If you, like us, grew up devouring Nancy Drew novels and fantasising about being the next Jessica Fletcher then Rebecca Jane might just have your dream job.
The 29-year-old launched her own private investigators, the Real Lady Detective Agency, in 2009 in Manchester after she discovered her first husband was having a string of affairs.
Five years on, she now has 15 people working for her, as well as a network of private investigators, in the UK and the US.
We spoke to Jane about being a PI, the fascinating cases she's worked on and the differences between investigations in different countries.
When you’re thinking about investigating someone, what’s the first thing that you should do?
Talk to your partner. It sounds really simple but that's the first thing to do. Try and be as open and honest as possible. When, and if, that fails, look for the warning signs. Some people are definitely in denial though. To be honest you’re either crazy or you’re in denial. Very few people keep a level head in these situations. I was one of those people. I was insane. The paranoia of what you’re other half is up to every five minutes will do that to you.
Is there anything you shouldn’t do?
Don’t nag. It won’t get you anywhere and it’ll just cause more conflict. You should communicate why you feel like that and what the reasons are behind why you feel like that but once you’ve had that conversation and you’ve cleared it out with each other that’s where you should leave it. If you’re going to start pestering and badgering, you’ll get yourself into a frenzie. Also, if they’re not doing anything, they might think, ‘well, she thinks I am anyway, so I might as well’.
If you want to do your own DIY detective work, just be careful. It can go wrong so easily. People who try to follow their partners will make the person more paranoid.
You knew your first husband was cheating, how did you get proof?
I didn’t get proof straight away. It was all gut instinct. He didn’t turn up from work a lot of the time. Money had gone missing. His phone would ring at four in the morning. But I wanted the proof. So I rang up PIs. But they all treated me like I was an insane woman. They were right but it’s horrible when you feel like that and no one cares. I wanted someone to listen to me and I didn’t get that. So I spoke to my friends, a lot like in the film and we did our own work.
What was the process? How did you catch him eventually?
We literally did what they did in the film. We did a lot of following him around in the car, and a lot of sitting around looking through binoculars. We did a lot of eating Doritos in the car, watching films, while he was in the pub, and we’d be looking through the pub window looking through binoculars to see what he was up to.
What did you see?
He was all over various women. And then he kissed one. Right in front of us. So I went straight into the pub. By the time I got in there, he’d obviously stopped kissing her. I told him what I’d seen and he told me to leave the pub. I later found out that he was seeing about six other women.
After you discovered his infidelity, when did you decide to set up your own private investigators agency?
After about two and a bit years. By that point I'd also had my own affair. I wouldn’t say that was the right way to deal with everything but it's what you do when you're finding everything difficult. Before I set up the agency, I was in property but then it went bust and I didn't have a job.
I was so unhappy in my marriage, and the other relationship I was having was a total mess, which made me realise I needed to do something really drastic. So I divorced my husband. I basically told him not to come home one day after he’d done another one of his vanishing acts. He rang up to say he was sorry, I was running a bath for my daughter at the time, and I just told him ‘don’t bother’. And that was the last time I ever spoke to him. A couple of weeks’ later I decided to get rid of the other guy too. That’s when I decided to set up the agency. Everyone thought I was so mad.
How many people do you have working for you?
Fifteen, and we have a whole network of investigators working for us too. They keep fairly anonymous. We try to keep them in the background.
When clients come to you, is a cheating partner the most common?
Yes, but people come to us for various reasons, such as corporate work, missing people, long-lost loves and investigating con men too. We're actually investigating one major con man at the moment, that’s over in America.
Are there any lovely or strange stories of people who have come to you?
There is a really weird case. It was about two years ago, but to this day, you can’t beat it. There were two gay men in a relationship, and we had to find one of them, who’d disappeared but ripped the other one off about £500,000. When we eventually found him, he'd turned into a woman and was working as a prostitute. His website was the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen.
As for sweet, we did one in America in January. This guy came to us and was looking for his childhood sweetheart who he’d met when he was 13 on holiday together. And now he’s late 20s and he wanted to find her. They went out on a couple of dates and it’s been very sweet, and she wasn’t freaked out that he’d tried to find her. She was actually OK with it as it was such a grand gesture.
Is there a difference between the UK and US?
They’re so much more accepting over there. Although a lot of the UK ones are really weird.
What’s so strange about the UK cases?
We had a client quite recently, and she’d never seen her boyfriend’s house. It turned out that when he was at work he was renting out his flat as a brothel. This is the reason why we had to write a book because so many strange things happen. You don’t know what’s happening next.
In hundreds of cases, we’ve only not solved one case and that was when we couldn’t find a man’s ferret. He’d married a Thai bride, and she’d run off with his money and off with another man. But all he wanted was his ferret back.
Have you ever found yourself in a tricky situation?
We tend not to get ourselves in those situations, as we do try to stay under the radar. You know, if you see a woman who looks a bit out of place, looking at you funny, you’re just going to think she’s a bit nosy, not a private investigator. The only time when we’re not 100% safe is when we’re in some dodgy areas.
How do you dress, do you wear a disguise?
We change outfits a lot over the course of day, but we’re so out there, that it makes it better for us - that's a disguise in itself. Virtually all of us has a white car. We do look out of place when we go to surveillance areas, when they’re a little more dodgy, but equally people just think we’re there to meet someone. Neighbours cotton on to us and have called the police on us.
Is it illegal ever? Do you ever worry about crossing the line, legally?
We’re so legal. I’m married to a police officer but there are loads of dodgy ones. Actually, when the phone hacking scandal came out our contract with the Sun was dropped for a bit. But we’re back on their books now. They’ve just stepped up a lot more with their legal contracts.
One of the things you do is honeytraps. How does that work?
We have no physical contact but we’ll make an excuse to talk to them. All we want is for them to contact us via Facebook, Twitter whatever after we've met them. Then we’ll build up a rapport. Eventually, we’ll try and arrange a date where they think something will happen, and then we take pictures and present it to the client.
Is it mostly men?
Do you know what, there’s a lot of influx of women at the moment, so we’ve had to hire two more male honeytrappers.
Has anyone had to use self-defense?
No we don't let ourselves get into those sorts of situations. I did once get asked to go to Saudi Arabia and serve someone a summons but I declined that job.
Words: Elinor Block. Images: Rebecca Jane / Jessica Fletcher