Private dicks: Shaun Kaufman, Colleen Collins and The Case of the Missing Bullets

This week's cover story, "The Plot Thickens," tells the story of husband-and-wife private detectives Shaun Kaufman and Colleen Collins and the time they followed a no-good cheating spouse to the bar at Sushi Den, which he was using as his own personal love den. But not all of their cases revolve around unfaithful husbands. Flip the page to read about a case of alleged life or death.

The investigation involved an Elbert County rancher who was facing two attempted first-degree murder charges for allegedly shooting a gun at his soon-to-be ex-wife's friends. The rancher claimed to be innocent and H. Michael Steinberg, a local prosecutor-turned- defense attorney, hired Collins and Kaufman to find the proof.

The rancher was in the middle of an ugly divorce when his ex-wife's friends showed up at the ranch unannounced to collect her horse. He didn't take kindly to the intrusion and, armed with a pistol, told the friends to get the hell off his land. The friends, a man and a woman, objected in a big way, pinning the rancher to a barbed wire fence with their pickup truck. He wriggled free and got into a fistfight with the man, which, once broken up, turned into a standoff. The rancher decided to end it by pulling out his gun and firing two warning shots. It did the trick. The friends scattered. They also called 911.

The friends told the cops that the rancher was drunk and tried to kill them. The rancher insisted otherwise. Find the bullets, he pleaded. They'll prove I fired my gun away from where the man and woman were standing. But the cops refused. So the rancher hired Steinberg, who hired Collins and Kaufman.

The ranch was huge -- eight hundred acres, if not more. The bullets were tiny. Using rented metal detectors, Collins and Kaufman spent entire days bent over, scanning the bone-chilling prairie. "Your hands get cramped, your shoulders hurt like a bitch," Kaufman says. Collins cuts in. "The winds out there! And the burrs that come up through the soles of your shoes!" The discomfort was mildly improved by fresh-baked cookies prepared by the rancher's distraught mother, who was tending to his cattle, buffalo and horses while he was in jail. For three days, they disappointed her. Nothing.

But on the fourth, Kaufman hit pay dirt. The metal detector went off and he began to dig, fully expecting to turn up another tin can, belt buckle or rusted piece of fence. (The property had once been a junkyard.) But when his shovel clinked against something hard just a few inches below the surface, he knew this was different.

This was shiny, new and bullet-shaped.

The rancher's mother cried. Within thirty minutes, they'd found all four bullets. Because of where they were found -- clearly located away from where the man and woman had been standing -- the bullets were proof that the rancher was innocent.

"Whenever I have a tough case and the client can afford to hire an investigator, I retain Shaun," Steinberg says. "He's got more charisma in his little finger than most people do in their whole bodies. He's very committed and very dogged." Plus, he adds, by hiring Kaufman, "I get two for one. I get Colleen, who is also brilliant."

The attempted first-degree murder charges against the rancher were dropped. "For us, it's as happy an ending as it gets," Kaufman says.

More from our Follow That Story archives: "Private dicks: More adventures with husband-and-wife team Shaun Kaufman and Colleen Collins."

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Melanie Asmar is a staff writer for Westword. She joined the paper in 2009 and has won awards for her stories about education, immigration and epic legal battles. Got a tip? She'd love to hear it.
Contact: Melanie Asmar

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