Entertainment

The Strangest Cases I’ve Handled as a Private Investigator

One of Milan’s oldest detective agencies tells us about the weirdest things they’ve come across.
Niccolò Carradori
Florence, IT
October 7, 2021, 8:00am
Mario and Francesco Caliò, private investigators, Italy - Bearded man in blue suit stands with hand on the shoulder of an older man wearing a white suit jacket, both posed in front of green wall.
Photo: Mario and Francesco Caliò

This article originally appeared on VICE Italy.

You know how it goes. You spot a few Raymond Chandler novels knocking around your grandad’s house over the summer holidays and suddenly your whole childhood is spent daydreaming about becoming a private eye

In reality, the things that most of us like to imagine as being central to a detective’s life — shoot-outs, subterfuge and moments ripped straight from the pages of dog-eared pulp paperbacks — simply don’t happen. They don’t sneak into people’s houses, they don’t bug their phones, and they don’t steam open their envelopes. 

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Hoping to get a clearer insight into what private detectives actually do all day, I contacted Mario and Francesco Caliò, an Italian father and son duo who run Agenzia Investigativa Europol, a Milanese investigative agency founded by Mario in 1962, and not to be confused with the other Europol, which is the European Union’s very own law enforcement agency. 

For the past 50 years, their agency has conducted all kinds of closely-guarded investigations into everything from corporate wrongdoings to alleged infidelities. Over the course of those five decades of sleuthing, father and son have worked on some pretty idiosyncratic cases. Here they talk about five of their most memorable to date. Some of the details have been omitted to protect themselves, their clients, and the business.

SPEND, SPEND, SPEND

A few years back, a large company commissioned us to investigate a possible case of industrial espionage being conducted against them. Knowing that someone was trying to steal precious information from our client, we had to infiltrate and approach the manager of the competition. We knew that he’d supposedly met with customers in a very swanky hotel at a very swanky tourist destination.

The client had been very clear: to create trust in certain circles, we’d have to really flaunt our wealth. He explained that racking up considerable expenses wouldn’t be an issue and that he recommended always being in evening wear and that we had to spend a minimum of €1,000 a day on vices. So we had some beautiful suits tailored, perfect for disguising ourselves as a pair of brokers overseeing a fund from Luxembourg. We spent our days offering champagne to the hotel’s guests — and yes, that included the rival manager under surveillance. 

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As you’d imagine, it was a case we look back on fondly. After a few unforgettable days — days full of room service, luxury cars, and inviting as many hotel guests as we could to high-end restaurants for very expensive dinners —we achieved what we’d set out to do. We even got to keep the suits. 

THE MASTER

At the end of the 70s, I [Mario] was commissioned by an Italian family to track down their son, who had been missing for weeks. My research showed me that he’d fled to Amsterdam with a couple of friends. This was when the city was establishing itself as the cannabis capital of Europe. The family entrusted me with locating him and finding out how he lived, up close. Being a lot younger than I am now, embedding myself in that world had a chance of working. 

The second I arrived in Amsterdam I headed to the Casa Rosso, which was then the meeting place for young people from all over the continent. These were the people I had to mingle with and pump for information. There was a table where people were smoking and playing chess and as a passionate player myself, I offered someone a game. The problem was, while we played they kept passing me spliffs. I’d never smoked a spliff before. Not wanting to look out of place I accepted their offerings. That night I pulled off some pretty extreme chess moves, the kind of things I’ve never managed to do since. I was so impressive that evening that a group of smokers formed around me. For one night only I was “the master”. 

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It was thanks to my stoned chess skills that I was able to start asking the bar-goers about other Italians in Amsterdam. A few days later I located the wayward son. 

TIME CARD CON-MEN

Occasionally, a company might hire us to investigate their employees. Several years back, a large industrialist asked us to keep tabs on four of his workers because the output from their department had dipped way below their usual standards. 

We discovered that they’d come up with ways of manipulating the clocking-in system at work. Taking advantage of the minimal control such a large company had over their individual movements, they covered each other’s shifts, and stamped each others’ time cards so that they could each devote more time to work activities elsewhere.

One of them was even opening a bar and working there while they should have been at the factory.

AN IMAGINARY BETRAYAL

Our job involves being privy to conspiracies and betrayals — clients see them everywhere. When these situations arise we’ve got to tread very carefully, not only for the sake of the client, but for us: getting embroiled in the murk of conspiracy can create problems for our agency. 

Some time ago, we worked with a woman who was convinced that her husband had been cheating on her. She had to get up very early for work and was certain that the second she left the house other women arrived. No, she hadn’t caught this happening. Not yet, anyway. It seemed like a pretty ordinary case so we began by trailing the husband. He wasn’t doing anything untoward. His wife refused to believe us, in fact she got very, very angry and began bombarding us with calls. At one point she implored us to join her to examine a slight scratch in the courtyard. This, she said, was proof that one of her husband’s lovers had been using a ladder to get into the marital bedroom. 

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After weeks of ceaseless calls, we were forced to terminate all communication with her. It was too much. We soon found out that the wife’s unshakable convictions had brought about the end of the marriage.

PLAYING BOTH SIDES

OK, a few betrayals we investigate turn out to be totally imagined but some are very real. In fact, these outweigh the fabricated ones and they often pop up in the unlikeliest of situations.

Once again we’d been hired by a suspicious wife to look into a cheating husband — this guy was really good at hiding all traces of romantic wrongdoing. It was clear that he was having an affair, but he was so good at covering his tracks that we couldn’t initially pin him down. After a few weeks of hard work, we managed to catch him out. We gave his wife the evidence we’d compiled and in due course she asked for a separation. 

Then things took an unusual turn. The husband got in touch with us! He had been so impressed by the work we’d carried out that he asked us to work for him. He wanted us to investigate the now ex-wife to find out if she’d been up to anything that would allow him to pay less maintenance in the divorce settlement. We turned him down; we just don’t work that way.