Karen Berry got into private investigation the hard way: Somebody was stalking her, and she decided to take matters into her own capable hands. The 25-year Sunrise resident was working as property manager for a condo in Davie in the early '90s, living alone while her military husband was overseas serving in Desert Storm. One of the condo residents took a dislike to her when the association started pursuing him to pay late maintenance fees.
"I was the closest person handy," she says, "because my condo was near his. He threatened to kill me, he flattened my tires, he had my car stolen, he even hired somebody to shoot a gun near me. He was very open about it. He would leave voice mails saying he was gonna get me."
Berry decided she wanted to get him first. "I worked for a company called Record Search, so I started looking into him. I found out he had a violent past and a prior record for marijuana possession. I found 15 police reports on the guy."
Eventually, Berry's work helped put her stalker away for three years. Now, almost two decades later, after doing investigative work for a series of companies, she has founded her own investigation company, Berry WorldWide, which takes a decidedly softer bent: Berry helps find old flames. The ones that got away. The guy you dated a few times before you shipped off to college and just couldn't forget. The grade-school sweetheart who was really meant for you.
Isn't this just a kinder, gentler form of stalking? "I always call the person being searched for once I find them," Berry says. "I tell them who I am and what I'm doing. I ask their permission to divulge their phone number or location." So far, not a single person has refused to be found. And several of the ten couples she has reunited so far are pursuing serious relationships.
As for us, we tracked down Berry through Facebook, which itself raised another question. With social media networks gobbling up the internet, aren't sites like Classmates, Facebook, MySpace, and others cutting into her profits?
Not really. "Sometimes people just don't have time to do their own searches," Berry says, "or they don't really know how to go about it. Or sometimes women change their names if they've gotten married."
Berry charges an extremely reasonable $40 for a basic search. "Most people can be found very easily; it's not like I have to do any intensive investigative research. I don't feel like I should gouge anybody because with the databases I have available, it doesn't cost me a whole lot."
Berry, who suffers from Lymphedema, moved to Pittsburgh two weeks ago to be closer to a friend who's a trauma nurse. And she's still married to the guy who came home from Desert Storm. "He takes good care of me, and I love this business," she says. "Plus, I get to work in my pajamas."