The secret lives of us

A real life Sherlock Holmes talks to Neos Kosmos as we unearth the suspicions that drive many members of our community to seek his services

At first sight, John Ioannou is your average middle-aged bloke with a cool edge. He loves his motorcycle, his collection of old cameras and only drinks good coffee. His profession though, adds a different and very fascinating layer to this man’s persona. John Ioannou is a private investigator, a very well-known and respected Melbourne PI with most of his clientele coming from the Greek community.

He entered this undercover profession 24 years ago and since then has become the director of Precise Investigations. He is the man behind the scenes of many a secret life and during a quarter of a century of confidential work has gained enormous insight into the issues and realities that create doubts in the everyday lives we lead. These doubts are the reason why we seek his help.

Talking to him felt like talking to the Orwellian Big Brother himself. At moments, a sense of guilt mixed with fascination engulfed me. As he started guiding me through his experiences and the personal lives of his clients, I felt like a voyeur of some sort. I consoled myself with the thought that his stories not only represent a slice of our lives, but also reveal social realities and issues that families, businesses, as well as individuals, confront on a daily basis.

Lost and Found

“I enjoy working with my own kind, the Greek Australians,” he says and adds that his clients come from all age groups. He does not want to talk about the insurance related side of business, as he feels that the social issues emerging from his insights are more important to our community.

“There is the belief that most of the cases we take on are about uncovering cheating partners and this is wrong,” he says when I ask him if these kind of cases are his bread and butter. “We work a lot finding missing people. For example in many cases mums and dads come to me. They’ve had a fall-out with their son or daughter and their child has disappeared. They’ve been gone for years and the parents do not know where they are, if they are healthy, if they are still in Australia, nothing. Family is very important in our culture. The parents are devastated. Some of them, before coming to me, had tried for years unsuccessfully to locate their children.

“What I do is find them, confirm that I found them with a visual of sorts by knocking on their door, taking this evidence back to the parents, and informing them about their whereabouts. In some cases I play the role of the counsellor trying to re-establish some form of contact between the child and the parents.” Lately, John sees the number of young Greek Australians running away from home is growing.

“There was a recent case of a girl who left her home and radically changed her religion from Greek Orthodox to Muslim. It is not the first case of this kind. She changed her name, she had no property under her name, couldn’t be found through the electoral roll or records of her last employment because she hadn’t worked for years and as a result it was not easy to locate her. Her parents said that they didn’t know anything, but in most cases they do know something. To start with they knew her friends and their affiliated friends. I found her but most importantly I had to win her trust. I told her that her parents needed proof that she was okay … In this process we had meetings in unusual places, somewhere she felt safe.

“She eventually gave me a photo of her, something to give back to mum and dad. She did not want to meet them. In most cases the parents are quite understanding when they learn that their child does not want to meet them. If they know that their child is healthy then they are happy and they live with the hope that some kind of more frequent communication can be established.” For John these jobs are probably the most difficult ones. “They are very sensitive, very emotional jobs and you have to be very careful. The good thing is the parents listen to me,” he says.

Cheating of all sorts

It’s a no-brainer that husbands and wives who suspect that their partners are having an affair are seeking John’s professional services quite often. “Believe it or not, about 50 per cent of cases, where the suspicions of the partner that their husband or wife is having an affair are confirmed, don’t end up in a marriage break up,” says John.

“The couple reaches a stage where they start to communicate differently with their partner.” For John this is real job satisfaction because what he does is, “to give closure to my clients. I give them peace of mind and then they as individuals can make an informed decision of what to do next.” While this type of infidelity is more frequent in those aged 40 plus, the younger generation of Greek Australians are falling victim to another form of cheating.

This other emerging group of client-victims are in most cases young professionals unable to find the right person in their social circles who decide to go online in search of a partner.

“The last couple of years online dating became a major trend and the cases that emerge from this trend are increasing by the day,” John says. He adds that recently, most of his clients are women having found someone on a dating website, want to see if this person is who they say they are. What drives young Greek Australian women to go along and ask for John’s services is the fact that in many cases they suspect something or they think that ‘this man is too good to be true.’

“A female in her late 30s, professional psych nurse, very intelligent girl, came to ask for my professional assistance. She had gone through a divorce a few years ago and she was ready to go back into the dating scene. She wanted to meet someone of the same calibre like her, you know, so they can relate. Her intentions were pure. She meets another Greek guy through an online dating service. She came to me because she had doubts and she wanted to put these to rest before making any decisions. This guy told her that he is a professional, he owns a business in Melbourne, he is very wealthy supposedly, has some business interests in Greece and in China. He said that he had told her that he is divorced and there are two children on the scene. He was promising the world.

“They had met and she liked him. He was telling her things like ‘if you stick with me you will never have to work again.’ She is an independent lady who while liking the idea of not having to work again, also hates the idea of giving up her independence. She hired me to find where this guy lived, because he had been to her house, but she never went to his. He promised that he’d take her to his house and introduce her to his parents, but because he was moving between homes he was not ready yet.

“I had to do a background check on her behalf. She managed to take his name from his driver’s licence and that was very helpful. What we found out was not a surprise for me but I have to say did surprise the psych nurse a lot. The guy owns only a small percentage of his brother’s business and he does many night shifts. So it turns out that he is not the hot shot that he makes out to be. Doing night shift when you are the director of a company is a little bit unusual. Then we found out where he lives, that he is still with his wife who is well known personality in the Greek community and on top of that he does not have only two kids but seven. Five of them were coming from another marriage and two from his current marriage.”

This kind of case is on the rise according to John who also mentions that todays women go on dating sites in order to find a partner from a very young age. And more than 60 per cent of those who end up hiring John are the victims of a liar. As John confirms with real life stories; human nature more often than not, drifts into an ugly territory of deceit and lies. I dare to ask him if he can deduct from his 24 years experience how prevalent deceit is within the Greek community these days?

“The number of deceitful human beings is on the rise. It takes a certain degree of strength for the honest everyday person to turn to a private investigator and be prepared to pay a certain amount of money in order to rest his suspicions. And business is booming!” he says.