I talk about the Gulf War and the old West. I talk about the heavens and books.
So, I want to take the opportunity to talk about police takedowns and how they happen in the real world, and then putting them into novels.
Now, at the risk of sounding sexist, a lady cop is worth her weight in gold. the reason I say that is rarely does a man consider a woman a worthy adversary. One of our local gang members found that out when he managed to out run all the male officers, and then found himself tackled by two of Greeley’s female officers who ran track and were marathon runners.
I have several female officers in my stories to include Marshal Pam Harmon and Lt. Lana Pacheco
For the time being, let’s take a look at Lt. Pacheco. Unlike Marshal Harmon, she’s not one of my regulars. She appears in “The Cross and the Badge” and we won’t see her again until somewhere around book six (which exists in extreme rough draft only).
But being smart, Lt. Lana Pacheco uses this to her advantage.
First, a little background on the art of altering documents, which her part of the story deals with.
I’ve got a long history of investigating Fraud Crimes, and I learned that trade from the best. Or maybe he wasn’t so good since he got caught, but anyway. But my teacher was an old man doing time for forgery.
When I went to the police academy, I went to what they called the Western Slopes academy. I’ll be honest, very few people who went there looked like cops. We had one guy who looked like a reject from ZZ Top came in, hair, beard, and all. He was the undersheriff from Lake county.
Anyway, we weren’t in any impressive structure. We were in this two-story building that migrant workers used when working the crops. We had a bay for sleeping in, a forward area that served as a cafeteria/study hall, and showers. Upstairs was the classroom, complete with desks cast-off from a local school, a wrestling mat, a movie projector, and a screen.
It was low rent as far as a police academy went.
We had inmates from the local honor farm that cooked for us, and I can only imagine how many times a day they spat in the food. An old, quiet man guy was in charge of the kitchen. I’ll call him “Cook.”
One night, after dinner, and the inmates had done the dishes, we were all in the mess hall studying. Typically, a van would come down and pick up the inmates, but it was running late that evening.
Cook came out to where we were studying and said, “How would you guys like to learn something from the criminal element.”
Curious, we said, sure.
I don’t know why he taught us this. I suspect Jesus had found him, and it was a form of penance. But for an hour and a half, he talked about forgery. He’d been doing time for that and was passing what he knew onto us. He spoke of forging money orders, checks, and so on. It was eye-opening as to how easy it was.
Years later, when I related the story in my book, I’d base the forger’s character on the man.
I was also able to take what he taught and apply it to the novel and to solve the case in real life. Actually, I used his lesson several times in my career.
The story I relate in the novel is true, with only the names and a few events changed. What happened is we had this guy touring (I think the proper word is living off the land) the United States. What he’d do is stop at a 7-11 and purchase a money order for a few dollars. Equipped with a typewriter, he’d change the one or two dollar money order to a few hundred. He’d then pass it someplace, get the cash, and move along.
The amounts were small, but he altered enough of them that he had a respectable income. In addition to his means of funding himself. he also did legitimate things like using the money he made to buy pickup trucks full of potatoes. These he’d take into the cities and sell them at a flea market and make more money.
He was quite the enterprising gentleman.
My teacher had told us that it was one thing a forger might do.
The cook also warned us that the forger would use a list of alias’.
The forger had several pages worth of alias’ that he wrote the money orders under, to include Alan Hale Jr.. As most fans of movies and television might know, Alan Hale was the name of the actor who played the Skipper on Gilligan’s Island. That gives us a snapshot into his mind. I think he enjoyed what he was doing and the thrill he was pulling something on someone. And he did have an ID to back up who he claimed to be.
By the time the money order came back as worthless, security tapes had been reused, and he’d been forgotten. This left law enforcement with nothing to go on, and there were cold cases all over most of the United States as a result. Because the amounts were so small, nothing was ever passed on to the FBI or other organizations.
Just from the altered money orders we knew about, this guy had altered money orders to the tune of around a million dollars or more.
It’s also a sure bet that there were two we didn’t for every money order we knew about, so his take is no doubt a lot higher.
He’d gotten away with it for years.
That is until he made the mistake of passing one in one of my towns.
The guy was supposed to be pretty non-descript. He was described to me by an investigator from Routt County (who I based Andy Deshong on) as so plain, you could sit down, have lunch and a major conversation with him, and not recall one thing about him afterward except that he was a nice guy.
The mistake he made was with the girl he passed the money order to.
She was pretty and charming. Pretty and charming girls have a defense mechanism going for them. Since they get flirted with a lot, they tend to remember faces well. And she remembered his. She was able to help us generate a police sketch of the guy. With the help of the Routt County Detective (some people collect stamps. Others hike. This guy chased a forger no one else seemed to be able to catch), we got it sent to every 7-11 in the United States through the 7-11 security department. We also got a “John Doe” warrant, so if we got a solid lead on him, we could snatch him up.
We got a phone call from a 7-11 in Raton, New Mexico, almost three weeks later. The lady who called said the man had just been in there, purchased money orders and left.
We called the Raton cops, who found him and apprehended him.
Here’s how the arrest went down.
In this case, the guy had no reason to suspect we were onto him. He’d done this a million times, and it had never been an issue. A female Raton PD detective led the take-down. Her plan was simplicity itself.
They tracked the guy to a local hotel and found out which room he was in. She then put an officer out back in case he tried to get out through the bathroom window. She took two uniformed officers with her. The uniformed cops both stood with their backs against the wall so he couldn’t see them when he answered the door.
Then she simply knocked. He looked out, and as I say in the book, “When an attractive Latina woman knocks on the door, you answer it.”
When he opened the door, the uniformed officers stepped up to keep him from slamming it.
When he realized why they were there, he laughed and said he wondered how long it would be before the cops caught up to him. The game over, he invited them in. He’d already altered two money orders and had a third in the carriage of his typewriter. He cooperated fully.
He permitted the Raton officers to search his pickup, and they found receipts in his glove box where he’d purchased several hundred-pound bags of potatoes from a local warehouse in my area and on the day he passed the money order. He sold the potatoes at the flea market in Denver.
He gave us a list of places he’d passed the money orders. Since the cases had gone cold, none were interested in pursuing charges except Iowa. They had a warrant chasing him around for forgery.
So we cut him a deal.
He gave a guilty plea to our charges, and we gave him to Iowa (his home state).
If he were to be believed, he’d either spent or given away most of the money. We couldn’t prove he had or hadn’t. Personally, I think he buried most of it.
He’s probably died of old age by now, but if our math was right, and he was careful not to attract attention, he could have lived comfortably for a very long time off what he stole.
This is an example of a very simple take-down by the police.
It’s also a pretty good example of how, oftentimes, crime does pay.