Local Durban city councillor was California’s PI to the stars
At first glance Rick Crouch looks rather ordinary. He wears glasses, dresses well and sits behind a desk, working hard as DA ward 10 councillor and a businessman where he is managing director of his digital forensics and investigation company Rick Crouch & Associates.
But looks can be deceiving, because Crouch has a Chuck Norris-like past. Unless you delved into his work history, you would never know that the 53-year-old is the world’s sixth best bounty hunter – according to the Science Channel’s rankings – and was once a private investigator (PI) for Hollywood’s A-listers.
“I don’t really talk about it,” Crouch smiles, “but if people ask or it comes up in conversation, I will talk to them about it.” His California investigation company, Option-One Investigations, was the best known private investigation and bounty hunting company in California, earning him the title “PI to the Stars”.
Today, Crouch operates from an office in Gillitts, his desk piled with eThekwini Municipality reports and council agendas. The life of the councillor for Kloof, Gillitts, Winston Park and Hillcrest is a far cry from the one he was living in the US until 2008, chasing fugitives. “I can’t remember how I got into bounty hunting… But finding people came easily to me. I had a knack for it and I was a bit of an adrenalin junkie,” said Crouch, who had fled South Africa after three attempts on his life by the apartheid security police.
His work tracking down fugitives saw him rank higher than Pat Garret, who tracked down and killed notorious criminal Billy the Kid, and English female bounty hunter Domino Harvey. “I guess that I easily tracked down more than 500 people… I tried to specialise in sexual abuse cases, as I felt very strongly about that.” Crouch said he would be paid 10 percent of the bail bond for capturing a fugitive in California and 30 percent plus expenses for those that had fled the State of California.
In the US, a bail bond is usually guaranteed by a relative or friend of the accused, who then has to pay 10 percent of that bond, the bail bond company guarantees full payment of the bond to the court should the defendant not appear in court. If the accused does not return to court, the guarantor is responsible for repayment of the full bond to the bail bond company, hence the need for bounty hunters to find them.
Crouch said his most memorable case was tracking down a “most wanted” fugitive, Edward Chapin, known as The Wizard. Chapin was a major methamphetamine manufacturer in Garden Grove, California who, after being released on $100 000 bond, fled to Mexico. The FBI approached him as they had reached a dead end, and Crouch had a lot of information related to the case. “It took about two months to find him. He was working with the Sinaloa drug cartel in Sinaloa Mexico teaching them how to “cook” methamphetamine. “We managed to convince his girlfriend to assist us, which she did reluctantly. She contacted him and convinced him that she needed to talk to him at the border between Mexico and the US, which was just a line painted on the ground.” Once Chapin and his girlfriend were conversing, it was a case of one of Crouch’s best investigators, Alfredo Guerrero, literally pushing Chapin over the border, where US Marshals arrested him. For this, Crouch was awarded the Citizen of the Year Award.
Although he investigated everything from divorce, fraud and missing persons to murder cases, Crouch was hired by many Hollywood celebs. Of all the cases he undertook, he said the Michael Jackson child sex abuse trial was the most memorable. “We were retained by his attorney at the time. We were investigating the background of the child and his parents. We even dug through their trash to get information… It was a clear case of extortion… We found papers and other documentation that proved this,” he said.
Some of the many celebrities who hired Crouch were actress Winona Ryder, musician Chris Brown, and the wife of Fred Astaire, Robyn. “I do miss it. And I am still involved in investigation work. But not bounty hunting. I am too old to jump over fences and tackle the bad guys.”