Herb Whitlock and Randy Steidl were convicted of a double murder in 1987 in Edgar County, Illinois. They were accused of murdering newlyweds Dyke and Karen Rhoads. Bill Clutter, a private investigator, has been working on the case for quite some time, and he believes that he has found the real murderer based on an interview with a convicted serial killer named Tommy Lynn Sells, who currently sits on death row in Texas. Thanks to technical errors in the original prosecution of Whitlock and Steidl, they were both released from prison in 2004 and 2008, but Clutter thinks a full pardon is warranted on top of the multi-million dollar settlement from Edgar County and the city of Paris, where the murders occurred.
Despite a lack of evidence, no blood or DNA matches, and unreliable witness testimony, Whitlock and Steidel sat in jail for two decades, wrongfully accused. The work of private investigator Bill Clutter was a significant factor in their early release from their life sentences.
Despite receiving rave reviews from critics, “The Cuckoo’s Calling,” published by Mulholland Books, had only sold 1,500 copies before one of the “great publishing coups in recent years” was discovered. Penned under the name Robert Galbraith, this novel was written with the clear maturity of a seasoned author, though it was Galbraith’s first book. Critics likened it to works by other famous detective novelists, and they praised the character development as well as the deft use of language to move scenes forward.
An anonymous tip on Twitter revealed that the author was no novice at all. Instead, it turned out to be J.K. Rowling, one of the best selling authors of all time, famous for her Harry Potter series. She described the experience of writing under an anonymous pseudonym as “liberating.”
The secret might have gone on awhile longer if not for the piqued curiosity of an editor at The Sunday Times, Richard Brooks. He began to dig up coincidences on the internet, and he even sent copies of the novel, along with copies of books known to have been written by Rowling, to computer linguistics experts, to compare the use of language between the different books. All the while, Brooks was careful not to alert Rowling or her agents or publishers to his investigation. Eventually, Rowling confessed, and sales for “The Cuckoo’s Calling” have skyrocketed.
After allegations that Springfield (OR) police captain Richard Harrison was having sexual relations with a police department human resources employee, both privately and at the station, a private investigator was initially unable to find sufficient proof. The anonymous tips were not enough to carry the allegations, although investigator Gail Fischer did interview several purported witnesses.
It was not until a video surfaced of Harrison and the employee on a date that proof could be obtained that the relationship existed. Captain Harrison chose to retire rather than fight the allegations and undergo further investigation from the department. Without a private investigator conducting surveillance, the truth may never have come out.
According to CBS News, more than 483,000 private contractors have top secret clearance. How thorough are the background checks on all of these non-government employees? America is in the midst of a volatile debate, and this NSA leak has sparked quite a bit of controversy. How do we measure the value of privacy against the security of our nation? And how effective is a pre-employment screening going to be? In the case of Edward Snowden, is there anything that could have showed up as a red flag in his background? Anything that would tip off investigators or his future employer that he might leak valuable and confidential information?
Workers with top secret clearance, whether it be government employees or private contractors, are voluntarily subjecting themselves to background checks, thus inviting a necessary invasion of their privacy. So, it is very important that the private investigators conducting these checks are both qualified and experienced, as well as trustworthy themselves.