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  1. #1
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    Guide to Google Maps Sleuthing and Finding Clues!

    Living in the internet and technology age, means that cameras are popping up everywhere. The ATM and convenience stores are not the only place you will find cameras anymore, these cameras are now being attached to vehicles that are mapping out our streets and businesses. Although some people feel it is an invasion of personal privacy, we have to take a moment and look at the upside and all of the information that this can bring us. Google maps has brought us information that can be used to help find clues in cases and familiarize us with an area, without having to physically drive there.

    In May of 2004, Brooke Wilberger was abducted in Corvallis, Oregon by Joel Courtney. She was later taken into the woods near the coastal range and murdered. This was one of the rare abductions where the Murderer/Kidnapper/Rapist did not know his victim. Everyone from all over the country tried to get information about what the abduction area looked like. Most of us, who did not live in the area, relied on the media and maps to understand where this crime took place. Although I had never sleuthed or worked on the Wilberger case, I did discover one thing; Parker Stadium/Now Reser Stadium (Oregon State University's Football Stadium) was undergoing a major expansion and a lot of us were watching the progress via an OSU webcam. The webcam just happened to be facing the stadium and SW 26th Street, the sidestreet where BW was abducted from. The cam was high on a tower so it had an aerial view of the stadium and SW 26th Street, with a time-lapse of the vehicles that came and went all day. I downloaded that day's webcam video and sent it to LE, because it might have recorded a vehicle in the area connected to the crime. It wasn't until many years later, when they released the information, that we realized that Joel Courtney had driven his vehicle around campus, by the stadium and on SW 26th street in his van. So it is highly likely that aerial webcam, that was meant to capture the stadium construction, had Joel Courtney's van in the time lapse and the info was used to help place his van in that location and time.

    It wasn't until these past few months, during the Whitney Heichel case, that I actually had a chance to appreciate the value of all of the information that Google had captured with their campaign of information gathering. Not only was Google continuing their campaign to update aerial photographs of areas, they were driving around with cameras on their cars gathering information 360 degrees, in neighborhoods and around local area businesses. Google was capturing moments in time, along with possible clues to cases.

    Because I had met Whitney Heichel a few times and her family are members in my community, this case became very personal to me. I joined Websleuths in October of last year because of this case. I was hoping that I could help out on this case and try to help bring justice and peace to her family and friends. On the Whitney Heichel thread, everyone was trying to make sense of all of the information that was released to the public. For months everyone went back and forth on all of the different angles of the information that was presented to us via the media and the court released documents. Throughout these past few months, what I had experienced on the WH thread, was that there is an excellent group of people, admins and Websleuths that all have big hearts and a strong drive to help find justice for Whitney. I have learned a lot from all of the people on the Websleuths Forum.

    In December of 2012, all of the information, including the Websleuths Forum discussions, led to the discovery of a Sept. 2011 image of the accused killer JH in WH's Starbucks, a year before her abduction and murder. WH happened to be working at the same time, he was in the Coffee Shop. This 2011 Google image (without blurred faces), also led to the discovery of the accused killer's possible modus operandi, of parking his car in backwards, exactly like WH's SUV was found at Walmart in October of 2012. In this Sept. 2011 image, WH's SUV was parked a few spaces down from JH's Scion, giving an example of how WH had parked her SUV in normally, with the nose facing the bushes. I forwarded all of this information to LE. These discoveries were found via Google Maps, using the background information from the documents and Websleuths discussions. You can read more about the discoveries and discussions on the Websleuths Whitney Heichel thread.
    http://www.websleuths.com/forums/sho...189797&page=42
    Kimster recommended that I write a guide, so that it might help other people take advantage of Google's technology. Here is the basic guide.

    Basic Guide To Google Maps Sleuthing!


    1. Read and watch all of the information that you can gain access to, about a case; including Court Documents, media clips and forum discussions.

    2. Look at the small details of photographs and media clips, not just the person the camera is focusing on. Try to watch the raw footage if it is made available on the news websites. Start looking at all of the information in the videos. What is in the background? Are there any toys that might have been a child's favorite toy? Are they using their right or left hand to hold stuff? What is happening with their body language? How do they park their vehicle? We are creatures of habit, so you might try to compare one photograph or media clip to another of a different time period, and try to notice any similarities or differences between the two.

    3. Take mental or written notes on all of the information that stands out, to refer back to at a later date. Information that might not be important now, might become significant once you find out more clues.

    4. Go to Google.com, click on maps and type in the address you want to start at.
    http://maps.google.com/
    Go to a home, workplace or crime scene of interest.
    When you click, you should appear in the aerial view of the area with Google marking the address you just typed in. If you do not have an exact address, you can type in the street address or city to start. Notice both the copyright date of the aerial image, and the watermark image. You might have to zoom in to see the semi-clear watermark image. The watermark image is the date the aerial photography took place. The copyright date is not the date the aerial views were taken.

    5. Once you have an aerial view, zoom in and out (+ and - bar) and get a feel for the area. Is it wooded? What are some landmarks? Is it a weekday or weekend? Remember that the aerial views were most likely taken in the Summer months, so depending on the greenery and shrubs it would appear different in the Winter months. If the aerial views are watermarked with the date of 2010, then there would be more foliage and tree growth now compared to when those images were taken. Other changes might include new housing developments, sidewalks and other changes that have occurred in the past 3 years.

    6. Click on the street itself, or drag the golden person symbol to the street. Once you do that, you now have a street view of the area. Now you have to look at the dates again. There will be the date the image was posted and the date the image was taken. It is important to read when the date was taken. That is significant to what information was captured in specific time. Important Note :The aerial date can be different than the street date and each street can have different capture dates. Even streets parallel to each other might have been taken in different years and months. Don't assume because you see a suspects or victims vehicle in one google image that you don't need to check at their workplace or another area. It is likely that different areas of town were captured in different months. Even apartment complexes might have been captured on Google Cam, a year later than an adjacent street. Don't assume that you will not find a vehicle somewhere else, go click on different areas of interest and prove yourself right or wrong. Take notes or take a screen capture on anything that looks odd or of interest.

    7. Google Cameras give you 360 degrees of information. Although the website is programmed to blur faces and license plates, do not assume it will do that every time. Sometimes the algorithm fails and faces are not blurred for people through windows, or maybe you might be able to read a license plate at a different angle. When using the Google cam, try different angles. Stop, and try zooming. Change the increment by clicking on the road ahead of you (usually a white circle) , stop, turn around and zoom again. There are many different angles to look for clues. If your cursor becomes a white square, then you can click and zoom in that area, or sometimes it zooms you to the other side of the building, you can always click back. Going to the other side of a building will sometimes give you different angles, looking at the back of a house or building. Try to click and look between hedges or over walkways. There are many clues frozen in time with the Google camera. The cameras are mounted on top of a vehicle so the angle is usually several feet above an average car hood. If you are trying to read a license plate, try going on the other side of a building and zoom through the glass, you might be able view some numbers and letters. If you are near a building click on the window or hit the zoom (+) key. If someone is in the building, notice the clothing that they are wearing. Does it match a suspect or victim. If there are toys, are they similar to toys a missing child plays with or was last seen with. Inspect their clothing and how the sleeves are rolled up or what kind of hair style they might have. Check out which wrist their watch is on and even what size drink cup they are holding. Can you compare the Google image of that person, with a photograph of the person you are interested in finding, taken about the same time period?

    8. Look at vehicles in the parking lot. Are there any vehicles that are the same make and model that might be the suspects? Check for any characteristics that might link the suspect to a victim or crime scene. Is the car parked a certain way? backed in? spacing between the lines similar to a crime scene vehicle? Use the Google maps to look at different angles and reference points. Does the vehicle have any identifiers like dents, missing hubcaps, rear view mirror ornaments or bumper stickers? Are there any similarities between how a vehicle is parked in a parking lot and how it was found at the crime scene? Backed up to a post or a hedge in the middle of a lot? Was it parked against a bush or tree? People are creatures of habit, and most likely park their vehicle the same way each time out of habit. The exception would be someone parking a vehicle to avoid detection. It is likely that Google cams photographed people in their natural state, because the camera car does not announce that they are driving down your street to record your area, it just happens by surprise most of the time.

    9. One great thing that Caffeinejean did, on the Whitney Heichel thread, was posting a link that started at the beginning of the apartment entrance way. This let everyone see the map of the complex even before you clicked the link. Once you view the apartment complex from street view, you can either take a screen cap of the layout for reference, or remember it and click on the road and take a virtual drive through. Examine the parking layout around the persons apartment. If you do not have access to info on how apartment complexes run their business, go read Google Reviews of the business. People are pretty honest about how they feel about a business. Parking can be a big problem in an apartment complex, so don't assume someone parks their car near their apartment. Sometimes you might have to search adjacent streets to find it.

    10. If you find clues that you feel are important to the case and you feel that LE doesn't have it, Please Contact Law Enforcement Right Away! They will be able to take the information and request the original images from Google, if they feel it is evidence. A good rule of thumb is make sure they have it in their hands for a few days before you post anything. That way if the evidence is crucial to the case and they don't want it to get out, they have had an opportunity to contact you.

    11. Try to verify information that you are unsure about. If it means giving it to LE, or driving to a location to prove or disprove an assumption, sometimes it is well worth your time. One example is that at one point, we were almost positive we found someone's vehicle on the maps. The problem is , is that the vehicle was at a building a month before the person had actually moved into their apartment complex. By actually driving by and seeing a vehicle in that spot at the current date, disproved that it was the persons vehicle via the license plate. The one thing that we did learn from this though, is that the research proved that there were two similar vehicles in the same apartment complex at the same time. It added information that we did not have before. So finding information and bouncing it off of other people, sometimes will help you work through proving or disproving a theory.

    12. Remember that Google Maps updates streets throughout the years. The aerial view might get updated, different streets might get updated and different businesses or apartment complexes might get updated on the maps. So check back on the maps when you can. There might be an updated version of the images. Never assume that all of the images will be updated at the same time. Read watermarks and the other image dates.

    13. Remember to keep notes and do screen captures. On Macintosh you hit command-shift-3 and on PC's I believe it is the printscreen key. These images can then be taken into a photo editing program and you can change the brightness, contrast, colors, sharpness and many other things to try to bring out or isolate the details of your image. This works extremely well with shots through a window, where you might need to increase the brightness to see if a suspect or victim is inside.

    14. You can get estimate drive times between two points on Google Maps. This might give you an estimate of how long someone took between their home and a crime scene. If it is a great distance, you can sometimes change routes and the drive time changes accordingly. If you live close to the area, you can test the drive times under normal driving conditions.

    This guide is just the start. I am sure that Google will be coming out with other features in the near future. Experiment and use Google to drive down roads that you might not have access to. It is a moment frozen in time, and you might just end up finding out more information than you had ever expected. I hope this guide will help bring justice to the victims and their families, as well as help bring the missing back home again!
    Last edited by Sasquatch; 01-29-2013 at 09:25 PM.
    "Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute" - Proverbs 31:8

    The Whitney Heichel Memorial Garden Project - bringing "beauty and light into a place where there once was so much darkness"

  2. #2
    Google maps have also been used to compare disturbed grounds for where the missing might be located. Two cases I know of for sure are in the Susan Cox Powell case and the before and after comparisons in the West Mesa serial killer murders in New Mexico.

    Great job Sasquatch!

  3. #3
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    justbeachy is offline "It's good to see me, isn't it? No need to respond; that was rhetorical."
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    Great info! Thanks!

  4. #4
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    Thank you Kimster and justbeachy! Thanks Kimster for the info on the other uses of Google Maps! I am definitely going to read more about those cases. I knew that in these past few years, that they have been able to start uncovering archeology sites with the help of Google Earth. I didn't know that they were able to get leads on cases because of disturbed ground images. That totally makes sense, and opens up other types of clues that you mentioned, like disturbed soil, tire tracks and even a large amount of birds and wildlife in certain areas. Other aerial shot clues might include looking for a new cement slab, like in the Ward Weaver case in Oregon City, Oregon, where Ward Weaver buried one of the girls under a new concrete patio he built.

    Here is a useful guide from The Search and Rescue Tracking Institute out of Virginia. It explains what their people are trained to look for when searching for a person or deceased individual. It includes some statistics, things to look for in disturbed soil and vegetation, body decomposition and different animals that might be around because of the body.


    (The Search for Human Remains in the SAR Environment 33 Pages PDF Format (SARTI-Mark Gleason) 3-08

    www.sarti.us/sarti/files/SearchForHumanRemains.pdf

    Excerpt from the PDF file:
    "Citing FBI statistics, Vass indicates that clandestine graves are typically no deeper than
    2.5 feet, are “close” to water or “near” a poorly traveled road, are 10 feet away from the nearest large tree, and contain a clothed or wrapped corpse which will be face down"....
    "Recovery sites are largely rural (51%). The geographical profile for the recovery sites includes:
    1. Remote areas with vehicle/road access
    2. Near or in water
    3. Within ˝ mile of an intersection
    4. Dirt roads are favored over paved roads
    5. Body often within 150 feet of access road
    6. Body located to downhill side if sloped ground is present."

    Here is a link to the SARTI site, with other search and rescue PDF guides:
    http://sarti.us/sarti/reference.php

    The Search for Human Remains in the Search and Rescue Environment,
    Analysis of Fading in Soda Cans, Observations re: Children's Foot & Shoe Sizes, Following Blood Trails updated August 2007
    Last edited by Sasquatch; 01-30-2013 at 08:20 PM. Reason: Adding Link and Info
    "Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute" - Proverbs 31:8

    The Whitney Heichel Memorial Garden Project - bringing "beauty and light into a place where there once was so much darkness"

  5. #5
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    Cases Solved With The Help of Google Maps!

    Google Maps Helped Solve Kidnapping Case - Natalie Maltais Case 2009 - GoogleTutor.com
    "Natalie Maltais, 9-years old, is going to be home safely thanks to some smart police work using Google Maps."
    http://www.googletutor.com/google-ma...dnapping-case/
    http://www.telegram.com/article/2009...901070289/1116

    Van Exiting Driveway of Kidnapping Suspect Caught on Google Maps -Jaycee Lee Dugard Case (Fox 2009)
    "A rusty van was caught on Google Maps emerging from the driveway of a sex offender and convicted rapist accused of kidnapping an 11-year-old girl in 1991 and holding her captive for 18 years."
    http://www.foxnews.com/us/2009/09/01...t-google-maps/

    Google Maps helps solve murder mystery - Santosh Kumari Case - Hindustan Times Bathinda, November 06, 2012

    "It was a stray bullet that killed a woman here during a hotel party on Karva Chauth. Google Maps helped solved the mystery. Tech savvy senior superintendent of police Ravcharan Singh Brar used the power of Google satellites to reverse calculate the bullet's path to possible shooter. The shot hit Santosh Kumari, 45, of the military engineering service (MES) in the head on Friday (November 2) when she was celebrating the festival with friends on the top floor of a private hotel on the Barnala road."
    http://www.hindustantimes.com/Punjab...e1-955762.aspx
    "Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute" - Proverbs 31:8

    The Whitney Heichel Memorial Garden Project - bringing "beauty and light into a place where there once was so much darkness"

  6. #6
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    Google Earth Has The Historical Image Timeline!

    Kimster mentioned earlier about a few cases being solved with Google images, because the cameras had captured clues showing that the grounds were disturbed. In all of my sleuthing, I have only used the basic Google Maps in a browser. After reading some articles, I am starting to recognize the value of using Google Earth in addition to Google Maps. The Google Earth App, starting at version 5.0, added a historical tool bar, so that you can compare image data from as far back as the 1940's to the most recent images taken in 2012. This might be of assistance in comparing ground cover throughout the various years to detect changes and to look for other possible clues.

    Here is the link to the latest Google Earth 7.0.2.8415 download (Mac, PC, Linux)
    http://www.google.com/earth/download/ge/agree.html

    Here is how you activate the historical image timeline on GE (image data possible from 1940s-2012):
    To activate the historical image bar, click on the "Clock" icon at the top, or in the menu bar, choose View->Historical Imagery. The timeline should appear as a bar in the upper left hand corner of your image. Slide the historical bar right or left, and the image date will change as you go between the tick marks. Information such as GPS coordinates and some image dates are located at the bottom of your image in the status bar. If you have version 6 of Google Earth, you might have to click on the lower left status bar date to change the historical images. I am using Version 7.0.2.8415, so I am not able to verify anything about version 6. My historical image toolbar is the same as the following links, in the upper left hand corner of the image.

    These links have information on version 5, but it should be the same concept as in version 7 of Google Earth.
    http://www.gearthblog.com/blog/archi...l_imagery.html
    http://google-latlong.blogspot.com/2...istorical.html
    http://support.google.com/earth/bin/...&answer=148176
    Last edited by Sasquatch; 02-01-2013 at 03:48 AM.
    "Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute" - Proverbs 31:8

    The Whitney Heichel Memorial Garden Project - bringing "beauty and light into a place where there once was so much darkness"

  7. #7
    This is some amazing information! And don't assume LE has done this in the cases that interest you. Due to the economy, not all departments have the time it takes to comb through these images. If you think you see something that looks suspicious, post it on the case thread and ask others if they think it warrants a tip to LE.

    Thank you SO MUCH Sasquatch for the time you've taken to research this valuable sleuthing tool!

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kimster View Post
    This is some amazing information! And don't assume LE has done this in the cases that interest you. Due to the economy, not all departments have the time it takes to comb through these images. If you think you see something that looks suspicious, post it on the case thread and ask others if they think it warrants a tip to LE.

    Thank you SO MUCH Sasquatch for the time you've taken to research this valuable sleuthing tool!
    You are welcome! Thank you! I will keep everyone posted if I come across any new features on Google Earth, or if I find another good sleuthing tool!
    Last edited by Sasquatch; 02-01-2013 at 08:55 PM.
    "Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute" - Proverbs 31:8

    The Whitney Heichel Memorial Garden Project - bringing "beauty and light into a place where there once was so much darkness"

  9. #9
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    Free Photo Unblurring Tool - Clearing Up Google Maps and Various Images

    Often digital image evidence obtained, is not 100 percent clear. There can be motion blur, intentional blur (Google Maps Faces & License Plates) or just plain out of focus blur. Sometimes screen captures from a surveillance cam or Google Maps might be out of focus and you can not obtain the information that you need. Your option on Google Maps, is to usually to take a screen capture and pull it into Photoshop or another editing program, and try to isolate the details. Not everyone has access to higher end photo editing software to try to unblur the images. Now a programmer and image processing expert, named Vladimir Yuzhikov, has developed a Freeware program called SmartDeblur. Yes it is Free under the GNU GPLv3 license, to use free and share with your friends (not a trial version). Its main design is to unblur images based on an algorithm. Adobe has created similar software, but of course that does cost money. SmartDeblur is Free and downloadable now!

    Either click the file name or Scroll all the way to the bottom of the page under Download and choose either Windows(SmartDeblur-1.27-win.zip) or Mac (SmartDeblur-1.27-mac.dmg) . Here is some info and the download link:
    https://github.com/gibbonweb/SmartDeblur

    Another Petapixel link explaining what Smartdeblur can do:
    http://www.petapixel.com/2012/10/21/...blurry-photos/

    Here is a sample image from Petapixel on what Smartdeblur can do.



    Here is a screenshot from Petapixel showing what the program looks like:


    I have personally downloaded the Mac version, Smartdeblur 1.27, of this program. Although it might still be in the developing stage (I did get a few crashes on large images) it seems like a real promising tool to clean up Google Map image captures as well as other sleuthing evidence that might be too blurry. I feel that as a sleuthing tool, it can be helpful in unblurring numbers on a house, license plates, logos and possibly even a face. I don't expect it to create miracles, because on the lower resolution images, you have only so much information to work with. But with higher resolution images, this tool might be a little bit more promising. I am going back to some of the blurry images that I captured on Google Maps and try to clear up some more details. Hopefully I can pull some more clues out of those images.

    Sometimes LE has the ability to request images from Google that do not have a blurred face or license plate. This request does not happen instantaneously. For example, in the UK, an 11 year old boy found a thief stealing the family caravan on the Google Maps Street View, but LE could not get the unblurred license plate data for almost a year. It took a total of three years to finally get the suspect, because he had sold his tow truck by then.
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/arti...van-theft.html

    I hope this program can help everyone find more details on their Google Maps screen captures, security video and on various other images, to help find clues and solve cases.
    Last edited by Sasquatch; 02-09-2013 at 08:00 PM.
    "Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute" - Proverbs 31:8

    The Whitney Heichel Memorial Garden Project - bringing "beauty and light into a place where there once was so much darkness"

  10. #10
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    Thanks for the interesting information.


  11. #11
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    Wow, this is awesome. Thank you again. It gives me some new energy and interest in a case I was following that is going no where.
    Your Dream must be greater than your fear!

  12. #12
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    Google Earth Helps Bust Illegal Marijuana Grows - Josephine County, Oregon

    KOBI-TV NBC 5 - Medford Oregon, Google Earth Helps Bust Illegal Marijuana Grows

    ".......Rosas says "police officers are realizing that Google Earth is a valuable technology for them."

    Authorities got a search warrant and seized 94 plants from his home.

    "They still have to go there and get the evidence in a way that is constitutional," says Rosas.

    Rosas says using Google Earth is becoming a common practice.

    He says "local law enforcement and national law enforcement are going to be using Google Earth more not only for drug busts but for other things."

    Which Rosas says is bringing up a lot of questions about whether using Google Earth or surveillance type images are appropriate with search and seizure rights.

    He says "the court has come along and they have said that Google Earth is public imaging and there were cases about helicopters that was ruled to be okay. People disagree with those rulings, but it was ruled to be okay."


    http://kobi5.com/news/local-news/ite...marijuana.html
    "Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute" - Proverbs 31:8

    The Whitney Heichel Memorial Garden Project - bringing "beauty and light into a place where there once was so much darkness"



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