Many who live in our area remember the criminal behavior of a former neighbor in the 1990's. He got away with it, and even had a righteous aura for a brief time, by claiming he was behaving like a good Watch Group member. His wife also convinced her gullible church friends that he had God on his side, always helpful in giving a golden halo to a guilty-as-sin scofflaw.
Years ago a new couple moved to our neighborhood. Let's call them Buckley and Betty, not their real names. Betty was a devout member of a local conservative church. She had a brother who struggled with addiction. She came from a close family, and they had done everything they could to help their brother, but they knew they were losing him.
Buckley exploited their grief. He used it as an excuse to form a sort of wildcat, no-rules Watch Group. Betty would galvanize church friends to take part.
Betty's motives were innocent. Her only fault was in trusting her husband's motives.
Since the peaceful, woodsy neighborhood had always been crime-free and drug-free, the rest of us weren't sure what they would find to watch. But we were naively #MidWestNice, and it hadn't occurred to any of us that a Watcher who was always talking about his purity could have a nasty personal agenda.
Buckley was a frustrated bully who'd never had such great opportunities for witchhhunting before. He began having the time of his life. He swaggered around the neighborhood, securing the parameters. He showed strange interest in following the young. He, a male stranger, offered his personal protection to little teenagers.
He said he was "keeping an eye on things." He sure was. He was spotted cropping up on people's lawns in the middle of the night, peering through bathroom and bedroom windows.
Buckley encouraged his buddies to make free, recreational use of the police department's Anonymous Tipster phone line. He said they should report their suspicions of neighbors who seemed eccentric, or whom they just had never liked. He himself reported women he'd pursued (unknown to his wife) who'd rejected him.
The police hate malicious false reports, which waste their time and resources.
Since Buckley was underemployed and had plenty of time on his hands, he also wrote down license plate numbers, followed women who were jogging or biking, leered at them and took their pictures with his camera phone.
This was years before the #MeToo movement. Did anyone call the cops to report him? Nope. In those days you were supposed to just ignore a creep. Some of the more troubled people in the area even copied him. A psychiatrist carefully trained his toddler son to shout abuse at neighbors whom the psychiatrist had never been able to get along with. A teenage pothead harassed married women. His mother was told, and refused to believe that her darling baby boy could have done anything wrong, ever. She ambled away sneering, "Good luck provin' it."A lawyer stood behind bushes and took pictures of a little girl playing in her yard. A very ancient and demented church member, who went to Mass every day, would stand outside after this holy hour and scream obscenities at those she thought were her "enemies."
Buckley invented nasty gossip about people who questioned his behavior. He bragged about using a radio scanner to listen in on conversations, to invading email accounts and forging messages, to using Malware. It seems incredible, now, that Mister Felonious Malicious Harassment got away with this for many months, but his wife's church ties protected him. Her cronies refused to believe their eyes: that the husband of the nice young woman they saw crossing herself with holy water every Sunday was a sleaze and a general miscreant. They decided he was just a little over-zealous.
Finally Buckley began uttering threats. Parents discussed getting a restraining order against him. Within a week, he and his wife moved away. Nor was that the end of him. His acquaintances claimed that he'd been a Peeping Tom who captured and shared intimate images of husbands and wives, many of them older, in what they innocently thought of as their most private married moments. The dude was all but hanging off rain gutters with a video camera dangling from his butt. In our state, this is a felony. So are stalking and defamation.
Buckley was only exposed by something he could never have predicted: the rise of the internet. Suddenly, anyone who could read could look up personal histories, and many did. It turned out that the people he'd targeted had never been in any kind of trouble in their lives. Neither had their friends or their families. Buckley's own history, however, was very interesting, and it became more interesting the deeper you searched.
Buckley was the slippery type, and it's doubtful that he'll ever be punished for past events. Maybe in new situations he'll even get away with masquerading as a good guy to those who don't know him. But there are some people, in a certain neighborhood, who have long memories, and will always understand their former Watcher very well.