Investigators' stereotype is bad fit today

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George Hoshell prefers "investigator" over private eye, or even detective.

"People think I'm a lot of things I'm not," said the co-owner of North Augusta's Consulting and Investigative Services.

Most would-be clients come expecting their favorite literary sleuths (think Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot); stars of TV series (Mannix or Magnum P.I. ); or film icons (Humphrey Bogart's Philip Marlowe in The Big Sleep ).

"They've got these preconceived notions that what they see on TV is what we do. They feel dirty coming to us. They're extremely nervous," said his wife and business partner, Tracy Hoshell.

Then again, their Web site pictures a silhouetted Holmes in a deerstalker cap with a calabash pipe.

"There are some images you just can't shake," Mrs. Hoshell said.

Maybe the business used to match the dark, downbeat, black-and-white depictions of film noir, but today, detectives say, they work in shades of gray.

"There's so much subtlety to what we do," Mr. Hoshell said.

A successful investigation rarely leaves room for convertibles, scotch or femmes fatales at the doorstep.

"It's not that glamorous at all," Mrs. Hoshell said. At a stakeout, "you can't leave at all. We can't cut the car on, so we sweat it out. You can't leave to get something to eat. You can't leave to go into the bathroom. You just sit."

She often waits at the ready with a video camera to record a cheating spouse or a fraudulent worker's compensation claim.

"We do a lot of cheating cases," Mr. Hoshell said. "Rarely do you catch somebody in the act. We catch them with the element of opportunity."

Most often, the Hoshells say, a client who suspects a spouse is cheating is right. Clients usually don't ask to see the video, Mrs. Hoshell said.

"You hate giving people bad news but we think they deserve the truth," she said.

For most investigators, that sort of domestic surveillance is the "tip of the iceberg," said Gene Staulcup of Gene Staulcup & Associates Inc., in Augusta.

His office investigates civil and criminal cases and missing-persons reports, provides depositions, serves court papers, and administers background checks and polygraph tests.

"It's a familiar world. A lot of people in the private investigator business have left law enforcement," said Mr. Staulcup, a former officer for the Richmond County Sheriff's Office. "We do all types of criminal defense work, but on the flip side, we also assist law enforcement."

Mr. Hoshell was once a police officer in North Augusta and Aiken County. He said he has followed suspects across state lines, and Mr. Staulcup's detectives say they have had to travel as far as Mexico, the Bahamas, California and New York.

Although they will tail a suspect, the detectives say they can't tap phone lines or cross onto personal property.

"We can't do anything illegal, but we have been known to traipse through the woods. We've been to attics, under houses, church and schools," Mrs. Hoshell said.

There's no Mike Hammer theme music. No Bogart hat worn low over the eyes.

Not that costumes are out of the question. The Hoshells have pretended to be camera-happy tourists. Mrs. Hoshell was once dressed as a real estate agent and drove around with a borrowed magnetic sign on the side of her car.

They hide cameras in hats, buttons and purses. They use Global Positioning System devices to track moving vehicles.

"People think it's cool. My son's friends think it's a big deal, like we're an undercover Magnum P.I., " Mrs. Hoshell said. "We're undercover but we know we're not really that cool."

Reach Kelly Jasper at (706) 823-3552 or kelly.jasper@augustachronicle.com.

BY THE NUMBERS

52,000: Private investigators in the United States in 2006


61,000: Number expected by 2016


1,647: Number of detectives in Georgia


$33,750: Median salary of private detectives


$50 to $100: Local investigators' hourly charge, depending on the firm, plus mileage reimbursements


30%: Of investigators who are self-employed

HIRE THE RIGHT INVESTIGATOR

Investigators offer these tips for finding a qualified detective to work your case:


ASK YOUR LAWYER. Most have worked with investigators and can recommend a company.


LOOK FOR A LICENSE. Detective agencies in Georgia are required to have a company license issued by the Georgia Board of Private Detectives and Security Agencies. Detectives are required to register as an employee of the agency. South Carolina agencies and their investigators must be licensed by the State Law Enforcement Division.


VERIFY. Before hiring, verify a company and individual license at http://sos.georgia.gov/plb/detective/. Use only a company that is fully licensed, bonded and insured.

Sources: U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, Georgia Board of Private Detectives and Security Agencies


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