who his previous bondsmen were!

Preparing to Hit the Streets

With the provided and developed information, I ask 3 questions: What do I know? What do I need to know? What can I assume? These three questions are asked at the beginning of the case and again at the end of the case, the latter being the most important. We need to know the answers to the questions before we ask them. This allows us to gauge the honesty of those persons we interview. This is the first opportunity to screw up! If I ask a known friend of the defendant if he is still dating Sally, when I know or believe they are dating Tenesha, and they don’t correct me, I know they are not being straight with me. The mistake happens when a coworker corrects you in front of the person being interviewed!


Man with binocularsIn this business, patience equals profit! Once your brief develops a list of potential addresses, either use Google Earth or an in-person drive by to determine if one address is safer to make the apprehension than another. Why would we do that, we can’t predict where the defendant will be, or can we? We are looking for fences, dogs, number of doors to cover, any information that makes one house more difficult or dangerous than another. How do we steer the defendant to the house we choose to make the apprehension? Mail wanted posters to every address you know for him, except for the one you chose! Now you only have one house to watch, and you remain in control.


There is truth in every lie! People really want to tell you just enough for you to get the defendant, but also retain the ability to tell them that they did not give them up. If you have information from an interview, and a secondary interview gets you shut down, know they told you all you needed to know the first time! Go back to your notes and close your case. This also applies to information on bail applications. I have closed cases because the street address was correct, the town or city was wrong. We used to run addresses through Microsoft Streets and Trips, now you have Google Maps.

Exit Interviews

Always interview the defendant after the apprehension with the three questions previously discussed in mind. The reason is this is a very small world, and you may get this case again when the next bondsman bonds them out. Also, you think you did everything correctly, knew all you needed to know, even got your skip, right? Then your defendant says, “It was Charlene, that bitch gave me up!” You look at your partner and think, “Who the hell is Charlene?”

More to come, stay safe out there!