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Josep Maria Oliver - Private investigator, Catalan
My grandfather was one of the first private detectives in Spain. He started the business in the 1920s. We are based in the centre of Barcelona but we cover the whole of Catalunya, the whole of Spain, and we have delegate offices in Miami and Argentina.
I started helping my grandfather out with investigations when I was very young, about 15 or 16 years old. His philosophy was “If you don’t ask, you don’t know” and he taught me the art of non-verbal communication which is very important in this line of work.
You have to develop your instincts. When someone shows me a photo of someone they want followed or a missing person, before deciding anything I study that person’s body language and habits. If they are drinking whisky, I will notice how much whisky they drink, and I will ask myself why they are drinking whisky and not rum, for example.
It is a very human profession. If you don’t understand people, you won’t understand anything. Where there is a murder victim, they will almost always have had some relationship with the killer. On the other hand, we have serial killers who kill just to kill, so in those instances, you have to discover the signature that the killer has left, and then interpret what this person is trying to tell us.
The police work step-by-step. The job of a private investigator is to obtain all types of information and analyse it to get the bigger picture. We have a computer program that allows us to analyse people’s habits and movements and any other observations we make. It is very psychological.
One of the most curious cases I had was when a woman asked us to follow her husband. On the first day, he did some very strange things like drive around the block twice and I was thinking “Hmmm.” Finally, he drove up by the side of us and asked us outright what we were doing. It turned out his wife had put our business card in the same place as the ones for the gardener, the electrician etc., so he was onto us before we had a chance to get onto him.
We get around 12-15 new cases a week. They are usually about thefts, missing persons, or finding out where a spouse’s money is being spent. We get a lot of enquiries before Sant Jordi from women who want to know how many presents their husbands are buying, for example.
We don’t hang around in bars asking questions like we used to. The Internet has really changed the way we work. Nowadays, we find out most things through social networks on the web, not on the street.
Catalunya had the first professional college for private investigators in Europe. You have to study for three years; the first year is about law, the second year, criminology and the third year is when you undertake practical investigations. Once you have the diploma, you apply to the police for a license.
For a long time, novels and films about detectives were very separate from the truth. There are some situations now, however, where authors have consulted with private detectives and where detectives have used techniques they’ve discovered in books. The Stieg Larsson trilogy has a lot of parallels with real life and is more interesting because it is set in the now.
The Mentalist [a popular TV programme] is my favourite fictional private detective. He uses a lot of intuition and what we call psychological autopsy. He only has to look at people to know if they are lying or not. He uses his imagination and knows a lot.
I don’t eat breakfast, but my first café con leche is the most important moment of the day.
We have only one case pending. We are trying to find two children who mysteriously disappeared from a hospital. The mother has 14 children and cannot work due to injury so we won’t charge anything for this one. Our work isn’t all about the money. It is very gratifying when we solve any case, no matter how large or small.
My favourite haunts are Dry Martini on Carrer Aribau and Boadas Cocktail Bar off the Ramblas. I am also a big fan of CaixaForum and the Liceu.