Most people dream of candy and flowers on Valentine’s Day — but for some, the occasion brings heightened suspicion and guilt.
And when either of those emotions arise, a call is often placed to someone to verify those suspicions.
“Marital infidelity is one part of my job that I hate, it’s just so ugly,” said private investigator Tim Shull, a retired chief deputy sheriff from El Paso County. “It’s maybe 15 percent of my business, though, and it pays well.”
Shull said he gets a few additional calls around Valentine’s Day, but the infidelity suspicions spike next month — when credit card bills arrive.
“When they get those receipts and they see a gift they know they didn’t get, that’s when they come see me,” he said. “I wouldn’t say there’s an exponential increase.”
Tom Hoff, owner of Hoff and Associates, says his polygraph business sees a huge spike in the days before — and after — Valentine’s Day.
“I’d say it goes up 10 percent,” he said. “People start calling to check on girlfriends, boyfriends, husbands and wives. My office sees private investigator work, but even more so in the polygraph area.”
Hoff, a former detective for the Los Angeles Police Department, is certified to conduct polygraph tests. He works for lawyers, police officials and therapists. He also works on individual cases if someone wants to check their significant other’s truthfulness.
“Polygraphs are 98 percent objective,” he said. “On specific incidents, they are very accurate. People give me the questions to ask, and the machine can always tell if they’re lying.”
Hoff remembers a specific case in Greenwood Village a few years ago. He was called to perform a polygraph on a police officer who claimed he’d been shot by two men during the course of a robbery. Something about the story didn’t seem exactly right, and the police chief called Hoff.
“He couldn’t have seen the things he said he saw,” Hoff said. “It was too dark, and it just couldn’t have happened that way. The polygraph showed that he made up the story and shot himself — the bullet grazed his vest — to impress the office secretary, who he was dating. He was married, and his wife didn’t know about the affair.”
Shull sees the ugly side of relationships in his work as well. Often, he’s required to follow people, videotaping and recording their activities. But, his work also has an uplifting side.
Shull is a member of Group 6, an organization of three investigators — retired detectives — who work to solve cold murder cases. The group plans an arrest soon. The members take their name from the Sixth Commandment: “Thou shall not kill.”
“We don’t take any money for the work we do,” said Shull, whose fellow detectives in the group are Bobby Brown and Steve Pease. “We’re just trying to help out. And we get a lot of help from the police department; we couldn’t do it without their help.”
When he isn’t following unfaithful spouses, the majority of his business comes from civil litigation — personal injuries, patent liability cases.
“I do quite a bit of covert operations,” he said. “(I) use a lot of small cameras that can be hidden on my body or large cameras that can be used from a distance. Most of what I do is gumshoe work, a lot of talking to people, a lot of research, a lot of computer work. I’d venture to say that the common person would be shocked at how much information is out there — and can be found out easily.”
Shull works long hours on cases, sometimes spending days in his car. Recently, he spent three days trailing a suspect, staying in his car and only sleeping when he knew the person was sleeping.
His work brings him into contact with Colorado Springs’ criminal element, but also with people who need other kinds of help.
“I spoke with one lady who wanted to pay me $1,000 to make sure her neighbors — or someone else — weren’t spying on her,” he said. “She insisted she could hear high-pitched noises in her back yard. I sat out there for half an hour — and it was cold — then knocked on her door. When I went inside, every inch of her walls, floors and ceiling were covered in several layers of aluminum foil. I suggested to her that she might need to have her hearing checked to see if that’s why she was hearing the noise.”
Any kind of detective work, whether it’s dealing with an unfaithful spouse or a murder suspect, requires integrity, Shull said. People seeking a private investigator should be cautious: Colorado does not require a license to become a private investigator.
“I know it’s a cliché,” he said. “But integrity is No. 1 in my mind. My brother and I started Shull Investigations and we’re fairly well known because of our police department work. You need honesty, ethics (and) competence to do the job. A lot of people just go to Kinko’s and pay 15 bucks for the business cards and call themselves private investigators. You need more than that.”