Two years ago as of April, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed when I came across an upset parent in my local community who was claiming that a private investigator in a white SUV had been parked in front of her house all day. The police were called and confirmed that the person was a private investigator and the reason they were there was totally legitimate.
I found this entertaining for a number of reasons. Even though I haven’t done surveillance in more than 15 years, I actually felt sympathy for the investigator. Where they were parked is a tight-knit community with a lot of kids, so doing surveillance in our town is next to impossible.
The more entertaining part was the local Facebook group, which was up in arms about the whole thing. Hundreds of comments poured in, ranging from “they are just doing their job” to “unnerving and invasive” and “what could they possibly be investigating?” The town assemblyman had even been contacted by dozens of concerned parents. People were also pissed that someone posting a picture of the car on a private Facebook page was putting everyone in the neighborhood “in danger.” And exactly zero people were “impressed” with the investigator, since the entire neighborhood knew he was there.
I had lots of opinions about the topic, but, biting my tongue, I said nothing.
The other bizarre thing was that the surveillance investigator was literally parked on the street where I had lived for a few years. Three doors down, to be exact, with the vehicle pointing in the direction of my old house. I had moved into a new house six months prior, but still, it was curious.
For a few days, I gave it almost no thought.
Then some weird things started happening. I started noticing things. Some random guy appeared outside my gym, and I kept seeing the same vehicles over and over again. Mostly a gray Jeep Grand Cherokee, but other cars too. I wasn’t sure if my mind was just playing games with me.
I recall going home one day only to see that same Jeep Grand Cherokee slowly drive by my house. I live off a main road, and my street is a horseshoe with two entrances to the main road. The entire road has fewer than 15 houses, and I live almost exactly in the middle of the horseshoe, so anyone coming around my neighborhood like that is bizarre. At least bizarre enough that I took down the plate number of the vehicle.
Again, I didn’t think much about it. I really have no reason for anyone to be following me.
Sunday Morning “Chase”
On Sunday, April 29, my daughter had a lacrosse tournament in the cold, pouring rain north of us. Like sideways raining. I told my son that he should come and support his sister. He insisted on wearing shorts and a sweatshirt. It’s not easy talking any sense into a 13-year-old, so I let him be.
About eight minutes into the first game, my son declared he was freezing and wanted to go home. Surprising no one, we left and headed home. I dropped him off in the driveway and immediately turned around to head back to the game. From a distance, I could see that same gray Jeep Grand Cherokee coming around the corner. The car slowly drove by my house.
Bizarre, I thought. I quickly followed him, checked the plate I had written down and confirmed it was the same car I had seen a few days earlier.
It was like a giant flood washed over me. These guys had been following me all along! The weird dude at the gym. The cars I had seen over and over again. The private investigators on my former street. (It only took them a week to figure out I wasn’t living there anymore.)
Frankly, it was nothing that had even entered my mind. In general, I really couldn’t care less. They could do surveillance on me all day, and all they would see is me working 13 hours a day, and in my spare time, hanging out with my family. My work doesn’t really bring me to places where I would put myself or my family in danger. Most of my work is covert, meaning that nobody even knows what I am working on.
At this point, I was fucking angry. I mean, I understand looking into my professional life, but a Sunday morning lacrosse game? What in the world are these guys going to ascertain from that? I do this for a living and, for the life of me, couldn’t think of one thing that a Sunday surveillance might actually accomplish.
So I decided to follow the guy. The car proceeded to head north on the highway, conveniently where my daughter’s lacrosse game was anyway. The car proceeded in the right lane of a three-lane highway, doing about 51 mph in a 65 mph zone. Not suspicious at all.
I called my colleague and asked him to run the vehicle plate. Surprise — the guy was a former police officer.
I had no idea what was going to happen, but I decided to follow him for a bit. After about 15 minutes, he pulled onto a one-lane road and proceeded to start speeding excessively along some winding slick roads. Figuring it was not worth risking my life, I let him go.
In my business, that’s what you call “getting made.” It happens to the best of investigators. Doing surveillance is not easy, and for most investigators, getting made usually signals the point when you give up surveillance, as the person you were doing surveillance on would now be on high alert.
I thought that would be the end of it. I was wrong.
I was slightly comforted by the fact that this guy was a former police officer and private investigator, not a crazy stalker. But nevertheless, why in god’s name would any private investigator worth their salt be investigating another investigator AND on a Sunday morning spending time with the kids?
I thought that would be the end of it.
I was wrong.
I spent the next few days digging through all the information on Facebook, talking to some of my old neighbors and digging up information on the guy who was following me. I was also racking my brain about why on earth anyone would be doing surveillance on me. I had some suspicions, but nothing concrete.
I also bought a slew of outdoor surveillance cameras so I could track people going up and down my street.
I got a copy of the police report, which listed the name of two other individuals who were doing surveillance on my old street. They told the police that they had been in the area for a week and that they were going to be there for several more days. So while I had pity for these guys when I first read about it on the local community page, now I was literally laughing that they were on the wrong street for more than a week. I had moved six months earlier. If they had half a clue, they should have figured that out pretty quickly.
At this point, while I was still on high alert, I felt better that I knew who the guys were, that they were licensed, former NYPD officers and that, hopefully, they weren’t doing anything too stupid. Nevertheless, I took precautions.
I was excited, not only for my niece’s graduation, but I was hoping and praying that these guys would follow me.
At this point, my wife knew what was going on, but my kids didn’t have a clue. I didn’t want to worry them. Although I was pretty sure it was nothing and it was probably over, it wasn’t worth the worry for them.
That week, although we didn’t see the same Jeep Grand Cherokee, other cars were slowly going by the house. At one point, my daughter, who still didn’t have a clue what was going on, noticed a car pass by our house several times and mentioned it to my wife.
Crossing the Line
Friday, May 4, we were getting ready for a 10-hour drive to Virginia. I was excited, not only for my niece’s graduation, but I was hoping and praying that these guys would follow me. Causing someone to pay a few surveillance guys thousands of dollars to follow me to Virginia to watch my niece’s graduation would be a bit of sweet revenge. I had even gone as far as planning on stopping for gas every 250 miles and staying in the slow lane to make sure that they stayed close and didn’t run out of gas.
But it didn’t happen. We got back Sunday night, and as our entire family was sitting in our sunroom, an SUV slowly rolled past our house. My daughter said, “That’s the car that has been stalking us!”
Now I was pissed again. I ran outside as the guy was sitting in the driveway across the street. The house was vacant, so someone sitting in the driveway wasn’t fooling anyone. I snapped a few pictures, and the guy left the area.
I went back to my daughter, who explained that she had seen that car many times, including at her school! That’s a line you don’t cross. I don’t care what the reason is.
Over the next week or two, the same creepy car would roll through our neighborhood. Usually once a day. The person had a very distinct car, too — a customized Honda Ridgeline with chrome all over the place. I guessed they replaced the former NYPD investigators with amateurs. Having a distinct car is a surveillance 101 no-no. The car would drive slowly enough to be noticed, but quickly enough that you couldn’t really do anything about it.
I spoke to the local police, but they couldn’t do anything about it. They weren’t harassing us. Although my kids were freaked out, the investigators weren’t crossing the proverbial line and had not made any contact with us. I had thought about sitting at home for days and following them around, but I didn’t. It wasn’t worth the effort.
Slowly, but surely, the drive-bys stopped, and it all went away.
Although I had strong suspicions about who was behind this, I ultimately figured out who the investigators were working for. But it really didn’t matter.
What I don’t know is what they were trying to figure out. Or what they could possibly ascertain from surveilling me and my family on a Sunday morning. Or what justification in the world these investigators had for doing surveillance on me.
I just imagined someone calling me to do the same. I can’t think of many good reasons I would take a job doing surveillance on another investigator. It makes me wonder why people in our profession would do something like this.
Ultimately, they gave me and my family a good scare. So if that was their goal, they did a pretty good job.
I take solace in the fact that the person who did this paid thousands upon thousands of dollars for nothing.
I hope it was worth it.
For me, at least I got an 1,800-word blog post out of it.
And a lifetime of stories at cocktail parties.