The PI Wears Prada: One Woman's Midlife Career Change

When her job in real estate soured and her kids got older, Jeanene Weiner followed a dream: she started her own detective agency. Now this female private eye is living her dream.

By Paige Williams
Photograph: iStock Photo

After becoming licensed as a private investigator by the state of Georgia, Weiner rented a 900-square-foot office in a small suburban complex. She set up a Web site, bustedpi.com, and advertised in the Atlanta Yellow Pages. It took a few months before the phones began to ring.

Her first case was garbage — literally. Weiner was hired by a woman who suspected her boyfriend was married. On trash day, Weiner cruised into his neighborhood and waited for the Heftys to hit the curb. "I was terrified," she says. "I must have driven by his house 10 times. A lot of people were walking their dogs and going to work. But the minute I jumped out of the car, I couldn’t look around — I just had to do it."

Weiner had brought several dummy trash bags (white and dark) stuffed with newspaper. After the suspect dropped his garbage, she made the swap and took the suspect’s bags back to her office. The trash confirmed the client’s suspicions. "I didn’t get caught," Weiner says, "but I caught him."

In her first year alone, Weiner tracked a mother who had taken her newborn to the Philippines and then went missing, found four runaway teenagers for frantic parents, and documented about 60 cases of cheating husbands, wives, and significant others. Weiner thrives on the opportunity to help women, in particular, take control of their lives. "It’s a natural fit for Jeanene," says her husband, Bruce, 47, a former bubblegum company owner who now works in private investing. "She has an aura of ‘You can tell me anything.’ And people do."

A Few Good Women

Of Georgia’s nearly 600 private investigators, 114 work in metro Atlanta, and many of them are former police or military men. "When I started the business, I had to wing it," Weiner says. "I didn’t know which camera was really best; I had no one to guide me through a surveillance report. I went to these crotchety old guys, who decided I didn’t know what I was doing because I wasn’t in law enforcement or the army. I vowed, ‘I’m going to prove them wrong.’"

With her caseload steadily building, Weiner used the $200,000 profit from the sale of her rental properties to buy a three-story office building in December 2005. She moved Busted into the third floor, and hired three women her age — Denise Rhodes, Gretchen Lane, Yvonne Stephenson — who, like Weiner, are sharp, attractive mothers with strong intuitive skills. "That’s the most important quality: a good gut instinct," she says. "Women also tend to be more patient and nurturing, so when clients come in and their lives are falling apart, we often have an edge over men. And we smell better."

Gretchen Lane, 46, worked in the banking industry before a divorce and frustration with her corporate job nudged her toward a career with Busted. She and Weiner had been friends for years, and last spring, Weiner talked her into getting licensed as a private investigator, a move Lane doesn’t regret. "Although you have to be prepared for the best and worst of results," Lane says, "the emotional payoff is high when you solve a case."

To date, not one of Busted’s investigators has had her cover blown during surveillance. "Women aren’t noticed as much," Weiner says. "They’ve got soccer-ball stickers and carpool numbers on their windshields. When you drive a station wagon, you don’t stand out." They also haven’t let the seamier realities of the business influence their own marriages. "I’ve never suspected Bruce of anything, and I never will," Weiner says of their 19-year union. "In all the years that he was traveling for his business, if I ever really needed him, he was on the phone. I might be more cautious if I were newly married, but it’s not even a question with Bruce."

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