Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Private Eye Tells His Secrets - Cheating Spouse

Every time Bill Mitchell gets a call from a stranger, he expects to hear the words, "I suspect. ..."
Sometimes the suspicion involves family law, accident fraud or insurance fraud.
But more than every other possibility put together, the "I suspect" calls have to do with cheating spouses.
Since becoming a private investigator in 1978, Mitchell has proven more than 2,000 cases of adultery all over the United States. In the last four years, he's also written two books on the subject and appeared on "The Today Show" and "The Dr. Phil Show" to give advice and talk about his experiences.
Whether apparently simple or complicated, each adultery case carries the likelihood of turning volatile and perhaps violent. "One thing about my business is that it's dangerous," said Mitchell, 52, who moved with his family to Simpsonville in 2004 from Upstate New York. "I'm dealing with people and emotions that are escalated ... and I've had some life-threatening cases."

Not to the point, however, to turn him away from the business. Ever since getting his first taste of detective work in the late 1960s, evidence and investigations have been in Mitchell's blood.
"My father, William F. Mitchell, Sr., was a former FBI special agent," Mitchell said. "He wound up leaving the bureau and opening his own investigative practice, and I came right up through the ranks."

Once out of Mount St. Mary's University in Emmittsburg, Md., with a degree in psychology, Mitchell spent a couple of years in the mid-1970s refining his talents at Dektor Counterintelligence school in Alexandria, Va.

Barely had he started on his own when Mitchell found himself in a landmark case: helping the FBI crack the first major computer crime in 1976. In the decades that followed, he and his partner-wife, Linda, helped track down missing heirs, recover stolen property, apprehend organized crime figures and reunite lost family members. "Before we started our family, I used to work in the electronics industry," Linda Mitchell said. "And that helps us in our surveillance work."

Because many of the cases involved hours of surveillance and evidence gathering, Mitchell realized one day that his abilities and interest were taking him more and more into the realm of marital infidelity.

More than a few have gone to the extreme, such as these:
• Teflon man
A wife in New York, noticing her husband's somewhat abnormal behavior, suspected he was cheating on her. It had happened once, 20 years before, and now, determined to resolve the issue this time before it could get too far, she asked him to go with her to marital counseling. He agreed.

Soon, Mitchell got a call from the wife. The husband, he was told, was now involved with the female therapist the wife hired to help them and wanted Mitchell to prove it. She had already told her husband her intention, but he, calling himself "Teflon man," said no one would be able to prove anything.

"In the state of New York, if a therapist is involved in committing adultery, it's a crime," Mitchell said. "So it's a criminal and a civil case because she's not only breaking up a marriage, she should be libel for damages." He set up videotape surveillance and did investigative work for five months. Partial proof came of the man and the therapist in a hotel room and then alone in the man's office when "at one point, Teflon man opens the blinds by accident."

"On top of that, I got them at a restaurant in which she bought him dinner," he said.

Though Mitchell's proof paid off for the wife in court, it was upstaged by the irony: the husband wasn't cheating the second time, the wife only thought he was.

"He was just acting weird and the wife thought he was having an affair," Mitchell said. "But he wasn't until they went to counseling and he got involved with the therapist."

• Pull the trigger

Mitchell was employed by a client to get evidence that his wife was cheating. No irrefutable proof, however, could be obtained. After being told this, the man countered with another offer.

"He said, 'I will give you $50,000 to kill my wife or to get it arranged.'"
When Mitchell declined, the man took it to another source but not the one he intended.
"He wound up hiring an undercover cop to kill his wife," Mitchell said. "And he wound up getting busted by the state police because he did pay that money."

• The day after 9/11

A woman employed Mitchell to prove adultery on her husband. He followed the husband and got him together with another woman, but "we couldn't prove what we wanted to prove."
"Here was a guy who was making several million dollars a year he had a huge business but he was strapping her, he was not giving her any money," Mitchell said. "They had four children and she wound up having to get a waitressing job just to get some money."

Eventually, enough of a case was made to take it to court, but at the critical moment everything stopped.

"That next day, Sept.12 the day after 9/11 she was going to court and get custody of the kids and was going to get a lot of money out of him," Mitchell said. "She had come home the night before around 9:30 p.m. and her car was found in front of the property of this big estate."
But the woman never turned up. The case ended up on America's Most Wanted, but that too revealed nothing further. To this day, her body has never been found and Mitchell's conjecture is that the husband had her killed and disposed of in a way that so far no one has been able to trace.

"So these cases, some of them have good conclusions, some of them don't," Mitchell said.
But his most recent book "The More You Know," published in 2004, is an attempt to increase the number of "good conclusions."

Too often during the initial interviews, Mitchell found that the suspecting spouse either didn't understand or didn't remember "maybe half of what I said."

So he wrote the book to serve as a pre-contract instructional tool. Eight indications of adultery include defensive behavior, changes in affection and sexual activity, financial woes, communication problems, unexplained absences, the need to be alone, pattern and lifestyle changes and wardrobe renovation. Taking notice of these things before Mitchell ever gets a call goes a long way to helping him uncover the truth.

"I need them to be better clients," he said. "I train them right up front because they can say the wrong things, they can do the wrong things." For example, if an investigator is deemed necessary, clients need to keep emotions and threats in check so as not to put their partner on the alert that they're being watched.

"People think all I have to do is just snap a few pictures, but there's a lot more to it," Mitchell said. "In South Carolina, for instance, I have to prove two things when it comes to marital infidelity: I have to prove romantic intent, and I have to prove opportunity. And cases can take months before they're ready for court."

During that time, he said it can be hard for the suspecting spouse not to suddenly slip and utter a threat, or reveal what they're up to, or worse. "Adultery creates a lot of emotions," he said. "There's a lot of bitterness, there's a lot of 9-1-1 calls, there's a lot of issues involved with spousal abuse. And if I feel that the case is too dangerous, I just won't take it."

Lately, the danger has been giving way to just more secrecy with a little help from new Internet businesses that specialize in fostering adultery. "There's a whole new wave of infidelity that's coming," Mitchell said. "There are Web sites that will give alibis, cover up for you, match you up with someone and set up (the whole thing). One in particular, in Canada, has 425,000 members paying $55 a month to commit adultery. They give enough support and backing to make it really tough to catch someone."

The dynamics of adultery also are changing. Whereas half a century ago, men accounted for about 90 percent of all cheating cases, Mitchell's own observations now put that figure at about 60 percent meaning that for every two cases he gets about a suspected cheating husband, he also one about a suspected cheating wife.

"The pendulum is starting to become more equal because of changing factors and dynamics," he said. "You have Internet chat rooms, you have more women in the workplace with access and means, we have more mobility in our society, and there's a frequency of contact now in which people can make it seem like it's business."

But regardless of the means and the efforts to stay hidden, adultery still carries one unchanging constant: two people together. And no matter how well you can gamble as a cheater, Mitchell said suspecting spouses can always get the goods on their partners if they play the right way and employ the right professional. "The analogy I make is 'If your tooth hurts, you probably have a toothache,'" he said. "And the advantage is always with the house."

By L.C. Leach III
TRIBUNE-TIMES WRITER

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