Where are those Witnesses?
by Karen Bries
Eat your Heart Out Nancy Drew, Inspector Clouseau and Magnum
My dear Watson, if you are finding that locating witnesses isn’t so elementary, Jane Cracraft, one of Colorado’s premier private investigators, has some ways to make sure you get the perfect witness on the stand.
Cracraft is a past president of the Professional Private Investigators Association of Colorado (1990-91), Certified Legal Investigator, Certified Criminal Defense Investigator, and was voted one of the "Top 25 Investigators of the Century" in July 2000, by the National Association of Investigative Specialists.
She says that witnesses aren’t just the two parties in the car accident, or just the victim or the perpetrator at the crime scene. There are many more people involved.
Too often, some private investigators will rely solely on finding witnesses from an accident or police report. She says that the best witnesses are often the gas station attendants who work at the intersection where the accident happened. Passengers who were in the cars during the accident are often good sources of information as well. Both of these sources are hardly ever on the police report.
Another source can be the person who calls 911. Especially in a car accident, the 911 caller will only stick around long enough to call the police and wait to hear sirens. Because of this, the caller’s name never makes it on the police report. To find this 911 report, go to the agency that handled the call. Give the agency the time and location of the accident and a blank tape so they can record it for you. On your tape you’ll hear the caller’s name. If it’s been a year since the accident, ask for the computerized communications record.
The tricky part, according to Cracraft, comes once your private investigator found the witness’s name.
"Years ago, only 50 percent of the public had published phone numbers, now hardly anyone has a published number," says Cracraft.
Here are six tips to find a witness:
1. Phone book. Although not everyone’s information is published, it’s still the best place to reach out and touch someone. If your looking for a Kent Walters, you may not find Kent, but K Walters could be him or a relative.
2. Reverse Directory. By looking up an address, you may find the person who lives there in reverse directories, such as Cole’s Directory. Even if your witness has moved, you may still find answers by knocking on neighbors’ doors.
Cracraft gives this hint about reverse directories: "Look in the directory for addresses around the house where your witness lived. Look for Lucille, Mabelle and Mildred. Often the older women on the block will be able to tell you something about their former neighbor like ‘the guy who lived there moved to Tacoma because his granddaughter used to visit and that’s where she lives.’"
3. Motor Vehicle Records. The Department of Motor Vehicles requires a driver to renw his or her license once every 10 years. Most people don’t bother to change their records when they move, but it is still a good place to look. Often, the police officer writes the home and work numbers of the person whom he tickets for speeding. Or if the witness you’re looking for has a co-registrant on file for registration, it could give you another person to talk to in order to find the witness.
4. QuickInfo.com. This subscription Internet databank comes from Colorado’s public records. You can search by name, address, the number of vehicles at the address and more. It even gives hints about relatives and former roommates. At a cost of $1,400 per year, this can be pricey for a samll law firm, but most investigators subscribe. Although QuickInfo doesn’t have all the information nationwide, it is based in Colorado and has some information from Colorado and many other states.
Cracraft belongs to QuickInfo and about eight other databanks where she can usually find a lot of the information she needs.
5. Knock on doors. If you have an old address and your witness’ old neighbor answers the door not knowing where your witness lives, ask if the address might have been recorded on their Christmas card list. You’ll get more names to work off of. Neighbors can remember more than you think. Let them talk.
6. Professional licenses. Real estate agents, doctors, cosmetologists and plumbers must be licensed. Call up the licensing board and find information about your witness that way.
Cracraft says that your private investigators or parainvestigators should know all about these steps.
If you are still in the hiring stage to find a private investigator, here are a few ideas about what to expect:
Jane Cracraft works as both an investigator and a consultant; she handles defense of sexual assault, harrassment, intellectual property and selected personal injury cases. Cracraft says, "Most people say if it’s a weird case, call Jane." Her number is (303) 777-6607.
Editor’s Note: This was a topic that took place on Feb. 5 at Tuesdays at the Bar, the Denver Bar Association’s weekly educational luncheon program. To view the handouts from "Truth, Lies and Private Eyes," go to www.cobar.org/calendar/ and try an advanced search.