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What Does It Cost to Hire a Private Investigator to Investigate Murder/Homicide?


Crime scene private investigator photographing a crime scene
Investigating a Murder or Homicide is Technical

I saw a question today and I thought it was really good. They asked what is the cost for a private investigator to investigate a murder. So let’s discuss that from an actual private investigator who has investigated murder.


What is the cost to hire a private investigator to investigate murder? The cost of investigating a homicide or a murder will vary depending on many factors. Usually a retainer of $2,500-5,000 is required to begin. Homicide/murder investigations are complex and have many moving parts. For example, look at the picture and you will see a crime scene investigator, usually working for a law enforcement agency, meticulously photographing and cataloging a crime scene. This is just the beginning. A private investigator will charge anywhere from $125-250 per hour to work on a homicide/murder investigation.


What Is Homicide and Murder And How Much for PI to Investigate a Homicide or Murder?

Let’s talk a bit about some differences. Homicide is different from murder, yet murder is a part of homicide. Let me explain the definitions as it is important to distinguish between the two. Perhaps not so much so for the private investigator— and there isn’t really a cost difference when you hire a detective, but more importantly these are understandably often confused.


Defining Murder

There are all kinds of considerations when it comes to defining murder. Most of us understand that murder is when you kill someone. But, as you probably know, murder has levels, and here are a few:


  • First-degree murder

  • Felony first-degree murder

  • Second-degree murder

  • Fetal murder

  • Attempted murder

  • Manslaughter

So what is murder? It is best defined by local Penal Codes, and for the sake of this article I will use California Penal Code 187:


(a) Murder is the unlawful killing of a human being, or a fetus, with malice aforethought.

(b)This section shall not apply to any person who commits an act that results in the death of a fetus if any of the following apply:


(1)The act complied with the Therapeutic Abortion Act, Article 2 (commencing with Section 123400) of Chapter 2 of Part 2 of Division 106 of the Health and Safety Code.

Gun pointed what is murder private investigator answers
Murder is killing with malice


(2)The act was committed by a holder of a physician’s and surgeon’s certificate, as defined in the Business and Professions Code, in a case where, to a medical certainty, the result of childbirth would be death of the mother of the fetus or where her death from childbirth, although not medically certain, would be substantially certain or more likely than not.


(3)The act was solicited, aided, abetted, or consented to by the mother of the fetus.


(c)Subdivision (b) shall not be construed to prohibit the prosecution of any person under any other provision of law.




Definition of Malice

We refer again to California Penal Code, this time section 188 to define malice.


(a) For purposes of Section 187, malice may be express or implied.


(1) Malice is express when there is manifested a deliberate intention to unlawfully take away the life of a fellow creature.


(2) Malice is implied when no considerable provocation appears, or when the circumstances attending the killing show an abandoned and malignant heart.


(3) Except as stated in subdivision (e) of Section 189, in order to be convicted of murder, a principal in a crime shall act with malice aforethought. Malice shall not be imputed to a person based solely on his or her participation in a crime.


(b) If it is shown that the killing resulted from an intentional act with express or implied malice, as defined in subdivision (a), no other mental state need be shown to establish the mental state of malice aforethought. Neither an awareness of the obligation to act within the general body of laws regulating society nor acting despite that awareness is included within the definition of malice.


Now, I am sure you see a few words here and think there is nothing to this. But all of these statutes are backed up by case law, federal statutes, and many nuances. Since this is written by a private investigator and not a lawyer, you should consult a legal professional who is well versed in murder and homicide to understand more how your local penal codes may apply to a certain situation.


Defining Homicide

We can now share what homicide is and how it differs from murder. Again, it is important to know when you hire a private investigator, what exactly you want them to investigate and I am sure you have a good grasp of your particular situation, when communicating to your private investigator, it is important to be clear on whether you are hiring them for a homicide or murder investigation.


While both murder and homicide are regarding the death of a person by another human being, and equally disturbing, homicide is not murder unless there is malice and intent.


Homicide could be thought of this way: Bob is an excavator driver. Randy is a surveyor and is on a lot that is going to be built on. Bob and Randy work together as the excavator takes

Heavy equipment can be dangerous private investigation
This was the type of heavy equipment used in the investigation I reference

signs and information to get the building lot level.


However, Randy inadvertently gets distracted and is sighting a place on the plot where the excavator accidentally reverses onto Randy. Randy was not paying attention and had earphones in his ear and had just had an argument with his wife on the phone. He was distracted. Bob the excavator driver too had ear phones and was listening to music as he was driving this massive excavator. Bob did not see Randy and Randy did not hear the excavator that backed on top of him. Sadly, Randy lost his life. This is a real homicide that I investigated and can say that insane things like this happen.


Bob did nothing out of malice. The massive excavator has warning signals, but Randy had not been in the proper head space after the argument with his wife. Wearing earphones was a contributing factor.


That is a homicide.


Where as, Ben finds out that his wife Lea is cheating on him. Ben takes his shotgun and shoots Lea. Ben has just committed murder. Malice, intent and using a destructive device (the firearm).


The Cost of Hiring a Private Investigator To Investigate Murder/Homicide


As I shared, the usual retainer is $2500-5,000 to begin investigation into a murder or a homicide, but this also depends on the detective you hire. Do they have experience in this area? If so, what is their methodology for investigation? Do they have a team? A lot goes into a homicide investigation and the cost should be a secondary factor to the main issue...why was someone murdered?


Many people look at hourly rates for a private investigator, but that is not always the case. Yes, a private investigator will likely charge $125-250 per hour to investigate a murder. However, you should not always look at the hourly private investigation cost.


You need to consider the scope of the investigation. What happened, is law enforcement cooperative with the family and investigator? Were there witnesses?


The Scope of Investigation Will Determine The Cost to Hire a Private Investigator


So, when we talk about the cost of hiring a private investigator, especially in a sensitive matter such as a homicide or murder, we must look at all the factors.


One consideration when looking at cost is whether the client wants the detective to work on a certain aspect of the matter or do they want them to conduct the entire investigation?


Let’s first look at why you would hire a private investigator to investigate a murder/homicide and build from there on what it might cost to hire a detective.




Why Hire a Private Investigator To Investigate a Murder?


Sometimes people hire private investigators because they don’t feel the police are doing a well enough job, especially in communication. An example of this was a family hired me to conduct an investigation whereby their son was shot in the street by a gang. This was documented with witnesses and members of the gang bragged about the assassination.


After seven months of nothing seemingly being done, the family hired me to start the investigation. When I spoke to local law enforcement, they said it was good that the family hired me because they had 5 other murders in front of this one. A bit of a callous statement, but probably very true. Sometimes law enforcement human resources are pushed to the brink.


The Scope of Investigation


As discussed briefly in the above paragraphs, where a client wants us to start will have a determining factor on price to hire a private investigator.


In most cases, a client needs to understand that the detective needs time to work on the

Private investigator tools for investigation
How much you want the private investigator to investigate will determine the cost

client’s private investigation. Time is a massive consideration.


If you think you will just tell a private investigator to work within an $800 budget, you are not going to get anywhere for that money, as it will likely be spent in less than a day of investigation. Likewise, if a detective tells you to give them a small amount to start, they are likely just attempting to part you from your money at any cost.


Set a Realistic Budget to Investigate a Homicide or Murder


I know it sounds grim to talk about, after all, a human being lost their life in a tragic way. If you are dealing with the loss of a loved one due to a homicide, then our sincerest sentiments are with you.


I have had to face families and tell them that the person they thought was simply missing on a gambling binge was found deceased.


Of course, your pain and agony no one can understand and this article is meant to provide a basic understanding of the cost in hiring a private investigator in this specific situation. Setting a realistic budget is the only way to start an investigation, of any sort.


Don’t hire a private investigator unless you can spend the money on their professional fees and for them to see the matter through. Undoubtedly there are people to speak to, places to canvas, videos to obtain, witnesses to find.


There is a massive puzzle to put together and you should plan on the long haul. If you can put a budget together that allows for the detective to put a good amount of time into the investigation.


Closing Thoughts On Hiring a P.I. to Investigate Murder or Homicide



Have a realistic view. Of course you want answers, and your private investigator understands that. But having a realistic view means that you understand the limitations a detective will likely face.


It is an investigation, there will be challenges. Some of those challenges may be from getting law enforcement to cooperate, others may be in obtaining witness statements or getting locals to share their video feeds.


Whatever the challenges, be prepared to work with your investigator. It is rare I have investigated a homicide and not had the full backing of the family and friends of the deceased. It is important that you stay involved but give the investigator the room to do what they do professionally.


Plan on a budget. Don’t be mislead by private investigators that may sell you on getting started for cheap. That is how they get you in the door and they do nothing but set up the client for false hopes. It is likely you will spend $10,000 plus on the matter.


I recently investigated a cold case and because of the size of the matter, the retainer was $25,000. This is realistic. The client’s overall budget was $40,000. Consider that a $10,000 retainer, being billed $150 per hour is around 67 hours of work. That can be gone through in one week of investigation and expenses.


Do you have more questions about private investigators investigating a homicide? If so, leave them in our comment section. We’d love to connect with you.




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