A couple of weeks ago a shopper found something unusual slipped under his windshield wiper at Nassau Park in West Windsor. Not another Chinese restaurant, not a new bagel shop. This was a postcard that boldly posed the question, "Is Your Spouse Cheating?" next to a photo of an unidentified man with lipstick on his collar and a list of 10 signs of cheating including "Spouse suddenly works late," "Receiving hang-up phone calls," "Hides cell phone bills," and "Starts arguments just prior to leaving the house." This made us wonder, who is this investigator and have they caught anyone around here shagging their secretary or building a love shack at the shore?
The answer is yes, yes, and more than you know, says Christopher Halscheid, owner of Magnum Investigations, who blankets parking lots at large malls across the state with this postcard. "It’s a marketing tool. I figure I want to be straight to the point," says Halscheid. With a one percent response rate – which doesn’t sound like much until you do the math and figure out that for every 5,000 postcards he gets about 50 inquiries – Halscheid feels it’s effective marketing, but most of his business comes from attorney referrals.
Born and bred in New Jersey, Halscheid comes from a long line of police officers – one relative was a chief of police, another a lieutenant. Armed with a degree in criminal justice from Rowan University, Halscheid started out his career as a police officer (where he made many of his career-long connections with the attorneys who now turn clients his way). He then attended an FBI investigators school at one of the police academies and focused his police work in that area. He later decided to return to Rowan, earning a bachelor’s in business administration, and combining that degree with his police experience to start his own investigations business.
He holds a license in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania, which, he says, is not easy to get. Just to become eligible to apply for an investigator’s license you need five to seven years of police work and an extensive background check. "You’re in a position where there’s a lot of trust put into you," says Halscheid.
He launched Magnum Investigations, based in Williamstown, NJ, and King of Prussia, PA, about five years ago. He holds a corporate license, which means he’s not just a one-man show and can hire employees. He currently has about six investigators working for him. "With the majority of investigators the target realizes they’re being followed. You can’t follow someone with just one investigator."
He says the key difference between his firm and other investigators is simple: "We provide results without getting caught," says Halscheid, who appeared last February on "It’s Your Call" with Lynn Doyle on CN8 in a program about cheating spouses. So is his life like a 24/7 reel of Law and Order episodes? In a nutshell, yes. Magnum specializes solely in domestic investigations – using primarily video surveillance to pry the lid open on suspected infidelity, which, if the case goes into divorce proceedings, often impacts child custody and alimony outcomes.
Even though Halscheid uses several investigators on a case simultaneously he deals with each and every client directly. "They’re not just a number. From the time of the initial phone call to the time we’re concluding the case, they deal with me. I understand the case inside and out." He estimates that he gets about the same number of calls from men and from women.
According to Halscheid, more than half of marriages end in divorce and of that 50 percent, he estimates 95 percent are a result of infidelity. "One thing people can never get over – they might get over the affair but they can’t get over the trust factor. People just want to know the truth. It’s not our goal to prove your spouse is cheating. It’s our goal to find out the truth. I would say about one percent of the time the person is not cheating. It’s a 99 percent success rate at proving infidelity."
One of the reasons for the high success rate, Halscheid says, is that "when someone suspects infidelity they don’t call right away. They mull it over, they’re usually in some state of denial. Eventually they get to a point where they say, good or bad, I just want to know. I ask clients, how long have you been thinking about this? The answer is two months up to a year. They’re looking at all these warning signs. By the time we’ve received the call, they’re pretty certain and they just need confirmation."
I know, I know, you want to know who he’s caught lately and did they work in the cubicle next to yours? Halscheid, who is married but says he prefers not to speak about his personal life, says a recent case right here in central New Jersey was a dual working couple, both in their early 40s, in Old Bridge. She works for a marketing company and the husband is a lawyer. They have a young child. "The woman called me and said, `I think my husband’s cheating on me. We’ve been married for 15 years. Not only do I want to know if he is cheating but more importantly would he get custody if we divorced?’ (In New Jersey, even in cases of joint custody, one parent is named by the court as the primary custodian – the kids go to school in that parent’s district, that parent chooses the doctors, etc., explains Halscheid, adding that the results of his investigations often contribute to who is granted primary custody.) The woman in this case, says Halscheid, also suspected a narcotics problem, as her husband’s behavior had changed.
Now things get really interesting. The woman first consulted an attorney, just to find out her options in the event of a divorce. "The attorney recommended me," says Halscheid. "Those clients who hire an attorney before us are going to have astronomical attorney fees." His attorney referrals have snowballed since he began testifying in court. The opposing side’s attorney sees the kinds of results Halscheid produces, and Magnum gets recommendations that way too.
As a first step to his Old Bridge client Halscheid recommended video surveillance – after work and during the work day. "What generally happens a lot is that these affairs involve a co-worker or neighbor. That’s why we use multiple investigators."
Magnum has several vehicles, some of which look like unmanned vans, and others look like plain cars. "The important thing," says Halscheid, "is to mix it up. We started following him during the day. He was going to another location like a satellite office, and he was having an affair with a woman in that office. He would pick her up, they would go out to lunch, we would go in the restaurant. When they left the restaurant they would kiss at the door of their vehicle. Then we learned she was also married. Not only that, the two of them had a townhouse that he had purchased, almost like a love shack. He was pretty well off."
Over the course of several weeks Halscheid’s team took video of the townhouse, pulled tax records, and found out the property was in the man’s name. "Not only was he going into and out of this property, throughout the course of the day he was going to different banks. I asked my client what banks she banks at. That became important later on, as he’s putting money in a different account. Sometimes people who are anticipating a divorce do this, they’re stashing a little nest egg."
What also disturbed Halscheid, he says, "is that this guy is going into a bad area of Newark. It appeared to me there was some type of exchange between him and another person. Then he takes off out of the neighborhood. In my experience with narcotics investigations that’s consistent with a drug transaction. During the weekday or weekday evening a white guy with a nice car pulls into a bad neighborhood, a black guy approaches the car. What other reason would he have to go there?"
When the case went to court Magnum Investigations’ findings did come into play. Halscheid testified, and the woman was awarded primary custody of the child. The husband was granted visitation rights. "He was clearly cheating," says Halscheid. "He lied all along until her attorney presented the evidence to his attorney."
It occurs to me while interviewing Halscheid that his line of business is, well, kind of a downer. Doesn’t it all depress him? "I have a passion for this business. A lot of people who hire us are in a state of helplessness, they are being lied to, they don’t have the time or know-how or expertise to figure it out themselves. That TV show `Cheaters’ is a bunch of baloney, there’s no confrontation (in real life). The greatest satisfaction I get is being able to establish and document the truth. Everybody just wants to know the truth. You don’t want to end a marriage and second guess yourself for the next 10 years.
"I really enjoy just providing the truth. If it turns out the person is not cheating, I get just as much satisfaction from that. It’s sad sometimes to see they way people react. Some people get very upset, some are relieved. If you don’t genuinely care about your clients, they will see it and not feel comfortable with you. I take every case to heart, especially if there are kids involved. I want to be able to live with myself – and wouldn’t if that kid was put in the wrong custody."
The truth, of course, has a literal price, as well as a figurative one. "If you’re looking for the cheapest company we’re not the company for you," says Halscheid. Investigations range from $2,000 for a short investigation all the way up to $15,000, depending on the duration of the investigation, the number of investigators used, and other miscellaneous cost factors, according to Halscheid, who says child custody cases are more complex and longer in duration. He handles about 12 to 24 cases a month.
In addition to video surveillance Magnum offers a number of other services, which can be used during a domestic investigation. Computer forensics examinations are used to pull data from a hard drive, Halscheid says. "Even if someone deletes something, we can find out. If someone deletes an E-mail or Word document, a certified forensic examiner can recover that data. We can find E-mails, Yahoo instant messages, any Word or Excel document, websites the person’s been to. Computer forensics examinations show everything that happened from this point backwards." Halscheid says he will only go into a computer with which his client has some type of shared ownership with the suspect, "even if it’s just one percent." He will not intercept E-mails because that is illegal. "We only go into and recover things off the hard drive."
Magnum also does polygraph examinations – lie detector tests. Halscheid says it has to be voluntary. Why would someone volunteer, I ask. "They think they might be able to beat it. It’s all about playing head games. Some people cancel at the last minute."
Magnum can also install a covert camera system in a client’s house, "but not in the bedroom or bathroom," says Halscheid. These cameras can detect "a paramour who comes into the residence."
I’m shocked – how could anyone be so stupid as to have an affair in their own house? "It’s more common than you think," says Halscheid. "A lot of times with these affairs their passion clouds their judgment. They say love is blind, and it certainly is."
If he’s seen it all – and gotten it all on tape – can anything shock Halscheid? "Early on in my investigative days, yes. But nowadays nothing surprises me," he says. "I remember one case where the wife was confronting the husband. He was so arrogant and pompous, he said, you will never catch me. I take that as a personal challenge, I love a good challenge. I’ve always been competitive. We followed him close to a month to catch him but guess what, we caught him, and he was cheating with a man. She was more shocked than I was."
Magnum Investigations, P.O. Box 312, Williamstown, NJ 08094, www.magnuminvestigations.com, www.infidelityexperts.com. 856-262-7411 or 800-688-9230.