Danie van Heerden and Deno November don’t look like the typical sort of PIs you’d expect to find in a Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler detective story, but while they don’t sport a crushed fedora or trench coat, a dip into their case files can prove just as riveting as anything tackled by Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe.
Mr Van Heerden is an ex-military man who did covert operations for the apartheid-era SADF and Mr November is a former cop who handled fraud cases.
The two of them together are a formidable force, and have tackled everything from cheating spouses and drug-using teens to the Chinese mafia.
The unassuming frontage of their National Investigations Bureau (NIB) offices on Blaauwberg Road (they share the building with The Wool Corner) belies the cloak-and-dagger operations that go on behind the scenes.
The pair, along with a team of fellow special investigators armed with sophisticated technology, have broken a Chinese triad murder case; cracked dozens of dating scams; found high-profile missing people, tracked errant husbands and wives; exposed lazy employees; lifted the lid on teenagers drinking under age and doing drugs and uncovered hundreds of fraud and theft cases, among other things.
Then there was the great missing pallets mystery…
When a company realised scores of the pallets they were using to transport goods were going missing they called in NIB, whose sleuthing revealed that the firm was the victim of an illicit operation that saw pallets being sold on the black market and then bought again, unwittingly, by NIB’s client.
There was also the high-profile politician being squeezed for thousands of rands by an extortionist who had found a post the politician had left on an online sex site.
The bureau is an accredited member of PSIRA (the Private Security Industry Regulating Association) and both Mr Van Heerden and Mr November are members of IAFCI (the International Association of Crime Intelligence, based in America).
“Locally we work closely with the police,” says Mr November, who is also an International Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE). “I make sure the investigations don’t just end up in court but that justice is done and sentences are passed.”
One of the most common problems NIB encounters is fraud in the service industry, a complaint made by many home owners who pay deposits to have renovations done but don’t get delivery of promises.
“When you pay hundreds of thousands to have a pool put in and get conned, that’s another story, and we managed with due diligence to track down the con artist and to even get some of the money back,” says Mr November, citing one such example.
From con artists to keeping tabs on teenagers,sophisticatedspyware on cellphones can keep track of children whose parents believe they may be using drugs.
Matters of the heart also keep the investigators very busy. In a recent case, the firm was asked to do surveillance on a woman in a divorce case. Undercover surveillance photos came through to Mr Van Heerden’s cellphone from a PI in the field on the other side of town who had just snapped the woman walking to a not-so-secret assignation with a lover.
One of the firm’s more unusual cases dealt with a priest suspected of cheating not with one, not two, but with three women.
Enter NIB and a camera was put into a hair-dryer and voila, the erring clergyman was caught in the act.
“We specialise in techniques of gathering evidence of real betrayal, in matrimonial matters. Mostly it’s the concrete evidence that proves the case,” says Mr Van Heerden.
It seems love is often blind, so blind that many lonely, often divorced, women have fallen prey to dating scams. This is another of Mr November’s “specialities”.
“The power of persuasion is extraordinarily strong on the part of these conmen,” he says.
“They have a string of stories and many women believe them. There’s the story of their money being tied up with attorneys and, if they could just borrow some funds for a few days, they’ll return the money when it’s released; the story of a sick son and the money needed for an operation or whatever; a man caught between borders that needs help in getting out.
“It almost always starts with social media where the con artist will put together a whole identity that has been stolen. In most cases, the victims have never met the person but have spoken to the scamsters on the telephone,
WhatsApped them and gotten lured or seduced by promises of love and also the attention foisted on them when they are at their most vulnerable.”
The job is 24/7 and both men say despite the long hours, and often dangerous or tricky situations and pressure, it is their passion. Mr Van Heerden says much of his business has been built on referrals.
“I navigate information and associations with the rich, famous and powerful in and around the Cape discreetly,” he says. He cites the case of cracking open the Chinese mafia as being “a little dangerous” and, pointing to a framed front page article on a wall, demonstrates how they also cracked open a case of illegal pit bull fighting, also not without its threats.
Both are involved in high action adventure sports, so they say they play as hard as they work.