Bridgett House was leaving the house in a hurry last Saturday morning, ready to follow a tip to a mountain hideaway where she and her husband Dean were pretty sure a bail jumper, wanted since 2005, might be staying. Her youngest son, almost 9, stopped her in the hall. "He's like, ‘Where are you going? Today is our day to go to Party City!'" she remembers. "I suddenly realized, I'd been working four weeks without a break. I told him, ‘I promise if we can find this guy I'll take you for a Halloween costume!'"
She was able to live up to both sets of expectations. After two full nights of surveillance, she and Dean, both state-licensed private investigators and bail enforcement agents with the power to arrest, brought the man in from a campsite in Sevierville—the third arrest for their company, Britten Investigations, in the past three weeks. That afternoon, Bridgett took her son shopping. "Every time we make an arrest, we sit back afterwards and are like, ‘I can't believe we did that,'" says Bridgett. "It's all kind of surreal. I'll be 40 this year. I'll think, ‘This is insanity.'"
Bail enforcing is kind of an eccentric choice for a good ol' North Knoxville girl who was a medical assistant at Children's Hospital when she first met Dean 13 years ago. A Northern England native, he was backpacking the States, and came through Knoxville on his way to Texas. She'd been widowed a few years earlier and had two children, ages seven and three. "I met Dean in a downtown Knoxville restaurant. We exchanged numbers, and kept in touch with e-mails and on the telephone. Exactly one year and four months later, he's on my doorstep with a duffel bag."
That was 1998, and for the past 11 years the two have lived on a small farm with the kids and 18 pets, keeping an office in the house. On the rare occasion when clients come to see them (instead of communicating via phone to maintain secrecy), they're likely to see a goat on the porch.
This is a successful "opposites attract" marriage—and business partnership. "He's very shy, and doesn't share information easily," she says. "I'm loud and boisterous, and half the time I embarrass him to death. I'm very organized. If a bail bondsman gives Dean a check, it can be lost before he gets back to the car."
Dean still speaks with a Northern England accent sometimes mistaken for German, a distinction he says helps in a competitive industry where it's difficult to tell one investigation company from another. "Back in my hometown, people are really uptight. If a stranger talks to you on the street he's probably gonna mug you. I had to get used to it here."
When he first arrived in Knoxville, Dean got a job with a local real estate appraiser, eventually becoming a certified appraiser himself and opening a small real estate company. By then the couple had a third child, and when Dean's business grew to where he needed to hire a helper, they decided that person should be Bridgett. "From there, we just branched out," she says. "He was always obsessed with Dog the Bounty Hunter, saying, ‘I want to do that someday.' When he actually introduced the private investigator idea, I thought, ‘You're crazy.' Even after we took the classes and got the licenses, I thought they would be one of those things that you have and never use."
But four years ago, the couple started with surveillance, cheating husbands, that sort of thing. About a year and a half ago, they progressed to bail enforcement. "That's kind of our thing now, the cases other people haven't solved even though a couple years have passed. The snooping wasn't really to our liking. Bail enforcement—that's where the action is."
And the risks. "It's all scary," says Dean. "This last case, we were told there were guns in the house, that the guy would fight. We were told one of his best friends was a crazy guy, and he'd be there too. It turned out he was in his pajamas and watching television and didn't put up a fight, but you never know what you're gonna get."
Both partners carry guns, which Dean treats matter-of-factly. "I live in Tennessee, where I think everybody has a gun," he says. "We both got permits a few years ago after seeing so many crimes on television. We took a safety class. But we've never had to use the guns. No, no. We have them in case things get real, real crazy."
Dean and Bridgett don't go in for disguises. "Just things like baseball caps," says Dean. "No fake mustaches... Bridgett does some undercover, but it's not glamorous. She spent a couple of days on this last case walking around a trailer park—not like the cops who go to live with the Hell's Angels for a few years,"
Their kids are laid-back about the family's home-based business. "I'm driving around a trailer park at 1 o'clock in the morning, trying to find an address, and I notice two people walking our way," recalls Bridgett. "I'm thinking, ‘Would it be smart to hit the gas?' And then I noticed the two men both had guns pulled on us. But I roll down the window, ‘Okay, hold on. We're bail enforcement, looking for so-and-so.' They turned out to be the nicest guys. They were afraid we were trying to break in."
When they got home, the family's teenagers were watching television. "I'm telling them, ‘That went well, except for the gun incident.' They're like, ‘Oh. Yeah. Are you taking us to the mall tomorrow?'" m
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