Your Trash Ain’t Nothin’ But Stash
By Colleen Collins & Shaun Kaufman
We changed a couple of words from the old Steve Miller song “Your Cash Ain’t Nothin’ But Trash” for this blog title because it sounded catchier than “How Private Investigators Rummage Through People’s Trash for Evidence, Such as Drugs.
In our combined 14 years as private investigators, we’ve successfully solved a number of cases by getting down and dirty in other people’s trash. It’s amazing how many people blithely toss their most secret information, such as receipts, phone numbers, credit card statements, personal letters…and drugs. They might be more careful with their garbage if they knew incriminating items from it could end up in a court of law.
Some of our clients are domestic relations lawyers who sometimes need evidence in child custody cases. In one case, a father of two small children suspected his ex-wife’s erratic behavior and excessive weight loss (60 pounds in 4 months) was due to her using meth. When his attorney hired us to find evidence, we knew what to do: Conduct a trash hit on the ex-wife’s garbage.
Case Preparation: When, Where, What
We always prepare ahead of time for a trash hit. Trust us, it’s enough of a mess rummaging through a stranger’s garbage without making the activity a spontaneous event.
For this particular case, we:
• Checked what day of the week the ex-wife’s trash was picked up (the husband had an idea which day, which we confirmed by checking the municipal website).
• Surveyed the ex-wife’s home the week before and learned she set out the trash the night before trash collection pick-up.
• Prepared our equipment (for example, checked that cameras had batteries, purchased bulky gloves as we didn’t know if there’d be needles in the trash).
After dragging ourselves out of bed at 4 a.m. on “trash hit” day, we:
• Dressed in dark colors (yeah, sounds James Bondish, but wearing that neon-yellow Led Zeppelin T-shirt means being easily identified).
• Packed our equipment (cameras, gloves, bags) into the vehicle.
• On the drive over, reviewed who was doing what (last thing a PI team wants is to look like the Keystone Cops – it’s supposed to be a trash hit, not a trash comedy of errors).
• Turned off dome light so the vehicle would stay dark inside while opening doors (wearing dark clothes doesn’t matter if you put yourself in the spotlight!)
• Parked next to the trash and quickly did our dirty work.
Often after trash hits, we take the refuse to a public area (such as a public park) and do a first pass through the trash, tossing unnecessary items in a public dumpster. This way we’re not driving a trash-packed, foul-smelling vehicle for miles and miles back to our office. Although this could be a funny scene in a story.
For this particular case we knew we’d be carefully sifting through trash for possibly miniscule amounts of meth, so we rolled down the windows and drove our trash-packed, foul-smelling vehicle back to the office while watching the sun come up. Ah, nothing like the smell of detritus in the morning.
Back at the office, we laid out the trash. Wearing latex gloves, we documented suspicious evidence (see photos below):
Photo 1: Baggie with specks of white powder
Photo 2: Pen and arrows point to suspected meth
We also retrieved a dismantled writing pen, whose cylinder appeared
to be filled with a fine coating of white powder.
We mailed the baggie and pen cylinder to a DEA-approved private forensic lab. Their tests confirmed the traces of white substances were methamphetamine.
When the case went to court, the father won custody of the kids based on the photographs, lab report and our investigative testimony. This case occurred several years ago, but just the other day the attorney told us that the mother has yet to call her kids. That she’s still in that house with her meth, disconnected to the real world. Sad but true, she’s become a line in that Steve Miller tune… baby you’re crawling way past your speed.
If you’re writing a sleuth character or story, think about incorporating a trash hit to find evidence for a wide variety of cases, from child custody to missing persons to homicides.
Thank you, Jan Brogan and Jungle Red Writers, for hosting us as your blog guests today.
Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman are private investigators and writers. Their non-fiction ebook How to Write a Dick: A Guide to Writing Fictional Sleuths from a Couple of Real-Life Sleuths will be available on Kindle and Nook in July 2011.
The authors are gifting one Kindle ebook of How to Write a Dick: A Guide to Writing Fictional Sleuths from a Couple of Real-Life Sleuths to one person, chosen at random, who comments on today's blog. If you don't have a Kindle device, Kindle apps for PCs and Macs are free and easily downloadable from Amazon. Add your email address to your comments so if your name is picked, the authors will know how to contact you! The winner's name will be picked by midnight, July 7.