Breakup at Tiffany’s

Jerry Palace, P.I., is hired to find out who's naughty or nice.Photo: Eliot Shepard

If holidays are a time to be with family, they’re also a time when families get ripped apart. Gumshoes who make their living snooping on cheating spouses say their personal-surveillance business jumps between 15 and 20 percent this time of year. “The holidays are like the big full moon of the year,” says Sherry Hart of Sherlock Investigations. “Greed, infidelity, depression, theft … all the deadly sins go up.”

The suspicion spike begins around Thanksgiving, she says, as closer protracted proximity to one’s mate and in-laws breeds closer scrutiny of their behavior—or, in some cases, an escape fantasy that leads cheaters to want to celebrate their second lives. Cheaters think they can use the “office-party excuse” for trysts. “It’s when you get sentimental, that’s when you get caught,” says Jerry Palace, of Check-a-Mate, a private-investigations firm. Here’s how it often works: Husband stops in to Tiffany & Company for a gift for his wife, and he charges a gift for his mistress while he’s there.

Then the credit-card bill arrives. The wife notices a curious purchase. Or sees how much her own present was and wonders why it was so cheap (was cash spent instead on someone else?) or expensive (suggesting a guilty conscience?). “What drives the whole holiday thing is diversion of assets,” says Michael McKeever, another P.I. “Think of it like caveman days. You suspect your husband is out banging some broad. Then he comes home from hunting with only half a yak. You got to wonder, Where’s the other half of that yak going?

In New York these days, that proverbial yak carcass often comes inside a powdery blue Tiffany’s bag. Although cheaters can purchase gifts at several stores for both their lovers—or more—private eyes are pressed to remember a Christmas they didn’t spend staking out the store’s jewelry cases. Salespeople there know what’s up. “Typically,” says one clerk, the two-timer goes for “pieces that go wow! Pieces that try to recapture a certain spark.” Simple solitary diamond pendants (about $2,000) are also popular. The smarter ones pay for their gifts with company credit cards or cash.

Last year, McKeever says, he was trailing a wealthy New York importer, who stopped into Tiffany’s on his way home one day. He then hid the blue bag in his limo’s trunk. After he picked up his wife and dropped her at home, he went back into the trunk, fished out his Tiffany’s bag, and delivered it to his younger girlfriend.

Busted! McKeever got him on film.

But before you purchase a $200-an-hour surveillance team for your husband or wife, detectives say it might be best to wait until after the New Year. “The last thing you want to do,” Palace says, “is put yourself in the position where you’re with your family at Christmas, and everyone’s standing around the tree or whatever, and you’re looking across the room, and all you’re thinking is, You son of a bitch!

Breakup at Tiffany’s