Cheating Hearts

Love isn't always blind. If you're fooling around, this investigator might be watching

February 19, 2002|By John Woestendiek | John Woestendiek,SUN STAFF

Hey, you. Yeah, you. You with the nice house, and the wife you take for granted, and the girlfriend on the side. You're not getting away with it. A private investigator, hired by your wife, followed you all Valentine's Day.

And it wasn't the first time. He's been on your case a good month now. He knows where you live. He knows where she lives. He knows where you work. He knows where she works. He has even got videotape of the two of you kissing.

On Valentine's Day, very early, while you were still asleep, he sneaked up your driveway, slid under your car and installed a tracking device, so he could follow you, but not so closely that you might notice. Still, there were times when he was in the car right behind you.

When he wasn't following your car, he was sitting, for minutes, even hours, outside those places you visited. Sometimes he was within your view. More often, he was just outside of it. That's what he does most days. Every morning, he makes sure he brings a big bottle of juice so that, when nature calls, he can use the empty container and not have to leave the vehicle. That's how intent he is on nailing you.

His name is H. Austin Sheppard - "Shep" for short - and, under different circumstances, you would probably like him. He's 51 and has 14 years experience as a private investigator, the last seven of those with his own agency, the Premier Group in Laurel. It's just him and his wife, Stacy, a private eye also, and five part-time agents. They work out of their home, where they have a big dog, an Argentine Dogo named Kaos, a deaf white cat, and three children.

On Valentine's Day, Shep left home about 3:30 a.m., his usual starting time. After a full-day of following you, he got home about 8 p.m. He gave Stacy a box of Ghirardelli chocolates, the caramel-filled ones, and a nice card. They didn't have anything planned in particular. She, as usual, would be up working way past midnight typing notes - on this day, the ones Shep had dictated into his microcassette recorder every time you moved.

In the morning: "Jack did not arrive for work ... Will proceed to nearby motels to see if signal can be picked up."

At lunchtime: "Both Jack and Jill's cars are as previously observed ... No change."

In the late afternoon: "Lost Jack in traffic ... Receiving no signal ... Will proceed to Jill's residence to see if he is there."

Those are the code names he uses for you two - Jack and Jill. Shep won't reveal your real names, because that would be a violation of his ethics. He may go through your garbage, or try to buy the hotel sheets you slept on to have them tested, but Shep has ethics.

He has drive, too, and, nothing personal, but he really wants to catch you - just a photo or videotape of the two of you walking out of a motel room, and the case is pretty much closed.

He would then have the two things he needs: proof of a display of affection and proof that the two of you at least had the opportunity to have intercourse. Shep thought Thursday would be the perfect day to get that.

Lovers, especially illicit ones, make extreme efforts to celebrate Valentine's Day together - even more so than licit ones. It's sad, but true. And that is why, on this particular day, Shep was on your tail.

Some studies say adultery is increasing in America. Some studies say it is most commonly committed by people who work together. Some studies say that more than 50 percent - possibly even more than 60 percent - of husbands have cheated. And that cheating wives, though still under 50 percent, are, for various reasons, gaining ground.

What the studies don't say, though, is that, just as adultery may be increasing, so are the chances of getting caught - and not just by guys like Shep.

The Internet, for example, has been both boon and bane for those who don't wish to limit their sexual relations to their spouse. Countless husbands and wives have had affairs with people they've met online. And countless numbers have been busted by computer as well.

Cell phones have made it easy for philandering spouses to stay in touch with their paramours, but itemized cell-phone bills and caller ID have helped them get found out as well.

From GPS (global positioning systems that track cars by satellite) to DNA testing, adultery detection has gotten far more sophisticated than looking for lipstick on the collar. Technology, double-edged sword that it is, has made it both easier to commit adultery, and get discovered.

But back to you. Shep thought you might try and meet your girlfriend before work. Or that maybe the two of you would just skip work and spend the whole day together.

He knew - because he is in regular contact with your wife - that you were planning to be back home by 6 p.m.

To help keep track of you in the interim, he installed a magnetic transmitter, about the size of a hockey puck, underneath your car. This was legal because your car - no matter whose name it is registered in - is considered marital property, and Shep had your wife's permission.

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