Police and detectives are bogged down with so many crimes on a daily basis, it’s impossible to solve every case. Thankfully, loads of people on the internet have plenty of time on their hands. Social media can give key evidence in a case that would have been much more difficult to find in the past. Amateur websleuths have come together to solve the following 10 crimes.
10. The Case of Grateful Doe
In 1995, a young man was found in a car crash in southern Virginia. His body was damaged beyond recognition, and he did not have any identification except for two Grateful Dead concert ticket stubs in his pocket. The authorities called him “Grateful Doe.”
Years later, a computer generated image of his face was created using his skull. Members of the online community Websleuths.com circulated his image all over the internet, searching for clues about who he actually was. This face ended up being posted to Facebook. Family members of 19-year old Jason Callahan recognized him immediately, and sent in DNA samples to confirm his identity.
Jason told his mother that he was on his way to a Grateful Dead concert, but never said the location. He was originally from South Carolina, and went on a long road trip to get to the concert. His mother had no idea which jurisdiction she should file the missing person’s report. According to his half-sister, the family assumed that he had cut ties with his family in order to start his own life. They had no idea he was actually missing, or dead.
9. Twitter Solves A Hate Crime
In September 2014, a group of friends ran into two gay men in Center City Philadelphia. They asked if they were a couple. When they said “yes” the group beat and robbed them. One of the victims was so badly hurt, he had to go to the hospital and get his mouth wired shut. The group was captured on a security camera earlier that night, but police had trouble identifying the attackers. They asked for anyone with information to come forward to help solve this hate crime.
A Twitter user by the name of “FanSince09” had around 5,000 followers at the time. He normally wrote funny posts about sports in Philadelphia. He decided to tweet a link to the surveillance video, asking for everyone’s help. Through small clues in the video, people of the Internet were able to find a group photograph, which lead to identifying a restaurant where the attackers had eaten that night. Then, they looked at Facebook’s “check in” feature to see who was there the night of the crime. It only took them 2 hours to find the identities of the criminals.
8. The Murder of Abraham Shakespeare
An online community called Websleuths is exactly what it sounds like. They are a group of thousands of amateur detectives spending their spare time poring over evidence of cold cases in the attempt to solve a murder or missing persons case.
In 2006, a man named Abraham Shakespeare won millions in the lottery. He hired a woman named DeeDee Moore to be his financial advisor. In 2009, she killed Shakespeare so she could continue having control over his money, and buried his body under concrete. He was reported missing, but even though the police suspected her, they couldn’t find enough evidence for a conviction.
Since the police’s hands were tied, the Websleuths community began taking action to search for any additional evidence that may lead to finding Shakespeare’s killer. DeeDee Moore was so threatened by this, she created her own account to try throwing off anyone who found evidence against her. Users were able to trace Moore’s IP address back to her office. That information was passed on to law enforcement, and it added to the stack of evidence piling against DeeDee Moore. She was eventually found guilty of murder.
7. The Unidentified Victims
Every year, thousands of people go missing, and bodies of Jane and John Does continue to go without identities. Because of this, many families never get closure after a crime has been committed. One of the subforums of Websleuths.com is a page called “The Unidentified.”
Members of the forum spend hours going through yearbooks, Facebook pages, and public records in order to match the forensic drawings of missing people with photographs. There have been dozens of successful matches, including a woman named Lynda Jane Hart, who went missing in 1988. Websleuth moderator and forensic artist Carl Koppelman matched her records in 2011. Several other web communities have opened up to identify missing people, including The Doe Network, and Reddit’s Bureau of Investigation. Through the power of crowdsourcing, these websites have solved over a thousand different cases.
6. Confession Bear
Reddit obviously takes their crime solving very seriously. So, when a user says they committed murder, clearly, they’ll want to solve the crime. A user called Narrato posted a Confession Bear meme, saying, “My sister had an abusive meth addict boyfriend. I killed him with his own drugs while he was unconscious. They ruled it as an overdose.” When users questioned him, he replied that there was “some truth” behind it.
Redditors immediately got to work figuring out the real identity of Narrato. If he truly was connected to a murder, they planned to report him to the police. In the end, he was a 24-year old man who smokes weed, plays World of Warcraft, and practices martial arts. After one Reddit user contacted his sister, she told them that she and her brother had moved to entirely different countries, and she had never dated a meth addict. Turns out Narrato just watches way too much Breaking Bad.
While this was a false confession, it’s still proof of how easy it would have been for the Internet to find a murderer who was stupid enough to meme about it online.
5. Boots the Kitten
Back when the smartphone app Vine still existed, a teenager uploaded a video where he kicked a ginger kitten off his back porch. Even though he deleted the video, it was spread across Reddit and 4chan, in attempts to find his identity. Eventually, they figure out that he was a 17-year-old named Walter Easley, and reported the incident to the police. PETA posted his personal information online, and he began to receive death threats.
By the way, in case you were worried, the kitten was totally fine, but that didn’t stop animal protective services from removing all of the pets out of the Easley home while the case was under investigation. This was especially troubling for Easley’s mother, whose beloved pets had been taken for her son’s foolish actions. Walter Easley plead guilty to animal cruelty in court, saying that he never meant to cause harm to the kitten, and that it was all just a joke.
4. The Jane Doe of Akron
A 22-year old woman named Christina Scates was looking in the Highland Park Cemetery records for one of her ancestors. She noticed a grave from 1975 that had no name. It simply said, “Unknown white female bones.” Scates felt compelled to search for the identity of this young woman. She began to search at her local library, and found the newspaper clipping about the murder of this unidentified woman, who had been shot in the head. She called as many local detectives as she could, until one finally sent her the digital cold case file.
Scates uploaded the files to the Reddit Bureau of Investigation under a username called “callmeice,” and it was passed on to the team at Websleuths.com. Carl Koppelman, the forensic artist we mentioned earlier in the list, was able to recreate a digital version of the woman’s face from crime scene photographs.
Koppelman’s unique skills in facial recreation have earned him respect in the criminal investigation community. Detectives and medical examiners from all over the country reach out to him for help whenever they find unidentified bones. Koppelman was speaking to a contact in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, where the unknown white female bones were located.
It turns out that a clerical error had prevented some of the older cases from being included in the NamUs missing person database. Once it was updated, Koppelman was able to find Linda Pagano, and she looked exactly like his drawings. After 43 years, her family was finally able to reunite with her remains. This may also be one step closer to solving her murder.
3. Tammy Jo Alexander
In 1979, the body of an unidentified 16-year-old girl was found in a cornfield in New York. For 36 years, no one knew that her true true identity was Tammy Jo Alexander. The strangest part was, Tammy is originally from Florida. At the time, New York police would have never thought to search in Florida for a missing girl, and the case went cold for years.
The Internet came to the rescue yet again. Websleuths.com began to post the details of the unidentified body in New York. Meanwhile, a former classmate of Tammy Jo Alexander was looking to reconnect with her online. She learned from relatives on Facebook that Tammy had disappeared, and felt shocked that she hadn’t noticed Tammy’s name triggering a missing persons database on Google. That’s because the case from the 1970s had never been put on the internet. This friend took it upon herself to make sure the information about Tammy’s disappearance made it onto the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System. Websleuths connected the dots in 2015. Now, the next step is to find Tammy’s killer.
2. Social Media Saves the Day
In 2012, high schoolers from Steubenville, Ohio were having an end-of-summer party in a large, empty field. As you might imagine, there were kegs and flasks of whatever these underaged kids managed to find.
The party took a really dark turn when one of the young girls got so drunk, she passed out. Multiple football players began to sexually assault her over and over, for several hours. Some of the boys even urinated on her. One student posted a picture of the back of two football players dragging the girl by her wrists on Instagram, including #rape as a hashtag. Shockingly, no one from the party came forward to confirm their identities. The girl did not go to their high school, so no one at the party knew who she was.
A crime blogger re-posted the photos from Instagram, and other evidence that made its way on social media, accusing local police of showing favoritism to their local football stars. This was actually true, because many members of law enforcement requested to distance themselves from the case, due to their loyalty to the football community.
Through this blog and doing some digging of their own, the victim and her parents found an overwhelming amount of evidence about her rape on Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. They gathered the evidence on a flash drive, and handed it in to Steubenville police. A week later, Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond were arrested for rape. Without social media, the victim would have never gotten justice in the small town caught up in football hero-worship
1. Facebook solves child murder
On Halloween night of 1968, a 4-year-old girl named Carolee Ashby was the victim of a hit-and-run accident by a drunk driver in Upstate New York. For decades, police could not find out the identity the driver. After retiring, a former police officer by the name of Lt. Russ Johnson posted the story about Carolee Ashby on Facebook, expressing that he still regretted never finding her killer. The story was shared, and it reached a woman living in Florida.
The Florida woman had been friends with a woman from New York, who told her the story of being in the passenger’s seat of a vehicle driven by a man named Douglas Parkhurst, who was just 17-years-old at the time. He hit a small child on Halloween night. The girl carried the guilt with her all her life, but never went to the police to turn Parkhurst in. After getting this tip, the police questioned him, and he admitted to the crime. Unfortunately, the statute of limitations had passed, so he could not be arrested for the death of Carolee Ashby.