Tuesday, March 04, 2003

Tricks of the Trade

By Private Investigator Michael T. O'Rourke

Question: I am a Paralegal in a law firm specializing in estates and wills. We are attempting to locate the only remaining heir to an estate. Family members have stated the heir is homeless, somewhere here in Wilmington. The Court of Chancery has required we attempt to locate the heir. Any suggestions to help find him?

Answer: Locating defendants or persons with information critical to a client's case is a routine assignment for most investigators. The proverbial "paper trail" we create as we go through life, from a birth certificate all the way through our eventual death certificate, many documents are created along the way.

There are a multitude of sources to check when searching for almost any American: all of the computer databases, voter registration indices, previous civil and criminal litigation, telephone books, cross reference directories, Department of Motor Vehicle records, Social Security data, sometimes police reports, and the list goes on...

The homeless segment of our population does not leave the usual clues, but a record is nevertheless created.

To start an investigation regarding a homeless, or transient, individual, I need some lead or basis to believe that the subject is in a certain area. That information may be developed from the subject's old friends, relatives, associates, ex-employers, or your client. The subject may have written or called someone and given an indication of location or destination. Dates, and times, of last contact are relative.

I will attempt to obtain some, or all, of the following: the subject's full name, aliases, nicknames... age and/or date of birth, a photograph, as recent as possible, and physical description. Medical data (illnesses or deformities) and mental health information could be useful.

In some cases, as a next step, I usually prepare a "Missing" or a "Reward" poster. These are useful for leaving with businesses or individuals, posting in shelter agencies, and areas where other homeless people may frequent. I hand them out to persons I interview during the course of the investigation.

The posters may generate additional leads on the subject's whereabouts, particularly if there is a reward offered for information. The posters should include a picture of the subject, name, description, maybe a reason why you are looking for the subject and how to contact you if someone has information. If a reward is offered for information it should say so on the poster.

Many facilities will post the information near common entrances. I have had several cases where, after I had made contact with the facility management, I received anonymous tips that the subject was at a specific location. Money is a great motivator. Allegiances are very scarce.

I always check the subject's criminal history utilizing the CJIS system located at the New Castle County Courthouse, 500 King Street. If the subject is not incarcerated at the present time, review all available records. Pull the jacket. As limited as the records may be, they can confirm that your subject was in the area on a certain date and time.

Identities of co-defendants, or victims could become valuable at a later date. Sooner or later, most are arrested for "quality of life" crimes (public drunkenness, loitering, panhandling, etc...)

The Wilmington Hospital (501 W. 14th Street) and Medical Examiners Office (200 S. Adams Street) are the two other institutions that commonly have contact with the transient population. Neither institution will provide you with specific confidential information, but will certainly provide a date of last contact, or allow you to leave a poster, or business card. (If a subject turns up dead, or injured, you will certainty be notified.)

The next step is to develop two lists; the first list is of shelter agencies that cater to transients; the second is a list of places that these people typically congregate. These two lists will probably have common characteristics, but there will be separate, distinct locations on each.

Various places you might find on the first list are:
  • Salvation Army locations (105 S. Market Street)
  • Churches and church-sponsored locations, including "soup kitchens" (too many to list, start with the Franciscan Center in the 800 block of N. Market Street)
  • Privately funded charity organizations
  • YMCAs, YWCAs, etc. In many places, street people have formed coalitions or associations to help deal with their problems.
Any of these organizations may he able to help you locate your subject or give you other leads. Wilmington has only one men's shelter, the "Sunday Breakfast Mission", located in the 100 block of N. Poplar Street.

On the list of locations frequented by transients, you will find bus or train stations (100 block of N. French Street), plasma centers that purchase blood from donors (and other income sources), and day-worker pickup locations where they can obtain labor jobs for a short periods of time (Laborworks, etc...).

In addition, common street locations where transients frequent (in the vicinity of the shelter agencies like the Salvation Army, parks, bridges, highway overpasses, etc...), and for some reason, the Train Station is a big draw in Wilmington. I have always found the Amtrak Police Department to be very cooperative.

There are several places here in Wilmington where transients gather to exchange information about shelter locations and where to get free handouts. They panhandle passers-by, share food or drink, and if they can afford it, drugs. In this particular location, they also pass out or just fall asleep on the sidewalk.

The Wilmington Police Department, and the City Safe Streets Program are helpful in identifying current locations. The Safe Streets program has almost 70 square blocks of Wilmington "on camera". A stop to visit this agency would be a smart move.

Unavoidably, I will go to the various locations visited by other homeless people, talk to the people, and check for leads or information. The bottom line is; You must physically visit the locations on the lists, and conduct interviews to locate the subject. Wilmington is a smaller town than you think. It is nearly impossible to "disappear".

Det. Michael T. O'Rourke is a Member of the National Association of Investigative Specialists, The National Association of Professional Process Servers, and Sustaining member of the Delaware Paralegal Association.

A Court Certified Special Process Server, and a Licensed Private Investigator in DE and PA. Michael specializes in Insurance Defense and Criminal Defense. He invites your questions to:

Loss Solutions, Inc.
824 N. Market Street, Suite 425,
P.O. Box 368, Wilmington DE 19899-0368.
(302) 427-3600.

Or you may e-mail him at DEIrish5@aol.com

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