Ralph D. Thomas is from Texas and when you look at him you know it. He is passionate about his craft. His interests are high tech electronics for law enforcement, investigation and security. He is passionate about Native American culture and their heritage. He loves Jennifer Lopez and anything she sings. He’s a fan of The Rockford Files. old Westerns and American Idol. He is a fan of Clint Eastwood’s movies and, as one might suspect, a fan of James Bond and Mission Impossible. His favorite books include John Adams by David Mccullough (ArtChix likes anything Mr. Mccullough writes as well) and is somewhat of a scholar on the events surrounding the Kennedy Assassination.
Ralph D. Thomas loves history and he loves his country. While he may not be fond of a particular president, he makes clear that his passion and respect for the institution of the Presdiency is far greater than any one man. Ralph D. Thomas is all-American. He’s about as American as American can get.
When you first meet Ralph Thomas, you are somewhat intimidated by the piercing eyes and the serious, “We’re comin’ to get ya” look on his face. He’s handsome, with his silver hair and Texas-cowboy style. One is drawn to him. You want to know him. You have to know him. But how does one do that? It is not as difficult as it appears. Thomas is lovable, funny and one of those people who will help anybody who is willing to work hard to achieve their dreams. He believes in dreams. The kind of dreams from which the “American Dream” is born. His faith in the founding principles of the country are as strong as any these days, if not stronger. And, quite simply, he loves people.
Ralph Thomas is also an accomplished and respected entrepreneur. His litany of businesses roll off the tongue like a Who’s Who of small business success. Thomas is the kind of man that when you have him to yourself you just want to shut up and listen to what he has to say, absorbing the history, passion and energy of this Texas spy.
He is a prolific writer of investigative topics. ArtChix has been fortunate to be able to republish some of his work and we’re looking forward to doing so again.
We had the chance to get Ralph Thomas to ourselves for a chat about business, private investigations, spycraft and the man behind the Texas Spy. Here are some excerpts from that conversation.
Q: Ralph, tell us how you got into the private spy world?
A: I got into the private investigative business when I was in my 20’s. We did a lot of hardcore auto repossessions in which you had to find the subject to repo the car. They were hard assignments and the people we cased tended to be topless bar owners and assorted scam artists. We also focused on domestic surveillance investigations catching cheaters. These cases tended to be easy.
Q: What is the most fascinating thing you’ve ever witnessed in this business?
A: We once had a client who asked us to check out who his spouse was seeing but she wasn’t seeing anyone.
We found out later that the man had spent several years in jail for attempting to murder his wife. After this assignment and a few months later, we got a call from an out of state bank who wanted to repo this man’s expensive RV which was his private traveling plush home. This assignment was easy as I knew right where he was hiding it. After repoing it, the subject called us and wanted something out of the RV he was very concerned about. I told him we had possession of his guns and he could come and get them but that was not what he was after. After we searched the RV with a fine tooth comb we found hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of drugs so we just called the cops who picked everything up.
Q: You have one business in particular that deals in spy gadgets. What are some of your favorites?
A: We have partnered with Lawmate which is a Taiwan company that produces high end covert video equipment in the form or portable digital video recorders and cameras as well as some countermeasures gear. We are now the US Manufacture’s Representative For what is know as Lawmate America. Some of the amazing products that have come out of this partnership is the Keychain Recorder, Invisible Secrets Cell phone and we are just now going into the High Definition covert video area with Lawmate which is just starting to be developed now. You can check out all the high end covert video products with have developed through Lawmate off of: Lamwate America http://www.lawmateamerica.com/
Q: One of the things that is certainly a part of your legacy is your PI/Spy museum. How did that come about and what would we see if we visited?
A: I have been around for decades and some of this older stuff such as Minox Spy Cameras and bulky bumper beepers being back memories of old cases. Since I have a fondness for this stuff I started collecting it over the years to add to the collection of stuff I already had. The Spy And Private-Eye Museum has on display an assortment of old audio tape recorders, surveillance movie cameras, old bug and wiretap detection gear, old polygraph machines and old covert weapons. We also maintain a collection of old spy cameras, old posters and paper materials from detective TV shows as well as a wide collection of Pinkerton Detective Agency items that go back to the 1800’s.
Allen Pinkerton (top left) with President Lincoln
Q: The private investigative industry is always evolving. While you seem to set a standard for a new generation of PI’s and spies, who are some of your favorite historical figures in this business?
A: Allen Pinkerton of course simple because he was the first American Private Detective and sort of invented this business. A lot of people do not know this but he uncovered a plot to assassinate President Lincoln before he got to Washington to take the oath of office and rerouted the Presidential train to get there. If it was not for Pinkerton, Lincoln would have likely never taken the oath of office. Kate Warne also impresses me. She was America’s first female private investigator and worked for Allen Pinkerton. She was an undercover agent and spyed on the south during the civil war for the Union. My wife Barbara Thomas uncovered what is believed to be the only known photo of her. Hal Lipset was another private investigator of the 1960’s and 1970’s area from California. He was an impressive person and top private investigator who could find out anything and dig out anything. He had a book published in 1999 called The Bug In The Martini Olive (which is something he invented!) Another private investigator who has always impressed me and is one of my heroes is Jay J Armes of El Paso. Jay has hooks for hands but he is one of the world’s most successful private investigators. He conducts, among other things, Kidnap recovery and has successfully found and recovered hundreds of kidnap victims from around the world. Mr. Armes still operates today. His web site is: http://www.jjarmes.com/
Jay J Armes (above right)
Q: Who is your favorite fictional spy or investigator of all time?
A: My all time favorite is James Garner as Jim Rockford of the Rockford Files. When I was young, I always had to be home on Friday night at 8 PM to watch what we called training films.
James Garner as Jim Rockford
Q: You’ve written a variety of books and articles. Tell us a little about that side of you and how can someone obtain your books?
A: Writing in about 5% inspiration and 95% perspiration. It is hard time consuming work but I enjoy it. I have written 30 plus books and manuals on how to conduct various aspects of private investigation such as how to locate missing persons, how to conduct a surveillance and on and on. You can view our line of books and manuals off of:
Thomas Investigative Publications, Inc.
Q: You’re an entrepreneur with a whole list of businesses. Tell us about your business side and what advice do you have for entrepreneurs?
A: I basically started out as a private investigator and wrote a book called How To Find Anyone Anywhere which was a book on how to locate missing persons. I originally tired to get a publisher to publish it. The offers I got on it for the complete rights to it was so small, I was insulted so I published it and marketed it myself to other private investigators. In those days, there were no computers and everything was mail order driven. Slowly I added more books, equipment, an association of investigators, a retail store front and many moons from that starting point in the wholesale equipment business. We opened a Native American store because my wife and I have an interest in that. The trick to becoming successful from my viewpoint is to follow your passion. You have to love what you do. People look at me today and see success but they I didn’t start out that way and it was a very slow climb.
Ralph Thomas and his wife Barbara (above)
with Vice President Cheney
The basic difference between success and failure is a word called persistence. I came up the hard way. I earned every inch of success I made. Being an entrepreneur is not for everyone.
It requires a huge amount of energy, time and effort to get anything going to a point in which one can make a living at it. It’s not a job, it’s a way of life. I’m successful at it but I woke up one day and I suddenly realized I was 50. I thought about all of the weekends and nights I had worked over the past 30 years and came to understand a some words of wisdom that was given to me at a very young age. That is that there is a price you pay for the entrepreneur’s success. You have to give about all of your life, all of your energy and all of your time to it. I laugh at a lot of the young people coming up today watching them. They think being an entrepreneur is an easy way of life and it’s not. There isn’t any such thing as a 40 hour work week. To an entrepreneur 40 hours is a mere part time job.
One of the things that really bugs me today is how people want everything given to them. You know, people go to college and they think they can just jump out there is the real word and start making $200,000 a year. It’s just not going to happen.
Q: What does Ralph Thomas like to do when he wants to relax?
A: Some of my hobbies and passions other than work include horseback riding. I have an interest in the history of Spy Equipment and Native American history and my wife and I have a passion about spending time with Native Americans on Indian Reservations in New Mexico and Arizona. The problem with defining what I do to relax is I have a habit of turning whatever my passions are into a business.
Q: What advice do you have for a young person who may be interested in the life of spycraft or being a private investigator?
A: Be impassioned about it. Understand things take a while to build and be willing to work very long and hard hours. And remember, some things you try will work and some will not.
If you keep on doing what you have been doing, you will keep on getting what you have been getting so be willing to change.
-Reported by Abby Stockli, Editor, ArtChix Magazine