Craig Johnson

Know Your Neighbor: A "Golden Girls" Lesson

You might be friendly with the new neighbors at first, until George Clooney shows up.

Know Your Neighbor: A "Golden Girls" Lesson
Learning the truth about neighbors is so much easier today than it was in the 1980s. | Photo by Bruno Martins, Unsplash

With the rise of telework in and after the pandemic, many more of us are working from home, surrounded constantly by the people we only used to see in passing or on weekends. We mean your neighbors.

Whether they're out for a stroll, walking the dog, fetching the mail, or bringing back groceries, your neighbors are around more than ever. They may even constitute the majority of people you see all week if you're not going into the office.

We nod, we wave, we exchange neighborhood news. There's nothing wrong with superficial neighborly relationships, but wouldn't you still like to know if something surprising hides below the surface? Then you can decide whether to continue as a casual acquaintance or make a better friend of your neighbor—or you could decide to steer clear of them.

Real life abounds with stories of unsuspecting people taken by surprise by neighbors who weren't what they seemed. Life also abounds with stories of deeper friendships, even romances, that germinated when one person learned a little something extra about someone else, enough to forge a connection.

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Stories of neighborly surprises are also plentiful in fictional worlds too. For example, the gals on Richmond Street in Miami once went from enjoying the company of new neighbors at dinner to helping the police with a sting operation, all in one episode's runtime. What gals are we talking about? The Golden Girls, of course.

"To Catch a Neighbor": A Golden Girls Lesson

A fine illustration of neighborly deception for our times comes from "To Catch a Neighbor," a standout episode from the second season. Written by Russell Marcus, the episode starts in the waning moments of a dinner party. The girls on Richmond finish entertaining the new couple from next door, only to have police detectives show up and inform them that the McDowells are not who they seem. They're actually dealers in stolen gems.

One of the detectives was played by a young George Clooney. It was a prominent supporting role that the future Oscar winner sandwiched between Return to Horror High (1987) and Return of the Killer Tomatoes! (1988). Thanks to the information he brings to the household, the girls cool their friendship with the neighbors and agree to help with a stakeout. So they won't be a bother to the ladies, the cops set up their headquarters in … the kitchen! Hey, it's a sitcom.

If the detectives hadn't arrived with the truth about the McDowells, the girls could have learned enough on their own from public records to cool their friendship with the new neighbors. Their detective work wouldn't have been as easy in the late 1980s as it is for us today, but after a little digging into public records the girls would have known that the nice new folks on the street were not who they seemed.

Names can be false, but addresses don't lie.

A neighbor giving you a false name is not a definite sign of malicious deception. Many people, particularly single women, have good reason to keep all or part of their legal name private when they meet a stranger.

One thing a neighbor can't falsify, however, is their address. Not if they want to receive mail there. Plus, you can see exactly where they live with your own eyes.

Find the name of your new neighbor by performing a reverse address lookup on Whitepages, which bills itself as the top free reverse address lookup tool online. Names come up for free, and then you can run those names through PeopleWhiz.

When it comes to criminal records, few are as worrying as sexual offenses. You definitely want to know if the new neighbor on the block has this in his past.

The criminals told the girls that their name was McDowell, but an address lookup might have shown that the house also received mail for people under other names, other aliases. If there are two people living there, why are 10 names linked to that address? This could be a sign of identify fraud, tax evasion, or worse. If nothing else, such information would lead the golden girls to cool their burgeoning friendship with the McDowells and proceed with caution.

A real name unlocks a lot of information.

Once you have your new neighbor's real name, a public records search will bring up a lot of information. Simply enter a name at PeopleWhiz to quickly search over 67 billion public records from thousands of federal, state, and commercial databases. In no time you get a background report with tons of personal details, such as:

  • Mugshot records
  • Court filings
  • Traffic violations
  • Marriages and divorces
  • Foreclosures and liens
  • Address history

Criminal records are just one of the record types you might find. When it comes to criminal records, few are as worrying as sexual offenses. You definitely want to know if the nice new neighbor on the block has this in his past. The U.S. Department of Justice maintains a sex offender database where you can search the registries of all 50 states and beyond.

Searching people today is so much easier than in the 1980s.

If Blanche, Dorothy, or Rose had needed to investigate the new neighbors herself, she would have started by visiting the records office downtown. She would have filled out forms and waited. In the end, she would have been able to see the records kept locally in that building for that county. Tracing the McDowells further back would have required knowing past addresses and visiting those records buildings. In short, people searches were a lot of hard work before the dawn of the World Wide Web.

For more than 20 years, public records have been routinely digitized in courthouses and records office across the country and added to giant databases that can be searched from anywhere you have an internet connection. So much easier than the 1980s!

The leading public records search sites prove their value by selling an unlimited service, not a single report. Nobody needs to know about just one person. Your searches on PeopleWhiz are unlimited: Look up multiple people; try maiden names; try alternate spellings; see the close associates of one person and then look of those people. If you had to pay for each report, the costs would be enormous. That's why the best and most useful public records search tools operate as an unlimited service.

Happy Ending

Lucky for the golden girls and the other residents of Richmond Street, the bad guys were nabbed by the end of the episode. (Someone was shot, but we won't spoil it by telling you who.) Perhaps in an alternate sitcom universe, Clooney and his partner did NOT show up with the truth about the McDowells. Perhaps the ladies continued to build a friendship with the couple, and one day Blanche's jewelry goes missing. Or Rose discovers that her identity was used to open multiple credit card accounts. Or Sophia mouths off to a stranger in the McDowells' driveway for driving recklessly, and when Dorothy tries to calm the situation she notices he's concealing a gun. So many things could have gone wrong if the girls hadn't learned the truth about their new neighbors early.

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