Life Charlie's Angels on the Case
clued in...what it's like to get hired as a private
eye and go after the bad guys.
scene could very well have been ripped from a Mickey
Spillane novel: a high-stakes investigation; a 250-pound,
no-neck bodyguard; and one wrong word that could spell
the difference between success and disaster.
wasnt fiction, though. It was real life, and the
private eye wasnt a grizzled, cigar-chomping gumshoeshe
was a 26-year-old woman who graduated from Harvard and
studied Renaissance poetry at Oxford. I thought
about a career in academia, said Manhattan private
investigator Leslie Silbert, who reads John Le Carre
when shes not facing down bad guys. But
I wanted to purse my interests in the real world. I
didnt want to just read spy booksI wanted
to live them out.
who said she managed to get away with the information
she wanted from under the nose of the bodyguard, isnt
the only young woman living out detective-novel dreams.
She is part of a growing wave of women who are smashing
the image of a PI as a tough-talking man with a fedora
and a jaded leer.
best surveillance people Ive ever had were females
who did not have a law-enforcement background,
said Richard Bo Dietl, head of Beau Dietl
and Associates Security and Investigations in New York.
Women are hungrier, they dont complain,
and they have energy left. Dietl (a former law
enforcement agent whose life story was the inspiration
for the 1998 film One Tough Cop starring Stephen Baldwin)
said at least 40 percent of the investigators in his
agency are women. Theyre great on surveillance.
No one suspects a woman is following them. Theyre
also great on eavesdropping for the same reason.
the age of computer database searches, detective work
has changed. These days, detailed financial probes are
more common than back-alley snooping. Spying on cheating
husbands is no longer a regular part of the private
new trend is toward international investigations,
said Bob Viteretti, managing director of Kroll Associates
New York office. We need people with legal expertise,
computer expertise, forensic experts. They come in all
genders, shapes and sizes.
private detective agencies like experience, says
Bo Dietl, but I also hire people with no experience.
They apprentice here and learn through people who know.
Dietl says apprentices start at approximately $500 a
week. The qualities he looks for in aspiring private
detectives are energy, tenacity and visionwhich
he describes as having the ability to change your line
of questioning based on the personality of the person
youre interrogating. In other words, doing what
it takes to get the information you need from that person.
Gray is a 26-year-old Brown graduate who spends her
workdays hunting down information behind multi-million-dollar
business deals for BackTrack Reports in New York. Were
not jaded about this work, she said. Were
not hardboiled. And maybe thats an asset.
a year ago, a newspaper ad prompted Amy, a former assistant
editor at Doubleday, to leave her job in book publishing.
The same ad lured her co-worker Amber Smith away from
the art world. Neither regrets her decision, but the
28-year-old Amber admits she had some doubts about becoming
a PI. I was expecting a lot of gray-faced old
men, she said of her first trip to the agency
offices in downtown Manhattan. But when I got
there, I got all fired up from remembering reading old
Nancy Drew books. I remembered that lost ambition.
Keaton, 26, was a junior high teacher before moving
to BackTrack. She loves the change. I would classify
our organization as the young, hip version of PI work,
she said. Were not that old man in the corner
with a cigar.
the cigar is a thing of the past, so too is the magnifying
glass. Todays tool of choice is the computer,
used to search out information in such public records
as courthouse deeds, marriage licenses and old arrest
such raw material and some phone calls, the investigators
say they can build a stunningly accurate portrait of
a subject. They dont even have to flash a gun,
which the women claim is often a misconception among
friends. They ask you if youre packing,
Amy said, patting her hip. I dont have a
investigate companies and people and thats what
we train people to do, says Tony Shortway, operations
manager at BackTrack. We look for good deductive
reasoning skills. No college degree is necessary. No
experience is necessary. Sometimes it works better to
get people and train from the bottom up.
women who work at BackTrack enthuse about their jobs,
but when it comes to spilling the juice details of their
cases, they clam up quickly, admitting only that they
involve big-money deals and clients who dont want
their names in the paper. Its not a Charlies
Angels situation, Amy said. Were not
breaking up international drug rings. Were protecting
the three rookies shrink from comparisons to the late
70s TV heroines who just made a comeback on the
big screen (in the 2000 film which starred Cameron Diaz,
Drew Barrymore, and Lucy Liu), some women in the profession
fill the role of Charlie quite nicelyorganizing
and supervising groups of detectives and coordinating
Wood, 45, a former assistant U.S. attorney, is even
doing the job part-time while on maternity leave. I
can work the phone from home, and I have the support
of teams of people, she said, as her newborn daughter,
Georgia Grace, cried in the background. Its
hard to do a serious conference call or a confrontational
interview, though, when you have these sound effects
in the background. It makes people giggle.
a 1986 Columbia Law School graduate, worked for several
years at the prestigious Manhattan law firm of Cravath,
Swaine and Moore, where she met her husband, also an
attorney. She went from white-shoe firm to gumshoe detective
by the same route men have taken for years: through
the U.S. attorneys office. Her job at Kroll Associates,
a firm which specializes in corporate skullduggery,
entails coordinating the efforts of investigative teams
similar to the staff at a prosecutors office:
street-level investigators, computer experts and forensic
sense and personality are mostly whats needed
to get the job done, says Elaine. You do not necessarily
need a college degree to become a successful investigator,
she says. Look what Erin Brockovich accomplished,
says Elaine, referring to the 2000 film starring Julia
Roberts, based on the true story of a California file
clerk who uncovered corruption in a public utilities
company, resulting in a $333 million payout.
also plays the role of an account manager, handling
clients she describes only as Fortune 500
companies with names everyone would recognize.
of Elaines clients is New Yorks Madison
Square Garden, where last year she helped bust up a
major ticket-scalping ring, resulting in the firings
of nine employees. Because of her maternity leave, Elaines
workload has diminished. But she credits Kroll, which
has more than 1,000 employees in more than 45 offices
worldwide, including Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington
D.C., and Toronto, with helping her stay on the job,
showing that in the modern detective agency, theres
room even for motherhood.
major agencies, professionalism has played a big role
in ending the dark days when women were used as bait,
seducing unwitting husbands, to get evidence of adultery.
Now the field is filled with women like Leslie, who
has investigating in her blood: her father, a former
U.S. attorney, was one of the first prosecutors to handle
the Watergate probe.
most rewarding case she has worked on was an investigation
into art stolen from Holocaust survivors during World
War II. The probe led to SoHo art galleries and one-time
members of the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner
of the CIA.
for her brush with the 250-pound tough, Leslie, who
worked at Investigative Group International in Manhattan
(but is now on leave from the industry so she can write
a spy novel called The Intelligencer), said her
fast talk and unassuming lookthe appearance of
a Prada-clad public relations agenthelped her
get away. Beyond that, all shell say is: I
was asking questions that would make people uncomfortable.
Legendary private eye Mike Hammer could not have put
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