If you have the compelling feeling that someone is following you, you’re probably just paranoid. Welcome to the
club. But if you have the compulsion to follow other people, you may have a marketable talent. Every day people are
following other people – for a fee. The reason surveillance is so popular is that it tells so much about people.
It was through a simple stake out that investigator Joe Horn learned that a case he had taken, to investigate
alleged sexual harassment of telephone solicitors by their supervisor, actually involved a massive fraud by the
general manager of the company involved. Horn got his initial break in the case by merely watching the company and
determining who went where. A routine check of the places the general manager went each day showed that one of his
regular stops was a company he was using to bilk his employers out of thousands of dollars.
Because basic surveillance can yield such a bonanza of information, the detectives who are good at following people
tend to be more successful than those who aren’t. One of the best is Virginia Hudgins, an Irving investigator who is
so good at tailing that other detectives hire her to do it for them. “Following people ain’t easy,” says Hudgins.
“If you think it is, you ought to try it some time.” (I did and it’s not.)
Hudgins, who taught herself to tail by randomly picking out cars and then following them all over the city, says the
central concept in surveillance is concentration. “When I start following somebody,” she says, “I mentally lock in
on them and try to ignore any distractions. If you don’t do that, people will lose you even if they don’t know you
are following them.”
A few simple rules about the mechanics of following people will help the greenest gumshoe. Dave Pellham, a veteran
investigator who has been associated with Universal Investigations in Dallas for several years, offers these basic
1. “I can’t help but laugh every time 1watch ’The Rockford Files’ and see somebody tailing someone from three
carlengths behind or sitting right in front of ahouse they are supposed to be watching,”says Pellham. “That’s
totally absurd. Ifpeople know you are following them, youare wasting your time.” Dave recommendsfollowing someone
from as far behind asyou can get and still see them. Sometimesthis means half a mile or so.
2. The red hot rod with a white racingstripe that Starsky and Hutch drive is, of course, a joke; good theater but
bad surveillance. Dave drives a late model brown Oldsmobile, sufficiently innocuous to be the all-round ideal
surveillance car. But sometimes he will use an old pickup truck or a van. That’s because of rule 2A: You’ve got to
look right for the neighborhood in which you are operating. The Olds would make him look like a cop if he were
staking out a West Dallas housing project, while the van would make him look like a burglar if he used it in
3. You have to anticipate your subject’s moves. “Good surveillance,” says Pell-ham, “is like broken field running.
You have to learn to sense when your subject is going to turn or stop and you have to develop instincts which will
allow you to react quickly. The most difficult move to follow is a lefthand turn on a busy thoroughfare. It’s easy
for the surveillance car to get caught in traffic. But if you think of the streets as a massive geometric grid
pattern, a left turn provides you several opportunities: Make a left several blocks behind your subject, then make a
right and another left at the same street your subject turned onto. Or drive past the intersection where your
subject turns, make a left a few blocks down the street, then another left and a right and you’re back on his tail.
Or you can make a right at the same intersection where your subject makes his left, then make either a U-turn or
circle a block and come back in the same direction as your subject. Another choice is simply to allow a third car to
enter the left turn lane behind the car you’re after, then pull in behind that car. The possibilities are almost
infinite as long as you keep your cool and try to keep a clear mental picture of the general direction in which your
subject is traveling.”
Hudgins says shopping center parking lots give her big problems. If a person is meeting a mistress or a KGB agent,
North-Park is ideal. Simply park the car and enter one of the bigger stores. Anyone following has to park and try to
follow on foot. While he’s looking for a spot, the followee can slip out through any of a dozen exits, meet someone
in any part of the crowded parking lot, and disappear. “Sometimes I can circle the lot and see my subject get in the
car with someone else,” says Hudgins. “But that’s a one out of twenty shot.”
One other tip to the novice detective:When you are following someone, it neverhurts to look in your mirror – to find
outwho’s following you.