Michelle Gomez: America’s Best Bounty Hunter
There’s an old adage, “Good things come in small packages.” In this case, it depends which side of the law you’re on. The 4’11” dynamo, Michelle Gomez, has been called “the world’s best bounty hunter.” We’re not intending to test the veracity of the claim first-hand, instead we’ve hunted down her story from the safety of our editorial room.
A professional ‘skip tracer’ is a private investigator hired to track down people who’ve “skipped out on the court without a trace.” Consider an old western movie where immediately after a bank robbery or saloon shooting, the sheriff gathers up the most brave and forms a posse to hit the trail in pursuit of justice. Michelle Gomez is of that ilk but even more courageous. In taking on a job, she’s a relentless, revved-up posse of one.
Since 2003, this Texas-born woman has run her own business, Unlimited Recoveries, where she specializes in the most difficult cases whose trails have gone cold. She outthinks her marks by using clever ruses and rummaging tirelessly through the cyberworld to uncover seemingly scrubbed digital ‘fingerprints.’ While her diminutive physical stature may be irrelevant in the science of forensics, it gives her a ‘sizeable’ advantage out in the field. Underestimated time and again, she’s rarely suspected of being a seasoned ‘snoop.’
Gomez always enjoyed the adventure of the outdoors: fishing, hunting, camping and other back-to-nature pastimes. She readily admits her happy childhood included her parent’s many failed attempts to convince her to try more ‘girly’ activities. “I was always a tomGIRL,” she recalls with a laugh, “I guess I still am.” Now a single mother of one daughter, she cheerfully encourages the same independent streak in development once more.
Gomez began sharpening her keen analytical skills as early as ten years of age. Both parents worked for IBM and frequently brought home computer parts for her to reassemble. By learning to create methods of putting the scattered parts back together, her fascination for hands-on problem solving was sparked. Unwittingly, she was in the early process of cultivating skills that would benefit her down the road as a premier skip tracer.
In a May 2017 interview with Sergy Odiduro of ‘Make Changes,’ Gomez said, “I was a victim of domestic abuse at the hands of a boyfriend and while the charges were being addressed, I was also trying to deal with the court, the issues in front of me, and avoiding him.”
She’d taken time off from her legal assistant job to get through the challenging time when the skip tracer opportunity came about. “My friend, who was working as a repossession agent, asked me if I wanted to work as a skip tracer,” she said, “I didn’t even know what it meant at the time. It sounded illegal.” Skeptical but also Yearning for a change that embodied her adventurous and spontaneous personality, she jumped in with an open mind.
Odiduro’s article went on to say that while skip tracing may not be illegal, some of the tactics bumped up against Gomez’s personal beliefs. Such as the early case involving repossessing a van for a lender. There was one small problem, the debtor’s van was parked outside a funeral home with her father’s wake underway.
Posing as a flower delivery person Gomez asked the A family member, “Where do I need to deliver the flowers?” After getting the funeral home’s address, her colleagues wanted to pounce immediately. She urged them to wait. “For the love of God,” she pleaded, “her father’s just died.”
“God ain’t got nothing to do with this repossession,” her repo partner retorted. Still, she held them off until right after the ceremony. “It would have been an awful thing to do during the viewing,” said Gomez.
She was the lone woman on that job, which is typical for her line of work. “It’s all men,” she says, “but it doesn’t make me feel any different.”
Her colleagues in law enforcement have at times felt differently. “They have a lot of pride and often don’t want to reach out to a woman skip tracer,” she said, “but we’re supposed to be there for each other.”
Despite its macho image, Gomez said women naturally have qualities that make them well-suited for bounty hunting. “Some of us have the intuition that a man doesn’t have. You won’t find your subject with muscles and an ego,” she said. With steely confidence, she added, “I am blessed and just do it better.”
Her early training in computer engineering turned out a blessing. To that she says, “the two skill-sets are intimately connected in that no stone can be left unturned, the value of networking is significant, and each part has to fit together perfectly to get the desired result.” Another important tool in her belt is her understanding of human behavior. Her analysis goes something like this – who are these people, what drives them, what are their needs and motivations, where have they been, and if they’re on the run, where are they likely to go next?
There was the time when she tracked down a fleet of stolen Caterpillar wheel loaders on their way to a construction site in South America. On the trail, she contacted with the suspect’s estranged wife, telling her she’d been impregnated by her husband. The wife’s motive became to punish her cheating husband rather than protect his secret.
She passed on the critical information to Gomez which she then passed on to her contacts in Peru.
One of her most perplexing cases was in recovering a 53’ Hatteras Yacht from one of the most sophisticated marks she’s ever encountered. The story is told in detail in Randall Sullivan’s May 2017, ‘Wired’ magazine article. Here are a few highlights. The mark was a king conniver and ‘ghosting,’ or obscuring his identity in several ways, an especially developed skill.
Ghosting techniques include paying cash whenever possible and leaving digital traces to deliberately throw investigators off the trail. One example is using social media to plant false information, such as, posting seemingly innocent vacation plans that are inaccurate by 2000 miles. In the referenced article, Gomez said, “These are the kind of people who take for granted they can’t have legitimate bank accounts or valid government ID. They can and do collect credit cards linked to business addresses, but those almost always LINK TO post office boxes or vacant locations, and the applications usually have at least one digit in the Social Security number or date of birth changed.”
The short of it is that after months of arduous work, Gomez brought the criminal to justice and recovered the stolen Hatteras. “Even careful criminals,” she says,“eventually reveal their locations. They get tired and slip.” She added, “everybody needs human contact and that’s usually what brings them to THE SURFACE”.
Gomez’s father helped develop her philosophies early in life. A few of his critical guidelines she’s carried forward are these: “never lie TO GET LEVERAGE OR TO GET PAID, never cheat TO MAKE MORE MONEY, never wear REVEALING CLOTHES ALWAYS RESPECT YOURSELF. and never wear skirts above the knee.”
He also told her, “there’s a solution to everything.” From the results, it appears she’s also a good listener.
In a May 2017 Houston Chronicle interview, she said, “I help a lot of people who request my service. I enjoy helping others. It’s not about the money, it’s about closure, peace of mind, bringing a family together – it’s about that moment in time and the feeling is priceless.” It appears she’s developed her own set of honorable guidelines to pass along to her daughter. Our time in getting to know this extraordinary skip tracer has been truly ‘priceless’ and we wish Michelle Gomez happy and successful hunting in the years ahead. That said, she’s probably the kind of person we don’t want to run into out on the trail. We’ll hope instead to keep an eye on her activities from afar.