Shops and Services: Best Snoop
Lewiston private investigator Mark Cayer is the guy other gumshoes call when they can't crack the case.
- By: Gerry Boyle
- Photography by: Jeff Scher
A cold October morning, shortly before dawn. On a country road outside of Lewiston, private investigator Mark Cayer is sitting at the wheel of his idling Ford Taurus, pulled into the shadows of a shuttered farmstand.
Cayer’s quarry is a woman who lives nearby. She’s collecting workers’ compensation, says she hurt her back working for a school district in the area. The insurance company has gotten wind that she may be working another job on the side. The insurance company called its lawyer. The lawyer called a P.I. That investigator, making little progress, called Cayer.
An energetic ex-cop with a reputation for getting results in difficult cases, he sits in the dark and watches.
There’s a video camera plugged into the lighter, a file folder on his lap. It has a picture of the woman, pulled off the Internet. The plate number of her late-model mini-van. A picture of her house, which Cayer has already scoped out, seen the lights on, and decided there’s no good place to park and watch.
“This isn’t bad,” Cayer says, looking out at the intersection where he has a hunch the woman may pop out. “If it gets light out, it won’t be ideal. A car on the side with two guys in it that suddenly pulls out behind you? That makes anybody look in their rearview mirror.”
So he waits. Glances at the map on his GPS. A car comes through. Then an SUV. Then a mini-van — the woman at the wheel.
Cayer, intense and alert, watches the van’s taillights in his mirror. “We’ll just wait for her to get out of sight,” he says. “She probably didn’t notice us but — ”
He slams the shifter down, wheels the car around, and, motor roaring, takes off in pursuit.
The chase is on.
On Cayer’s itemized bill, this will be called “mobile surveillance.” He charges fifty dollars an hour and fifty cents a mile, but if he loses the woman this time, he may not charge the client for the morning. But he’ll be back the next day. “Show a pattern,” he says. “Confirm that she’s working daily. Just get her going in and out a week straight.”
A compact man in his mid-forties, Cayer has an easy and frequent smile and a jaunty, bouncing gait — the demeanor of someone who loves his work. He averages sixty-hour weeks, he says without the faintest note of complaint. It’s a work ethic that he came by honestly, growing up in Lewiston where his father was “a proud millworker” and his mother was a millworker, too, then a homemaker. Cayer lives in Lewiston with his wife Susan, a registered nurse. The Cayers have two sons, both in the air force: in Utah and Iraq. Both are in military security, air force cops. It’s in their blood.
Mark Cayer was still in high school when he went to work for an area ambulance service. That introduced him to the world of law enforcement and by all accounts he took to it naturally and vigorously. “He was aggressive and a go-getter,” says Farmington Police Chief Richard Caton, who was Cayer’s first sergeant and one of his early mentors. “Followed up leads in all his cases. He solved a bunch of crimes for us when he was here. Clearly above average in his investigative abilities.”
Cayer spent twenty years with Farmington P.D., the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, and Rumford P.D., where he was a lieutenant. He was skilled in sex-abuse investigations, and investigated some notorious child molestation cases. He helped pull off major drug busts, went undercover. And the skill that made him effective then and now? “I have a knack for interviews,” Cayer says simply.
“Interviewing people and getting to the truth.”
Says Malcolm Lyons, an attorney for the law firm Pierce Atwood, a Cayer client: “He’s got a great ability to relate to people, and people like him.”
That’s no small thing when success depends on your ability to persuade people to talk to you. And when they talk, to tell you the truth.
In conversation with Cayer, the notion of truth comes up a lot. The motto on his Maine P.I. Service business card is, “When You Want the Truth.” He is leery of private clients, those who don’t come to him through a lawyer. He won’t take infidelity cases because too often the parties aren’t telling the whole truth or any part of it. And he says he takes criminal defense work, after working the other side of the fence for decades, only because he believes the system works because people are afforded a fair defense. “When I go in there and find evidence that the guy is guilty as sin, I share that with the attorney as well,” he shrugs. “It is what it is.”
That same week in October, he drove his Taurus down a back road in another Androscoggin County town, slowing at an enclave of tattered houses and sun-faded mobile homes. The first stop was the home of a man in his sixties, the plaintiff in an assault case. Cayer had been hired by the lawyer representing the alleged perpetrator.
Dogs barked on their chains as Cayer approached, easy smile in place. The man and his wife met Cayer at the door, listened as he identified himself and said he wasn’t trying to undo the man’s story, just wanted to make sure all of the questions had been asked.
The guy said he had to take his mother to the hospital. An ultrasound. “How ’bout tomorrow?” Cayer said. The guy wavered, gave Cayer a long look, and then nodded. They set a time and place for the next day, and Cayer turned away.
“He’ll talk,” he whispered, and talk he did. The subsequent interview lasted an hour and a half and yielded new information that could help the defendant in the case.
Cayer interviewed a witness in the same case, a young guy just down the road at another house with a dog on a chain. The interview was conducted over the hood of a pickup in the guy’s dooryard, while a toddler pressed against a window of the house and watched. There was mention of abuse of prescription drugs, the alleged perpetrator being “pretty messed up,” the victim shouting at him from across the road.
Nodding deliberately, Cayer scribbled in his legal pad.
“So you were just trying to keep them apart?” he said.
“I just heard all this crashing and yelling,” the young guy said. “I went over to make sure nobody got the crap beat out of ’em. At least no more than they already had.”
Cayer thanked him like he meant it and shook his hand. In the car, he said the guy seemed pretty smart, honest, too. It was good of him to try to break up the fight. As Cayer’s mentor back in Farmington, Chief Caton, always preached, “You’ve got to treat people respectfully to be successful.”
For Cayer, success is the operative word. He says he’ll do what ever it takes — within legal limits — to deliver evidence to his clients. He does surveillance in the woods in full camouflage. He uses hidden cameras built into jackets and shirts. He works corporate cases, flushing out theft and drug use on the job. He’ll interview potentially hostile witnesses and, in one case that same week, planned to “push a little” to see how a witness, a guy with a criminal record and a reported hair-trigger temper, would react if questioned aggressively in court. (Yes, Cayer is licensed to, and sometimes does, carry a gun.)
And when Cayer, who is active in the Maine Licensed Private Investigator’s Association, feels he needs someone with particular skills, he calls on four or five P.I.s he calls his “network.”
It’s sort of a P.I. Ocean’s 11.
“There are a lot of things that I’m good at, but I know that there are things that a couple of people are better at,” Cayer says.
But maybe not at “mobile surveillance.”On this early October morning, the woman in the mini-van speeds along back roads, turns left and right. Cayer pushes the Taurus to keep up, backs off, maneuvers to keep himself from being cut off by slow-moving trucks. With the sun coming up, the tail goes for more than thirty miles, until the woman ends up in Lewiston. She parks in the lot of a large office building, hurries toward the entrance where workers are streaming in.
As she gets out of the van, Cayer parks, readies the video camera. Sitting in the driver’s seat, he films her as she strides across the lot — smiling, coffee mug and bag in hand — and goes through the door. Cayer puts the camera down and grins.
“Beautiful,” he says.
Later there would be detailed reports, return visits, a call to a “contact” who works for the same company. But now in a day in the life of a P.I., it’s time for a high-five.