Take on a case at any cost?

By Michael Hessenthaler

Sink drain looks gloomy

Hardly a day passes that I do not receive an email or call from an investigator, usually a newcomer, asking for my opinion on a private job. By private job I mean a private investigation in the true sense of the term – a private client wanting to investigate an individual. Often it’s finding an individual, but for reasons other than a bad debt or witness.

There are quite a few investigation agencies that do such things as tracing witnesses or debtors. These jobs are done in a pattern of regularity and following standard protocols. Issues such as motive of a client or criminal conspiracy do not enter into it because the clients are insurance companies or lawyers.

However, when an individual, usually a male, is willing to part with a lot of money to have a private investigator find a female, then it’s a good idea to keep everything in perspective and not just grab the job because it means a big bill.

It seems reasonable to find out the client’s motive. Because often his motive is quite something else than is said, sometimes outright criminal. It could be a case of an aggrieved husband wanting pay-back. The woman to be found has taken careful steps to hide her whereabouts, sometimes to protect the children. Sometimes simply to protect from a husband who wants to beat her, or even kill.

I recall doing such a private job in 1979 for a client who gave seemingly innocent reasons for wanting his wife found. I gladly took the job because all I had to do is find her and there would be a bonus for me. As it were, I did find her and I did receive a handsome cash bonus. Alas a week later I read the client was arrested for murder. He had killed his wife in the most gruesome way a day after I found her and he could thank me for the opportunity.

He went to jail, but she was dead. It was my good luck that I did not become entangled in a criminal investigation or worse, that I was not charged with any criminal offence. Police simply did not know what I did and as the client pleaded guilty, he did not reveal that a private investigator found his victim.

From this experience many years ago, I learned to be cautious. More than that, I learned to follow some fundamental principles alluding to morality and fair play. A private investigator is not meant to be a mercenary. A duty of care is owed to anyone with whom we become involved. Imagine trying to prove in a trial that you, as the investigator, did not trace the woman knowing the client wanted to harm her.

Therefore I always recommend to investigators to ask the client “why do you want to find her”. The response, the words and the manner of the response, can most likely indicate his true motive. You can’t be certain, but you can certainly ask and ask without reservations. And you can ask what he, the client, did to find the woman. And if he has obvious leads yet didn’t follow them up, why did he not follow up.

Don’t be blinded by the promise of a big fee. You know how it goes, if it’s sounds too good to be true, it is.

It’s moral and fair and responsible to protect your client, but this should not come at the cost of the subject you are to find. I believe I owe the subject something too.

Copyright Michael Hessenthaler


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