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Watching the detectives 

Private detectives are portrayed in crime novels as harsh personalities -- gumshoes who down Irish whiskey after roughing up street thugs for information.

In real life? Well ...

John Holiday and Lou Smit don't deserve the stereotype. But their accomplishments, legends among those in law enforcement, could easily spur best-selling whodunits.

Smit, a former investigator for Colorado Springs police and for the El Paso County Sheriff's Office, has cracked a couple cold cases in his tenure. Now he's part of a volunteer cold case unit at the sheriff's office, helping detectives to stay focused on their hunt for killers.

"In any homicide detective's mind, you can solve every case," Smit said. "Now, that's the way you have to think."

Detectives, Smit said, make their own luck.

What he means is that by constantly being active, tips come in more often, old evidence looks different and the facts begin to surround a suspect. He sometimes visits old murder sites and takes photos, just to stay familiar with the layout of the neighborhood.

A major motivation for Smit is the victims. A saying of his runs rampant in the sheriff's office.

"Lou says, 'You have to stand in the victims' shoes,'" Sheriff's Commander Brad Shannon said.

Holiday, the somewhat eccentric owner of Abbey Rare Books on North Union Street, agrees. Compassion is a key component of being a good detective, he said.

They are an unusual breed, he said. The best are as smart as a fox, pay attention to detail and are persistent to a fault.

Many have incredible memories, he said.

"You've got to be able to remember the minutia years later," Holiday said.

Meanwhile, a different sort of investigator, retired Colorado Springs policeman Dwight Haverkorn, chugs away at the Penrose Public Library. He has a business card that reads: "Local History, Genealogy, Odd Jobs, CSPD History, People Locator, Murder History."

Murder history, it turns out, is Haverkorn's biggest fascination. He's working on "Homicides of the Colorado Springs Area," a gruesome accounting of every murder ever reported by the region's newspapers since the 1870s.

He decided to put the compilation together after an acquaintance wanted to know if there had been a murder in her house. He wasn't able to provide an answer, so he started researching newspaper archives, a tedious process that requires scanning headlines in microfilm reels containing entire newspapers.

When he realized how much work it was, he decided to make the job easier for others by assembling the book, which is kept in the library's special collections section. He estimates at his current pace, he'll be up to the present in about 14 years.

-- Michael de Yoanna

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