Top 10 PursuitMag Stories of 2015

Happy New Year from Pursuit Magazine!

We, the editors, celebrated our third anniversary at PursuitMag on Halloween of 2015. It’s been a productive three years! We’ve published stories about  interviewing techniques and surveillance training, thrilling tales from the field, personal essays, pop culture reviews, and features about writing better reports and things PIs can learn from pilots.

Last spring we also finished season one of our PI podcast — which we redubbed “Spycurious” — and we’re looking forward to launching season 2 in the next few months. (If you missed it, you can download those episodes on iTunes.)

As for how we selected the top 10 stories of 2015: Our classified algorithm captured clicks, shares, comments, and angry emails, factored in a certain unquantifiable love from the ether, analyzed it all, and spat out 10 superlative articles from this year, listed in chronological order.

To our discerning readers and our amazing contributors, we raise a New Year’s glass to you. To the former, thank you for your clicks, comments, shares, and angry emails; and to the latter category, our deepest gratitude for helping us to entertain and inform the investigative community and spy-curious public.

In return, we vow never to click-lure you with tiresome “and you won’t believe what happened next!” cliches. If we post it, you can believe it — because we promise to offer cold, hard proof.


digital-grunge1. Knowing Your Worth in a Bargain Basement Market  1/14

“Anything obtained on the cheap tends to be undervalued, including the products of human labor—our services, our expertise, and our time.” —Amy Lynn Burch

We’re all struggling to compete with the fly-by-night background search websites. With her signature wit and candor, Amy Lynn Burch explains why PIs should stop doing that right now.

Leonarde_Keeler_1937-239x3002. The Polygraph and Polygraph Countermeasures  1/27

“To me, that psychological edge for the interviewer is the real utility of the polygraph.” —Kevin Goodman

As an interrogation aid, is the polygraph worth the human cost? And even with the high risk of false positives, is it ethical to teach polygraph countermeasures? As always, Kevin Goodman’s meticulous research and rigorous thinking combine in a thoughtful piece that got a hot debate raging in the comments thread — some folks have strong opinions about polygraphs, it seems.

crime-scene-tape-380x3803. The Real Work of a Private Investigator  2/4

“Our client’s future rests squarely on our efforts. So we give it all we have.” —Keith Owens

Keith Owens doesn’t wear disguises, break into houses, or point guns at anyone. But he does write profound think-pieces about the motivations and ethics that guide his work as a criminal defense investigator — even if, on occasion, that moral compass leads him to tell a client not to hire him. (Can we get more PIs like this guy, please?)

DeathtoStock_Wired3-e14242873061414. Five Reasons Law Firms Are Not Hiring You  2/18

“Tired of getting turned down for investigative work at established law firms? Here’s what you’re up against: the mistakes of PIs who came before you.” —Brian Willingham

Brian Willingham is playing this game at a very high level, so when he offers his sage business advice about getting and keeping clients, we would advise you to pay attention, and take some notes. This piece is just a start — dig into his excellent blog, if you haven’t already.

6e609595-380x3805. Surveillance: How It Really Is  2/23

“When surveillance goes mobile, you have to ride that razor’s edge, while you manage the road hazards swirling around you.” —Steve Koenig

A creative and entertaining look at the realities of surveillance gigs, from lousy pay and climate hazards to the very real perils of needing one more Gatorade bottle on hand than you actually have. We hope to see more next year from Steve Koenig.

Screen Shot 2015-12-22 at 3.27.09 PM6. Five Keys to a Successful Surveillance  6/22

“If you are a true surveillance operative, you will willingly surrender the joy of owning a “cool car” for the joy of succeeding at surveillance.” —Barry Maguire

Everybody loves a good surveillance article, but Barry Maguire offers such thorough, useful, and practical advice in this piece, that even veteran operatives may learn a thing or two.



7. When Your Lover Is a Liar  7/2

“If someone like Jim could trick my mom, who is no dummy, I figured it could happen to anyone.” —Philip A. Becnel

In this fascinating and well-reported piece, Philip Becnel investigates the motives of romance fraudsters and shares a few personal anecdotes about catfishers he’s encountered in work and life. A compelling read, full of insights about what drives a certain type of con artist to break bank accounts and hearts.

Woman-with-laptop8. Should We Trust Trustify?  8/5

“What had I done, asking a stranger to comb through the details of my apparently not-so-private life?” —Chad Nichols

This year Trustify, a startup billed as the “Uber for PIs,” had our entire industry talking — and sometimes, vociferously disagreeing — about what this meant for the future of investigations. That’s why we hired a reporter from outside the field to report this piece. Chad Nichols has no dog in the fight, and he turned to some sources you’ll recognize in reporting this story — with diligence and fairness, we might add.

Whether you think Trustify will destroy or merely “disrupt” the PI business, we believe you’ll find this article thought-provoking and illuminating.

phone-call-380x3809. I’m Calling a PI for the First Time. What Should I Expect?  5/27

“Be honest with your PI. Concealing information pretty much guarantees that we can’t do the job you want done.” —Keith Owens

Information so useful, you may want to print it out and mail it to all prospective clients. Keith Owens tackles the standard client misconceptions with such candor and diplomacy, we may need to hire him as our industry ambassador one day.

baby-and-mother10. A Cold Case: How Private Investigators Can Give Back  10/26  *editors’ choice

“I wanted to help parents get closure, after all other traditional investigative means have failed.” —Christopher Borba

In this  heartfelt and profound story, Chris Borba writes about his experiences volunteering to work cold cases, and explains his deeply personal motives for wanting to offer his services to parents who are teetering between hope and grief. It’s a beautiful piece, and we can’t help but feel that if more PIs adopted this philosophy, our image problem would disappear.

See also:

Top 14 PursuitMag Stories of 2014
Top 13 PursuitMag Stories of 2013