These sisters have brought P.I. to B.I.

Rhonda Kelly and Lisa Shenfield operate Rampant Private Investigations from a Bainbridge Island office park.

Private investigators now doing business in Kitsap.

As sleuths go, sisters Lisa Shenfield and Rhonda Kelly certainly don’t fit the Hollywood stereotype.

But these days, who does?

In fact, despite not being shifty-eyed nor toting handguns, the sisters, who discreetly opened Rampant P.I. last summer on Bainbridge Island, are perhaps perfect examples of modern private investigators.

In order to operate productively in today’s complicated world, a P.I. must be highly savvy in both computer and street science. An attorney, for example, may want a computer whiz to create a crime or accident scene for a jury and, the very next day, be in need of a bloodhound to serve papers on a man who doesn’t want to be found.

It would be unusual to have one person with both skills, but put the sisters together and you have an apt description of the attributes required for a private investigator these days. Besides that, both have worked hands-on jobs for more than 20 years in the Northwest, Lisa as a skilled draftsperson for Boeing and others; Rhonda in a variety of fields, ranging from construction to editing/writing.

Eventually they realized their skills and interests were a perfect fit for private investigation, and they began educating themselves for just such a career. Lisa completed University of Washington extension programs in Private Investigation and “Forensics; Law, Evidence and Medico-Legal Investigation of Death.” And Rhonda took a P.I. seminar and then interned with the Defender Association of Seattle, working on both misdemeanor and felony cases.

But most of all, they leaned on their own life experiences.

When they were ready, they got their individual and agency licenses and opened their business in a nondescript office building on the island’s north end. To protect their clients’ privacy, there’s no indication of what goes on in the office space, not even the name of the business on the outside door.

“We have led interesting lives and we’ve been around and seen a lot of things,” said Rhonda. “We know people and their behaviors, so this is something we are cut out to do.”

What they do is interestingly varied, but much of their business comes from attorneys who want them to investigate a plethora of civil and criminal actions, such as locating witnesses, missing persons, interviewing clients, witnesses and officials, scene and evidence documentation, process serving and retrieval of court records. And they also perform a variety of tasks for private clients.

Because of Rhonda’s experience with public defenders, they consider that a niche for their business, especially in Kitsap County.

“We are on their lists,” she said. “But we have to market ourselves, too. Attorneys are our base business, but we also need to educate the public because they really don’t what a P.I. can do for them. But we’re doing great and eventually we know we’ll have to turn away business.”

What they like about the business is that every job is different and seldom disappointing.

“It’s easy to move into every job because nothing is the same,” Lisa said. “It can be real exciting and rewarding to accomplish something that is challenging and kind of unknown. Plus, the client is often very happy when it’s done.”

One of their most challenging jobs has been tracking down a man who didn’t want to be found, then serving him with papers of a civil action. Using databases they narrowed his whereabouts down to a couple of possible locations, but he was very careful not to have his name on any documents, including utility bills or even his place of residence.

“We eventually found out that he had had eight physical addresses and none had his name on them,” Rhonda said. “We knew of some of his associates, but we couldn’t contact them so we just had to track them until they made contact with him. It took a couple of weeks but I found out where he lived, knocked on the door and he opened it. I was surprised that he just opened the door after being so hidden, but he did.”

To Lisa and Rhonda, privacy is a critical part of the job, primarily because of the amount of information they discover while doing their investigations.

“You find out a lot of things about people that is no business of the client or anyone, for that matter,” Lisa said. “The information we collect is pretty thorough because we have almost as good access as law enforcement. That’s why we have licenses.”

For example, a P.I. should not share a person’s social security number with anyone nor do credit reports without a person’s written consent.

And except for specific court cases, they can’t “just give information back to a client” without getting the “found” person’s consent.

“Say we want to find a daughter,” Rhonda said. “When we find her, we’ll tell her that her father wants to have contact and then we give her his information. And we’re also very careful with potential stalking issues. And except for attorneys, we do court and criminal checks on our clients, too. It pays to be careful.”

She’s also cautious when going into an environment that might be dangerous, checking out the lay of the land before approaching the home and always having a planned escape route. And she’ll be accompanied by Lisa if that seems appropriate. Rhonda considers herself street savvy, which also means she doesn’t take unnecessary chances.

“We try never to be surprised because you never know who you are working with,” Rhonda said. “If there’s something illegal going on, like drugs, I’ll just excuse myself and come back at another time. But most of the time people respond in a positive way as long as your are polite, professional and you have a valid reason for being there.”

She also has found that people like to open up to her.

“People want to talk,” Rhonda said. “It seems like everyone wants to tell us their stories and just open up.” They don’t mind listening, but sometimes too much information is detrimental to the job they are doing.

Whatever problems they may encounter, it’s important that they have someone to share the information with.

The sisters are close in both age (a year and a half) and interest, and enjoy their own company.

“Sometimes we want to share what we know with others,” Rhonda said. “It’s hard, but you have to be general about what you know.”

But not when it’s just them.

Gumshoe wanted?

Rampant Private Investigations keeps it street address to itself, but Rhonda and Lisa can be contacted at (206) 550-3430, or P.O. Box 11726, Bainbridge Island,WA 98110.

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