The stalker who put a hidden camera in Nicole Muscara's alarm clock did his homework. The clock looked just like the one she'd won at an after-prom party way back in high school. But he made a mistake. When the mom from upstate New York went to set the alarm one night, she found something strange.
"I went for the buttons which were on the back, and they weren't there!" Muscara recalls. They weren't there because the clock on Nicole's bedside table wasn't the one she won in high school. It was a replacement with a similar look, and inside was a hidden camera recording her every move in her own bedroom.
Hers is a story that's becoming increasingly common. Just last week, a Kansas City, Missouri woman found 11 hidden cameras scattered throughout her apartment.
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The Kansas City woman -- whose name has been withheld by media for her privacy -- told police that her 47-year-old landlord and boss had propositioned her and asked her out several times, and she'd declined. He'd also remodeled her bathroom last fall. She's moved out of the apartment as police investigate, but Muscara could tell her it won't be easy to forget.
"I never feel comfortable in my own home," Muscara told The Stir. "I always feel like there's cameras in my home ... I don't think you ever get over it. Well, you get over it, but you always think about it. It's ... it's violating."
Muscara first found that hidden camera in her alarm clock in January 2004, but justice was not swift. Police questioned her friends and family, and there was one person they said was suspicious -- Paul Wegman -- but Muscara didn't believe them.
"I was like, no, he's my best friend. It can't be," she recalled. Wegman was supposed to take a lie detector test. Instead, he pulled up stakes and moved across the country, and with Nicole refusing -- at the time -- to believe it could be him, police were left with no leads. But she never forgot, and when she came home one day, more than a year later, she had an odd sense that someone had been in her house.
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"[The police] told me if you ever have an odd feeling, and he's back in town, 'call us,'" she recalled.
As a matter of fact, Wegman was back in New York by then. When Muscara made the call, the cops brought him in for questioning. He confessed. He'd put that camera in a clock and positioned it on her bedside table, recording her in her own bedroom, her own bed.
"It was really sick," Muscara recalls. "He was one of my best friends! He helped me analyze other friends to try to figure out who would do this! Out of everything, the camera in my bedroom was really the least of the pain ... it was the deceit."
To this day, Muscara remains confused by why Wegman did what he did. When she confronted him at the courthouse, his story kept changing. And she says he was never the type who made her feel uncomfortable.
"He never put a move on me or anything!" she says.
According to personal security expert Robert Siciliano of Best Home Security, not knowing who your stalker is or even that you're being stalked is fairly common. "There are people who are being stalked and they know it, and others who are unaware of it," he told The Stir. "Stalking can escalate from simply paying unwanted attention to harassment to violence. There are a lot of unhealthy people out there who require the energy of another person in order to get through the day."
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It's hard to put a number on how often it happens, Siciliano says, because there is no real record-keeping on this sort of crime. But advances in technology have certainly increased the risk to us all.
"We hear about peeping toms and prowlers in the news every day, along with the occasional story of the janitor or maintenance man bugging the ladies' bathroom," he noted. "And there are now more cases where viruses end up on our devices and predators spy via webcams."
So what can we do to protect ourselves? Siciliano says worrying is futile -- no one can predict whether they'll be stalked or not -- but being proactive is key. Here are his best suggestions to stay safe or at least feel safer:
1. Be aware of unwanted attention. Is anyone contacting you frequently even though you wish they wouldn't? Does someone make inappropriate comments and advances even though you tell them to stop? Does someone in your life have access to your home or apartment and they are someone you inherently do not trust?
2. Alarming your home or apartment should be as fundamental as eating, drinking, and sleeping. Wireless alarm systems with wireless cameras are cheap and portable. You can also purchase wireless IP cameras that connect to your Internet. They send alerts about motion and record activity, which you can watch over your smartphone.
3. Cover up a hotel's peep hole with a piece of paper. There are "reverse peep holes" that anyone can buy that allow a creep to peep in a traveler's hotel room. Then there are pinhole cameras for under $25 that can be placed almost anywhere undetected to the naked eye. These tools of technology are bought for cheap and easily abused.
4. Purchase a wired/wireless camera detector. Reliable ones cost in excess of $100. Occasionally scanning your home/hotel/public bathroom might seem a little paranoid, but if you are in fact 'feeling watched,' at a minimum, the small investment will help quell your nerves and suspicions.
And when in doubt, call the police. Muscara's stalker received five years in prison (although the bulk of his punishment was for the theft of the alarm clock he used to surveil her rather than the act of putting a camera in her bedroom). The Kansas City woman's stalker has not yet been arrested, but police are still investigating.
Have you ever felt like you were being watched in your own home?
Image via P Leon/Flickr