"Whatever your needs may be, there is a personal GPS tracker designed specifically to fit them," the advertisement reads. "For instance, covert GPS tracking is being used by private detectives and law enforcement in both criminal and civil proceedings. Jealous spouses are employing the use of a GPS tracking device in their vehicles, alongside a private detective, to check on the faithfulness or honesty of a spouse."
But, in fact, police must obtain a warrant, after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year recognized the involved privacy concerns.
In the St. Louis case, the woman was rattled by the discovery that she had been followed, electronically, without knowing it, said her attorney, Terri Johnson. The woman declined an interview for this article.
But court records outline the progression of events, and an investigation by a St. Louis police detective who intended to seek stalking charges against the man. He was much older than the woman and traveled in her social circles. He died Nov. 1, about a month after police served a search warrant on his phone.Johnson said her client never would have thought to look for a GPS device under her car were it not for a tip from an acquaintance of the man.
"It's very frightening, because there's no getting away from it," the lawyer said. "In a way, it's scarier than regular stalking because you can't hide."St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce's office could identify only one GPS stalking case in which charges were brought. William Ryan Woods, 36, who was charged in June, admitted attaching a device to his estranged wife's vehicle despite a court order to stay away from her. The case is pending.
St. Louis County police and prosecutors also knew of only one instance there, involving a divorced couple. The woman reported in June that she found a tracking device on her car after getting calls from her ex-husband making it clear he was monitoring her whereabouts. Police presented the case to prosecutors, but as they were reviewing it, the woman decided not to press charges.
Sophya Qureshi Raza, a private attorney who practices family law in the St. Louis region, said she has seen an increasing number of instances over the past year, including three she handled.
The worst of them, she said, involved a husband in St. Louis County who downloaded software into his wife's phone to show her location and record her conversations. The wife found out, Raza said, by finding a purchase receipt under couch cushions.
Raza, a partner at Danna McKitrick, successfully argued that the husband's actions constituted stalking under Missouri's adult abuse law and required a protective order, the same result as in her other two cases.
But most often, she said, judges allow such tracking in divorce cases, unless there is a clear threat or harassment.