Remember when "Debt Collector" was a noble profession? It was full of excitement and intrigue; a chance to perform detective work like Sam Spade or Jim Rockford. The only people being tracked down were deadbeats who were trying to rip off the innocent banks and utility companies. Debt Collectors kept the public honest. They made the world safer.
These days, of course, Debt Collectors are considered villains, mostly because of their ham-handed approaches. They call your cellphone five times a day asking for "Josh," who might have had your phone number eight years ago.1 The Debt Collector ranks now include weary humans who couldn't even tell you who Jim Rockford is and semi-sentient computers that jump on the line after you pick up and blurt out "Hello! This call is for..."
It's just not as fun without the gumshoes.
How to Locate Skips and Collect is a book from the Golden Age of debt collection. Subtitled "The Collection Man's Manual," it was written by A.M. Tannrath and published in 1948.
Here's an excerpt from Tannrath's dust-jacket biography:
"Deeply concerned over the high percentage of abandoned and charged-off accounts, he began a spare time study of methods to locate skips and effect collections. So successful were his results that the company organized a skip tracing and collection department that salvaged over 75% of previously uncollectible accounts."
The book, as you might imagine, focuses on the techniques used to track down deadbeats/skips. There are numerous form letters that collectors could use to track down public records and other information. Some of the chapter titles and subtitles give a good sense of the information contained within:
- Collection Notices
- Collection Letters
- Collection Forms
- Collection Telegrams
- Analyzing Envelopes on Return Mail
- Information in the Daily Papers
- Tracing through Secretary of State
- Tracing through R.F.D. Courier
- Contacting by Phone
- An Address but No Phone
- Analysis of Bad Checks and Their Collection
There is also a section titled "Don't Play Your Last Card." An excerpt:
"The point I wanted to bring out is that you should never get to the point of telling a delinquent that you are going to do dire things if he does not pay. This frequently happens in a moment of anger or frustration. Do not waste time telling what you are going to do. If, after you have given him a chance to make an amicable settlement, he fails to do so, then crack down, provided you can find a way to enforce settlement."
Tannrath, I suspect, wouldn't have liked modern debt collection very much. Or modern society in general. But who knows? Maybe he would have been Dog the Bounty Hunter's magnifying-glass-wielding sidekick.
Bizarre side note
Darby, Montana2, according to a blue stamp on the inside front cover.
I wasn't expecting him to be anyone notable, but ... wow.
In December 1988, Besly became the fourth of ten husbands of Bonnie Lee Bakley, whose tenth husband was actor Robert Blake. In 2001, Bakley was shot to death in a parked car outside a Los Angeles area restaurant. The murder was never solved, but Blake was found liable in a 2005 wrongful death lawsuit.
Years before her violent death, Besly (then in his early 80s) and Bakley (then in her early 30s) had a strange, very short relationship. Here's an excerpt from a 2001 article in the Los Angeles Times by Ann O'Neill:
Long before slaying victim Bonny Lee Bakley married actor Robert Blake, she married a Montana widower who answered one of her personal ads. But moments after the "I do's" were exchanged in Elko, Nev., DeMart C. Besly handed his bride a roll of quarters. He never saw her again.3
His heartbreak hardened into obsession, and Besly spent his final years pounding out Bakley's story on a manual typewriter. When he died last December at age 93, he left behind a 400-page manuscript, titled "Ubiquitous Bonny: Mistress of Sham!" On the cover sheet he had scrawled a note saying to save it in case it was ever needed.
"He was very intuitive," said Besly's niece, Dawn Dupre, of Santa Monica, who inherited the manuscript and is looking for a publisher. "All these years, my uncle kept telling me about this 'Bonny Lee' and this book he was writing. And I was saying, 'Who cares?"' Besly, a retired handwriting analyst, explained that he was uncontrollably drawn to Bakley. "He knew it was all wrong, but he couldn't help it." ...
Although they hadn't seen each other since their wedding day, Besly and Bakley kept in touch through letters and phone calls, so the manuscript is well documented. ...
According to Dupre, her uncle "wasn't happy that she dumped him like that" and believed "somebody was going to get her with all this stuff she was pulling on all these poor men. He did mention that she would be murdered. He just knew it .... He wanted her to be careful and to shape up. He was absolutely obsessed with her, poor little guy."
1. Not that I'm bitter.
2. Darby's name, in Salish, means "Place Where They Would Lift Something."
3. "We never even consummated the marriage," Besly is quoted as having said in Murder In Hollywood: The Secret Life and Mysterious Death of Bonny Lee Bakley, by Gary C. King.