FEATURE: Who’s watching you?

Intrigue all in a day’s work for private eyes

Private investigators can be anywhere

Private investigators can be anywhere

Under the cloak of night, James Craig navigates his vehicle along a quiet, tree-lined street in Victoria and spots the residence he has been hired to observe.

The lights inside are on and the subject’s vehicle is parked out front.

“I do a visual, a quick snapshot,” says Craig, a private investigator for 25 years. “As I’m driving by, I’m also checking to see which surveillance positions would serve me best. I’ve got a lot of information already.”

He slips his vehicle into a curb-side parking spot that offers him a clear view of the front of the residence.

“If I’m going to tail the person, I’ll park further away,” says Craig, who revels in the challenge of unobtrusively following a target in traffic.

“When you’re tailing someone, your heart is just pounding a mile a minute.”

He turns off the engine and places a set of binoculars on his lap in preparation for the job ahead.

Craig, the owner and sole investigator of his Victoria-based James Craig Investigations business,  has been hired to watch the person who lives in the residence, noting their comings and goings and, possibly, any erratic behaviour.

“Most people would never know they’re being observed or tailed, unless they’re involved in criminal activity,” he says. “But there are a lot of people who are paranoid, especially people involved in infidelity, because they’re cheating and lying.”

Twenty per cent of Craig’s clients – most of them women – hire him to investigate suspected relationship cheating. “I take infidelity jobs very seriously. It’s probably one of the most tragic things that can happen in a person’s life.”

He also handles child custody cases, investigates missing persons, provides background checks for employers and looks into the activities of teenagers for concerned parents.

Some private eyes are former police officers, but Craig was a family support worker, investigating child abuse and neglect until he decided to leave the stressful job behind and become a P.I.

“Drop me off and let me pretend to be someone else and I’m in heaven,” he says of his passion for undercover work.

Craig whips his binoculars to his eyes for a closer look at a woman emerging from the target residence. She quickly walks down the street and disappears into the inky darkness.

“Someone once described it as hours and hours of pure boredom mixed in with seconds of pure panic,” says Bill Hayman, private investigator and owner of Victoria-based Sterling Pacific Investigations.

“There’s nothing glamorous about what I do,” he says. “It’s like any job that involves helping others.”

His specialty is insurance cases, collecting information about people who are seeking monetary compensation – through a lawsuit or an insurance claim – for injuries that may be exaggerated. His clients are mostly insurance companies and law firms.

“When it comes to an insurance claim and I’m paying a premium, then I feel I have a vested interest that the person collecting on their claim is legitimate,” Hayman says. “I’m not out to get anybody. There’s definitely a need for what we do.”

Private investigation work requires as much business savvy as it does stealth and patience.

Hayman had up to 11 employees working for him about 10 years ago, but now he’s down to two, including an accountant.

Insurance companies have become more frugal over the years, but downsizing has its advantages, Hayman says.

“When you’re managing people, it takes up all your time,” says the investigator, who prefers working in the field over a desk job.

“I find people fascinating. I’ve done it for 26 years because it’s interesting.”

The excitement of the job comes when Hayman is standing beside someone he has been hired to observe, and they have no clue.

“Hiding in plain sight is absolutely the best,” Hayman says with a smile. “They don’t know what they’re looking for.”

For Craig, there have been times when shadowing a target doesn’t provide enough information.

He enjoys inventing plausible reasons for visiting a residence to find out what his target is doing. He has caught adulterers and cleared the names of some suspect spouses this way.

“I’ve resolved a lot of problems for people over the years,” says Craig. “It feels good to find closure on something.

“The clients hire me because they want to know the truth.”

emccracken@vicnews.com