A crime was committed. Somewhere between the moment that you bought your stocks -- filled with hope and the promise of a better tomorrow -- and now, the potential has been picked dry. It's unfortunate. You don't know whether to call 911 or 411, but a portfolio autopsy would be nice, you think. You want answers. Or, at the very least, you want fewer questions.

Let's don the lab coats, slap on the surgical gloves, and break out the fluorescent lighting. We have a crime scene to investigate.

We are all suspects -- and susceptible
The first step in nabbing the profit-sucking perpetrator is to realize that he or she may very well be staring right back at you in the mirror. The initial denial is natural. It's merely symptomatic to blame anyone or anything else. Was there too much CNBC in your diet? Did you eavesdrop on the wrong equity conversation at your office's end-of-the-year party? Did you bludgeon common sense for the sake of following what you thought was a hot penny stock lead that left no fingerprints?

The sooner you blame yourself, the quicker the healing process can start. That's because we all make mistakes. Ask Warren Buffett about his airline stock investment. Ask Peter Lynch about the one trip to the mall in the name of field research that ended badly. And even David and Tom Gardner, singling out promising stocks online for nearly a dozen years, stumble from time to time.

The Gardners run the Motley Fool Stock Advisor newsletter service, and every month each brother picks out a stock he thinks can move higher in the future. They can't miss, right? These were the guys picking hot stocks like AOL and Iomega just when they were starting their growth spurts in the 1990s, so there's no way they can go wrong, huh?

Guess again. David liked Krispy Kreme (NYSE:KKD) 29 months ago. It was a good call at first. David eventually recommended bailing on the stock at a stifling 90% loss. Tom also bet the wrong way on Possis Medical (NASDAQ:POSS). In the 21 months that the medical products specialist was an active pick, it lost 45% of its value.

Bad calls? You bet. Portfolio killers? No way. The average newsletter stock pick has risen 57%. That's more than three times better than the market's average return.

Getting in tune with your criminal intent
Two wrongs don't make a right. You've heard that plenty. I'm here to tell you that two wrongs don't make a right, but three wrongs might. That's because your trading history often holds the clues to that fiscal cold case known as your portfolio. Figure out the patterns behind your worst selections and you will be that much closer to avoiding them in the future.

Don't for a minute think that I'm preaching from some virtual podium. I'm right there with you. Fourth row down. Right next to the terrarium. In the 1990s, I may have been the only investor to lose money going long on Amgen (NASDAQ:AMGN). That's right. I'm that guy. The biotech giant behind Epogen and Neupogen was one of the better performing stocks of that decade, but you wouldn't know it from my account. My humbling came as a result of buying it, without much in terms of due diligence, and punching out at the first sign of trading weakness.

Some guys lament ex-girlfriends. I've got a little black book filled with the ex-stocks that I sold too soon. Marvel (NYSE:MVL), a Stock Advisor pick, was another one. I bought it a few years ago when I had the foresight to figure that Spider-Man was going to be huge on the big screen. When it turned out that I was right -- it was the top box office draw of 2002 -- and the stock didn't move up immediately, I bailed on my superhero stock. I missed another good one there. If stocks could talk, they would tell me, "You dumped me. Big mistake!"

That's my self-inflicted crime. I often pick the right stocks. I just give up on them too early. Don't worry; I'm working on that. Other folks pick the wrong stocks and give up on them too late. Maybe that's you. I know there's a bit of that in me, too. Lord knows that we all have a little Krispy Kreme in the closet.

Solving the paper caper
It's not your fault. You're not alone. These are comforting words, but you still have to do something about it. What do Red Hat (NASDAQ:RHAT) and SanDisk (NASDAQ:SNDK) have in common? They both more than doubled in price last year. Did you own them? I sure didn't. I can only imagine what my portfolio would have looked like if I had scooped up a piece of them. I certainly had my chances, because I've been a fan of SanDisk for years and I could see that its flash memory products were going into everything from digital cameras to MP3 players. Red Hat is another one that I've admired for its ability to cash in on the free Linux operating system. That's another symptom of a portfolio without a pulse -- not buying the right stocks, period.

All it takes is one good pick to really bring your sluggish holdings to life. All it takes is one great stock to get you excited about investing again. Thirteen months ago, David Gardner's pick for Stock Advisor readers was Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX). The stock has more than doubled. That means that a portfolio consisting of only Netflix and Krispy Kreme, in equal parts and held since the dates they were recommended, would have you firmly in the black.

Trust me. If you take the time to pick apart your trading patterns, you will discover your weakness. Once you get that squared away, the only thing you need is good stock ideas to incorporate into your new, crime-proof portfolio. If you find yourself short on ideas, bank on a pair of proven stock-picking winners like David and Tom Gardner. If you want even more ideas, subscribe now and receive a copy of Stocks 2006for free. That's a dozen fresh recommendations, to go along with the 24 picks that David and Tom will be making this year. You can't beat that. You can't even beat a dead portfolio.

Liven it up for 2006 and beyond.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz thinks that cutting open your portfolios shouldn't make you squeamish. At the very least, it shouldn't be an alien autopsy. He does own shares in Netflix. The Fool has a disclosure policy. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.