By Sue Pascoe
One of the most popular television shows from 1968 to 2003 was “Columbo,” a detective show with a twist. Viewers knew who committed the crime, but watched because of the way the head detective, Columbo (Peter Falk), ferreted out clues to discover the culprit, and what he did to get that person to confess to the crime.
It turns out that the television character may have been based on Marvin Frost, whose firm, Marvin T. Frost Investigations, is now run by his son and daughter-in-law, Palisadians Greg and Felicia Frost.
“They modeled him [Columbo] after my father,” Greg told the News. “My dad wore a raincoat, was sort of sloppy and could disarm the person [with affability].”
Marvin Frost was an investigator in workers’ compensation for the City of Los Angeles, but was convinced to go into private practice by Melvin Belli, a prominent attorney based in San Francisco. Belli’s clients included the rich and famous, such as Zsa Zsa Gabor, The Rolling Stones, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker and Jack Ruby (Lee Harvey Oswald’s assassin).
“We’d be up there all the time,” Greg said. “We sat in the back seat of the car as dad drove. He got cases all over the country.” Since Marvin spent so much time working, he tried to bring his family with him whenever he could.
Greg remembers that his dad would show the kids what he did, which included getting people to talk to him, by earning that person’s trust.
“I started working in his office when I was 12,” Greg said. When he was 16, his father made an agreement, “In exchange for a car, I’d search Superior Court records.”
Even after Greg was shot at, he continued to work for his father while attending UCLA.
A process server had been unsuccessful in serving the man whose home on Mulholland had been foreclosed, so Greg was sent up in his 1983 Mercedes to serve a subpoena. He knocked at the door, and a woman, possibly the wife, answered in her underwear. She went to get her husband, who returned with a gun and fired off five shots.
Greg ran to his car, but couldn’t get it to start. The man, who had followed him, smashed the driver’s side window and hit the trunk, before the car finally took off.
Greg reported the incident to the sheriff ’s department, and it was originally filed as felony assault with a deadly weapon. The next day he got a call from the Watch Commander at the Fillmore Station saying it was a misdemeanor, and that he would hear from the district attorney. He called several times but never heard back.
Greg persisted. He contacted the sheriff ’s department and was connected to a detective, who told him the man thought he was a burglar and that the man said that he had accidentally brushed the gun against the car and the window broke.
Greg retold the story, and the detective then filed it as felony assault with a deadly weapon. But a couple of days later, Greg got a call from the Watch Commander telling him it was a misdemeanor and that he would hear back from the DA.
He never did, but about a year later, the district attorney was accused of bribery. “Whether there was a connection to my case, I do not know,” Greg said.
Frost’s firm does private investigations for workers’ compensation claims (including fraud and surveillance) and civil liability (personal injury, accidents, criminal activity, asset checks, pre-employment checks and serving subpoenas). He recently helped residents with background checks on nannies, and worked several pre-employment checks for local schools.
The firm doesn’t handle domestic work. “Too messy, and you can’t win,” said Frost, whose father retired in 1996.
He has met all sorts of interesting people, including the original L.A. Madam (before Heidi Fleiss). He was hired by her insurance company to conduct an investigation about a housekeeper falling down steps.
“I waited almost three hours,” Greg said, and finally he met with her in her bedroom. “She was sitting on a bed with a telephone in her lap. She claimed that she was an antique dealer.”
He said that every time the phone rang, he was told to leave the room—and several times, fancy women came in, and he would have to leave the room.
“A couple of weeks later, I read in the L.A. Times that the LAPD had arrested the woman by sending two detectives to the Chicago Hilton and ordering women from her,” Greg said. “When she appeared for her arraignment, the CIA showed up and told the police that she was off limits, because she had been providing them with information.”
Felicia, whom Greg met in high school, started working for Marvin Frost in 1987, shortly after the couple was married.
“I did office work; it was purely secretarial,” she said, but that has expanded into doing Internet searches that include names, addresses and company verification. Not surprisingly, many people who are being investigated offer phony names and addresses, but “There are sites that private investigators have, that the public doesn’t have access to,” Felicia said.
Maybe the most fun thing about her job, she said, is tracking down and finding the requested information. “It is so cool.”
In one case, the Frost team saved a law firm $400 million because they were able to discover that one of the experts the lawyers planned to call to trial would be problematic.
“The firms just want to know so there are no surprises, no dirt,” Felicia said.
Although the internet now has much of what they need, the Frosts still spent time in the archives across from the courthouse downtown. “It’s one of the levels of hell,” Greg said, noting that the city is trying to put the old criminal and civil cases on the computer, but many are still on microfiche. “It’s like an old bomb shelter down there.”
Greg, who values Felicia’s research capabilities, said his strength in the partnership is getting people to talk—one has to be friendly and disarming.
“I don’t record when I take an actual statement,” he said, noting that when people see a recorder, it scares them. “It is hard when people are talking really fast.” When he finishes, he dictates through Dragon, a speech recognition app that provides automatic speech-to-text capabilities.
After the firm does its investigation for a client, what happens? “We turn it over to the person or company,” Felicia said. “They make the decision what to do with the information.”
Greg, who obtained a history degree from UCLA in 1986, originally wanted to be a police officer, but was turned down because of bad eyesight.
His career as a private investigator suits him well. “I travel and go all over California,” he said.“ I get to meet all sorts of people, and the information I get helps a person or an insurance company, especially in cases like Curtis.”
A November 1 News story described how Greg had helped prove through his investigation that Curtis Love, who was sent to jail for 25 years to life for a $5 crime, was innocent.
He is also working on another pro bono case for a man who was arrested and is serving 35 years, simply because he gave a ride to a friend.
Greg finds time to serve as the assistant scoutmaster in charge of new Scouts for Troop 223.
He and Felicia have two sons: Kevin, who graduated from UC Santa Barbara and works on developing mobile app games, and Alex, who graduated from the University of Arizona and has applied to the LAPD.
For more information, visit frostinvestigations.com.