The staggering crimes solved by Google Earth – including murders, missing people and secret drug farms

The staggering crimes solved by Google Earth – including murders, missing people and secret drug farms

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THE decomposing remains of William Moldt were strapped into the driver’s seat of his submerged car after he drove into a pond for 22 years.

No one noticed the vehicle beneath the surface of the waters in Florida until, by chance, it was spotted on Google Earth — the latest in an astonishing list of crimes solved by the digital map service.

The car was spotted submerged in a lake just feet from nearby homes
This Google Earth image shows William Moldt’s car in the pond of Moon Bay Circle in Wellington, Florida
Moldt had been missing for 22 years before the car was spotted beneath the surface
NamUs

Secret drug farms and even the murder of two women and two children have come to light thanks to the site.

Here are some of the most staggering examples of crimes solved by Google Earth.


Brutal executions

In 2018, a horrific video started circulating on social media showing two women and two kids being led somewhere by armed men.

The women and young children are then blindfolded, forced to the ground, and shot 22 times.

While it was initially claimed Cameroonian soldiers were to blame for the barbaric slaughter, the government there dismissed the accusations as “fake news”.

But using Google Earth, investigators were able to prove where and when the killings happened by comparing geographical features like buildings and trees in the video to satellite images.

From those revelations, they were ultimately able to identify the soldiers involved and put pressure on the government to prosecute the massacre.

Seven soldiers are set to stand trial on September 16.

A blindfold being placed on the head of a child before being executed in Cameroon
Google Earth

Missing for nine years

The discovery of William Moldt’s skeletal remains earlier this week echoes another disturbing mystery case which began in 2006.

David Lee Niles, a 72-year-old dad suffering from cancer and depression, disappeared one night in Michigan after abruptly walking out of his local boozer.

For nearly a decade, no one had any idea what happened to David, with his heartbroken family giving up hope of finding answers.

But his final resting place had been in plain site on Google Earth for years.

In 2015, Brian Houseman was decorating a large Christmas tree using a cherry picker when he spotted something lurking in the waters of a pond across the road.

A check on Google Earth showed the car in the water — cops retrieved it, and identified the remains inside as David by his wallet.

At the time, his son in law Scott Hathaway said: “For us today, it’s a closure of a long search.

“Why God waited nine years, I have no idea, but we’re happy. It’s good to have him home.”

This image shows the faint outline of David Lee Niles’ car in the pond in Michigan
Google Earth
David Lee Niles was 72 when he vanished in 2006
WOOD TV8/Youtube
His car was eventually pulled from the pond following the amazing discovery
WOOD TV8/Youtube

Hidden cannabis farm

Underwater cars aren’t the only thing you can spot with a satellite view of the ground.

You might not associate Switzerland, famed for its snow-capped mountains and Alpine skiing, with huge cannabis farms.

But that’s exactly what Swiss drug cops found hiding in the middle of a field of corn in 2009.

The huge weed plantation, which was spotted on Google Earth, led to 16 people being arrested and over a ton of marijuana being seized.

Prosecutors alleged that the site was being run by a criminal drug ring shifting multiple tons of narcotics worth millions.

But, as the then head of Zurich police’s drugs unit Norbert Klossner admitted, finding the cannabis farm on Google Earth was “an interesting chance discovery”.

The cannabis crops are clearly visible from the air, but are hidden by corn on the ground
Google Earth

Heroin dopes

And it’s not just the cannabis trade that Google Earth has caught out.

In 2010, three brazen heroin dealers were caught slinging dope on a street corner in Brooklyn, New York, when a Google Street View car rolled by.

Shaundell Dade, Jamel Pringle and Jonathan Paulino were all snapped in front of a well-known dealing site.

One of the angles even shows the blokes yelling at the mapping car.

They were rounded up along with four others in an undercover NYPD sting operation shortly after.

The three suspects were spotted on the heroin dealing corner and were promptly arrested
Google Earth

Daylight robbery

Even criminals who commit their crimes indoors have been caught out by the patrolling Street View cars.

In 2011, a woman’s home was broken into by two armed robbers who held her at gunpoint as they ransacked her house in Oklahoma City.

The victim, who was so traumatised that she didn’t want to reveal her identity, said the ordeal lasted over an hour and she thought she was going to die.

She was devastated when an initial police investigation didn’t turn up any forensic evidence or other leads.

Then in a remarkable twist in 2014, a friend of hers looked up the victim’s house on Google Street View and there outside the house were two men matching the robber’s description.
Cops immediately launched an appeal for information in the otherwise stone cold case.

Google Earth snapped these two men on the same street as a house that they allegedly robbed that day
Google Earth

Complete mugs

Although the Oklahoma resident had to wait years for her Google Earth justice, one famous robbery case was solved in a matter of months.

In 2008, a 14-year-old lad was cycling in Groningen in Holland when two men ambushed him, nicking his bike, phone and cash.

Cops initially couldn’t help the victim — until he made an astonishing discovery six months later.

Looking at the spot of his own mugging on Street View, the lad found that the mapping car had captured the moments just before his stick-up.

He immediately called authorities who contacted Google, asking them to unblur the faces of the muggers.

The tech giant obliged and cops instantly recognised the attackers as two 24-year-old brothers who were well known to the Dutch justice system.

This is the moment right before the alleged attack took place
Google Earth

Secret swimming pools

As well as individual crimes, Google Earth has been used to uncover widespread offending.

In the Greek capital Athens, you need to have a special permit in order to build a swimming pool on your property.

Authorities knew there were 324 pools in Athens’ suburbs — which seemed like a low number.

So the government’s financial crime investigators started looking into the matter with Google Earth.

And within months, they found over 16,500 undeclared swimming pools in tax dodgers’ houses.

Hunting down the owners of the secret swimming baths and charging them for the unpaid taxes became a whole new source of cash for the Greek government during its crackdown on fraud.

Swimming pools in Athens – thousands had gone undeclared to the taxman (stock photo)
Google Earth

Tax dodging on epic scale

The taxman in Greece isn’t the only that’s used pools to rumble people.

One bloke in Italy told authorities he’d sold his villa for 280,000 euros.

But when they looked it up on Google Earth and saw the area it was in and the size of the house, they knew something was up.

They knew they had the right place because of the distinctive phallic-shaped swimming pool on the villa’s grounds.

It eventually came out that the selling price was so high that the scammer owed the taxman more than seven million euros in dodged taxes.

The lewd-shaped swimming pool at this villa helped cops identify a huge fraud
Google Earth

‘An astonishing coincidence’

An illicit villa is obviously going to be visible on Google Earth for a long time — for other criminals, they were caught out for being in the wrong place at exactly the wrong time.

When David Soanes’ £12,000 car was nicked from his drive, he couldn’t believe how unlucky he’d been.

He’d bought his second caravan after his first one was destroyed by a joyrider.

But his case became famous thanks to an incredible stroke of good luck.

David’s 11-year-old son Reuben looked up their family home on Google Street View and, to their amazement, the mapping car was passing their house while the thief was stealing the caravan.

Cops think the brazen culprit was moments away from getting away with the caravan when the Google mapping car rolled past.

Police eventually convinced Google to unblur the suspect’s number plate and they made an arrest two years on from the crime.

PC Adrian Mason said at the time: “It is amazing we have such a clear image of the man.

“It was an astonishing coincidence the Google car happened to be passing.”

A Google Street View camera captured an alleged thief moments before he drove off with the Soanes’ caravan
Google Earth
The Soanes family couldn’t believe the Google mapping car came exactly when the caravan was being pinched
Caters News Agency

Murder illusion

As well as solving mysteries, Google Earth has also created a few.

Perhaps none are more disturbing than what looked like a bloody murder captured by the satellite.

In 2013, a Reddit user noticed a blood trail extending along a dock over water in a park in Almere, Holland.

Sharing the discovery, the original poster wrote: “A murder near my house on Google Maps, link in comments.”

This was the gory scene in Almere as seen on Google Earth
Google Earth


At the end of the dock, the outline of a man can be made out stood over a dark object surrounded by a pool of blood.

But despite the initial panic, internet users eventually figured out that what the image actually showed was a man with a wet dog.

The dark “blood trail” along the dock was just water that had dripped from the dog’s body after it had enjoyed a dip in the park’s pond.

The mystery on the dock turned out to just be a soggy dog and its owner
Dan Charity – The Sun

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