Vol. 12. No. 4
Spring 2003

“A dark night in a city that knows how to keep its secrets, but high above the quiet streets,
on the twelfth floor of the Acme Building, one man is still trying to find the answers to
life’s persistent questions—Guy Noir, private eye.”

—Garrison Keillor, “A Prairie Home Companion,” National Public Radio

Gumshoe. PI. Super sleuth. Private eye.

Thanks to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the words conjure up images of dark alleys sheathed in fog, shadowy figures lurking in doorways, and street lamps dimly illuminating rain-spattered streets, the sound of footsteps diminishing into the distance.

The reality, of course, is much different in today’s modern world, where James Bond gadgetry has overtaken Sherlock Holmes’ cerebral dexterity. Things are no longer quite so elementary as they once seemed.

Although Todd Gabler BS’88 doesn’t fit either the Bond or the Holmes variety of private investigator, investigating privately is what he does. His work tracking down miscreants and malefactors has taken him around the globe.

One might wonder how a guy who majored in communication at the U found his way into the sleuthing business. Surprisingly, his career path hasn’t been as full of twists and turns as one might think. After all, says Gabler, “We’re all investigators at some level.”

Yes, but researching molecules is far different from looking for missing persons and murderers, isn’t it?

Not really, according to Gabler. The evidence is in his footprints, which can be tracked back to the late ’80s when he was a student at the U. Gabler attributes his development to professorial mentors E.K. Hunt (economics), Edward Kick (sociology), Robert Avery (communication), and Tim Larson (communication). “They all gave me the discipline I needed to attain knowledge and understanding,” he says, adding, “You have to have discipline to get to truth.”

Another key component in acquiring understanding is process, which, he says, is paramount—“the most important element of the search. If the process is corrupt, then so is the result.”

Gabler describes his student self as “curious and exuberant, but without discipline,” until one of his professors put him on the debate team. There he learned how to listen, observe, and do research—“all essential to the debate experience,” he says. And to the stimulation of his investigative curiosity.

Gabler also got some broadcasting experience when he started the U’s experimental radio station, K-UTE, as a student project. K-UTE was originally located on the top floor of the Cowles Building and later relocated to the top floor of the Olpin Union, where he rebuilt the studio and installed the equipment. “There weren’t many hands-on kinds of experiences for students at that time,” he says, “and it gave me the skills—wiring electronics, voice inflection, thinking quickly on my feet—that are vital to my job.”

Gabler was also deeply involved in campus activities. He served as a parliamentarian at ASUU, where he “learned a lot about social interaction,” as a Hinckley intern at the state legislature, and as an intern at the American Civil Liberties Union. These experiences, he says, essentially provided the mold for the person he was to become.

“I became driven by my desire to fight against injustice,”says Gabler. His work for the ACLU involved looking into the rights of Native Americans, the poor, and the disenfranchised. An avowed proponent of the Bill of Rights and opponent of capital punishment, Gabler reasons, “Justice is often given to those who can afford it.”

The issue of justice came to the fore when he found himself working for various lawyers, an opportunity that arose because of his forensics (debate) involvement. He began, he says, “at the bottom of the heap”—serving papers and researching lawsuits. Eventually that led to his looking for missing people.

One of his first cases took him to South America to investigate a kidnapping. Some 11 years earlier, a four-year old Utah girl had been abducted by her non-custodial father, a Bolivian national. Even though the case was cold— the FBI, the police, the Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and other private investigators had worked on it, but had come up empty-handed—the girl’s mother refused to give up. That’s when Gabler got involved.

He followed the duo’s faint tracks southward, to Bolivia, where he thought the child napping father had taken his daughter. With help from the American consulate there, Gabler eventually tracked them down in the Beni Reserve, a protected jungle region of Bolivia.

The photo he had of the girl (at age 4) showed her with blonde hair and light eyes. What he found was a teenager with dark hair and brownish eyes, looking nothing like the computer image that projected how she was expected to appear at age 15.

Although her father had changed his name and identity, Gabler relied on information he had about the man’s character and habits to track him down. “Certain things about a person don’t change,” he explains. In fact, the man had been a champion kick boxer in the United States and, after returning to South America, had become the heavyweight kick boxing champion there. Different identity. Same passions. Case solved.

From that experience, Gabler says, “I knew this was what I was meant to do. And I put to good use every academic and work experience I’ve ever had.”

Most of his work comes from word-of-mouth referrals, which allows him to pick and choose the cases he wants to pursue.

He specializes in what he calls “M and M” work—murders and missings. “I don’t do the ‘my-wife-is-cheating-on-me’
sort of thing,” he explains. Instead, he concentrates on unresolved cases. He likes to confront the unsolvable and finds challenge in the phrase, “It can’t be done.”

Gabler does it all from a relatively remote location in southern Utah, in the small town of Rockville, near Zion National Park, where he has made his home. He was drawn there, he says, because “it’s the most beautiful place I can ever conceive of living.”

Technology has revolutionized the investigative profession. With access to the Internet, Gabler says he can find out more about a person in 30 minutes than he could by tracking that person for 30 days. Criminal and civil court records, credit card information, and numerous other bits of relevant data are retrievable on the Internet. He claims to be the only person in Utah with a satellite dish on his outhouse (which is plumbed).

Gabler’s home in Rockville—his “bat cave”—is where he seeks refuge. “After dealing with murderers, rapists, and kidnappers, I get to return to the desert. It gives me an essential balance.”

Looking at the great slabs of red rock that surround his property, where “you can look at 100 million years of geological history in one instance,” is “a very spiritual experience,” he says. “There is an intense sense of connectedness in the desert.”

The process of renewal has helped Gabler become expert at what he does; his success rate is in the 90 percent range. One reason, he speculates, is that he tends to be nonjudgmental and empathetic. This helps him win people’s confidence, making them more likely to cough up clues—intentionally or not. Another is that he excels at mimicry, which allows him to pick up common phrases in a foreign language, and even imitate dialects and regional accents.

But perhaps the most important reason for his success is that he pays attention to the smallest, seemingly unimportant
clue. “Nothing is inconsequential; everything is connected. It’s often that small piece that unlocks the puzzle,” he says.

Putting those pieces together requires restoration and renewal, and “a search for spirituality and self-discovery.”
Ever the investigator, Gabler returns to his desert home as often as he can—to try to find the answers to life’s persistent questions.

—Linda Marion BFA’67 MFA’71 is managing editor of Continuum.

A Bit of Tid

The term “private eye” is said to have come from the logo—an ever-vigilant open eye—of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, the nation’s oldest and largest security services company, founded in 1852. The agency’s founder, Allen Pinkerton, was a Scottish immigrant who guarded President Abraham Lincoln at his inauguration, and later became head of the Union Army’s counterintelligence task force during the Civil War.
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