Farewell, My Lowlife

When private investigators make the nightly news in Colorado, it's usually for the wrong reasons. Almost every local P.I. has a story about some other P.I. who's given the racket a bad name. The trail of slime stretches back a generation, as long as the state has been without any kind of regulation of the trade. A brief, but by no means comprehensive, history of the state's defective detectives would have to include the following:

1983: Stephen Hamer, P.I. and legend in his own mind, draws three years in the slammer for blackmailing an ex-flame; she claims he threatened to show explicit photos of her having sex with Hamer and another woman to her boss and family. Months earlier, Hamer made headlines during legislative hearings on the state's Organized Crime Task Force as a "mystery witness" who supposedly had critical evidence -- which never materialized. A former mental patient, Hamer was also arrested for impersonating a police officer and accused of bilking clients. He'd once claimed to be forming a "Special Terrorist Attack Team" to rescue American hostages in Iran.

1995: William Martinez, ex-cop and twice-convicted sex offender, bungles his effort to launch a new career as a Denver P.I. when he's charged with molesting an eighteen-year-old woman he's supposed to interview for a personal-injury case. Convicted of second-degree sexual assault, he serves four years in prison before being released.

1995: R.W. "Pete" Peterson, the most public of private operatives (he was an early Westword cover boy), takes one right on the beezer -- a $120,000 judgment against his firm in favor of John Masek, an ex-partner of billionaire Marvin Davis. Masek accused the P.I. of ordering a burglary of his office and obtaining confidential financial information in his efforts to spy for Davis. Peterson, who'd previously taken credit for tracking down the daughter Roseanne Barr put up for adoption, also claims to have worked the O.J. Simpson case for unspecified "Friends of Nicole" (a group that family members say they've never heard of). He's linked to another tabloid-heavy case when one of his employees is charged with trespassing after staking out a Cherry Creek parking garage in search of reputed Clinton ex-paramour Gennifer Flowers.

1997: Brett Sawyer, another P.I. dazzled by the tabloids, pleads guilty to a misdemeanor after the Globe publishes autopsy photos of JonBenét Ramsey obtained with Sawyer's help. Sawyer is sentenced to three days in jail, a $500 fine and five large in restitution costs. He also has to write a letter of apology to the Ramsey family.

1998: Peterson surfaces in the Ramsey case, holding a press conference to finger Bill "Santa Claus" McReynolds as a suspect, long after the police cleared the former journalism prof. He also takes credit for snapping photos that expose Governor Roy Romer's longtime romance with deputy chief of staff B.J. Thornberry -- while boasting that eight years earlier he'd been "authorized" by Romer to spy on Westword when the paper was preparing a story on that very same relationship. Meanwhile, an elderly client accuses Peterson of taking $1,000 and refusing to give it back, but Denver prosecutors decline to press charges in the fee dispute. Peterson becomes a regular on Geraldo, Dateline and other Ramsey-obsessed outlets.

1999: The Federal Trade Commission and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation pull the plug on Touch Tone Information, a million-dollar-a-year agency operated out of an Aurora strip mall by master pretexters James and Regana Rapp. Known for being able to get just about any private data for the right price, from Calista Flockhart's medical records to unlisted phone numbers of Columbine families to John Ramsey's credit-card bills, the Rapps are undone by their attempts to obtain receipts from a Boulder hardware store related to the Ramsey investigation. Regana gets a deferred judgment; her husband pleads guilty to a racketeering charge, spends a few days in jail and is banned from the private-eye business as a condition of his probation.

2003: Choosing from an online menu of data delicacies that includes Social Security numbers ($30) and unlisted phone numbers ($85), a reporter at the Boston Globe pays $125 for Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney's credit report. The seller is a website operated by John Strange of Frederick, Colorado, who also runs a P.I. firm called Worldwide Investigations. "I can pull miracles out of the air," Strange boasts to the reporter, who determines that Strange got the supposedly confidential report through various middlemen from Trans- Union, one of the credit giants, for less than $7.

2005: Kimberly Kelley is arrested in Federal Heights on outstanding warrants from Arapahoe County for theft and drug charges. Her rap sheet indicates several aliases and a host of theft, drug, forgery and parole-violation arrests stretching over a decade. She lists her occupation as "self-employed private investigator."

2006: James Loyd, former Aspen cop, ex-state trooper and now P.I., racks up an eight-year prison stretch after stealing half a million dollars from Golden Horn restaurateur Klaus Christ, who'd suffered a debilitating stroke five years earlier. Helping himself to his friend's credit cards and checking account, Loyd went on a spending binge from Las Vegas to Palm Springs to Cancn, including a $90,000 tab at Denver's Diamond Cabaret strip club.

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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast