Do you ever have a creepy feeling that things aren't where you left them? Perhaps you put your hairbrush down on the sink, only later to find it somewhere else. Or you're sure you closed your dresser drawers, but you come home to find them pulled slightly open.
Twenty-four-year-old Nicole Bishop had just moved to Houston when she started noticing odd things in her one-bedroom apartment.
Bishop, a pharmaceutical sales representative who grew up in a small Oregon town, returned home from work on numerous occasions in 2005 to find her lights turned on -- in the closet, her bedroom, even in her bathroom.
"I knew something was wrong. I had that intuition from the beginning," Bishop said.
At first, Bishop didn't act on her suspicions. "I just kind of chalked it up to losing my mind," she explained. But over the course of two months, the number of unexplained incidents increased and became harder to ignore.
"I found a package delivered from UPS on the back balcony of my apartment," Bishop said. "And the only way to get to that back balcony is to actually walk through the apartment."
'Somebody's Been in My House'
Bishop's boyfriend, a student who lived an hour away, became increasingly worried. So the couple devised a plan to put their suspicions to the test. When Bishop left for work one morning, she dropped a tank top just inside the door. If the door was opened while she was away, the shirt would be pushed aside.
"When I got home that night, I peeked my head around the corner, and it was clear up against the wall," Bishop said. "I'm thinking 'Oh my God, somebody's been in my house!'"
Bishop was reluctant to alert authorities without some physical evidence. "I mean what would I call and tell the police?" she asked. "My lights are left on?"
Laurie Levenson, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said, "We just don't have enough police officers to go around and they're not going to sit in your living room waiting for some stalker to come by."
Bishop's boyfriend suggested she buy a hidden camera to catch the intruder on tape, and with the surveillance industry booming, Bishop had dozens of hidden cameras to choose from. The technology has progressed a long way from the jerky images captured by the first "nanny cams," and cameras are hitting the market in all shapes and sizes.
One manufacturer in Jacksonville, Fla.,custom makes hidden cameras that look like dozens of common household products. Safety Technology (http://www.safetytechspy.com/hidden-cameras.htm) can outfit a Pringles can, a tub of Oxi Clean, a container of Slim Jims, a tissue box and even a baby wipes box -- all with a camera planted inside that videotapes through a tiny hole, almost impossible to see without careful study of the packaging.
Caught in the Act
Bishop settled on a digital clock with a tiny camera hidden in its face. She set up the device so that it faced her front door and then added bait to her trap -- some lingerie left lying on the couch. She hoped the intruder would be distracted long enough for the camera to get a good shot. For good measure, she again placed the tank top behind the door as she left.
When Bishop returned home that evening she was relieved to find that the tank top had not been moved. At her boyfriend's suggestion, she decided to test out the camera anyway, assuming it would have recorded a clip of her entering the apartment minutes earlier. "[I] sat down and plugged it in. Thinking, OK, it's going to show me walking in. Well, next thing I know, I'm looking down, and I see that there's all these different tidbits of footage."
What she found confirmed her worst fears. As she watched on her computer screen a stranger poked his head through the door and then entered her apartment. "I lost it," she said. "I'm seeing this person…picking up my underwear, [he] starts smelling it. And you know, then I see him just walk around my apartment just looking through my things."
The video showed the intruder undressing and putting on Bishop's lingerie. "He's wearing it," she said. "He's pleasuring himself. He's…doing really strange things with my furniture." Then, in the video, the man put his own clothes back on, placed everything back carefully where he had found it, and exited the apartment.
Hysterical, Bishop called 911, but there was little the police could do without the intruder present -- Bishop didn't even know who the man was.
That night she left her apartment and never returned. She now believes that the intruder had entered her apartment dozens of times before. Some of her neighbors even told her they had seen the stranger so frequently they thought he was her boyfriend.
'The Laws Were Not Protecting Me'
So who was this man? To try to find out, police took Bishop's video and released parts of it to the media. Sgt. Bobby Roberts, lead investigator on the case, said that it didn't take long for the phone to ring. "The call I got was anonymous," he said. "The person did not want the award money."
Acting on the tip, police arrested 38-year-old Shawn Rogers, who lived nearby with his wife and young child. He had no criminal record and made a good living as a business consultant. Bishop said she had never seen him before, but said she hoped the video would help put Rogers behind bars.
There was a catch, however. Under Texas law police could not charge Rogers with anything other than a minor crime -- trespassing -- for the acts caught on tape. Bishop was dismayed to find that there was a possibility that he might not serve any time in prison.
"It wasn't a sex crime, because there was no sexual act committed toward me. I felt … the laws were not protecting me," she said.
Camera Cracks the Case
Levenson explained that this aspect of the law often comes as a surprise. "People do have a difficult time … understanding that somebody can break into your apartment, they can try on your clothes, they can perform sick sexual acts, and they can leave and they're only going to be charged with possibly trespassing," she said. "It probably points out a gap that we have in the law."
Fortunately for Bishop, Rogers made at least one more clandestine visit to her apartment after she left, and this time he took something. He was taped by the same hidden camera that had caught him just days before. For that, Rogers was brought to trial on felony burglary charges in August 2006, and with the video as star witness he was sentenced to eight years in prison.
Bishop credits the hidden camera for solving the case, but believes her own intuition also played a large role. "If you think something's not right, follow your gut," she said. "It could very well be that there's nothing … but, it could save your life. I feel like it saved mine."
Rogers became eligible for parole in July.