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Go to the Videos Pages PI Chronicles 1: The Smoking Gun

This is Part 1 of the "PI Chronicles," stories of interesting investigation cases from the archives of Stein Investigation Agency (, one of the country's oldest and best private investigation agencies.

The Smoking Gun

Everything was hot in Kern County that July 4th, with the exception of the decedent's body, which, despite his having apparently committed suicide only half an hour earlier, was cold to the touch. The investigating police officer found nothing strange about this, having arrived very rapidly at the decedent's residence in response to a 911 call by his wife.

Officers spoke briefly with various other neighbors, with the exception of the male next-door neighbor who was parts unknown for the several days that officers tried to contact him.

Prior to the suicide, the deceased had been involved in an insurance claim. After the suicide, the man's wife filed a bad faith suit against the insurance company, claiming that they were too slow in paying the claim and that that was what drove the deceased to suicide. Stein Investigation was hired to investigate the case by the insurance carrier defending against the bad faith lawsuit.

A review of the police report and coroner's report indicated that the decedent had apparently shot himself in the chest with a rifle. Death was instantaneous. Photos depicted blood splash marks on both forearms.

Further investigation disclosed that the decedent, several weeks earlier, had checked into an area motel and apparently threatened suicide. Investigation disclosed that the manager of the motel was present for a distraught conversation which took place between the future decedent and his wife.

Further inquiries and contact with neighbors and associates disclosed that the decedent, in fact, was planning to leave his wife for a younger woman who was then pregnant with his child. This raised suspicions of possible foul play.

The Stein investigator caused considerable distress in a Big 5 Sporting Goods store when he asked to see a comparable rifle. After ensuring that a rifle was empty of any cartridge, the investigator proceeded to hold it to his chest in an effort to ascertain where the blood would have splashed, had he in fact shot himself with the rifle in a suicide attempt. The staff in the store, not used to such activity, were considerably upset by this.

The investigator also examined the actual rifle involved in the death.

We found out that the husband, the decedent, was both a pool player and a fairly heavy drinker. On one occasion, the husband, when his wife attempted to have him return home from a night engaged in drinking and pool playing, beat her up rather severely, causing facial scarring. She was heard at that time to tell him that if he ever did that again, she would kill him.

More detailed examination of the crime scene photographs of the decedent showed that the blood spattering on the arms did not appear to be consistent with that of an individual holding a rifle to his own chest, but rather showed that the arms had been in a defensive position at the time of the shooting.

All in all, our investigative results were likely to contribute to a very lively courtroom drama.

At this point in the investigation, the investigator came up with a bright idea. A small amount of research discovered that the decedent had not actually divorced his previous wife, rendering his current "wife" without any standing to file the bad faith suit. Since we were doing our investigation for the insurance company that had been sued, we closed the file. But not surprisingly, the District Attorney did not.

About the Author: Mitch Hermann is Director of Stein Investigation Agency (, founded in 1946 and with investigators in 45 cities in 15 states.

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