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On the Job

Sleuth’s job is to flush out details

Sarah Alcorn got her start as a private detective by working for a private investigator for three years.

Josh Reynolds for the Boston Globe

Sarah Alcorn got her start as a private detective by working for a private investigator for three years.

Private investigator Sarah Alcorn calls upon her sleuthing abilities for a variety of detective jobs, some criminal, some civil, and some silly.

One involved a 75-year-old man who believed his wife was having an affair. “I followed her,” said Alcorn, 44, of Boston-based Greystones Investigation, “and found out that she was just going to home goods and knitting stores to get the hell away from him.”

The classic image of the P.I. is hunting down a cheating spouse. Is this an accurate depiction?

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Before no-fault divorce, I was often hired to search out evidence of adultery. People still call me about catching a cheating spouse. But after hearing them say, “I saw this weird text or discovered this e-mail,” I respond, “Look, you don’t need the extra insult of paying me to find out he’s being unfaithful.” I talk myself out of a lot of jobs.

What about your work for defense lawyers?

Their clients are accused of any number of offenses, from misdemeanors to sexual assault and murders. It’s my job to flush out the details. I’ll check on the accuracy of a police report. In one case, police claimed they were on the other side of the park and saw a drug transaction take place across a basketball court. There were dense pine trees lining the court; it would have been impossible for police to see anything like they claimed.

How do you conduct surveillance surreptitiously?

The truth about surveillance is that it’s 99 percent unproductive and 1 percent incredibly nerve-racking. I don’t do as much surveillance as I used to since there are usually more cost-effective solutions. Surveillance can require nerves of steel as well as practical preparations, such as not drinking water or coffee so you don’t have to leave to go to the bathroom.

How did you become a detective?

I’ve always been fascinated with crime and forensics. I thought about applying to the FBI or becoming a cop. Then I met a private investigator who mentored me for three years. He gave me my start in the business.

What kind of equipment do you use?

I have a couple of different wigs and sunglasses. I think it’s good to change appearances. I have a measuring wheel to check distances, similar to what surveyors use. Finally, I have a little camera that goes into the button of a shirt. But I really rely on my laptop for accessing databases and other records like the (Registry of Motor Vehicles).

Who’s your favorite private eye?

I love Sherlock Holmes. As a character, he’s appropriately weird.

What mystery would you love to solve?

My fantasy would be to find the paintings that were stolen from the Isabella Stewart (Gardner) Museum.

Cindy Atoji Keene can be reached at cindy@cindyatoji.com.
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