A Private Eye Can Help Spouses Catch Louses

updated 08/18/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/18/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

They can't tell their friends. They don't want to confront their spouses. But there is professional help for those who suspect their lovers are cheaters: a private investigator. Because infidelity cases are often messy, low-paying and even violent, established detective agencies such as Pinkerton's shy away from them. But there are low-budget gumshoes who get the job done Philip Marlowe-style. At $65 an hour Hans de Haas has handled about 100 such cases since he left the Orange County police force in 1977. Another private eye, Milo Speriglio of L.A.'s Nick Harris Detectives, says that his firm takes in about four new infidelity cases a day. Speriglio charges $45 an hour; usually in six to eight hours, he claims, he provides his clients with evidence if not peace of mind.

More than a decade ago sleuths were hired by wronged spouses who needed proof of infidelity in order to win a divorce settlement. Business isn't as active since most states adopted "no-fault" divorce laws. Still, suspicious wives and husbands track their mates. In some cases proof of infidelity brings a bigger-than-usual settlement; in others, the wronged party simply wants information. "Often female clients want to know what the competition looks like," says Speriglio, who gets hired by twice as many women as men. Haas observes that older women in particular have little intention of divorcing their cheating husbands. "Professional women can just boot the guy out and start over," he says, "but middle-aged women with no job can't."

According to Speriglio, men are more likely than women to suspect an innocent spouse. About 60 percent of the women he tracks and nearly 80 percent of the men actually prove to be involved in affairs. "Doctors and other people with jobs where they can get away during the day are most likely to play," he says. "People who work 9 to 5 are less active cheaters." Haas warns women to beware when a husband suddenly changes his style: "He might buy youthful clothes, grow a beard or get a flashy car." Another telltale sign: changing one's shaving lotion after years of using one brand.

Though Jack Nicholson's affair in Heartburn comes to light because he charges his expenses and gets telltale receipts, most illicit lovers use cash to avoid discovery. Speriglio and Haas find the best method is to trail a suspect for a few key hours a day, particularly before or after work. Sometimes this requires a disguise. Haas once posed as a jogger to get a look at lovers in a truck and traced the license plates for the driver's identity. Speriglio says he rarely follows people to fleabag dives so familiar to readers of pulp fiction. Most cheaters meet at an apartment financed by the man or at a fancy hotel. Except for a tape recorder in Haas's briefcase (which goes on when he sets the digital lock at zero), neither he nor Speriglio uses fancy equipment. Haas, who has seven associates, laughs at the high style on Magnum, P.I. "No private eye would tail a guy in a red Ferrari," he says. "I use a 1980 Chevy Citation with a baby seat in the back and a dent in my front left door."

Haas's training as a Vietnam Green Beret and his black belts in martial arts come in handy. He once had to wrestle a gun from a cheating husband and killed him. "Every fiber is rubbed raw for the client and the suspect," says Haas. "You're dealing with fear, ego, sadness, outrage and humiliation."

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