When Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman started dating, they were both middle-aged and divorced. Neither was having any luck with work, so in 2004, they took matters into their own hands.
“You had lost your job. You drank to excess, and you were stoned all the time,” Colleen recalls at a visit to StoryCorps in Denver with Shaun. “And it was like, what are we gonna do?”
So Colleen, now 61, threw out the idea of starting a private investigation agency. Shaun, who has a law degree, had trained several PIs in the past. Within a week, she was out on a surveillance job.
“I just jumped into the deep end,” Colleen says. “We were so desperate. So we did crazy work, for like, no money.”
“What I clearly remember is chasing people for days for a $37 fee,” Shaun, 56, says. “But, what it felt like to me was I was worthwhile at something again.”
The couple has cracked many cases by rifling through garbage. “I remember on this case, going through the trash,” Shaun says. “And we’re standing there with cameras taking pictures of it ’cause I don’t want it after that. … I think it was like August, and it’s, like, particularly smelly.”
“The problem was, it was attracting dogs, and I’m afraid of dogs,” Colleen laughs. “I was so scared.”
Soon, the couple was doing lots of infidelity investigations, Shaun says. “It doesn’t exactly inspire a great deal of romance in your own life.”
Maybe so, but it also helped bring the couple closer together. “I remember our relationship was limping along,” Colleen says, “but being forced to work together really forced us to deal with a lot of things.”
“It’s tough, actually, to be on surveillance with somebody who’s pissed off at you,” Shaun adds. “I remember going to some sites, and we’d been having some discussions on the way up there ’cause you drive a long time — you talk.”
Shaun also got sober while the pair built their business, which helped their relationship immensely.
“And the next thing I knew, our conversations did get more positive,” Shaun says. “And there was more laughter. I know that our relationship really took off at that point. … Without the business I’m not sure that we would have made it.”
But they did. The couple married in 2009 and celebrate their four-year anniversary this month.
“This is the relationship I wanted when I was 17 and didn’t know that I could have,” Shaun says. “I wish that I could be in this relationship another 200 years. If I could bargain with God … it’s just like, I love you so much.”
Audio produced for Morning Edition by Jasmyn Belcher.