THE PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR – An Interview with the late/Great Warren Mallard.

PI Warren Mallard on being a villain, transvestite strippers and why detective fiction is all crap.

So are you anything like the PIs in all the novels and films?

The perception of a private investigator is way off the mark- that we have two shots of bourbon for breakfast and we shoot a couple of people everyday. But this is a large company; it’s one of the largest in Australia. It has three regional offices and we have 50-odd staff. The industry is a far cry from the Peter Corris novels and the Hollywood persona.

Does anything written ring true?

Most of it is bullshit. The old saying that the truth is stranger than fiction is so true. If you knew about some of the case histories you would be just staggered. You couldn’t fabricate material that weird. I don’t care how creative you are, you couldn’t get as weird as it really is. But that’s people. No one comes to me with a happy story. They want me to make their bad story into a good story.

Can you give a few examples?

I’m very careful about confidentiality. Discretion is the greatest part of our work.

How much work do you get?

We do about 5,000 investigations a year.

That’s a lot for 50 people…

An investigation can take a number of hours, or it can take weeks, months, even years. We do a lot of missing persons, right through the whole gamut of the investigation industry- lie detector tests, forensic examination, copyright and patent matters, kidnap, ransom, extortion, product tamper, insurance fraud….A very wide area that is not really serviced by the police. The police become involved generally after we have completed the investigation.

If you do lie detector tests, do you have a polygraph machine?

Yes, but at the moment it’s in South Australia.

How reliable is it?

Oh, it’s absolutely brilliant. Nothing’s 100 per cent, but I reckon the polygraph is 98 per cent. There’s just something in you that you can’t control- the extra beat of the heart, the rising of the blood pressure. But a polygraph is not just an examination by a machine, there’s also a skilled examiner. And our man is excellent-he’s been doing it for 20 years.

Do the police ever come to you if they don’t have the time or the manpower?

No, they don’t, and I think that’s a shame. But I understand that there are certain protocols in place that don’t permit them to do that. Certainly there’s a flow of information the other way. Many of the members of the industry are former police.

Do you use people you know in the police informally for the information?

It was the done thing during the ‘70s and early ‘80s. Industry members are quite frequently called on what we call the ‘Old Boys Net”- people who are still members of the police. However there was an inquiry by the ICAC called Operation Tamper, and that was when the doors closed on all access to Motor Transport, police computers, everything….The central computer on criminal histories is held by the police, so we can’t access to that any longer. We didn’t have lawful access to it at any stage, but there is no access to it now. We have issues with the government over that- in some ways we’re like carpenters without tools. We’re asking for justifiable access.

Why did you leave the police?

I was seriously injured while I was on duty; I spent a year in hospital. I had 53 operations and I was retired medically unfit. I didn’t want to leave the police, and I still have very close contacts with my former colleagues.

What do you have to do to become a PI?

We have people all the time wanting to be private investigators. They apply to all kinds of nefarious courses that they believe will qualify them. There is only one course that will qualify people and that’s the Private Agents course at TAFE. And you must be free of criminal conviction for the last 10 years.

Do you ever get embarrassed or ashamed you’re tailgating or videoing people?

No, never. I’m never embarrassed or ashamed, because you must understand that tailing or videoing someone can support their case. It’s not necessarily a negative result for that person. And I’ve never been embarrassed catching bad arses. You broke the law, you pay the penalty.

What about debt collection?

A Commercial Agents licence allows you to collect debts, repossess goods and serve process, which is summonses. Debt collection has become a major issue. A lot of people abscond- they clear out of their residences leaving money outstanding. To the police, those matters are very low priority. That’s when we get involved in the location of the debtors and the collection of the debts.

Do you have to send round “the boys”?

Ha ha, ha. They might have to carry away a fridge, or a piano, assuming you’ve got a writ of execution to do so. So far as coming the heavy hand, which is what I think you’re getting at, that may have happened a long time ago. Certainly the Institute of Mercantile Agents does not condone that kind of action.

What about tailing people and extracting information: is there a knack to it?

An absolute skill. An investigator needs to be able to go with their gut feeling, look at the body language, not necessarily what they’re being told, and when they’ve got to make decisions, make them with their head and not their heart. I believe that you have to have a bit of a villain to catch a villain. A good investigator is probably someone who has walked a very fine line, been a bit of a villain.

How close did you come?

Oh, certainly I was a bit of a villain as a boy.

Do you think you’ve seen it all?

I sometimes say I’ve seen it all but I really haven’t. You’re always surprised. Matrimonial ones are generally the most interesting. There was one woman who suspected her husband was having an affair because she borrowed his car and found a pair of pantyhose. We placed him under surveillance. He drove from the house to a service station and went into the toilets with a bag. We waited and a woman came out of the toilets with high heels and fishnets carrying the same bag. We thought hello, we’ve got a transvestite. So we followed him and found he was working as a stripper at hens nights. All he was doing was stripping down to his G-string and getting $400 a night for it, but we didn’t want to upset his wife. She was of two minds when we told her, ha, ha.

How do you track down a missing person?

It’s very hard, especially if they’ve deliberately gone missing. You need to heavily interview and find out the most minute pieces of information, even information that might not seem important because that might be the missing link. You do all the relatives, their work mates, the whole gamut- step by step by step. Their sporting activities, their hobbies. It’s usually a small detail- a relative who knows their whereabouts, an old friend, a credit card.

Are there classic mistakes people make?

Yes, but if I told you what they are, I would be arming people with information detrimental to my business and my clients. I’m fairly careful about giving away too much about how we work. I don’t mind telling you what we do, but not how.

What about yourself, you could become a master criminal…

I think it gets down to your own ethics. You’re exactly right- many police, magistrates, politicians have ended up in jail because they’ve had that ability. It’s not just the private investigation industry- all sorts of people go over the edge. The most trusted have the most opportunity.