“Don’t ever sleep with your stalker,” was the sage advice tendered to me in 2000 by Hollywood P.I., Fred “Mad Dog” Valis. Too bad those wise words came too late. I’d already bedded a slightly manic
blond “fan” who found me via a newspaper I wrote for and whose idea of foreplay was riding her bike twenty miles to see me, then dumping copies of every article I’d ever written on the bed.
Over a stressful year, she called me repeatedly to discuss our future - one time collect from an out of state jail. When she appeared at my house, jabbering in stained pajamas and Jackie O sunglasses, I knew it was time to bring the long arm of the law on my side, and – because I qualify as some sort of public figure – the Los Angeles Police Department put the elite Threat Management Unit on my case.
After weeks of fruitless by-the-book investigating, the TMU ultimately failed to locate my stalker.
Clearly, this was a job for Dan “Danno” Hanks and Fred “Mad Dog” Valis – the undercover duo known around town as the Backstreet Detectives.
As a professional courtesy, the Backstreet boys took my stalker case on the arm, and – within 24 hours – had not only found my stalker, they had effectively neutralized the bunny-boiler. How did they do it? I didn’t even ask.
Obtaining information always came easy for the burly, San Francisco bay area born Dan Hanks, but becoming a PI was a fluke. In the Sixties, he joined the Navy to avoid Vietnam, but found himself in Saigon planting wiretaps. Impressed by Hanks’ knack for spying and his aptitude test scores, the CIA approached him saying, “You continue being a sailor, and that will be a lovely cover while you’re doing things for us.”
Hanks spent the remainder of his cushy military career breaking into buildings, planting bugs and photographing files, and, upon discharge, there were two CIA spooks waiting for him at the gate.
“You’re free now,” said one of the government operatives. “We got other jobs for you.”
Hanks rejected the CIA request, and turned to a youthful life of crime (interstate transportation of stolen vehicles was his specialty) and multiple incarcerations – the last of which had him mistakenly transferred to a women’s prison where, for his last six weeks in the joint, he could hang in the law library gleefully composing habeas corpus writs – delirious in a haze of felony-tainted estrogen.
With $100 gate cash in his pocket, Hanks flopped in the post-hippy Haight-Ashbury section of San Francisco making the best of a series of odd jobs befitting a federal parolee. One day in 1977, he spotted an ad in the newspaper:
Wanted: Private investigator. No experience necessary. Will train.
Hanks paid a visit to legendary local PI, Jack Immendorf. Recalls Hanks: “I tell him my whole story about being a thief all my life, and he says ‘You’re hired. You’re my kind of guy. I’m going to hire you on the ‘it takes one to know one basis.’”
Immendorf put Hanks on insurance fraud and theft cases, partnering him with another new recruit fresh in from an East Coast PI gig, Fred Valis.
“Fred did not like me,” admits Hanks. “But when we were out working on stakeouts, he discovered that I had some skills that came in handy. We’d be at a guy’s house or apartment, and Fred would say, ‘Gee, I wish I could get more information about this guy,’ and I’d say, ‘Gimme a minute.’ I’d jimmy the guy’s car, rifle the glove box and come back to Fred with all the info we needed. Fred would say, ‘Wow. Don’t tell Jack how we got this information.’”
Valis realized that he would have to be the conscience that would keep his impulsive new partner from going back to prison. A typical stakeout scenario would unfold with Hanks climbing a telephone pole, clicking into a line and listening to a conversation. Fred would scream, “You can’t do that!” But their skills were invaluable to Immendorf.
A year later, the team left Immendorf, and, under Valis’ private investigator license, they started up Backstreet Investigations in Marin County. Because of his felony background, Hanks was not eligible for a PI license, but Valis cut him into the business 50/50, right down the middle, and that arrangement bonded butterball Danno and the tough-as-nails, long-haired biker Mad Dog for the next 27 years.
The Backstreet boys got bored working workmen’s comp cases in the Bay Area, and joined the big leagues in 1980 when they spotted a news article about the government using bounty hunters to sting drug dealers for a cash percentage of the money seized. They met a DEA middle-man named Richie Fiano (now Chief of Operations for the DEA worldwide) who asked if they knew any drug dealers. Hanks laughed. “We live in Marin County – everyone is a fucking drug dealer!”
So, Hanks and Valis started doing drug stings, and, in the very first month they netted $50,000.
The DEA quickly burned the PIs out in Marin County, and moved them to Miami, then NYC, and finally to Baltimore and DC where they ran into some bad guys involved in Iran-Contra. They wanted to sting them on heavy 100+ kilo cocaine loads, but fishy DEA agents diverted them to lesser loads instead. Hanks and Valis quit that gig to start spooking for the FBI.
A G-man named Joe Davidson approached them in 1985 saying, “I’ve been working the Gambino family’s bookmaking operations for years, and I know you guys are experts at infiltrating. We’d like you to give it a shot, because both of our FBI agents have been burned. You guys aren’t cops.”
Hanks’ rap sheet cleared him with Gambino crime family.
“If they ran background checks on me,” explains Hanks, “they’d discover that I was an ex-con. So, we successfully infiltrated the Gambino’s bookmaking operation.”
The kamikaze PIs went undercover for 4 years and over a billion dollars in mobbed-up money was seized, but their Hollywood star turn came about because Hanks got made by the mob.
One of the Gambinos approached Valis and said, “Your buddy is a rat.” Valis shot back, “I’ll take care of him,” and quickly had Danno “killed.”
Hanks served out his dead sentence in Hollywood discreetly driving trucks on non-union films until, in 1990, he resurrected himself in tabloid television, getting him and his partner hitched as in-house detectives on A Current Affair and, later, Hard Copy.
As the tabloid TV juggernaut began to wane, Hanks lapsed back into his old criminal ways and means with the help of Hard Copy producer, Peter Brennan.
In 1992, Brennan presciently wanted to investigate Hollywood Madam Heidi Fleiss, but Hard Copy heavies kiboshed that plan by ordering a cease and desist on all Heidi inquiries because, if you read between the lines, maybe half of parent company Paramount’s executives were banging Heidi’s girls. Hanks seized the pay day, at once getting himself fired from Hard Copy, and putting on classic double dip: He got Brennan to pay him out of pocket to investigate Heidi, and Heidi's ex-boyfriend and would-be pimp Ivan Nagy to pay him to tap her phones. Nagy wanted her client list.
“I went and climbed a telephone pole about a quarter mile from Heidi’s house," recalls Hanks. "I put a line down the pole and into the bushes, and hooked up a voice-activated tape recorder. Every day I’d come and get the tape, drive it to his house and drop it off. About three or four days into it I get bored. I’m on the way over to his house, and I stick the tape into the player in my car. And right away, I’m going, ‘This shit is dynamite.’”
What Hanks heard on those tapes was incendiary: Charlie Sheen, Paramount’s playboy producer Robert Evans and a raft of celebrities and power brokers discussing their sex lives with a madam.
Hanks dutifully handed the tapes over to Nagy, but only after a detour home where he made high-speed dubs, of which, over the years, he made a bundle from in the tabloid market. But because Danno had obtained the Heidi tapes via illegal wiretapping, he needed to keep them close.
When the Feds turned Hanks’ apartment upside down on a mistaken identity drug-search, comically, they missed the Heidi tapes. They were sitting in full view on his bookshelf the whole time – secreted in the video box from the 1937 Shirley Temple classic, Heidi. And, in August 2003 – right when the statute of limitations had expired on his wiretap crime – Danno turned the tapes and transcripts over to me and my writing partner Andrew Breitbart, for inclusion in our tell-all best-seller, Hollywood, Interrupted. Verbatim, we published a sampling of septuagenarian sybarite Evans arranging liaisons with an underage girl he affectionately called “the little one.” Heidi was not happy.
While Hanks and Valis ruled as kings of the hidden camera genre for Fox Undercover, surreptitiously taping shows with themes like “Buying Guns for the Mexican Mafia,” “Whorehouse in Your Neighborhood” and “Gang School Teacher,” they were approached by a porn producer named Peter Davy. In 2000, Davy told them, “OJ Simpson has got a deal on the table to do a porn flick, but he’ll only do it if it’s shot as if he doesn’t know he’s being videotaped. It has to be shot in the hidden camera style.”
Once they had seen consent of all parties involved, the private eyes struck a deal for 20k, and found themselves in a South Florida motel planting hidden cameras rigged to tape a three-way between OJ, his girlfriend and some hot blond. OJ’s end had him getting X number of dollars and a percentage of sales off the tape. They were going to pay his girlfriend $10,000, the girl $10,000 and OJ’s manager was going to get $50, 000. The producers would also have to buy a bunch of autographed footballs as part of the deal, with the proceeds allegedly going to an offshore bank in the Cayman Islands. Half of Hanks and Valis’ retainer for porn shoot loot cleared, but, when a second check from the producer bounced, Hanks covered their asses by cutting a side deal with a tabloid - tipping the scandal skels off to the time and location of the shoot.
They had no problem double-dipping here. They were working for world class scumbags.
“The thing is,” explains Hanks, “I would never fuck someone unless they fuck me first. I would never double-sell a story because, first of all, I wouldn’t get any work. I would never give up a client because the word gets out. You don’t fuck with Backstreet Investigations. If we do the work for you, and we do a good job, pay us.”
What the video snoops managed to get on tape was OJ and his skanks hanging out in the living room of the suite smoking dope, drinking and snorting coke. When they move to the bedroom, OJ gets comfy on the bed, unzips his pants, then – as a result of cold feet or a direct act of sabotage – he moves directly to the cameras, rips one out, and knocks the other to the side. The remainder of the original tape is black screen with audio of OJ banging the girls for about 90 minutes, interrupted by the ghastly, naked image of him (caught by the partially disabled camera) occasionally strolling to the bathroom for a piss.
Having already paid OJ for hardcore action, the investors were livid. Determined to salvage what they had on tape, the producers hired look-a-like actors to reenact the sex scenes, and spliced that action in with the existing footage of OJ and the girls.
Says Hanks, “The truth is, Yes OJ fucked those girls in that room, and he was going to make a porn flick, but that is not him fucking on the video.”
Like the Heidi tapes, the OJ porno tape is now part of my collection, but not surprisingly, no one will watch it with me. In other business, the Backstreet boys got another eyeful on assignment at the Playboy Mansion…
Geriatric playboy about town Hugh Hefner’s lavish mansion parties have long been a drain on his overall enterprise, so – when his company realized that employees were making a small fortune selling access to his soirees on the side, they called in the Backstreet detectives in 2001. Hanks breaks down the math:
“A party would be set up for a thousand people, and 1300 hundred would show up. Three hundred of those 1300 would have paid anywhere from $1,000, to $2,000, to even $5,000 a head to be able to go to a Playboy party – New Years, Midsummer Night, Halloween, the big parties. Playboy wanted to find out who on the staff was loyal, and who was turning a profit, because, on a single night, even if it was just $1000 a head, $300,000 was being made by a couple of security guards.”
Hanks and Valis basically took up residence at the mansion for about three months, and discovered who was dirty by, as Danno puts it, “doing the shit we always do.”
And what they did was get the security guards on tape selling invitations. They knew that Playboy’s mansion rent-a-cops used a shuttle van identical to the official mansion shuttle, and they were picking up their clients at a hotel and driving it up with the group so no one would ever know that the van wasn’t with the official group. They took all the genuine shuttle vans, and painted the front bumpers with invisible illuminating paint that you could only see with a special light. If a van pulled up with a glowing front bumper, it was hinky. Hanks and Valis offloaded all the uninvited guests from the renegade vans, and herded them into interview rooms where they whined, “Oh, I paid a thousand dollars, blah, blah…”
How many of these revelers paid-to-play at the Mansion?
“We cleaned up the problem,” states Hanks. But the day after their successful sting on Hef’s rogue security force, Hanks and Valis got paid, and, according to Hanks, “Playboy essentially told us to never darken their door again.” Apparently, Hef caught some backlash from the Playboy Mansion staff. They felt violated because they were investigated. “Well,” sighs Hanks, “that’s just part of the gig.”
Sadly, Mad Dog Valis suffered a massive heart attack and died last year. One of his last Backstreet gigs brings a fitting full-circle effect to this story. They nailed another stalker not my own…
At a time when reality shows were caught pants down harboring contestants with dirty histories, America’s oldest teenager Dick Clark employed the Backstreet Detectives -- securing them a side gig running background checks for participants on the ABC show The Mole. So, when Dick discovered that his daughter had a stalker, he knew whom to turn to for a quick fix on that.
Says Hanks, “The long and short of it is, within hours after Dick approached us about his daughter’s stalker problem, the stalker was on a plane back to England, never to return to the United States. We made it clear that you didn’t stalk children of icons here. We pulled in some favors and got rid of him.”
With Clark’s blessing, a slew of high-profile clients surfaced for the Backstreet boys, but with Valis’ sudden passing, Hanks closed shop to grieve. Then, on the basis of a letters of support to the PI board from Dick Clark and Governor Arnold Schwarzenneger, he finally got a PI license of his own…
Hanks, now a robust 60, recently partnered with two female operatives and old school PIs, Gene Bernhard and Bill Cody -- and they hung the Backstreet Investigations shingle in a San Fernando Valley Strip mall.
Bernhard, 65, and Cody, 47, both made news of their own during their colorful tenures as Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriffs. Bernhard was the cop who put the collar on America’s most infamous mass murderer Charlie Manson out at the Spahn Ranch back in 1969. He was in on the Black Panther problem, the Patty Hearst SLA shootings and the Watts Riots action.
During his career with the Sheriff’s Department, the pistol-packing Cody has sharp-shot and killed a kidnapper in a hostage standoff; witnessed the horrific fallout of his wife getting shot and killed by a fellow deputy; delivered two babies; was fired three times, rehired, and sent (undercover) into the Los Angeles County Jail to investigate gang activity, and almost remanded to Federal prison twice. He was also honored as Deputy of the Year by the City of West Hollywood.
Cody and Bernhard met through their mutual affiliation with a local biker gang known, aptly, as The Wild Pigs.
The new Backstreet boys’ plan is to combine their individual talents running database searches, specialized surveillance, bank fraud and theft cases, bodyguard work, threat assessment, and security details and counter-surveillance operations for which stalking cases will be a specialty.
“We handle all our cases from start to finish,” says Cody. “And we don’t even have to involve the police.”
And, while the most infamous baseball-bat wielding, journalist-threatening Hollywood prick of a private dick Anthony “The Pelican” Pellicano grows pasty in prison, the Backstreet team has already dispatched security detail queries from 50 Cent and Dr. Dre, sub-contracted bodyguard work for Jimmy Kimmel, and – for shits and giggles – successfully served a subpoena at the Britney Spears estate.
Backstreet longevity is owed to doing gumshoe work the old fashioned way.
“I climbed a fucking telephone pole and did the work,” says Hanks. “Pellicano, on the other hand, bribed cops and telephone guys and said, “Can you deliver me the information?" So, he never actually left his office to do anything. I can find a bum on skid row, put him in a suit and give him a gang of cash, and he can find out info on people. That’s the thing with Pellicano: Other than the fact that he had a license, he was not a private investigator. He just had an unlimited supply of cash fed to him by Hollywood lawyers. Anybody can solve a fucking mystery if they have the money to pay sources. And that’s the thing. He’d get celebrity deals, then pay phone company guys to tap a phone for them. And cops don’t make a lot of money – they can be bought. Pellicano was a bagman for Hollywood lawyers.”
The next time Detective Danno climbs a telephone pole, he’ll be saluting his late partner Mad Dog. I’ll do the same from Hollywood ground zero. Thank you, Fred. I haven’t slept with a stalker since.