By Cindy Atoji Keene
Private investigator Sarah Alcorn calls upon her sleuthing abilities for a variety of detective work, some serious and some silly. The trivial includes a 75-year-old man who was convinced his wife was having an affair. “I followed her and found out that she was just going to home goods and knitting stores to get the hell away from him,” said Alcorn, 44, of Boston-based Greystones Investigation, LLC. More significant inquiries can involve criminal and civil investigations, such finding a suspect who was breaking into cars at night. “The witness saw the guy; he was wearing a shirt with a large number eight. It was a slam-dunk because his shirt was so identifiable. Not a good outfit for breaking into cars,” said Alcorn, who has been a detective for 14 years.
Q: The classic image of the P.I. is hunting down a cheating spouse. Is this an accurate depiction?
A: Before the advent of no-fault divorce, I was often hired to search out evidence of adultery. Now, people still call me about catching a cheating spouse, but after hearing them say, “I saw this weird text or discovered this email,” I respond, “Look, you don’t need the extra insult of paying me to find out he’s being unfaithful.” I talk myself out of a lot of jobs.
Q: What about your work for defense attorneys?
A: These clients are accused of any number of offenses, from misdemeanors to sexual assault and murders. An attorney can’t go and speak to a witness directly, so they’ll send me to find out what they saw. It’s my job to flush out the details by talking to the person. Other times I’ll check on the accuracy of a police report. In one such case, police claimed they were on the other side of the park and saw a drug transaction take place across a basketball court. I went there and there were dense pine trees lining the court; it would have been impossible for police to see anything like they claimed.
Q: How do you conduct surveillance surreptitiously?
A: The truth about surveillance is that it’s 99 percent unproductive and 1 percent incredibly nerve-racking. I don’t do as much surveillance as I used to since there are usually more cost-effective solutions. There is also the expectation of privacy – you can’t go to someone’s house and look in the window – but it’s OK to park across the street and watch their comings and goings. Surveillance can require nerves of steel as well as practical preparations, such as not drinking any water or coffee so you don’t have to leave to go to the bathroom.
Q: How did you become a detective?
A: I’ve always been fascinated with crime and forensics. I thought about applying to the F.B.I. or becoming a cop. Then met a private investigator who mentored me for three years, as required for a license. He gave me my start in the business.
Q: What kind of equipment or supplies do you use?
A: I have a couple of different wigs and sunglasses. I think it’s good to change appearances, like when you’re following someone in a car. I have one wig with long dark hair and the other that’s reddish and kind of a bob. Since I also work on a lot of cases where people are accused of using drugs within a school zone, I have a measuring wheel to check distances, similar to what surveyers use. Finally, I have a little camera that goes into the button of a shirt. But I really rely on is my laptop for accessing databases and other records like the RMV.
Q: Who’s your favorite private eye?
A: I really love the British Sherlock Holmes. As a character, he’s appropriately weird. Some of the American detective stuff is too perfect; I always think, ‘Parole officers don’t look like that.’ The British ones seem sweaty and more real and also very edgy.
Q: What mystery would you love to solve?
A: My fantasy would be to find the paintings that were stolen from the Isabella Stewart Museum.
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