ELGIN – Edward Herdrich doesn’t carry a gun, although he’s legally able.
The Elgin-based private detective won’t do divorce work. He won’t track a suspected-of-cheating spouse. He neither sports a trench coat nor inspect everything in his path with a magnifying glass.
“I try not to be romantic about what I do,” he said.
Where’s the fun in that?
“I love a puzzle,” said Herdrich, who grew up in Des Plaines and has operated Herdrich Investigations & Consulting, Inc. in Elgin since 1998. “That’s a big part of it for me. It’s the challenge of finding these things.”
Herdrich specializes in background screenings, criminal defense and location investigations such as witness location and adoption searches. It’s not as flashy as the stereotypes might point to, and his particular agency stays away from some of the more risky investigations.
Instead of staking out in a car with a pair of binoculars, he spends most of his time doing research online or in area courthouses, although he does sometimes gather information for witness locates by talking to people in the field. He also teaches a class at McHenry County College, Elgin Community College and Harper College.
Private investigators are governed in large part by their own ethical codes, and Herdrich holds his close. To him, profiting from infidelity – or paranoia about infidelity – doesn’t seem quite right.
Herdrich likes the idea that people out there, and he has to use whatever means available to him to find them. That includes looking at times they’re registered in court documents or information databases, talking to friends and family members, and talking to police.
“There’s a certain mystique about the industry still, and there are people within the industry that would like that to remain,” he said. “To a certain degree, it always will because there’s no exact formula for the info.”
One of Herdrich’s favorite stories from his career is of a time he took a trip to a small town in Missouri to try to find the sister of his client. The two had been separated at birth, and all Herdrich knew was that his client’s sister was adopted by a family in this town a couple of decades ago.
Herdrich eventually was led to a man who apparently knew everything there was to know about the town, including the fact the adopted parents of the woman Herdrich was looking for split up not more than two years after the adoption.
The man suggested taking out an advertisement in the newspaper, and Herdrich did.
Herdrich had three calls the day the ad appeared. When he tracked down his client’s sister, she told him about a half-brother his client didn’t know existed. Not soon after, the siblings got together for a reunion.
The story isn’t wild, and it doesn’t involve dusting for fingerprints or looking through binoculars. But it’s a representation of why Herdrich enjoys what he does. He gets to solve puzzles, with the added satisfaction of putting people back together.
“One of the things about the business that’s kept me in it this long, is you don’t have any days that are exactly the same,” he said.
Of course, not all cases lead to happiness on all sides. Since the economic downturn, Herdrich has been flooded with cases of fraud.
A classic example – a construction company wins a bid by a couple of thousand dollars, then asks for a down payment to begin work. Before starting, they claim their storage has been broken into, an unfortunate circumstance that will require more money up front to get started.
Then they bolt, leaving only a post office box as an address to find them.
The company or individual holding the short end of the stick will hire an attorney, and that attorney will hire Herdrich to track down the suspects. Whether he finds them depends on the kind of trail they’ve left, from personal acquaintances to criminal history to credit history.
“The unfortunate reality is the lesser amount of money that’s involved, the greater chance that you won’t find them,” he said. “Because they’re doing this for a quick hit. They’re getting 4,500 bucks now, and then they’re living in Pennsylvania. They’re literally living off this quick hit.”
Herdrich tries not to get too invested in any one case. It’s not a profession that allows many perfect outcomes.
He can’t find everyone, and sometimes he finds people who do not want to be found, which, if they haven’t committed a crime, is their right. But it’s a tough thing for his clients to understand.
It comes back to those ethics Herdrich always keeps in mind.
“That individual has rights as well,” he said. “Whether or not they desire to have any contact with you really does need to be their decision. This was not something that’s in the statue. It’s not black and white.”
Most of the cases in which Herdrich is seeking an adopted parent or one side of a relationship that long ago fell out end one of two ways: either the person he’s found is willing to meet with his client or the two don’t meet.
Herdrich can spend weeks tracking someone down, but if that person says he or she has moved on and doesn’t want to meet his client, that’s that.
Minds do change, and Herdrich asks that his clients be willing to leave information with those they’re seeking.
“The truth of human nature is we all like to be in control of circumstances and situations,” Herdrich said. “And if you had that falling out, you like to be the person who’s now able to come and say, ‘Well, I’ve been thinking about it, and maybe we should sit down and talk about it.’
“If a person has a legitimate reason for finding an individual, why would they not want to provide information to contact them?”
People tend to look at Herdrich as their counselor. For background purposes, they end up telling their whole stories to him. Herdrich tries to listen intently without forming an attachment.
He’s gotten good at that, but he’s human, and there was one case that got to him.
“I’ve been lucky, with one exception,” he said. “There was one time when I found a woman’s son, but I found that he was dead already. That was pretty devastating for her, and it did affect me. I’m a father, so that’s rough.”
Ultimately, Herdrich keeps in mind that the best way he can assist people is by staying detached from the emotions of the situation, taking the unromantic view that each case is a puzzle.