Legal Legs- A Nashville Investigative Firm

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The Huntsville Times | Nashville Scene | Cosmopolitan

Lifetime Movie Starring Hollywood Star Lauren Holly
The Huntsville Times
Published on April 4, 2004
Article by Chris Welch

Holt, P.I. From undercover to front cover, latest stop is Hollywood for former Maysville resident.
It's about 10 a.m. on a weekday and Janice Swafford Holt, who grew up in nearby Maysville, is sitting in her SUV on a Nashville street, chatting on her cellphone and listening to a communications radio. She talks in a slightly hushed tone, is wearing a jogging suit, baseball cap and sunglasses and has her trusty "surveillance" dog Tucker, a Yorkie, along for the ride. She certainly could pass for just another Nashvillian getting ready to walk her dog - and that's the idea. You see, Holt is on the job.

You see, Holt is on the job.

Holt is a private investigator and is hot on a case. A sleazy husband?

"Nope, a sleazy wife," she says. "It's a child custody case and she's doing things with children in the house," Holt says. "I think she's selling drugs out of the house. There's a lot of traffic coming in and out, and it looks a little shady."

The next morning, Holt and another associate in her all-female firm, Legal Legs, are back at it again. They're watching a "guy who has been hiding assets and has some shady deals going on with bankers. "If the guy pulls out, I'll have to run," she advises a caller.

Wow, sounds just like James Bond, huh? "I wish I had James Bond's toys," Holt laughs. "I have to wear very non-descript clothes and have a non-descript car." She does own all sorts of spy stuff - camcorders, cameras, video and listening equipment and several disguises, three wigs - blonde, red and dark brown - a pin-on ponytail, a stun gun and .38 Special. She has worked for several celebrity divorce lawyers and celebrities in Nashville, including Wynonna, but perhaps the biggest case she's ever solved was hers.


Missing in action: her husband.
It was about 14 years ago when Holt was living a pretty good life in Nashville. After attending Buckhorn High School and the University of North Alabama, she got married and had a son and daughter. One weekend, after returning from a trip, Holt returned to find her husband missing. They had been married for eight years and Holt suspected he might be having an affair. She hired a private investigator, but he never produced any information. Holt even put on a wig and glasses and followed her husband on a so-called buddy trip to Knoxville - when he picked up a woman at a nearby apartment complex - told the private eye to follow them and he still failed to produce anything. Can you say payoff? Holt figured the husband was bribing the private eye, so she fired him and picked up the case herself. And get this - the husband picked up on his suspicious wife and even taunted her, telling Holt "You couldn't track an elephant in the snow." Well, you've heard the one about hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, right? During another one of those "buddy weekends," Holt dropped by the woman's apartment, convinced a locksmith to open the door and found pictures of her husband and his girlfriend along with things the husband had bought her. Can you say busted?

Sounds like a great made-for-TV movie, huh? You've got sleaze, sleuth and, of course, revenge. Well, that's what Lifetime Television also thought.

From Cosmo to Lifetime
Holt's story was first told along with some other private investigators a few years ago in Cosmopolitan, and she also ended up on the "Maury Povich Show." And last year, Nashville Scene did a big cover story on her. Now, Lifetime Television will present her story, starring Lauren Holly ("Dumb and Dumber, "What Women Want"), tentatively scheduled for May 10, and two of the titles discussed are "Caught in the Act" or "Tenn P.I."

"Basically, it's my story," Holt said. "It's about a woman who hires the private investigator to catch her husband and he sells out to the husband. I catch him cheating and then become a private investigator." Not surprisingly, the producers and writers made the story a little bit more "Hollywood," as Holt said. The movie was filmed in Luxembourg - hmm, Nashville's resemblance to Luxembourg is? - and used European actresses who must play Southern women. Holt has a cameo as a waitress and her cousin, G.W. Bailey, who was Rizzo in "M.A.S.H." is also in the picture.

Her sister, Lisa Swafford White, a program analyst at Research Development and Engineering Center, and her parents, Norma and Emma Jean Swafford, all who still live in Maysville, are characters in the movie. And White, who still remembers when sis pulled her into the bathroom at home and told her about her ex-husband's affair years ago, can't wait to see her sister's story on the screen.

"I'm excited," White said. "My parents are sort of cautious, not sure how they'll be portrayed." Holt has already forewarned her parents they are "separated" in the movie and she has more sisters and brothers than she really has. The film also has her dad living in a trailer with all sorts of antennas and electronic equipment - "that's where the movie says I got my interest in electronic equipment - " but he's far from that.

"It's sometime fictitious; I guess it can't be totally the story line," Holt said. "I tell people all the time, they've changed all the stories to protect the guilty."

Nashville Private Investigators - Legal Legs

If the movie gets good reviews, it could be made into a Lifetime series, Holt said. There's lots more stories, Holt has hundreds of stories, and seems to have a photographic memory of all them.

She'll tell you about the "Dogfood Man" who was stealing dog food and selling it out of a warehouse. She got a pickup truck, disguised herself, bought a load of the dog food and then radioed seven deputies who were waiting for her signal to make the bust.

She'll tell you the "dead rabbit story" about a man fighting his ex in a child custody case. The child's rabbit had died and the woman left the rabbit in the cage for over two weeks, forcing the child to watch it shrivel up into virtually nothing. Holt said she went over and videotaped the dead rabbit in the cage, and when the hearing came up in court, the woman claimed she took the rabbit out the day it died. Holt's videotape showed otherwise.

"It showed the woman was a liar and lied under oath," Holt said. "She was just lazy and it was just terrible, so we won the case." Her first case, detailed in the Nashville Scene, involved another one of those dumb criminals. A grandmother was trying to get custody of her son-in-law's 2-year-old after her daughter had died. Holt discovered the son-in-law and a friend had been scamming an older couple, stealing boots the couple sold out of their home. She also found out he'd threatened an employer who had fired him. Holt had enough evidence to win the grandmother custody, but it didn't help the guy's case when he walked into court wearing a pair of boots he'd stolen from the couple.

There was also the case of the pastor from a North Carolina church who had a girlfriend, a California ex-con who planned to kill his girlfriend and kidnap the child, the husband whose wife found and married another man on the Internet - Holt caught them celebrating their honeymoon early in the hotel parking lot - and the time she sprayed Pam on her hair, painted black circles under her eyes and infiltrated a battered woman's group, where she heard the woman say her husband - Holt's client - never actually beat her up.

In each of the cases, Holt righted a wrong, often when her clients were victims of the system. "It's such a rush to bust a case," Holt said. "Everybody thinks all you do is cheating spouses, but you do insurance fraud, work compensation, missing people, runaways, child custody and I've worked with homicide detectives to find witnesses."

"My agency has all female investigators. I think women just have a good instinct about things and are more observant and detail-oriented. They also work a lot more for the adrenaline. I always tell people if I was to take out an ad it would say: 'Adrenaline junkies wanted.'"

Gulp, isn't it dangerous?

Holt is dealing with crooks, criminals and other assorted seedy characters on a regular basis, so sure, it can get a little dicey, she says. "Sometimes, yes," Holt said. "I was in the projects one time and there were bullets flying all around the parking lot. I was down in the floorboard and called 911. It was teenagers and they should have been in school, but they were doing a drug deal and shooting at each other. I was just hoping none of the bullets would go through my car."

Would her friends in Huntsville be surprised that Holt has gone undercover? "Probably so; some may be shocked," Holt said. "Some may not be. I was never scared to do things different. My parents always thought I was a daredevil.

"I had one of my female investigators say last night, 'I can't believe we went out on this property and walked through the woods at night when it was pitch dark. If my dad knew, he'd die.' I told her, 'Get used to it, there's going to be a lot more like this to do.'"

The Nashville Scene contributed to this report.

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