Truth be told, the second I finish any compelling true crime documentary or podcast, I head straight to “Google images” and start feverishly dissecting all the blurry photos and/or grainy surveillance footage associated with the case. Admittedly the odds are not great that some earth-shattering clue will be uncovered by my untrained eyes, but the odds also aren’t zero. And in honor of that sliver of hope, I scroll on with my citizen detective work.
If you can relate, then perhaps our combined slivers of hope will be large enough to form a crack in an unsolved case or two…or twenty!
It Doesn’t Hurt to Look
Let me guess, at some point during your photo research, a concerned loved one has interrupted your focus with, “You should leave it to the professionals.”
The connection between these two fields of study shouldn’t be all that surprising if you dabble or dwell in true crime. In recent years, forensic genealogy has become somewhat of a buzz phrase in the community thanks to pioneers like CeCe Moore, a Genetic Genealogist who has appeared as a consultant on the popular television series “Finding Your Roots” and was most recently the star of “The Genetic Detective.” Using genetic testing to help eliminate or identify a suspect of a violent crime is already changing the way both cold and new cases are being handled. One of the most noteworthy examples of forensic genealogy aiding law enforcement came in April of 2018 when familial DNA was used to identify Joseph James DeAngelo as the Golden State Killer; a serial burglar, rapist and eventual murderer who terrorized the state of California in the 1970s and ‘80s. A genetic familial match for DeAngelo was found through GEDmatch, a company that analyzes and compares raw autosomal DNA data from fee-based genetic genealogy testing companies. He is currently behind bars.
Below I’ve spotlighted two well-known true crime cases, where either photos or surveillance footage stills are available to help illustrate the 8 tips for capturing clues in true crime photos. Other aspects of the cases or other photos related to the cases are not a part of this exercise.
The bodies of Abigail Williams (age 13) and Liberty German (age 14) were tragically discovered near the Monon High Bridge Trail in Delphi, Indiana, on February 14, 2017. The girls had disappeared from the same trail a day earlier. Photos of a potential suspect were later found on Liberty German’s smartphone. For further information on the Delphi murders, please visit the respective FBI page for each girl; Abigail Williams and Liberty German.
Photos for justice: Crowdsourcing as a community
On January 6th, 2021, thousands of rioters organized a violent attack against the United States Congress at the U.S. Capitol. Some wore face masks. Many did not. Since then, the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has asked for the public’s help with identifying rioters whose faces were caught in photos and footage taken the day of the attack. Using social media platforms, like Twitter and Facebook, the images from that day are being shared in an effort to crowdsource information regarding the whereabouts of individuals involved. More information can be found here. This is a prime example of how the power of community and the individual work of citizen detectives can help move a case forward.
Love this post? Meet the Author.
Tiffany C. has been working as an advertising copywriter for just under a decade in the Boston area. Her interest in true crime started at an early age with Unsolved Mysteries and hit its fever pitch with the Serial podcast. Most recently, after completing the Boston University Certificate program in Genealogy, she’s been looking for new ways to put her writing experience and newfound research skills to good use. Enter Uncovered.com.
Together We Can Build a Community
Our team is taking publicly available data and creating timelines, pulling maps, organizing sources, and visualizing cold cases for more eyes and collective impact.