Jerry Gardner, a private investigator, was in an Italian deli in Park Slope watching two married people buying sandwiches. “They’re each buying rolls, prosciutto, and mozzarella,” he recalls. “They get separate bags, but almost the same things, and then take them home to different spouses. It was like the food was bought for the lover and they were giving the spouse a few scraps. That really threw me back a little bit.”
Gardner, 40, who runs Gardner Investigative Services in Soho, has seen a lot in his nine years as a P.I. Burly, with shy, downcast eyes, he speaks softly, with a Brooklyn accent, and seems to have deep empathy for his clients. Since he got his license in 1994, he’s had 500 matrimonial cases. For a $5,000 retainer and $125 per hour per man against it, he’ll trail your spouse or partner with hidden video cameras, infrared cameras—whatever it takes to get proof. Usually, he does.
“When a client comes to me with a suspicion, 98 percent of the time it’s accurate,” he tells me over a burger at the Park Plaza diner in Brooklyn. “The tapes just confirm it so the person can’t weasel their way out of it. I have never had a client say, ‘Here’s the check. I hope you find nothing.’ They always say, ‘Here’s the check. I know he’s bad. Get the goods.’ ”
The goods in the world of matrimonial detective work are videotapes of what Gardner calls “the scenario”—hand-holding, kissing, gift-giving, a couple entering a motel. Because it’s illegal to plant hidden cameras in a residence, it’s difficult to get footage of the actual act.
With the Park Slope couple, he got lucky. The lovers were co-workers, and most days they’d take lunch together and park her car on a residential street. Gardner would see “her head disappearing.” One day she and the “paramour” played hooky from work and went to Prospect Park. “She popped up the back of the station wagon and out comes a blanket and a basket. I followed them all the way into the park. I didn’t know where I was going. They find a spot, she takes her shirt off and straddles him.”
The husband confronted her with the tape, and the wife said she’d stop. “The husband had me do spot checks here and there on her six months later, a year later. He gave me a pair of her panties to send to the lab. Nothing came up. But there’s always the question.”
“One of my clients nailed her husband because he was getting gas in Hoboken at eleven o’clock at night even though they lived on the Upper East Side.”
Most clients already have some evidence when they hire Gardner, and sometimes it’s so glaring it’s as though the cheater wants to be caught. “One of my clients nailed her husband because he was getting gas in Hoboken at eleven o’clock at night even though they lived on the Upper East Side. He would visit his girlfriend and then get gas, because it’s cheaper in Jersey. That’s why she called me. Being cheap burnt him.”
Aside from late-night out-of-state gas purchases, he says, other signs of cheating include a sudden lack of interest in doing things with the spouse, improved personal appearance, and unaccounted-for time—often involving what Gardner calls the cover-up friend. “ ‘I’m going to a meeting with Joey.’ It’s a co-worker or the boss. What’s the spouse going to doÂ—call up the boss at home and ask, ‘Did you order my husband to go to a meeting tonight?’ ”
Sometimes all it takes is a slight change in routine for a partner to know something’s awry. “In one case, a maintenance man, a minimum-wage worker who barely spoke English, calls me up. He says, ‘For twenty years, my wife comes home at 4:04. She’s coming home at 4:15. There’s a problem.’ I thought he was crazy. So I took his money, I followed her. She gets into an old beat-up car with this guy, they go to Riverside Drive, and she’s giving the guy oral sex in the car.”
In situations like this, where the extent of the adultery is an eleven-minute blowjob, does Gardner ever wonder what the appeal is? In this case, he says, “I’m sure the marriage had lost its spark. Often the other half gives the spouse reason to look somewhere else: a woman not maintaining herself, a husband becoming overweight or obnoxious. You stop living together and start existing together.”
Gardner says that once his clients have the evidence, only about 60 percent opt to end the relationship. Those who do call it quits have usually been married a long time and suspected the spouse before. “If the guy’s a repeat cheater, then that’s it.”
Younger couples, on the other hand, tend to stick it out. “Most of them say, ‘I have the evidence; I would like this to stop.’ The person who’s hiring me is still in love. Otherwise they wouldn’t care. They’d be off doing their own thing. Younger married people think staying together is in the best interest of the child, or the dog. I had a case where the couple was concerned about visitation rights to the dog.”
In one recent case, the cheater was more grateful for Gardner’s help than was the client. The client was a young homemaker with a child, who was spending the summer in the Hamptons; her businessman husband had been arriving later than usual on the weekends, on Saturday or Sunday. “He was going to a psychologist who was an addiction specialist. I see him go into the psychologist’s office after-hours, at about 6:30, and come out with the secretary. They go to a restaurant on Second Avenue. I go in and videotape them. They were there three hours. They walk out falling-down drunk and go back to the marital residence. He gives the doorman a wave and goes right up with the girlfriend.”
When Gardner told the wife what he had seen, he says, “it was the last straw. She was going to file for divorce. She asked me, ‘What should I do?’ I said, ‘It’s a tough bullet to bite, but you’re two young people with a lot in front of you and a young kid. Try and make it work.’ My last payment came in from the man who was cheating. They invited me to the house in the Hamptons. He hugged me and said, ‘Jerry, thanks for saving my life. I’m sorry what I put her through,’ and he gave me the check. I said, ‘I’m always a phone call away.’ That was one case that had a happy ending, and I haven’t heard from her since.”