May 2008

Beaufort's Private Dick: Real Life Private Investigators are on the Tail of Truth

Author: Craig Hysell

Is she or isn’t she? Did he or didn’t he? Some people pretend they want answers and some people actually want the truth. Sometimes it’s like Jack Nicholson’s notorious line in A Few Good Men, and people can’t handle the truth. Which, in the scheme of things, is fictional dialogue spoon-feeding the audience a large dose of reality.

Private investigators deal in reality. And the reality is, most of the time, if a person suspects something is going on, something’s going on. There are always stipulations of course. Paranoia, jealousy bordering on psychosis, actual psychosis and the seemingly asymptomatic American affliction of “too many movies” are all maladies that seem to support “answers” with little regard for the truth. Then again, sometimes we’re just wrong. But, for the majority of people who wade around hip deep in sensibility, those nagging gut instincts are often correct… like Magnum, P.I.’s “little voice.”

People who want the truth are often haunted by the need to prove their suspicions are correct. They begin sifting around that ugly world of deceit, manipulation and treachery, sometimes even chasing after someone they love and trust. Or used to love and trust. Sometimes these people need help. “Usually, by the time someone comes in to see us, they should have come and seen us months ago,” said Jack Geren III. But, it can be extremely difficult to admit or believe our perfect little worlds aren’t spinning so neatly.

Jack III operates Jack Geren P.I.—a private investigation firm in Beaufort—with his father, Jack Geren Jr. Jack III is young, in his late twenties, which is kind of an anomaly in an industry where most investigators are retired police officers, former F.B.I. agents or ex-military. He is empathetic, often going from psychologist to mentor to confidant in one sitting. He is eloquent and relaxed. A good listener. A Zen-like professional. He is nothing like you see on television. He’s the real deal—which he learned from his dad.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics at the U.S. Department of Labor predicts that employment in the field of private investigation will rise 18 percent from 2006-2016, to 61,000 people—a result of “heightened security concerns, increased litigation and the need to protect confidential information and property of all kinds.” In 2006, out of 52,000 jobs, 30 percent of those people were self-employed and 34 percent worked in investigation and security services. The rest were employed by governments, legal services firms, insurance agencies and the like.

Jack Geren, Jr. (ex-military) started Jack Geren, P.I. in 1991. He is self-employed and his investigation services run on both the corporate and personal sides of things. Yet, in a neck of the marshland dotted with military bases and resort towns, a majority of Jack Geren, P.I.’s case load revolves around domestic cases—those messy, emotional and passionate realms of child custody, adultery and alimony reduction—the worst nightmares for parents and lovers. It’s not a pretty job. Emotions can muddy the waters considerably. But it is what it is.

Jack III sums up the purpose of his firm succinctly. “We are an integral part of providing anybody and everybody with the information they need to move on with whatever they’ve got going on. That’s what we do.” To real-life private investigators like the Gerens, it’s not about being tied up in assumptions or emotions, gut instincts or little voices. It’s about what can be proven. Courts don’t care what people think, they care about documented facts. So do suspicious spouses and divorced or separated parents who worry that their children are being neglected.

In its first five years, Magnum, P.I.—a television show about an affable ex-Navy man making his living in Hawaii as a private investigator after the Vietnam War—consistently ranked in the top twenty television programs in the United States. It was, for all intents and purposes, great television. Guys could relate to Magnum. He was a cool dude with a cool name. Women loved the moustache, legs and dimples. But the show had absolutely nothing to do with the reality of being a P.I.

Magnum, P.I. never filed any paperwork. Magnum, P.I. never went to court or got a case thrown out for filling out an affidavit wrong. Magnum, P.I.’s evidence was never deemed inadmissible because it was secured through breaking and entering into an office or residence—a basic violation of privacy laws all investigators must strictly adhere to. Magnum, P.I. never got made on a stake out. “You try following someone for eight hours without them seeing you,” said Jack III with a smile. “I don’t drive a red Ferrari that says ‘Robin-1’ on it.”

But if Jack III had a go-to information source like a “Rick” or an “Icepick” in his life, it would be technology. Today’s computer software can record keystrokes that allow the Geren’s clients to track e-mails. GPS transponders can be attached to vehicles, emitting whereabouts and movement twenty-four hours a day. Exclusive access to Internet information brokers and other online resources streamline research.

In short, a quality private investigator can now find out when his mark will be meeting someone, where his mark is anytime he wants and review his mark’s personal history as it pertains to public record with merely a laptop computer. The result is efficient utilization of time and client money—a significant perk when clients are paying $60 per hour for Jack Geren, P.I.’s services and have invested anywhere from $1500 to $2500 in retainer fees.

Naturally “quality” means different things to different people, and Jack III believes that patience and experience trump credentials in his line of work every time. In an industry where it can be difficult to get started—most firms are small (i.e. not hiring), especially in the Lowcountry, and investigators new to the game must break in their gumshoes under someone else’s license—it’s highly competitive. And good P.I.’s are rare.

“It’s a bear sitting there, staring at a door for twelve hours, and nothing’s happening,” said Jack III. But it’s all about the discipline. “Because right when you think you can go, that’s when something happens.” Good P.I.’s can handle people—whether they’re distraught clients or a person who flies into a rage over the papers they’ve been served. Good P.I.’s can handle themselves—being disciplined enough to sit still for as long as it takes, for instance. They can do the research. They can file the papers properly that will ensure a court case is closed in their client’s favor if it’s warranted. They can do all the aspects of their job without violating any individual’s right or privacy laws.

They are multi-taskers who wear many hats. They have patience. And experience. They enjoy what they do. “Both my father and I get pleasure in the result, in turning nothing into something,” Jack III said. “And I also enjoy allowing people to shut a chapter in their life and begin a new one.” But it comes at a cost.

“I don’t have a trust issue, but I don’t trust people, if that makes any sense,” said Jack III, who, in extremely rare instances, will have a gun closeby. “I think people live in this fairy tale. They have tunnel vision because it’s easier.” He points to several factors why people can be so deceitful or conniving but one, simple idea seems to be the catalyst. “People are very seldom content.”

Do you want answers? Or can you handle the truth? The world can get ugly, but the men and women hired to prove it usually aren’t. They’re just honest.

For more information, visit the Gerens online at

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