Reflecting on Detecting
tracking down Angel Eyes, a local private investigator
Things were going well, Kathleen Degre thought. The man she was following, two cars ahead of her, seemed oblivious enough. Nothing unusual to see, anyway – just a mess of people driving to work.
As the line of traffic stopped for a red light, the man’s car door, as if on cue, suddenly swung open. He stepped out, angrily talking on his cell phone and scanning the surrounding cars, squinting and pointing. It didn’t take long before his eyes locked on Degre.
What the hell?, she thought. What is he doing? He walked to her door and knocked. As she rolled down the window, she was barely able to let out a, “Can I help you?” before he shoved the phone towards her face.
“Why don’t you talk to her?” he yelled, half directed to Degre, half directed to the person on the other line.
Degre was stunned. “You’re crazy,” she shot back, playing dumb. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” She rolled up her window, locked the door, and looked ahead, waiting for the light to turn. Alright, she said to herself, cover’s blown. This assignment’s over. The light turned green, and away she drove.
Now Degre looks back at that story and tells it with a petty laugh.
“I wasn’t exactly sure what to do at that point; that’s the first time I had been caught,” she told me. “I had been following him for his wife, and they must have been fighting on the phone while he was driving. She let something slip that he was being watched, probably at that moment, and he figured out it was me.”
Degre is one of a handful people in the Chippewa Valley who make a living as private investigators, in her case for her Eau Claire business called Angel Eyes. Most of her cases over the past decade aren’t nearly as exciting as the “red light guy fiasco.”
“Seventy-five percent of what I do, really, is serving legal documents,” she says. “The rest is predominately child custody surveillance.”
Her typical investigations, she says, involve monitoring a parent to make sure they’re following court orders. “I’ll locate the other parent and document what they’re doing with cameras, videos, and whatnot, and turn everything back in to the parent who contacted me. Usually as a way to make sure the pick up with the child goes well, there’s no verbal or physical abuse, and the parent isn’t taking the child anywhere they’re not supposed to.”
Child custody surveillance is encapsulated with a motto on her website: “We believe in making the world a better place for our children.” And that underlying theme – and, arguably, the catalyst to why she does what she does – dates back to her adolescence.
She grew up, as she calls it, in the western Wisconsin “system” (foster homes and juvenile facilities) due to poverty. Her father, an adopted child who also grew up in the system, died when Degre was 14. “After he died, I decided I wanted to search for his birth parents,” she says.
Tracking them down wasn’t easy, considering she frequently switched foster homes – she attended 18 different schools before the eighth grade – but by the time she was 19, she had found her biological grandmother at an orphanage in Milwaukee. An “emotional and stressful” experience, as she recalls, but fulfilling nonetheless.
“It was lot to take in,” she says. “During the time I was looking, I taught myself high school (with a G.E.D. book and classes at CVTC) and took classes in criminal justice and paralegal.”
Shortly following, she got a job with the Department of Homeland Security, and stayed with them until starting Angel Eyes. “It was really a decision based off the thrill of tracking down my father’s parents, and also a desire to fix what I had seen wrong with child custody cases growing up the way I did,” she says.
Degre’s expertise expands beyond child custody cases, though. In addition to serving legal documents, she handles criminal defense, background checks, employee surveillance, and even spousal surveillance. Cheaters, the infidelity-hunting reality show even offered to contract with Degre for her affair-related investigation services. She politely declined because of their questionable confrontation techniques.
Her newest passion is trying to jumpstart a “safe child exchange program,” where divorced parents would use, say, the Angel Eyes office as an exchange ground for visitation. “The exchange is typically where the most verbal and physical abuse takes place. We’d just serve as a safe ground to make sure none of that happens.”
It will hopefully be up and running in the next few months. Until then, she’ll keep doing what she’s doing. “I really started this whole thing around fighting for child safety,” she says. “When I’m not spying on people,” (stops to laugh), “I’m working to make sure these kind of processes go smoothly and children grow up in as stress-free of an environment as possible.”
Find out more about Angel Eyes at aei-pi.com.