I’m a licensed private investigator and people are often fascinated by this. It’s not the glamour you see on TV and in movies. In fact, much of what you see in fiction is not even legal. I can’t go to the police and ask them to “run some plates” for me. Any officer who did that would be committing an offence. Nevertheless, quality information, and information security, are two of my gigs, and being licensed by the state to perform certain covert activities can be helpful.
People like to hear stories about investigation. It’s not all cheating spouses and car chases. In fact, one tale that sticks in my mind the most involves someone I never even met.
I was asked by an insurance company to look into a strange situation. A worker had died, and a lady claimed to be his partner. Co-workers of the deceased didn’t know her, and she had three different addresses, all several hundred kilometres away from the workplace. What was the deal? Additionally, was it a genuine worker’s compensation matter? Was he travelling to work? Was it his regular path to work?
The case was already several years old. I had a report from a previous investigator which identified the deceased worker stayed at a caravan park, yet the owner had sold it and taken all his records and the new owner didn’t know the guy nor had any contact details for the former owner. That’s where he seemingly gave up the chase.
I phoned some of the former co-workers. They didn’t know the lady. Worse, they barely remembered the man. As I spoke to more and more people it made me sad to wonder just what does someone’s life mean when people don’t remember you anymore. Did he ever live at all? They said they didn’t know if he had a partner, they didn’t really hang out with him socially, and didn’t know a lot about him … someone they worked side-by-side with for years. Still, they did have a recollection he lived at the caravan park.
I phoned the caravan park. Sure enough, the owner said someone else had talked to him a couple of years back so he knew the situation but he didn’t know the guy, didn’t know the lady, and had no information at all. He didn’t know where the owner was and he didn’t have any of the old records.
I wasn’t content with this. I hit the phone book and dialled everyone in the state with the same last name as the owner. This worked! I spoke to a few people, got a lot of answering machines, even had some people call back to say they didn’t know the person I was looking for and it wasn’t them. However, I got one number right because the old caravan park owner did call back. He knew the guy. In fact, he knew the lady. And he knew their son.
The worker was from mid-NSW. He lived there with his family. He would stay at the caravan park on weekdays and head home for the weekend.
After hearing again and again, “I really can’t remember him” it was so exciting, so relieving to know the man existed. He lived, he was known, he really stood there and really did these things.
All this time I had also been trying to reach the lady. The mobile number I had for her was no longer connected, and a landline number in the phone book was continually engaged.
I drove to her town, some 400 kilometres away from the workplace and the caravan park. It was a cold, icy night. The outside temperature was one degree Celsius and the road signs said to beware of ice.
I checked out the three addresses I had. The lady didn’t live at any of them. I filled my car at a petrol station and asked the attendant if he knew the family. He said it might be the people at such-and-such a street. I drove around and an older lady answered the door. Inside I could see a young lad. I instantly knew it was the son. I told the lady who I was and why I was there and who I was looking for. She said it was the right home, and called her daughter, who came right away.
The daughter arrived. She was the deceased worker’s partner. She and her mother showed me photographs and told me stories. They shed some tears together as they recollected events.
The man was her partner. They had a family together. He worked in a different town, and would stay there during the week. He came home Fridays and drove back again Sunday nights. They rented at one address, but had put in an application at a second address, planning to move. That was not to be.
One fateful day in May the man drove off the road. Maybe he fell asleep at the wheel. Maybe something else happened. Whatever happened, he left the road, crashed, and passed away. It was a cold, cold early Monday morning.
He normally returned to the caravan park on Sunday evening. Yet this time he left early Monday. It so happened that Monday followed the second Sunday in May. We know it in Australia as Mother’s Day. He stayed that night, opting to get up early and drive 400kms to work that morning. Sadly, that was his last trip ever.
After he passed away, the lady cancelled the new rental they were moving to, and found herself a new, smaller, place. Hence the three addresses. She now lived elsewhere. The landline I called was correct, but she had her dial-up modem connected 24×7, preferring to use her mobile to speak. She’d cancelled her own previous number, opting instead to transfer her partner’s number into her name so she could keep that number forever.
The lady and her mother wept as they spoke. They had photo after photo. There were holidays, there were memories.
The man had lived, and this was his partner, his family and his story.
I reported my findings to the insurance company. I never get told what happens in the end but I’d like to think – even years after his untimely passing – I helped that family get compensation. I feel so appalled by the previous investigator giving up at the first hurdle.
Yet, more than anything, I will never forget the emotional roller coaster within myself. I lamented how somebody could live and die and people around them struggled with memories. Then I met the family, and his memory was so strong and so real in their lives.
There’s a saying that people die twice. The first time is when they physically die. The second time is when their name is mentioned or remembered for the last time.
This is the story of Sam Carroll. I never met him; I never knew him. Yet, he lives on as you read this story. It’s not his time to die twice.