Detective's work is never done

For this real-life local PI who primarily conducts investigations on behalf of business clients, the life of a detective isn’t so dissimilar from what you see on TV or read in books.

Whether it’s hard-drinking Philip Marlowe of the classic Raymond Chandler detective novels, accepting a case against his better judgment in no small part because it was brought to him by a femme fatale, or rakish Thomas Magnum of Magnum, P.I. fame, in cool cars and a Hawaiian shirt, there’s something magnetic about private investigators and the work they do.

Chandler may not have created the profession but he certainly gave it a color that persists in our impression of private eyes today. As his wisecracking Marlowe says in Farewell, My Lovely, “I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat, and a gun. I put them on and went out of the room.”

That kind of dogged attitude isn’t so far from the truth, says Gregory Schuler, a state-licensed private investigator and owner of Schuler Investigative Services.

“The life of a private detective is portrayed very accurately in film and on TV,” Schuler notes. “You work long and odd hours, you get to know the real side of people, and your pay is not great for what you do. Writing a book or two is a distinct possibility when I retire from this job — or maybe just retiring and quietly fading away.”

Schuler comes to the profession with more than a quarter century of law enforcement experience. He was employed by the Milwaukee Police Department for 25 years — 11 as a police officer and 14 as a detective. He spent 13 years in the homicide unit and also served as a hostage negotiator during that time. After retiring from the police department, he joined the Wisconsin Department of Justice as an investigator, where he worked with the Medicaid Fraud and Elder Abuse Unit for eight years.

“After leaving the DOJ, I started my own detective agency. I always wanted to own a business and this seemed like a logical choice,” Schuler says simply enough.

Schuler has now owned and operated Schuler Investigative Services for three years. He works mainly in southwestern Wisconsin, but he’s willing to travel anywhere in the state for a case.

Investigation insider

To be a private detective in Wisconsin, an individual must have a private detective license and work for a licensed private detective agency, Schuler notes. His license permits him to work strictly within the borders of the Badger State.

The perception may be that Schuler spends his days and nights trailing cheating spouses, but many of his clients actually come from the business world.

“My clients vary with cases ranging from successful business owners with civil cases to public defender criminal cases,” Schuler explains. “Business owners contract with me for several reasons. Security analysis of a building, serving legal papers, background checks and highly confidential issues within a company, or issues with an employee or themselves.”

Schuler may not operate as rumpled or boozily as his literary and TV detective contemporaries, but their investigations and his do share at least one quality — organization.

“[My investigations are] actually quite similar to a police or investigator investigation. If you can answer the who, what, where, why, and how, usually you will have the answer to your question.”

Schuler averages about 20 hours per investigation; however, it varies depending on the case and what is involved. He has had investigations take as few as five hours or up to 80 hours. “My rate is $70 per hour, plus expenses, but that can also vary up or down.”

Another similarity to fictitious detectives: Schuler usually works alone. “However, I do have a network of individuals who assist me with my cases,” he says. “I am similar to a traditional business in that I contract out many aspects of the case where it is more cost effective. I even have an assistant like Bogart did in The Maltese Falcon, who’s just as devoted as she was.”

Schuler typically works on five to 10 cases at once. In order to juggle caseload, he relies on record keeping, technology such as smartphones, computers, GPS tracking, and omnipresent video cameras, proper notes, and being available 24/7. “I usually forgo off days. Seriously.”

Schuler also opts not to arm himself with a gun while on the job, explaining that while some PI’s do carry a firearm in the course of their work, to do so requires a much higher level of liability insurance.

“When I was a recruit at the police academy, I was told by my instructor that of all the tools available, the most powerful is a pen and paper. It is not exciting but I found it to be true.”

As a former police detective, Schuler also has a solid working relationship with current cops, and collaborates with law enforcement on cases when it makes sense.

“I recover evidence the same way I did when I was a law enforcement officer,” Schuler says. “I normally document and photograph [the evidence] and then turn it over to the prosecuting attorney or possibly a detective who is assigned to the case. If I recover evidence, I would file an investigative report. If the case goes to trial, I would be subpoenaed and would have to testify as to the evidence. This has happened on numerous occasions. I have a good relationship with local law enforcement, with a certain amount of mutual respect.”



From a distance

It may seem difficult from an outsider’s perspective not to get wrapped up in a case, but Schuler says after 35 years of doing investigations, he’s learned to shield himself and keep his emotions out of an investigation.

“I might not agree with certain issues involved with the investigation but my job has always been to be the seeker of truth,” he says. “Sometimes, time alone at my favorite coffee shop helps. The owner knows me and knows what I do, but just smiles at me and leaves me alone because she knows I can’t tell her what I just did or who I just spoke to.”

Schuler says he’s found several individuals to be not guilty of what they were accused of doing, both in the criminal side, as well as the private world. Having an outside investigator like him to look at things without a bias is critical in an investigation, he notes, and is often money well spent on all sides. “I have also discovered that people feel more at ease speaking with me as a private investigator than when I was a detective,” he notes.

Schuler admits not every aspect of his job is interesting. The parts that would get edited out of a novel about his exploits — the bookkeeping and billing. “Boring and tedious,” he says.

However, the best part of his job is the interaction with people and the ability to successfully complete an investigation. People are so interesting, Schuler notes.

“We could talk for hours about this case or that person,” says Schuler. “Why did he do it or who blamed her for what reason? Once again, the who, what, where, why, and how surfaces, but to think of just one anecdote or an interesting story? That is tough.

“I could tell you about the man who believed that aliens visit him and his land in central Wisconsin, or meeting a witness in the dressing room of a strip club. I could tell you about the strong handshake and the thank you from a business owner after a successful investigation concludes.

“I could tell you that you would never recognize me in a crowd — that I just blend in and you’d never even suspect I do what I do — but that is exactly what you want from a private detective,” Schuler continues. “Yes, I meet people in bars, behind bars, in coffee shops, at restaurants, at a business after it is closed, or at a library — basically wherever.

“But sorry, no interesting stories to go along with this article. It’s that damn confidentiality clause. I’m sure you understand.”

Philip Marlowe couldn’t have said it better himself.

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