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The sun is shining on a big gold ring on Adams' left hand. He says the ring was given to him while he worked for the French Foreign Legion, which was hired by the South African apartheid government to train bodyguards.
"They had these made for us, because the currency out on the frontier was sort of bizarre," remembers Adams. "If you had to bribe somebody, or get out of jail, we had money on us all the time." From South Africa, Adams went to Croatia before returning home.
One of Adams' more memorable cases came in 1992, when he was hired to find a kidnapped Chesterfield girl. He traced her abductor, cult leader Paul Detko, to Costa Rica. Adams journeyed to Costa Rica, pretending to be a tourist, and soon managed to befriend Detko. After tricking the leader into thinking some bounty hunters were after him, Adams learned the girl's whereabouts.
"I had to come up with a game plan -- other than just torturing the guy," Adams says. Eventually, Detko revealed that he had hidden the girl in an Iowa Mennonite community.
Mission accomplished -- but Adams still had to dispose of Detko. "They weren't going to extradite him, plus, I got the girl. I'm done. Let Costa Rica deal with his ass. So we just took him up into the mountains to give us time to get out of the country and," giggles Adams, "pushed him into a little ravine. It turns out it was an inert volcano. What can I say?"
Joe Adams has more stories than he can contain, and they fire out of his brain like bullets from his machine gun. There are so many wild tales that it's hard not to dismiss -- or at least wonder about -- them. But the stories hold up to scrutiny; the big cases have been reported on extensively. His involvement with the Contras made national headlines, as did his adventures in Costa Rica.
Still, you have to wonder as each amazing, boastful story features remarkable accounts of his cunning successes. Seldom will you hear the word "failure" come out of Adams' mouth. "I always have to win," he concedes.
Joe Adams always gets his man, gets paid for it and comes out smiling.
"Since I've known this guy," says St. Louis attorney Lou Basso, a regular Adams client, "he's never exaggerated anything. He can't really afford to do that in this business, particularly when you're doing surveillance work."
"I'm ego-driven," Adams admits, but insists no stories he tells are embellished. "When I was doing this stuff, I wasn't doing it so everyone would know I was doing it. It just happens. It comes natural."
Adams moves onto the subject of Jimmy Hoffa. He's worked for the family of the missing Teamster honcho for nearly a decade. Hoffa's daughter, Barbara Ann Crancer, is an associate circuit court judge in St. Louis County.
Crancer declines to characterize Joe Adams' work for her family. "We have asked him to do a couple of things in connection with the investigation of his [Hoffa's] disappearance. I've found Joe to be somebody who, when he gets an assignment or a request from somebody, he takes care of it right away. And you get your answer right away. He does his job. He does his work. He doesn't dawdle."
Says Adams: "What I do, is when the FBI gets stalemated on something, I come in, finish it and then [Crancer] gives the information to the FBI."
Recent disclosure of DNA evidence indicates that Hoffa was in a car driven by Charles "Chuckie" O'Brien when he disappeared on July 30, 1975.
"The story," Adams reveals, "is that Chuckie got deep in gambling debt, and there's a theory that this was a way of relieving his gambling debt."
O'Brien has told the FBI that Hoffa had never been in his car, but current DNA evidence, muses Adams, "shows that Charles was confused."
O'Brien had gone underground, and the family wanted him found. Adams dug in and started tracing. He learned that O'Brien was still on good terms with his wife and knew that he had a son, Chuckie O'Brien Jr., in Kansas City. So he accessed Junior's phone records, accessed the wife's records and compared phone numbers.
"Bingo, I end up in Boca Raton," says Adams. "Sure enough, there he is."
The investigator supplied Crancer with O'Brien's address and telephone number.
Adams says he has a good idea what happened to Hoffa, as does the FBI. "But knowing what happened and being able to prove it are two different things. I know a lot of things, but if I was ever asked to put them on the table, I can't."
Margo Green, partner at the law firm of Green Cordonnier & House, LLP, first met Adams in 1991, during a prominent custody battle between a Saudi Arabian prince and his St. Louis-born wife. Green represented the mother of the then-six-year-old child. The mother was estranged from her husband, and the woman fled Saudi Arabia and came to St. Louis.
"In Saudi Arabian law, children are the property of the husband," explains Green. "The wife has no rights. She was terrified that he was going to come snatch the child."
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