Peter Arthur Heims
Peter Arthur Heims
Peter Heims passed away on Friday April 26, 2013 following an illness.
Peter had retired some years before after over 40 years working as a private investigator.
He will be missed by colleagues and friends.
Some pages from his website have been hosted for information.
Rotarians in action
Tales from a Rotarian P.I. by Brian Slemming.
In the course of his lawful business, Rotarian Peter Heims once was asked to arrange an assassination. Fortunately for his reputation - not to mention that of the Rotary Club of Leatherhead, in southern England - he refused the offer.
Such a request may seem out of the ordinary, but for Peter, a private investigator, it's all in a day's work. “I was doing a job for a Saudi Arabian sheik, who sent a courier to England with a large amount of cash,” explains the past club president and a Paul Harris Fellow. “When the courier arrived, he disappeared - and so did the cash. I was asked to find the courier, which I did, passing the information back to the sheik. Some time later, I got another call from the sheik who offered me another job. I thought he wanted to know where the money was, but no, he asked me to have the man assassinated! It scared me, I can tell you. I called the police and the Saudi Arabian Embassy and reported it. To the best of my knowledge, the courier is still alive.”
Peter Heims, P.I., is full of such extraordinary tales. I met him on a recent trip to England. When asking directions to his office, I was told to drive to the Leatherhead railway station and phone his office for further instructions. This must be how all private eyes operate. The mundane reality was that the simplest method of navigating the maze of one-way streets that make up the small town of Leatherhead was to follow someone who knew the way. Further hopes that I would be meeting a trench-coated English version of American fictional detective Phillip Marlowe were dashed when a rather rotund, well-dressed gentleman bounded out of his car with an alacrity that belied his 71 years and rushed to greet me.
Apart from being well past the age of retirement (a concept quite foreign to him), Peter is a tad short; an important detail that greatly influenced his career. “I got into the investigative business because of my height, or lack of it,” he says with a smile. “In 1953, I left the Parachute Regiment after five years of service. I was used to being in uniform, dealing with men and being told what to do, so it seemed natural that I join the police force.”
He tried to join every local unit, but was rejected by each. Says Peter: “They demanded 5’ 8” as a minimum, and I was an inch too short.” He also found that most employers didn't seem to value his ability to skilfully jump from flying airplanes. “Next, somebody suggested I should become a private investigator.”
To Peter, the thought is parent to the deed. Although he had no training in security work, he compiled a list of 15 private investigation companies and set off to find a job. “I was only 23 years of age, and these agencies were nearly all run by retired ‘coppers,’” he remembers. “They all looked at me and said, ‘What experience do you have, lad?’ ‘None, sir.’ I replied.” Fourteen interviews, 14 rejections.
By then, “I was ready to give up, but thought I'd do the last one. It was a very small agency run by a woman. The staff were two, herself and one agent. That agent had walked out literally one hour before I showed up. But she had a job that had to be done that day, so she said if I could do it, she would hire me.”
Peter eagerly completed the task by delivering a summons and believed he had landed a job. But there was a catch - the position also required him to ride a motor-bike. “I lied, never having been on one,” Peter admits, “so I spent the weekend with a friend who taught me to ride, and on Monday, I started work,”
Two years later, he bought the agency. One of his early clients was a major London art auction house. “They were losing too many items,” he recalls. “A quick investigation showed there was no security at all.” To prove his point to his client, he wandered around a showroom during a public viewing day. “I saw a nice painting about 3 feet by 3 feet,” he recalls. “I picked it up and walked out the door. They had a uniformed commissioner there and I asked him to call me a cab. He did - and even opened the cab door for me. I then went round the block and returned the painting to the managing director. Changes began immediately.”
Within 20 years, the agency employed a staff of more than 100 and had carved out a speciality niche: tracking and preventing the theft of industrial trade secrets.
He explains, “A lot of companies ignore security where information is concerned. When checking for security leaks, we empty waste paper baskets and access computers and word processors when possible. The trash bucket beside the photocopying machine usually contains some surprising information. With the proliferation of computers, and without any real security, more of a company's secrets are at risk than ever. Expert hackers don't even need to go into a company's offices to dig out research data.”
Peter joined the Leatherhead club in 1968, serving three times as its president. He also has been an active participant in district-wide activities and was public relations officer for Districts 1140 (England) and 1250 (England) for a number of years. Peter also was appointed to the RIBI Public Relations Committee and the RI Consultative Committee.
But few Rotarians' jobs provide the kind of escapades Peter has experienced in the private security business. In the early days, repossession of automobiles for finance companies was a regular source of income, though it required careful planning. Says Rotarian Heims: “It was no good walking up to the door and saying, ‘Sir, you're behind on your payments. Could you please let us have the keys of the car?’ The best system was to go about five in the morning. We'd open the car and push it out of sight and then start it. One morning in the middle of winter, we got a repossessed car started and were heading to the pound when I saw smoke coming from the engine. There was a roaring fire under the hood. Because of the cold, the owner had spread a blanket over the engine, which caught fire. I was in possession of a burning repossessed car!”
The Heims Investigations office in Leatherhead displays a gallery of photographs, many featuring Peter with a variety of celebrities, including Britain's Her Majesty, the Queen of England; and Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales. Many of the photos reflect his work with charities, but the one with Prince Charles can be traced back to his days as a young paratrooper. Recalls Peter: “The Regiment had a little pony as a mascot. In 1996, I read that the mascot had died and for budget purposes there would not be a successor. I thought it wrong to kill this particular tradition, so I wrote to the commanding officer voicing displeasure. I received a short, terse letter telling me to mind my own business. However, I got my way by donating a little Shetland pony, and paying for its upkeep.”
Thus, Peter and his wife, Iris, were honored guests for the debut of “Private Pegasus” as the pony was named. Also attending the celebratory parade were Prince Charles and the regiment's senior officers. “The troops were led by the regimental band with our little pony in front,” he recalls. “Just as he reached the Prince, he lifted his tail and left his ‘calling card.’ Both Iris and I just wanted the ground to open up.”
I left Peter outside his Leatherhead office, all 71 years and 5 feet 7 inches of him - just 1 inch under the police minimum. And what an important inch it turned out to be. It almost certainly saved a dishonest courier from assassination, led him to become one of the country's leading experts on industrial espionage, and created a memorable exchange between a pony and a member of the British monarchy.
Published October 2001 in Rotarian, the magazine of Rotary International.
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