Case Study: How Turn-By-Turn Driving Directions Uncovered A Killer’s Lies

When digital intelligence was used in a murder investigation in Australia to compare geolocation data with Internet search history data, a swift arrest and conviction was possible.

Date: August 2015
Challenge: To place a murder suspect in proximity with his victim, Queensland investigators draw out the truth using digital intelligence.
Tools: UFED Touch, UFED Physical Analyzer
Result: Key legal arguments were built around specific phone data, extracted and analyzed with Cellebrite digital intelligence tools. The suspect was charged and convicted of murder, and sentenced to life in prison.

The Case

When a young Queensland, Australia woman was reported missing by her family in 2015, the Queensland Police Service established that she was last seen with a 19-year-old man who insisted he had dropped the woman off and hadn’t seen her since. Suspecting the man was lying, investigators needed “directional data” that could shed light on his whereabouts that evening.

To inform their interview of the suspect, the Queensland homicide team performed a data extraction of his phone. Geolocation data helped guide them to the woman’s body in a location close to where the suspect had previously requested digital mapping instructions. Additional digital evidence, such as web-search history, built a strong case: The suspect was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life in prison.

The Challenges

The suspect told police that on the night the young woman went missing, he picked her up at school, drove her to another location, and left her. Homicide investigators planned to question the suspect further to uncover what they believed was the truth—but recognized that validating or negating his statements could require a good deal of resources and time.

The key challenges were:

  • Obtaining directional data to help focus the investigation and solve the case faster.
  • Quickly finding corroborating data, such as CCTV and witnesses, that could help locate the missing woman.
  • Placing the suspect in proximity to the victim, using evidence that would
    stand up in court.

“Many of the legal arguments in this case were very specific to the phone data, and it all held up at trial—even in terms of his appeal being dismissed. The data stood up to a very rigorous court process.”
Det. Chris Knight, Operations Leader, Homicide Division, Queensland Police Service.

The Solution

Homicide investigators used Cellebrite UFED Touch to examine the suspect’s phone. When analyzing non-coded databases, investigators found geo-location data showing that the suspect was actually about five kilometers south of the position he told police he was at with the missing woman.

Armed with the known location in a rural area, investigators asked to businesses and residents to share CCTV footage as well as search their properties for signs of the missing woman. The local appeal resulted in discovery of the woman’s body about two weeks after she was reported missing.

Extracting and analyzing turn-by-turn map data. To identify further evidence placing the suspect close to the site of the body, investigators used UFED and data carving of a non-decoded section of the phone’s database to reveal spoken turn-by-turn directions requested of Google Maps. Because the suspect was in a semi-rural area, the directions easily allowed investigators to identify roads the suspect had traveled on—and to back up these findings with CCTV. Investigators then created a detailed map of the suspect’s movements and eventually presented it to the jury—contradicting the suspect’s first statements of his whereabouts at the time of the crime.

Uncovering web-search history. One day before the murder took place, the suspect was found to have used the search term, “best way to dispose of a body.” This digital intelligence discovery was key to proving the murderer’s motive, contradicting his original plea of manslaughter and his claims that the killing was accidental.

“Capturing data is one thing. Having the resources to triage and review it is an even more massive challenge. That’s why we need automated tools that we can put faith in, because we need to make big decisions based on what we discover.”
Det. Chris Knight, Operations Leader, Homicide Division, Queensland Police Service.

How Digital Intelligence Helped Crack the Case

  • Extracting digital data from the suspect’s phone, including call logs and deleted text messages.
  • Analyzing location data including geolocation data and turn-by-turn mapping instructions.
  • Corroborating data with CCTV footage and community outreach.

“Digital intelligence directs us into the right areas that we need to focus on. It helps us get independent corroboration that confirms our data is accurate.”
Det. Chris Knight, Operations Leader, Homicide Division, Queensland Police Service.

The Results

  • The suspect was charged and convicted of murder, and sentenced to life in prison.
  • Key legal arguments were built around specific phone data, extracted and analyzed with Cellebrite digital intelligence solutions.
  • The convicted murderer’s appeal was rejected, in part because the digital evidence—which proved the murderer had lied and concealed evidence—withstood the rigors of the court process.

To learn more about Cellebrite’s full suite of Digital Intelligence solutions, visit Cellebrite.com.

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