Hint: If You Commit A Crime, Do Not Google Every Aspect Of It Afterwards

from the isn't-this-obvious? dept

Techdirt has reported on a number people accused of murder googling for things like “neck snap break” or “how to commit murder” beforehand, and leaving these suggestive details on their computers. Those were some years back, and since then there has been plenty of attention given to the idea that your search histories provide a great deal of information about what you were thinking – and possibly even what you were thinking about doing.

So you would expect people by now would have learned to be a little more cautious ? for example, by carrying out searches anonymously at different Internet cafes. But the story of Vincent Tabak, whose case is currently going through UK courts, suggests that message still hasn’t got across. The court has been hearing about his intensive use of the Internet to research a range of topics after killing a woman called Joanna Yeates (he admits manslaughter, but denies murder):

The 33-year-old defendant … looked up satellite imagery of the site where he dumped Yeates’s body. He researched the Wikipedia page for murder and maximum sentence for manslaughter, web records from work and personal laptops showed.

While regularly checking the Avon and Somerset police website and local news site www.thisisbristol.co.uk, the Dutch engineer was also checking decomposition rates.

Days after killing Yeates at her Clifton flat on 17 December, Tabak was watching a timelapse video of a body decomposing, Bristol crown court heard.

That’s a reminder of just how much detailed information about past Internet activity can be gleaned from computers, and how incriminating that might be in certain circumstances. On the other hand, perhaps we should be grateful that people committing crimes are still making it so easy to convict them on the basis of their tell-tale online activity.

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Comments on “Hint: If You Commit A Crime, Do Not Google Every Aspect Of It Afterwards”

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el_segfaulto (profile) says:

Re: WTF!?

It’s a good start, but it’s hardly a speed bump for most forensics tools. If you want to really be safe, use a service like scroogle who supposedly keep no records and require all searches to be conducted via SSL. On your PC consider using a RAM drive (which creates a virtual hard drive on your RAM) for temporary internet files, I’d recommend 4GB or higher. You’ll also see a marked increase in performance since the difference in bus and access speed between RAM and SCSI is night and day. Really, things like this are only for the uber-paranoid.

My personal record is recovering 250GB of data on a formatted drive in under 20 hours using nothing but consumer devices. When I was doing contract work and had access to much higher-end equipment that time would have been substantially lower.

Jake says:

I’d be interested to learn whether these searches took place before or after he was first interviewed by the police, because by themselves they’re not terribly incriminating; if I was a vaguely plausible suspect in a murder inquiry, I’d want to have some idea what kind of evidence might be used against me if the police decided to prosecute.

Cody Jackson (profile) says:


For the truly paranoid (or just serious privacy-minded), simply use a LiveCD version of an OS and boot from that. Everything is kept in RAM so once you exit the computer, nothing is left behind. As long as you aren’t logging into search engines, you are just another person on the ‘net. If you really want to be safe, use TOR and encryption during your surfing.

I remember reading a book in the Shadowrun RPG that was a neat suggestion, for rich people. Have your computer memory (RAM, ROM, etc.) put on EPROM chips and do your work in a dark room. Replace the lights with UV lights. When someone busts down your door and turns on the lights, the UV rays automatically erase the chips and there goes any evidence of wrong-doing. 🙂 (Impractical, but an interesting thought.)

Anonymous Coward says:

I hope this is not the only evidence he was sentenced for, it doesn’t seem that strong.

If you heard of a murder what would you do?
Would you look up the location of that murder on Google maps?
I know I did it a couple of times.

If you were accused of anything would you not look up what could happen to you?
I saw a lot of people googling about copyright infringement and what it means.

This is not to say the guy is not guilty at this point I really don’t know and it may be fun to accuse him of wrong doing, but one hopes that the evidence against him is a lot more stronger than just internet searches.

I have searched for decomposing bodies, murders and stories about murders, graphic photographs and more, I hope that can’t be used alone to convict me of anything.

Using real crime stories as templates for other stories also are not a bad idea.

You get a name.

Then find the database where you can probably find more info about that case.
http://www.fas.org/irp/agency/doj/fbi/is/ncic.htm (FBI crime database)

And read about it. Great source for inspiration, I once found the story of a guy who build a house that was full of secret rooms and he brought in a lot of people over the years people only discovered that he was killing people after he died and they found hundreds of remains inside the house walls. I like horror stories and I could picture a creature killing people in their houses coming out at night from the walls after reading that piece of history.

I also searched for a lot of weird things like medical images about diseases because I wanted to make 3D models of them and see how they looked like, could anyone say that I am fascinated with death? probably, but does it mean I would kill anybody? I want to believe it is outside of that possibility personally I go to extremes to evade a confrontation, but others can’t see that or feel and so what they see is strange and could be viewed as dangerous but is it?

On the funny side this is what happens when people get overboard with laws.
Crazy mayor(Vilnius – Lithuania) uses APC to crush illegal parked cars.


Again, I don’t know if the guy is guilty or not, just that all that alleged evidence can have more simple explanations and that alone should not be viewed as prove of any wrong doing alone, it needs more than just that.

Butcherer79 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“This is not to say the guy is not guilty at this point I really don’t know and it may be fun to accuse him of wrong doing, but one hopes that the evidence against him is a lot more stronger than just internet searches.”

He’s admitted to killing her, just not murdering her, this evidence is being used as firstly a sign of mental awareness (so he cannot try the diminished responsibility on mental health grounds), it also is being used to show how calculating and calm he was after killing the woman in researching different ways to dispose of/decompose the body, to either speed up or slow down decomposition to a degree that the foresic teams cannot accurately pinpoint a time/date of death.
Also, these searches were made after the killing, but it had only been released to the press as missing person.

The fact that he’s admitted to killing her has thrown more weight behind this evidence, it’s circumstantial, sure, and not enough to convict alone, but it’s another nail in the defenses case.

Incidently, he has said he killed her by placing his hand over her mouth to stop her screaming at his ‘misinterpretation’ of inviting her neighbour for a cup of coffee, he tried to kiss her and she screamed, he shut her up. Plausable but sadly for him, the cause of death was strangulation, not just suffocation. Another nail.

Sven says:

anonymous -- really?

Regarding so-called anonymous browsing services, I may be overly suspicious, but I would assume these sites are not anonymous and in fact draw lots of attention from govt. snoops. I think the only way to browse anonymously is to use a disguise and a fake id to buy some time at an internet cafe, and even then I would be extremely careful about detection.

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