Chris is a private investigator with Northland Attorneys LLC. Clients frequently hire him to tail their partners, whom they suspect of cheating. We've changed his name so he can remain covert as he follows Kansas City's skulking spouses.
The Pitch: What did you do before you became a private investigator?
Chris: I worked in the military, doing military intelligence. I came out doing the same thing I was doing in the military, except we're investigating much different things. I get hired to investigate workplace fraud and to work insurance investigations, car wrecks, accidents, scene re-creation. The cheating side is just a separate side, and it's relatively easy.
Kansas City is a very insular town. How does anyone get away with cheating here? Is it because we're too nice not to assume the best when we see two people together?
That's pretty much the main part of it. Nobody seems to really care. Nobody's really watching what somebody else is doing.
When a woman calls and says, "I want you to check out my husband," do you interview her initially to see why she thinks he's cheating?
Right, we'll qualify them to see what the reason is that they want to have someone surveilled. Usually there's pretty good indications: a sudden and dramatic change in work schedule or availability, the husband leaving the house on the weekend for hours, saying he's going to the hardware store and coming back three hours later. There are red flags, like hidden e-mail accounts. A guy that freaks out and doesn't want you to touch his cell phone — usually that means there's something in there. Any weird tickets or receipts that are totally out of the norm.
Do a lot of people snoop?
I've had a few of those. I've had women tinkering around on the computer and finding Web sites and places where their husbands shouldn't have been. One lady saw her husband's picture on a free dating Web site. He was on there claiming to be single. Another red flag is a sudden decrease in sexual activity at the home. Either it's a medical thing, it's work- or stress-related, or they're getting it somewhere else.
To prove that someone is cheating, what do you need to find?
Really, all I need is a photo of a man with that other woman, or a woman with that other man, in public together, holding hands, having dinner together or any of the above. Some of these people actually have clients they're supposed to take out, so in those cases, we have to go a step further to catch them at a hotel room or in a park in the middle of the night. For each person, we have to know what their lifestyle is like to help us pinpoint what the signals are.
Do you use your personal vehicle?
We use our personal vehicles, and when we've had some surveillance that goes on for quite a while, we'll change vehicles. All those things are figured into our fees.
How do you actually conduct your investigations?
We have cameras with extreme zoom on them. We have binoculars with built-in cameras so we can take pictures of exactly what we're seeing. We have a lot of equipment we can use. The client ends up with a packet that looks like a police report that documents where we went and when, in military time and extreme detail. A lot of times we follow so good that we shop with them at Target and actually go to the register with them, right out of the store, and they never knew who we were, never noticed we were there. By the time they're back in their vehicle, we've probably got the client on the phone, telling them what's going on, or we're downloading stuff on the laptop to start sending them. It's pretty quick.
So your car is your whole operation.
Yes, we can put a whole mobile office in there with whatever we need in each case, which kind of varies. As far as them going into hotels and stuff like that, we can't really follow them in, but we can document it, photograph them going into the hotel and checking out of the hotel. Some spouses will actually put the room in their real name, so we can say, hey, we called this room number at this time and this person answered by their name.
Are there certain locations that you find yourself going back to over and over?
The locations are always different, but often you'll find yourself in the parking lot of an economy hotel where it's, like, $29 dollars a night, which ends up being the same rate as an hourly rate hotel.
Have you ever proved for someone that their spouse wasn't cheating?
I've actually had some that weren't doing anything wrong. They were just working a lot of long hours.
How does a spouse keep the fact that they've hired you a secret?
We get a lot of people paying in cash. I tell them, "I work for you. I don't work for the other person. Just relax and let me do my thing. Don't sneak around the house. Don't do anything to make him feel like he's being investigated." Because if, all of a sudden, she starts asking questions — like "Where are you going to be at 3 tomorrow?" — all these things will tip him off. Let us do our job. Nine times out of 10, if they're doing something bad, we'll get 'em.
Is there a common theme in the line of work of the cheaters you investigate?
That person who wasn't cheating, he was in finance so he worked with a lot of people's investments, and they had an increased workload. It was totally understandable how that would look. We get a lot of doctors. One we had, he wasn't doing any sexual activity with another woman, but he was going out with women just as someone to hang out with. He was an older guy, in his late 50s or early 60s.
Were the women much younger?
Yes. A lot of the men, anymore, if they're cheating, it's with younger women. Or older women, cougars with boys in their 20s — that seems to be the going trend now. It's very popular.
Do those women tend to be wealthy?
Are there any specific cases that stick out in your memory for one reason or another?
I know of a guy I investigated where, an hour after having intercourse with another woman, he came home and had intercourse with his wife. That's disgusting. You have to ask yourself, "Does that person have a sick sense in his head where he's like, 'I just had sex with another woman and now I'm having sex with my wife, and she doesn't even know?'" One woman, we knew what was going on at the house and we called the husband and said, "He's there now if you want to come home." He walked in and caught them having sex. That was pretty cut-and-dried. She said it was just that one time. Well, it was really three days in a row. There was a husband who was a multimillionaire with no prenup who got caught cheating twice within one year. The second time caused her to get half of everything he had.
Is it kind of a rush to chase these people?
I kind of numb myself from it. I don't want to take sides. Some people, morally, would feel like, "I'm gonna get you, scumbag," but I'm at the point where I just feel really bad. Not dirty bad, like violated or disgusted or anything like that. I just feel like, Wow, that's such a shame. You see two people who are supposed to be together, and then you see the person who comes in, and that person came in to basically destroy something, whether they know it or not. I'd say, yeah, there's some adrenaline to it, but it's disheartening at the end of the day because you see what society's becoming.
You don't seem to get off on the underbelly of society.
I deal with some very, very big clients, and for them to know that they aren't hiring some greaseball, that makes me happy. My clients are usually already going through a hard enough time. I think once they're done paying lawyers and stuff, they end up feeling screwed every which way because they got screwed by the person who cheated, and now they're screwed because they have to pay an attorney and hire a private investigator. When you look at it that way, it makes them feel good that someone actually cares. Somebody's got to bring them some kind of sunshine.