Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Interview: D. Michael Pain, novelist

And private investigator aka Mike Pain

Interviewed by Moristotle

I first learned of Mike Pain about 15 years ago when I was editing Jim Rix’s book Jingle Jangle, about his cousin Ray Krone, who was convicted and sentenced to death for a murder he didn’t commit. Jim had hired private investigator Mike Pain to look into what had really happened in Phoenix, Arizona the night of December 28, 1991, when Kim Ancona had been raped and brutally murdered.
    But I didn’t know that “Mike Pain” went more formally by “D. Michael Pain” until he approached me a couple of years ago to look at his manuscript for a novel he had written. And now that Frank O’Hara: The Last PI has just been published, Mike has agreed to be interviewed, not only about the novel, but also about his own career as a private investigator, and about a book dealing with his son that he’s working on.
    [Questions are in italics.]

Mike, would it have made any difference to you, when Jim Rix hired you, if you had thought that Ray Krone was guilty?
    I did think that Ray was guilty when I first heard about his case. And after I saw all of the dental exhibits from the Salt Lake City dentist, I thought they were very compelling and strong evidence of his guilt. Ray had that snaggletooth upper tooth that just fit the hole on Kim Ancona’s breast. The exhibit was very compelling, very, very strong evidence — at least to me — but that is all they had, nothing other than the tooth exhibit. Of course, not having knowledge about how dental cases work, I had to personally take a step above this evidence and look at other evidence. As I got into the case and studied more, I could eventually see that Ray had a defense going for him. You had to get past the dental exhibit, which was so powerful, that it literally convicted him —in two separate trials.

How did you become a PI?
    I became a private investigator in 1975. I worked for attorneys, and coming from a family of attorneys, I was mentally into their language. I understood “the rules of evidence” and understood the legal language. At the time, I was unsure what I wanted to do for the rest of my life and so I applied and received a private investigator’s license in Arizona. Records were commonly unavailable to the local public and you needed a license to obtain certain court records. I started with two attorneys – at the end of my career I had three employees and several law firms as clients.

What sorts of cases were your most – and your least – favorite?
    I was charging $75 an hour, which was a lot back in the 1970s, mostly working in civil litigation, which included a lot of personal injury, automobile accidents, or people who were injured at work, like falling off a scaffold. The work was interviewing and developing a case. In taking such a case I knew what the attorney needed.
    My favorite case was for a large mining company that thought their gold was being stolen. They sent me twice to Alaska, where I had to go out to a barge and set up cameras to see, as the dredge was pulled up from the bottom, whether anyone was putting some of the gold into their pocket.
    My least favorite, which I would never take towards the end of my career, were child custody cases. They were very difficult, because we were dealing with angry parents who didn’t like each other.

What was the most difficult case you ever worked on?
    The most difficult cases were child custody cases in which both sides fought bitterly. I had the ability to do good work in these cases, but I was miserable when I went home at night because they were such a drain.

Not even considering how much money you made on it, what was the most rewarding case you ever worked on?
    One of my best memories of fun times was when I was hired by a gentleman who owned a hotel on Catalina Island, off Los Angeles. I was working for him on a school board case and he had a bunch of records stored in his hotel there. I was dating a young, pretty girl, who is now my wife, and I knew I had to go to the hotel and stay a few days. I flew my date over from Arizona and we went down to the pier, where my client had a helicopter waiting to fly us to Catalina. On the way there, the pilot saw some whales swimming through the ocean and flew down low over the water so we could see them up close. I looked over to my date and asked her if she enjoyed hanging out with Magnum PI.
    But every case rewarded me in which I obtained information that helped a client and gave them some peace of mind in a difficult situation.

How much of your novel, Frank O’Hara: The Last PI, is very close to actual cases you worked on?
    Many of the stories that involve attorneys come from my memory, although obviously I would switch things around to work in the story. A good example is the story of the gentleman who was wrongfully killed in a hospital emergency room. That’s in the book. Also, because I needed to find some other assets in the main story line in Frank O’Hara, I incorporated a case in which I found extra assets on a college professor in California who had killed someone in an accident and didn’t have enough insurance to cover the damages.

Is Frank O’Hara more or less just you with a new name?
    Several people have told me that they think of me when they read “Frank O’Hara.” But I didn’t mean for that to happen at all; it wasn’t my intention to make the character be a stand-in for me. However, knowing how the character works, I was able to give him some “private investigator attributes.” Unfortunately, these attributes also apply to me. I can see where such a question would be asked.

How difficult or challenging was it to invent the parts of the book that never actually happened? Was it fun for you, or a drudge?
    It was fun. My mind would think of the character as I was driving, so when I got home I could easily take those thoughts and put them in the story.

How long did it take you to write the book?
    Probably, from start to finish, five years. It wasn’t something I worked on every day. I could have times where I would work on the story three days in a row, then not do anything for another month. It was just when time moved me.

I know that for this interview you spoke your answers into your smartphone as dictation and let it produce the text for you. Did you write Frank O’Hara that way?
    No, I actually wrote it as if I were writing a story, which is what it is, and typed it myself. I planned to print it and have someone edit it.

Do you plan to write another Frank O’Hara novel? Can you tell us anything about it?
    I definitely think I will write another Frank O’Hara, because the character was so much fun. Also, I know what the character is all about, so it shouldn’t be difficult.

Let’s talk about the book about your son. Most fathers don’t write a book about their children – even fathers who are writers. Why are you writing one?
    I’m writing a story about my son, David, because it is a story that needs to be told. It is very difficult for me to talk about my son, who was 38 years old when he died. At the end, he lived on the street with drug addiction. He was in prison in two different states – one in Arizona and another in California. He was arrested on drug charges. He was a brilliant person and, when he was sober, he was one of the nicest people you could be around. Anyone who knew him would agree that Dave was a lot of fun and very well liked.
    When he was in prison, I would mail him three good books every month so he would have good reading material. I sent him all the classics. His favorite was Moby Dick.
    Unfortunately, he never got completely away from drugs. Toward the end, when he was on meth, he became very violent. As a result, one time he kicked in my front door and I was afraid of him because he had threatened to kill me on more than one occasion, so I intentionally shot him in the leg as he was attacking me. Instead of going to a hospital, however, he and his drug friends went to a motel in Mesa, Arizona, where he bled to death.
    I didn’t learn until later that, at the age of 11, he had been molested by a Catholic priest I had taken him to for counseling for his drug addiction.

Wow! Has your attitude toward the Church changed as a result? Or your attitude toward religion, or even toward God?
    No, not really. I’m able to rise above the anger I carried and don’t blame the Church for the priest. I do, however, use my knowledge and understanding of this dark incident in my memories and grief over his life and death. I sued the Catholic Church and obtained a settlement. Nothing, though, will ever make up for his life and all the stress I saw him in, which I now believe was a direct result of being molested.

What is your motivation for writing a book about all that? You’ve already said it’s a difficult undertaking.
    Yeah, I’m still dealing with guilt because of how he died. I think it’s a story I have to write – for my own good, as well as for a memorial to my son.

How much have you written so far? Do you have a clear idea what the unwritten chapters are going to be about, and how it will all end?
    The thoughts are in my mind, but they have not been expressed on paper. I have, however, obtained many records referencing David, which I plan to use. His story is a very powerful one and needs to be written, for me as well as for David.

When can we expect to see the book? What will it be titled?
    I haven’t come up with a title yet, but I hope it will be out within the year. I’ve started on it, mainly in my mind, and I think the first line will be, “This is a very difficult story for me to write.”
    I hope that you will be able to help me with this one in the same way you helped me on Frank’s book.

I will certainly read the manuscript and tell you what I think. But, as with Frank O’Hara, I don’t think I’ll have the time to edit the book. But I might be able to help you right now by suggesting that you try dictating the first chapter to your smartphone. Do you think that might be worth a try?
    I tried that approach and it was gobbly goop.

Are there any questions you wish I had asked, but didn’t? Is there something else you would really like to tell us?
    My mom used to tell me, “Once started, half done.”

That’s the spirit. Get started and heck with the procrastination!

Copyright © 2016 by D. Michael Pain & Moristotle


  1. Holy shit Mike, I'm so sorry about your son. Meth is bad stuff, I lost a friend that grew up across from my mothers' house. He was making it and taken it. His brother was also hooked and killed himself. You may have hasten your son's death but the meth had already killed his spirit. Enjoyed the read and I have your book.

  2. Enjoyed reading about your life as a PI. I am moved by your plans to tell your son's story.

  3. Mike, a number of my Facebook friends have shared a link to the interview on their "walls," but hardly any of them has received comment. One comment was: "I would like to read his book/s. Sounds like a good read. Terrible what happened to his son."
        You probably saw the comments on your wife's Facebook wall.
        One person who shared the link also left several comments herself, elaborating on her belief in demon-possession and suggesting that you might privately investigate whether a demon had possessed David.