What is asked of private detectives in Spain: “Things that are only seen in the cinema, impossible or directly illegal” | Actuality | ICON


For decades, Hollywood and crime novel writers drew a prototype of a private detective that, with greater or lesser accuracy, responded to the same pattern: a man, white to be exact – with permission from Chester Himes -, with a surly character, a smoker and drinker, bordering on dipsomania. In addition, this prototype detective used to suffer violent situations in which he developed with irregular results, knew how to move through the underworld, used to have stormy romantic relationships and, as far as his professional career is concerned, it was not uncommon for him to have a dishonorable past in the police force that, normally, was the reason why he had been forced to leave the body and dedicate himself to this new activity.

However, if that fiction at some point fit with reality, it seems that today it is not applicable to that profession. To begin with, it is no longer possible to speak of these professionals only in masculine terms, since many women have joined the sector in recent decades. At present, detectives are men and women who have not reached that profession by rebounding, but by vocation and after passing a university degree, postgraduate studies and obtaining a professional qualification from the Administration. In addition, unlike what happens to Phillip Marlowe, Mike Hammer, Pepe Carvalho or Sam Spade, it is not usual for these professionals to act on the margins of legality. Finally, far from frequenting only the underworld, their usual environment is usually the offices and offices of large companies that need to know their employees better or discover if they are being victims of fraud by their clients.

All these differences between the detective topic and reality are explained better than anyone by Francisco Marco and Alicia Lerma, two leading private investigation professionals in Spain. In Marco’s case, his first contact with the profession came in adolescence through his mother, Marita Fernández Lado, founder of Method 3, a research company that he ended up directing and which brought him as much satisfaction as headaches. Among the successes are finding the whereabouts of Francisco Paesa, locating the money of Juan Antonio Roca, involved in Operation Malaya, and collaborating in legal cases such as the Philatelic Forum or the former president of the Community of Madrid Ignacio González. Among those cases that were somewhat problematic is his arrest and subsequent trial for having recorded in a restaurant Alicia Sánchez-Camacho, leader of the PP in Catalonia, and Victoria Álvarez, ex-partner of Jordi Pujol Ferrusola.

Although he was acquitted, as a result of that investigation, Marco decided to stop using the Method 3 trademark and start using that of his parent company Marco & Co., a company specialized in business-related research.

Detective Francisco Marco.
Detective Francisco Marco.Joe Lucas

For her part, Alicia Lerma studied industrial drafting, a profession that she never really liked and never practiced. After working in different jobs that did not fill him either, he found out about the career of Criminology and Private Detective and, with thirty years already completed, he left his job to start studying. Currently, in addition to directing Detective Clues, her own investigative agency, Lerma is president of the National Association of Women Private Detectives. This organization founded in 2018 has among its objectives “Promote, incorporate and make women visible in all areas of society”, “make visible the presence of detectives in national and international reference forums, where issues and strategies are discussed from the gender perspective ”and“ demand the creation of a private investigation area to provide immediate solutions to the problems of gender violence, providing proposals for the protection of the victims ”.

“Women are now almost thirty percent of practicing detectives and I hope that soon we will be fifty percent,” explains Alicia, who believes that “the female vision can contribute and add a lot” to the profession. An opinion shared by Francisco Marco to the point of stating that “in general, women are better private detectives than men. With your emotional intelligence you can access many sources of information that we men have forbidden. Normally women transmit more confidence than us ”.

Regardless of gender issues, private detectives must be, in Lerma’s opinion, “quick and decisive, tenacious, constant, intuitive and have a lot of patience because, although it is an exciting profession, sometimes it is frustrating because they cannot have some data to help you continue with the case ”. These qualities are completed by Francisco Marco, who compares the detective with “a hybrid between journalist and lawyer because it is necessary to have culture, mimetic capacity and intelligence in the linguistic field.” In fact, when one’s training or abilities are not enough, they do not hesitate to turn to external professionals. “In my professional life I have used journalists, linguists, art experts, computer scientists, agronomists and many other professions. The greatness of the detective is that he has to learn every day because any investigation forces you to know about any discipline and, therefore, you must look for a specialist to help you ”.

When carrying out his work, the detective works indistinctly in the office and on the street, which means that his appearance must be adapted to the environment in which he is working. “If you are on the street, your clothing should be appropriate for the neighborhood where you have to wait and, perhaps, spend many hours in front of a door without being perceived as a stranger. If you have to enter a restaurant after being investigated, you have to go according to the place. That is why the detectives carry mutes in their cars, ”explains Francisco Marco, although, as Alicia Lerma recalls, sometimes even these forecasts do not work. “In one case, a colleague and I had to go into a store and buy some swimsuits to be able to access the pool where the investigated had entered and see who he was meeting with.”

In 'The Eternal Sleep', Humphrey Bogart gave life to the detective Philip Marlowe (in the picture, with Lauren Bacall), and left for posterity the image of a private detective that has permeated the imagination of viewers.
In ‘The Eternal Sleep’, Humphrey Bogart gave life to the detective Philip Marlowe (in the picture, with Lauren Bacall), and left for posterity the image of a private detective that has permeated the imagination of viewers.

Microphones in clothes and GPS in the watch

Just as the figure of the private detective has become romanticized thanks to cultural products, that of the clients has not been less. While noir novels and films portray those who hire the services of a detective as seemingly respectable people who actually have hidden interests or assignments that do not always conform to ethics and legality, the reality is much more prosaic. “The first client of Method 3 was the painter who was painting our first office and, in the end, almost everyone around me has hired me,” explains Francisco Marco. That does not mean that, in general, ours is a profession widely used in legal and business sectors, but unknown by the rest of society, which means that in the end only a minority uses us. In any case, this does not happen for economic or other reasons, but because people do not know everything we can do ”.

Perhaps due to this ignorance, Francisco Marco has received “confused people who want us to ask questions that only the police can investigate. Unlike other countries, such as the United States, where some detectives focus their activity on crime investigation, detectives in Spain cannot investigate, for example, a homicide. There are also people who look to us for a last resort to their problem and want to transfer their lack of personal limits to us as detectives ”. Something that has also happened to Alicia Lerma: “Ugh! Yes, they have asked us for things that only appear in movies. Things that are either impossible to do or outright illegal. For example, and that is requested a lot, access to couples’ mobile phones. They have come to ask us to put hidden microphones on the clothes of the person to be investigated or to put a GPS on their watch ”.

Although anyone with a legitimate interest in the investigation can hire a private detective, these professionals are not obliged to accept any assignment proposed to them if it violates not only the code of ethics of the profession, but their own ethical values. In the case of Lerma, for example, he would never accept jobs that “were not legal or moral, as a follow-up to a woman who has a restraining order from the client”; in Marco’s case, “I would never agree to work for a terrorist, an abuser or a rapist. There are my limits ”.

Physical and moral integrity

Another of the legends that surround private detectives is that theirs is a risky profession subject to threats, reprisals and even bribes from those affected by the investigations, who would rather pay what was necessary than have their secrets revealed. “In 30 years of profession it will have happened to me about five times. The last one recently. A lawyer wanted me to change an investigation he had done a few years ago. He offered me a lot of money, but my answer is always the same: our clients come first. The value of a detective is demonstrated the day that he must avail himself of his professional secrecy in front of a prosecutor, a policeman or a judge. If a detective betrays a client, he will stop working, ”explains Francisco Marco.

Although Alicia Lerma admits that she has not suffered this type of situation – “it is assumed that when we carry out an investigation, the investigated party does not know that we are doing it” – she is aware that some of her colleagues have suffered threats. Without going any further, Marco himself: “They have threatened me, they have tried to carry out the threats and even destroy me, but if time has shown something, it is that I continue to have breakfast every day in the same bar for many years and those who tried not”.

As shocking as these actions can be, the real threat private detectives face in the 21st century is not so much violence as technology. In a hyper-connected world, in which much of the information that was previously only available to a few is now available to everyone with just a click, many potential clients may be suspicious of the usefulness of their work.

“Twenty years ago at an international detective conference in Chicago we talked about the Google phenomenon, then incipient. Search engines are our competence, but also one more work tool — explains Francisco Marco—. In the past, if you wanted to know who a company hired you had to ask us for a pre-employment report. Now many google the name and think they already know the candidate, but they are wrong. On the Internet there is only public information but people have three facets: public, private and secret. A good detective can warn a client about the risks that, in these three facets, a possible partner, an employee or a supplier may have ”.

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