Former cop couple runs investigation business
By Ryan Burns (Reprinted from the Times-Standard)

Private investigator Chris Cook stands outside a McKinleyville business, waiting for the owner to get back from the bank so she can serve him with a court summons. Scanning the parking lot, she thinks about what he might look like -- guessing his ethnicity based on his last name, predicting his age and the kind of car he drives based on his station in life.

She has a lot of practice making these kinds of predictions; before becoming a P.I. she worked for the sheriff's department and the district attorney's office. Sure enough, the guy fits her profile.

”Actually, he was a bit younger than I'd imagined,” Cook later admitted.

He walks inside where Cook, following him in, introduces herself and hands him a summons to appear as a witness in a civil case. He takes it, tells her a bit about the case and says, “Thank you.”

”Very friendly,” she remarked afterwards.

This kind of work -- courteous, unglamorous, face-to-face -- is frequently the kind undertaken by married private investigators Chris and Bill Cook, who started their McKinleyville-based firm, Cook & Associates, in 2005. They serve summons, investigate family law cases and dig through documents at the county courthouse. For the most part, it's a far cry from the rip-roaring, intrigue-laden careers of Sam Spade or Magnum, P.I.

”People have this misconception about what a P.I. really is,” said Chris Cook. “We don't spend our time chasing around cheating spouses in hotel rooms and spying with special equipment. Probably our biggest specialty is we know the legal system and can navigate around the courthouse records.”

But that doesn't mean their work is entirely without intrigue. Every now and then they get an assignment worthy of Sherlock Holmes. A few years ago, for example, there was the case of the stolen jewelry and antique firearms -- priceless items nabbed from the Fieldbrook home of a World War II veteran.

”There weren't any witnesses,” said Bill Cook. “But we developed some leads and started getting property back.”

And then there was the case of the children abducted from their father by a mother with a psychiatric disorder. She falsely claimed that her baby had a brain tumor and her son had a life-threatening disease, going so far as to contact the Make-a-Wish Foundation before disappearing for months.

”It was terrible, and she was very convincing,” said Chris Cook.

But whether the cases are headline-grabbing or mundane, the Cooks draw on skills acquired in law enforcement to gather information, follow leads and network with contacts nationwide.

Chris Cook started working for the Humboldt County Sheriff's Office in 1978 after graduating from Humboldt State University. She specialized in child abuse investigations, which led to a job at the District Attorney's Office. She worked there from 1997 until she retired in 2005.

Her husband Bill moved to Humboldt County in 1971 after serving in the Army and got a job with the Sheriff's office the following year, eventually working his way up to deputy sheriff.

”I specialized in arson and bomb investigations,” he said recently from the Cook & Associates office. “I was the bomb squad guy.”

The two married in 1982. One of the benefits of working at a county job, Chris Cook explained, is that you can retire after 25 years. Bill Cook did so in 1998, moving on to supervising security at a local casino. Chris Cook packed it in in 2005. But she still felt like working part-time and didn't want her experience to go to waste.

So she started process serving, which is exactly what she did that morning in McKinleyville -- delivering legal documents for court cases.

”It's a very critical part of the court system,” she said. “If someone's not served correctly, you could lose your case.” While doing that work, she kept coming across cases she felt could benefit from further investigation -- people who should be interviewed, leads that should be followed, cases that local law enforcement just didn't have enough time to pursue thoroughly. So she decided to get her private investigator's license.

”A lot of people think that anyone can become a P.I.,” said Chris Cook, “but you have to have real investigative experience.”

Six thousand hours of it, in fact.

At first, the P.I. gig was just part time. She was retired, after all. She wanted to travel, and they still had a son at home. But when a Realtor friend offered to rent her an office, she got a phone and a little card table, and before long she had too much business to handle by herself.

Her husband, who already had his P.I. license, started helping out on his days off from the casino.

Initially, their business came from contacts they'd made over the years, especially lawyers looking for process servers. But once they put their name in the phone book, the business really took off. Bill Cook quit his security job, and they began working a much wider variety of cases.

”We are so busy -- busy every day,” said Chris Cook. Sitting behind the large desk in the Cook & Associates office on Central Avenue in McKinleyville, she thought back to the early days: “I can remember working from a little cubby hole and making $100 a week. I thought, 'How is this going to make a career?'”

But it has. Three years in, the couple investigates everything from insurance fraud and small claims cases to major thefts and food poisoning.

”It's an interesting time to be in the investigative business,” said Bill Cook. “With the Internet, we work cases all over the country -- in and out of the country.”

Someone who lives in New York City needs papers served to a person in McKinleyville. A Eureka resident files a small-claims suit against a relative in Arizona. The Cooks can facilitate all of that.

But their favorite cases seem to be the Sherlock Holmes type -- like the woman who abducted her children and disappeared. ”I was able to work that case and get it publicized enough,” said Chris Cook with clear satisfaction. “We found the kids. We got the kids back. That was probably one of the most rewarding cases -- to see those children returned to a safe environment.”


Humboldt County Private Investigators


CALI - California Association of Licensed Investigators

Nationwide Contacts and Associates

As a member of the California Association of Licensed Investigators, Cook & Associates has contacts available throughout California and nationwide. Working with our associates and contacts throughout the country, we can provide exceptional confidential services to large business organizations and individuals.