By Marilyn Tinnin
Charlie & Jancsi Saums
The Private Eye & His “Rock”
Security Support Services is one of the largest companies in the state specializing in security equipment and investigative services. Banks, government agencies, hospitals, and other organizations with unique security needs rely on this particular firm to design and install the perfect system.
But on the other side of the hallway, the emphasis is less about technology and a whole lot more about people and their problems.
The mere words “private investigator” conjure up thoughts of drama, intrigue, and television. From the advent of Perry Mason of the 1950s through the loveable, clumsy but shrewd Columbo of the 1970s and the fairly recent CSI series, Americans seem to appreciate a good mystery plot and the opportunity to observe a heroic sleuth who sorts it all out. The bad guys go to jail and the good guys go on to enjoy life. And everybody lives happily ever after.
Real life gets a lot more complicated according to local detective and CEO of Security Support Services, Charlie Saums. The Belhaven alumnus whose Plan A was to become a United Methodist minister has found himself in the middle of a number of high-profile cases involving criminal acts, domestic breakups, child custody disputes, missing persons, and more.
Those two careers—the preacher and the private eye—are not as disparate as you might think. A big heart and integrity; an authentic love for Jesus; a genuine concern for the welfare of his fellowman—all prerequisites for a successful pastor have proven to be prerequisites for the successful and renowned Charlie Saums, investigator, bodyguard, and security guru.
Charles Donald Saums, native Jacksonian, grew up in west Jackson in the 1950s and 1960s. The only child of Charles Donald, Sr. and Lauree was a cradle-roll member of West Park Methodist Church on Moss Avenue near the Jackson Zoo. Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, Methodist Youth Fellowship, youth choir—Charlie was part of it all.
Because his family was so involved, he had more than a nodding acquaintance with the ministers assigned to West Park over the years. He admired and respected the way his pastors cared for their flock. One minister, Rex Loftin, had a particularly strong influence on Charlie. As a senior in high school, he confided to Reverend Loftin that he felt called to the ministry.
The year was 1969 and there was a social revolution underway across the country. Mainline denominations were struggling with issues regarding race relations, inclusion, biblical interpretations, and more. There were also huge demographic shifts, and rural communities were losing residents left and right. There was a shortage of willing and able young seminarians eager to take a pastorate in rural Mississippi.
The Methodist Conference had several small congregations in Central and South Mississippi that were on life support but not ready to shutter their historic buildings. Suddenly, Charlie Saums, age 18 and recent Provine High School graduate, became “Brother Charlie,” the commuting Senior Pastor of the Georgetown United Methodist Church.
Never one to back away from a challenge, Charlie managed to cobble his weekly messages with a heavy dose of the Bible truths he was learning as a Christian Education major at Belhaven. He says that he got by on “a wing and a prayer,” although he must have been inspiring his listeners. It wasn’t long before the district superintendent added three more small churches to his duties, at Rockport, Sontag, and Oma in Lawrence County.
Sunday was anything but a day of rest for Brother Charlie. Preaching at Georgetown every Sunday morning and at Sontag, Rockport, and Oma on the second and fourth Sundays of each month, he was getting to spend a lot of time studying the letters of Paul. Those epistles became the framework for the core values that guide Charlie’s business practices today.
His church flock was made up of “rock solid, salt-of-the-earth” people who treated him to many a fried-chicken dinner and shared their lives with him for about 18 months. Every congregation had its characters, but Charlie had a way of endearing himself to everyone, overlooking any eccentric personality quirks and serving them with gospel love and respect. He forged friendships that far outlasted his clergy career!
There was one elderly gentleman who requested that they sing the national anthem at the beginning of every service. Charlie saw no reason to deny that request.
Following his circuit riding assignment, Charlie, still a student at Belhaven, was called to Broadmeadow United Methodist in Jackson where he served as youth pastor and choir co-director for a year. “I really cared about those kids,” he says, “But I wasn’t much older than they were, and I could see that youth pastoring was not my thing.”
As social issues continued to take a more and more prominent place in the forefront of the United Methodist Church, Charlie was a little disillusioned about his future in the ministry. He had an opportunity to enter law enforcement, and he decided to give it a try.
After all, an officer of the law, in Charlie’s mind, is there to safeguard lives and to protect his fellow man. As one whose great desire was to help other people, such a mission made sense.
“I enjoyed the police department so much,” says Charlie. “And I loved watching criminal defense attorneys work.” He was fascinated with the way they interviewed people, collected information and put a case together. It just made so much sense to him.
At the time, the Police Department had a continuing education program allowing interested officers to further their training. Charlie enrolled at the Jackson School of Law taking night classes for a few years until his night work at the Police Department made it impossible.
He was a quick study, and he attracted the attention of those with whom he worked. Charlie was serious and meticulous in his work, but he also had an easygoing, almost disarming way about him. He was just a natural when it came to detective work.
It was hard, even then, to get by on a policeman’s pay alone. He also took a job with a national booking agency to provide security for celebrities, politicians, and corporate executives. That side job took him all over the United States, and out of the country on assignments as well. Non-disclosure agreements bar him from sharing a lot of stories but suffice it to say, he has quite a few and could drop quite a few impressive names! As Charlie puts it, “I handled lots of prima donnas over the years!”
One story he can share was about guarding Ronald Reagan who made a trip to Mississippi in 1975 during his unsuccessful quest for the Republican nomination for President. He and Mrs. Reagan stayed in a suite at the old Downtowner Hotel on Capitol Street.
Secret Service detail was not a part of the entourage in those days, but Charlie was assigned to stand guard outside the Reagan’s suite overnight. About ten minutes after then-Governor Reagan and Mrs. Reagan returned from a fundraising banquet, Reagan opened the door and asked, “Can you take me somewhere to get something to eat? I never eat banquet food and I‘m starving.”
Charlie could think of only one eatery that stayed open late, so he took Governor Reagan to the old Dobb’s House on North State Street2 near the present Sal & Mookie’s. They sat at the long bar that ran the width of the restaurant and chatted like old friends. They drew no attention because nobody really recognized the California governor as a celebrity. When it came time to pay, however, Governor Reagan came up short on cash, and Charlie picked up the tab.
The Heart of the Matter and the Heart of the Man
Despite the persona of the loveable TV private investigators like Columbo, Jim Rockford, or Matlock, the general public does not view the profession as a likely calling where a strong Christ-follower might invest their talent. Charlie does not share that view, largely because he IS a Believer in Christ and one who runs especially hard after the teachings of Paul. Grace is a big thing in Charlie’s heart.
“Even Christian people do dumb things,” he says. “People—even good people—make mistakes. Some are guilty. Some are not. But when people get charged with crimes, everybody is due a defense.”
He adds that he works “both sides of the house.” He might work with a defense attorney, but he also works frequently with a prosecutor to prove where there has been a crime. “We help put people in jail, but we help keep people out of jail, too,” he says.
And he is proud of the work they do. He has been known to approach a client who is guilty of the charge, especially one who is justifiably headed for prison, and take him to visit with Joseph Wheat, his very own pastor, to give him the opportunity to understand the gospel that transcends circumstances. Charlie, the tough cop, wants this scared and desperate person to know that he CAN get through this experience and come out on the other side through God’s grace and the ever-present help of the Holy Spirit.
One of Charlie’s most memorable cases was a student at the University of Western Kentucky who was charged with killing a fellow student. It was a huge trial, and the circumstantial evidence was definitely heavy against the defendant. Charlie’s investigative team dug deep, worked hard, and built a case against the true guilty party. “That changed the wrongly accused boy’s life,” Charlie says. It was a glorious day when the young man walked out of that courthouse free, and the real culprit confessed to the crime.
Victories like that remind Charlie that he is doing exactly what God called him to do.
According to Charlie, the toughest things he has to confront are not the criminal cases but the domestic cases where a husband and wife have decided to divorce and they destroy their children in their custody battles. Those conflicts affect the softhearted Charlie Saums tremendously.
“Sometimes,” he says, “they are just fighting about money, but sometimes one parent has gone off the deep end, doing things they should not do—maybe drugs—but it is awful to see what they put their children through.”
His business can definitely deal with dark situations. It would be easy to become a cynic just to survive. Charlie is NOT cynical. You could attribute it in large part to his faith and his trust in the Sovereignty of God. But he also attributes his “okayness” to Jancsi, his wife—the person he identifies as his “rock.”
“She is the one who brings me back to the values and the things that mean something,” he says. She is consistent. She is always there. She listens, and most importantly, she understands. “She understands why I really care about whether some guy goes to jail or not, how bad jail is, and why I try to find some alternative or some way to help these people besides jail.”
They know firsthand the heartache of a broken family. That fact likely makes them more sensitive to the fallout when innocent children shoulder the consequences of moms and dads who split up. There is a sensitivity to the children that goes way beyond the names, faces, and facts of a custody battle between two adults who are engaged in a power struggle.
Charlie takes those battles hard. It is Jancsi who reminds him that all he can do is what he can do. There is a point where he has to just leave it in God’s hands.
They have done the “blended family” thing, and they have evidently done it better than most. Both of Charlie’s sons, as well as Jansci’s son Richard Jackson, work with him at Security Support Services.
Charlie says that in his work he has seen so many blended families that do not blend; they are oil and water. Their three sons and their wives get along well, according to Jancsi “because we want it so badly,” and because they have worked hard to build the relationships on love and respect.
Charlie says. “We appreciate the time we get to spend with them and with our grandchildren, but we respect them and we don’t try to run their lives.”
At Christmas, Charlie has been known to enlist the grandchildren to help him make care packages and go with him to deliver them to the homeless in downtown Jackson.
The Blueprint for Ministry and for Living
The Christian Education studies during his college years at Belhaven exposed Charlie to the Word of God in a profound but practical way. The writings of Paul completely captivated him. He doesn’t have just one favorite epistle, but he sees, on a daily basis, how much pain and suffering some of his clients could avoid if only they just applied Paul’s instruction to the way they live their lives and the way they conduct their relationships with other people.
He has dealt with broken people his entire professional career. From the homeless addicts he had to arrest during his years as a policeman to the teenager in his youth group who was making poor decisions to the well-put-together, affluent spouse who sits across from him and pours out a personal story more bizarre than any Hollywood script—Charlie has seen it all. He will tell you that troubles are no respecter of age or zip codes or bank accounts.
He has learned that everyone of those shattered individuals, by the time they are seeking his help, have discovered that whatever it was that landed them in desperate straits did not provide the satisfaction that they were seeking. Charlie grieves over the damage. He sees a lot of “if onlys” in his office.
It may have been almost 50 years since Charlie was “Brother Charlie” in those little churches in Lawrence County, but his pastor’s heart hasn’t grown cold despite his exposure to some pretty harsh situations.
He treasures that Belhaven University degree in Christian Education because he uses it every day in one way or another. It’s his biblical worldview that anchors him.
Ministry is about living one’s faith day in and day out every single day in a way that reaches out in compassion to help other people. It is true that in law enforcement, you can’t always be specifically kind. As Charlie says he aims to be firm but polite. Some people you can’t help, but he tries with all his heart and a big helping of God’s grace to help the ones he can.