Private investigator Melinda Kidder, owner of Columbia Investigations, uses her natural inquisitiveness and discipline developed through martial arts to solve cases.
...Private investigator Melinda Kidder, owner of Columbia Investigations, videotapes the arrest of a woman she was hired to track.Kidder
waited for the woman to leave her
home and drive her
car.Because the woman has a revoked driver's license, she
was in violation of the law, Kidder
said. Melinda Kidder
integrity, noting that she
is careful to make sure the information clients hire her
to uncover will be used for "a good purpose."
MOBERLY - It's not long after 6 a.m. on a brisk autumn day, and Melinda Kidder
is already on her
third cigarette.A private investigator, Kidder is conducting surveillance.She
glances anxiously into her
rearview mirror at a parked car at the center of a big headache.
sometimes spends hours conducting stakeouts as part of her
business, Columbia Investigations
The woman works at a job requiring a 45-minute commute and breaks the law by driving herself to work, Kidder
was hired by the woman's ex-husband and his
wife, who don't want the woman to have rights to visit her
has broken too many promises, they say, and might have exposed the child to drug activity.The investigator's job is to catch the target driving her
clients hope it will put the woman back behind bars. Kidder
, who owns Columbia Investigations
, is one of 17 private investigators licensed to work in Columbia.She
said the work is less glamorous than it appears on television.Local private investigators, or PIs, earn a living by doing things like serving court papers, digging through trash for information and staking out buildings for hours.
Rick Gurley, a Columbia PI who has known Kidder
for two years and sometimes refers cases to her, said the work is about being discreet.
"I told her
, ‘This is going to be the easiest case you'll ever have,' " said one of the people who hired Kidder
for the Moberly job."I handed her
everything.I gave her
all the information on a platter."
But it hasn't proven easy so far.Several weeks earlier, Kidder
sat outside the same Moberly home for five hours before following the woman's red car onto southbound Highway 63.Kidder
called police, and her
call was bounced to Kansas City before a local dispatcher told her
no officers were available to make the arrest."The dispatch just decided it wasn't important enough," she
On this day, Kidder
is taking extra precautions.About an hour into the stakeout, Kidder
calls the Moberly Police Department
to ask for help arresting the subject, saying, "I'll call as soon as she's
usually charges $100 an hour, and some investigators charge even more.
At such a hefty price, she
must call the clients constantly to ask whether to keep up the stakeout or abort the mission.Now she
just wants the job to end - with an arrest."Hopefully it's not going to end up being just another slap on the wrist," she
has installed a portable toilet in one of her
vehicles and said she's
"probably done 30 crossword puzzles on one surveillance job."
Some private investigators specialize in "Internet profiling" and make a living searching the nooks and crannies of the Web for information.Within minutes, Kidder
and other investigators can find aliases, multistate criminal histories and employment data through databases open only to licensed PIs.
To make matters worse, Kidder
can't reach her
clients by phone to ask whether to continue the expensive stakeout.
"It's tough, because if we don't wait and she
leaves, then they've wasted all this money," Kidder
said of her
clients."I want it to go well.You know, they seem like really good people, and they have a valid reason to want her
off the streets.She's
just bad news." Kidder
, who is 37, is not a typical gumshoe.A fourth-degree black belt in Korean martial arts, she
was adopted as an infant and grew up in Kansas City not knowing her
birth parents.As a result, she
always had "an inquisitive mind" and looked to seek out truths behind closed doors.Her
martial arts experience has helped her
develop patience and self-control needed in private investigation work.
In college, while studying criminal justice at the University of Missouri-Kansas City
won the Edward Tomich Award for exemplifying traits including "an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and personal growth."
After graduation, Kidder
took jobs that gave her
both the thrill of the chase and a feeling she
was doing good.She
worked public safety detail at Kansas City's famous Country Club Plaza dealing with drunks and degenerates, she
caught shoplifters as a store detective at Marshall's and she
tracked delivery truck drivers for a hardware store guarding against theft.
Most rewarding, she
said, was a volunteer position as the special advocate for children in the family courts system in Jackson County.There she
made sure children legally removed from dangerous environments were placed into safer ones.
"There were a lot of cases where the first thing the court would do is put them with a family member.The problem is the family member is part of the same environment," she
said. Seven years ago, she moved to Columbia with her partner and the couple's adopted child.
Gurley recalls meeting Kidder
two years ago, when he
bought a desk set from her
talked about wanting to join the ranks of the city's private investigators, and he
tips on where to go for insurance.
For the past two years, Kidder's
been splitting time between PI work and a martial arts school and supply business she
runs from her
home.She sees investigative work as an extension of her work in social service.
"I do my due diligence to check out a client.You have to make sure the client is a safe person and wants the information for a good purpose," she
client list has steadily grown, and recently she
business and employed a "decoy," a woman she
will hire to ensnare cheating husbands.
Back in Moberly, it's past 11:30 a.m., and things are starting to look bleak.Kidder
is considering calling off the stakeout and dreads the thought of telling the clients about another failed mission.And then, without fanfare, the target walks out to the car and puts something inside.Kidder
pulls the surveillance vehicle a few feet forward and stares intently through a pair of binoculars.The target comes outside, get into the car and backs out of the driveway.
"Oh, this rocks the casbah," Kidder
Close in pursuit, Kidder
calls local police, who trail the car for several blocks before pulling over the woman.They administer a field sobriety test on the side of the road before putting her
in handcuffs and arresting her
for felony driving while revoked.Her
first court date is set for later this month. Kidder
feels relief and satisfaction for her
clients, whose total bill came to $1,200."I love to be the bearer of good news," she
said before calling to tell of the arrest.
also wonders about the woman under arrest.She's
been jailed before.Will this be the time she
"I would hope that she
takes the chance to get right with herself and right with other folks, but I think the odds are slim because she's
had so many other chances," Kidder