“There are approximately 60,000 private investigators employed in the United States. Nine thousand are women. One of them is Becky” of La Verne, Calif.
The above is the opening to a new reality show series that Dennis Gelbaum, producer of Ramp It Up Entertainment, is shopping around Hollywood about a dorky, quirky, but highly effective and fearless private investigator whose clients range from high-profile celebrities like actor Randy Quaid, recently in the news for allegedly skipping out on a $10,000 hotel bill and a tsunami of other unpaid debts, to suspicious spouses who suspect their significant other is cheating.
Becky Altringer was one of the stars in Director Kirby Dick’s acclaimed “This Film is Not Yet Rated,” in which she helps unmask the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and its notoriously anonymous movie censors and their sphinx-like rating system. Dick hired her again for “Outrage,” in which she works undercover and off screen to help expose hypocritical GOP leaders who actively campaign against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community they covertly belong to. Both are out on DVD.
Becky’s life is as fascinating as any of her cases, which after 15 years now number in the hundreds.
“Ever since I was a child, I dreamed about being a spy,” said Becky, meeting LaVerneOnline.com in the very public and transparent Angel’s Restaurant in downtown La Verne, Calif. “I used to spy on everyone, and I always got in trouble because I found out things I shouldn’t know.”
While pointing toward a career as a police officer, Becky was raped and almost killed. The sexual assault changed her life.
“I couldn’t be a cop,” she said. “I would have killed the first child molester/rapist I came across. It took a huge emotional toll on me. So, I did the next best thing.”
She became a private investigator, leaning on a friend already in the business to serve as her mentor.
“I just sank into it,” Becky said. “It was like, ‘This is what I always wanted to do. I can stop people from doing really bad things.’”
Although paying the bad guys back is one of her motivating life forces, she doesn’t wear revenge on the short sleeves of the Hawaiian shirts she’s always seen wearing. In fact, she’s a throwback who seems as if she should be starring opposite actor Dean Jones, best known for his light-hearted Disney roles from the 60s. In conversation and demeanor, she is carefree, guileless and giggles more than an “I Love Lucy” laugh track. She even named her P.I. business, Ariel Investigations, after the namesake Disney mermaid who is impossibly curious. Some clients have even said upon meeting her that she looks like actor Ann B. Davis, who played Alice, the maid on the long-running TV series, “The Brady Bunch.”
Don’t think she hasn’t used her harmless, non-threatening appearance to her and her clients’ advantage.
“Being a female, I get away with a lot,” Becky admitted. “I’ve been able to get into places most P.I.s can’t. “I just smile at a guard at a gate, and he lets me in. ‘Hi, ma’am, how, ya doin’? They’re thinking, ‘She can’t be harmful.’”
Any harm she does is probably to herself.
“I hit my head all the time, I fall into dumpsters, and my whole butt will go in. I’ll be crawling in my car and I’ll get stuck in my seat,” Becky said, laughing. “I’m very much a dork. If people were to watch me, they’d be like, ‘How is she a P.I.?”
But it’s mostly Becky, with a bulldog tenacity, who does the watching, usually out of her spacious van with its blacked-out windows that conceal cameras and other high-tech surveillance equipment. She’ll use whatever resources are available — including her kids, her partner Cheryl and Cheryl’s 87-year-old mother — to help her get the information she needs,.
“They’ve all worked for me,” Becky said. “I’ve used my kids in many cases. I’ll pretend I’m filming them at a birthday party, and I’m actually filming the person behind them instead.”
Not long ago, she helped bust thieves who were stealing more than $100,000 worth of aluminum every weekend from a company in Pomona. The thieves always broke in just after she left the yard, which left her frustrated. When she figured out that a runner on a bicycle was tipping off the bad guys, she outsmarted them by renting several U-Haul trailers and parking them in the company parking lot. Inside the trucks were off-duty cops ready to move in.
“We finally caught them,” Becky said. “They were a bunch of illegal’s. I called ICE, and they sent them all back (to Mexico).They’d rather do that than spend the money to file charges against them.”
Of course, Becky doesn’t always go unnoticed, especially hiding out among L.A.’s darker alleys and meaner streets. Returning to her van once, she found, a gang bandana tied around the antenna, which “generally means you have only seconds to get out of here,” Becky said. Another time, someone tried to steal her van when she was camped in the back of it. Her closest scrape came when a hostile threatened her with a crowbar.
“He was in front of my car, holding it up,” said Becky, who normally carries a firearm, taser, stun gun and pepper spray, but on this occasion retreated to her van, crouched on the floor and prayed. “I was scared to death. I told God that that if I got out alive, I’d never go back to that place, and I didn’t.”
But Becky has never turned down a dangerous assignment. “How can you be afraid of a situation you’re not up against yet?” she asked, adding that if she feels there is some place she shouldn’t be, she’ll leave.
The good news for her clients is those places and situations are few and far between. She’s fearless and confident. That’s partly why Dick finally hired her after interviewing many other candidates for “This Film Is Not Yet Rated.” She guaranteed results, her competitors only promised them.
With the success of the documentary came other offers, not acting ones, but P.I. jobs, including her P.I. work for “Outrage.” Another call came from Evi Quaid, wife of actor Randy Quaid, well known for such films as “The Last Detail,” Brokeback Mountain,” “Independence Day,” and “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.”
“I get a call one day from a lady screaming and yelling,” Becky recalled. “She says, ‘I need you to help me. I’m Randy Quaid’s wife.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, right.’”
After being convinced, Becky agreed to meet the Quaids at a hotel. “They give me a different name to ask for. It’s very secretive, very weird, just like you would read in a book,” Becky said.
At the meeting, Becky said the Quaids insisted that a former business manager had taken out a million-dollar life-insurance policy on Randy and ordered a mob hit on them. They wanted to hire Becky to identify the “killers.” According to Becky in a story widely reported by Diane Dimond of “The Daily Beast,” Evi also believed that [Michael] Jackson was murdered along with Heath Ledger, Chris Penn, David Carradine, Natasha Richardson, and other stars who (had been) in movies with Randy.”
Becky said that Evi Quaid asked her to check several license plates of the cars from the funeral of David Carradine, believing they belonged to the “killers.” Becky’s search showed that the plates belonged to employees of Forest Lawn.
Becky’s involvement with the Quaids took many twists and turns, including a three-day stay with Becky and her partner Cheryl in their La Verne home off Bonita Avenue. Altogether, she worked for the Quaids for three weeks.
“Randy loved it here,” Becky said, adding that the actor and brother of movie star Dennis Quaid marveled at driving undetected through In N Out. “He said, ‘I love La Verne, nobody picks on you.’”
That feeling didn’t last long.
“I ended up quitting and threw her [Evi] stuff out of my house,” Becky said, citing alleged threats the couple made against her, which forced her to get a restraining order against them.
Also, on Monday, April 26, Randy and Evi Quaid were briefly jailed after showing up to court two weeks late for a criminal case alleging they had defrauded a Santa Barbara County inn out of more than $10,000. A judge also ordered the couple’s $40,000 bail forfeited after they missed a hearing on April 12.
Although Becky said the couple still owes her $19,000, she said she isn’t bitter about her involvement with the Quaids. In fact, she worries about them. She told Dimond and LaVerneOnline.com that during the time she worked for the Quaids, Evi told her repeatedly that she and Randy were “going to end up like Phil and Bryn Hartman” – referencing “Saturday Night Live” star Phil Hartman who was shot dead in his bed by his wife, who then killed herself.
Like “This Movie Is Not Yet Rated,” the publicity, wanted or not, is good for Becky’s P.I. business. “I really should send the Quaids a thank you letter,” Becky said.
Becky increasingly may be the P.I. to the stars, but she’s also known as “Pro-Bono Becky around town to the hapless, hopeless, and helpless, who need her assistance even if they can’t pay right away, or at all.
“I feel bad and try to help them,” Becky said. “I’ve had clients call me at midnight crying. Once I get a case, I am totally devoted to it, and I make sure I do everything to solve it. I could sit here all day and tell you all kinds of stories of cases.
One case that made her especially proud involved a woman whose husband restricted her to an $80 a week allowance. The woman suspected he was having an affair and put Becky on his trail. Becky learned that he actually owned the company that he dutifully told his wife he only worked for. Her surveillance also revealed that he owned a yacht in Newport Beach. As for the suspected paramour, the person was another man.
“She fainted,” Becky said when she broke the news to the suspecting wife. “She was filthy rich by the time I was done with him.”
While Becky enjoys exposing cheating spouses, she doesn’t relish sharing the news of infidelity. “The hardest thing for me is to come to someone and say, ‘Yeah, your spouse is cheating, and here are the pictures,’ but that’s what they want.”
Intuition is a powerful force that needs to be listened to, Becky insisted. “If you think someone is cheating, they are. You know better than anyone else.”
Becky said one time she made the mistake of calling a client while the client’s spouse was having a tryst at a hotel. “The next thing I know, she shows up and she’s pulling the girl out of the hotel by her hair, and I’m filming it. And I’m like, ‘I better stop filming this as evidence.’ So I went up to her (the client) and I said, ‘Don’t pull her hair, why are you beating her up? He’s the one cheating on you.”
Often when she’s on a stake-out, she’ll uncover illegal activity far more serious than what she had signed on for. In tailing another cheating spouse, she said she uncovered a terrorist cell. She turned over the information to the FBI.
“Once the FBI gets the case, they won’t talk about it anymore,” she said. “They just told me, ‘Don’t worry. It’s taken care of.’”
Seeing so much of celebrity’s sordid underbelly, as well as just the grimy laundry of her routine cases, Becky has found comfort and contentment in supporting and working with organizations dedicated to rescuing and rehabilitating abused, neglected and abandoned animals.
Over the past several months, she has helped organize the Linda Blair WorldHeart Foundation’s Comics and Craft Fair to be held Saturday, May 8 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Bonita High School. Linda Blair is an award-winning actress (“The Exorcist”) and humanitarian, who has devoted her life to providing a safe haven for abandoned and abused animals. The actress now cares for 52 dogs at her Acton, Calif., property, not far from actress Tippi Hedren’s Shambala, another well-known preserve for forsaken animals.
“People will just drop dogs off at her house,” Becky said. “She’ll wake up the next morning, and this dog will be leashed to the fence. So, with Linda’s help, we’re trying to boost awareness and attract donations.”
Blair, along with Larry Thomas (the “Soup Nazi” from “Seinfeld”) and actor Eric Roberts (“Dark Knight”) and other celebrities will be there to sign autographs and raise awareness and money to support the foundation’s work. There will be pet CPR demonstrations, a cutest dog outfit and dog personality contest, raffles, vendors, pet adoptions and an “opportunity drawing” to have dinner with Linda Blair at La Verne’s Taste of Asia restaurant. (Please see our separate story on this event under Lifestyle).
“This event has really touched me. Anybody who loves dogs will enjoy coming out,” said Becky, who is considering expanding her P.I. business to investigate animal abuse.”
Becky Altringer, P.I., and Pet Detective: It has a good “Ring” to it.