Top 10 Crimes and Police Cases Solved with Google Earth
VOICE OVER: Peter DeGiglio
WRITTEN BY: George Pacheco
Smile, criminal, you're on Google Earth's camera! For this list, we'll be ranking the instances where real life criminals or criminal activities were caught red-handed via Google Earth and/or Google Maps. Our countdown includes Home Invasion, Police Chase, Prison Escapee, and more!
Top 10 Crimes and Criminals Caught on Google Earth
Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Crimes and Criminals Caught on Google Earth.
For this list, we’ll be ranking the instances where real life criminals or criminal activities were caught red-handed via Google Earth and/or Google Maps.
Can you think of any we forgot? Let us know in the comments!
#10: Home Invasion
We hope that no one watching this video ever has to suffer the shock and violation of having their house robbed. But, if you do, we hope that Google Earth can assist in the same way it did to the subject of this entry. A 2011 home invasion left an Oklahoma woman justifiably traumatized after being held at gunpoint by her attackers. However, three years later, a random Google Earth street view search by the woman’s friend turned up still images of the exact people that the victim claims robbed the house, mere moments before they allegedly gained entry. The evidence was then turned into local police to assist in their search.
#9: Bike Mugging
Crime doesn’t pay, kids…especially when it’s caught on camera. A teen was robbed by twins while cycling in The Netherlands back in 2008. The pair swiped the boy’s cell phone and all his money before taking off…but not before the Google street car snapped some incriminating photos. The victim looked up the crime scene on Google Maps and was able to identify his attackers via the still images taken by the car. This evidence helped lead police to an arrest, and a confession, as the Dutch twins were apparently already wanted by authorities for other crimes.
#8: Weed in Plain Sight
The aerial views available on Google Earth can be breathtaking. They can also lead to some random arrests by police, sometimes completely by accident. This has actually happened more than once when it comes to the pot farming industry. Cannabis collectives have been caught by authorities in places as varied as Oregon and even Switzerland, the latter of which led to an astonishing sixteen arrests back in 2009. Over one metric ton of marijuana was seized from that bust, while the Oregon pot farm was on a comparatively smaller scale. Here, the farmer in question did have a license to raise thirty plants on his property…just not the ninety-plus police discovered on camera. Oops.
#7: Camper Theft
We’ve already established how violating it feels to be robbed, but what about having something swiped from right under your nose? In your own driveway, no less? This is what happened to the Soanes Family back in 2009, when their brand-new Caravan was stolen while they had left their home. Scratch that, make it their replacement Caravan, since their first one had been smashed in a hit-and-run. There were no suspects in the case at first, that is until the Soanes’ eleven-year-old son looked up their house on Google Earth and bam! There’s the culprit in their driveway. It took some time for Google to unblur the image and supply police with the required information, but a suspect was eventually caught, charged and arrested.
#6: Police Chase
It’s not uncommon for still images from Google Earth to catch some sort of criminal activity, but it’s another when an entire police chase is caught on camera! This is what happened when the Google Street Car happened to be at the right place at the right time, filming a chase that occurred during bright Serbian daylight. The suspects were apparently caught red-handed attempting to rob a jewelry store, and the footage shows authorities chasing the crooks on foot, as well as in a police vehicle. There are even images of curious and shocked passers-by watching it all go down.
#5: Paying the Pool Tax
A word to the wise: don’t try and dodge the tax collector, especially in Greece. The country requires citizens to apply for a permit before building swimming pools on their property. As a result, authorities became a little suspicious when they found out that there were only a little over three-hundred registered pools in Athens. So, they went to Google Earth, and uncovered, get this, over SIXTEEN THOUSAND unregistered pools amongst the capital city. Pools that were going untaxed. Well, maybe we should say previously untaxed, since those white-collar property criminals were caught red-handed, and were forced to pay up.
#4: Say Cheese, Dealers!
We weren’t born yesterday. We realize that the drug trade goes down just as often in broad daylight, and on city streets, as it goes down in back rooms, under lock and key. However, these dope pushers probably weren’t expecting to be caught in the act by the Google street car back in 2010. Police were able to use the images captured by Google Street View to assist in their undercover operation that helped nab multiple dealers in the Jackson Street and Kingsland Avenue areas of Brooklyn, New York. To be fair, surveillance video and undercover officers were also used in the bust, but the Google Earth story just adds a little bit of poetic justice.
#3: Prison Escapee
The internet has made it more and more difficult for criminals on the lamb to escape the long arm of the law. This was definitely true in the case of Gioacchino Gammino, who successfully evaded captured for over twenty years, after a brazen escape while awaiting trial for murder. The alleged mafia gunman actually started a new life in Spain, severing all communication with his family while working in a low-key job as a chef in an Italian restaurant. A Google Maps image of the restaurant happened to show Gammino standing outside, while authorities used age-advancing technology to construct a composite sketch of what he would look like in the present day. It worked, and Gammino was finally caught.
#2: William Moldt
Researching cold cases can be a creepy and depressing business, particularly the lack of closure associated with those that remain unsolved. It was Google Maps that happened to be at the forefront of a twenty-plus year missing persons case back in 2019, when a strange sight was caught lurking just beneath the surface of an artificial Florida pond. It was a car, submerged in water, but not so submerged that it wasn’t visible from the aerial view of Google Earth. It was the car belonging to William Moldt, a mortgage broker who had disappeared almost 22 years prior. Skeletal remains found inside the car were positively identified as Moldt, with the man having apparently lost control and crashed so many years ago.
#1: Rainforest Protection
Google Earth and Google Maps haven’t only been used to help assist in solving person-to-person crimes, they’ve also been utilized in the ecological world, as well. One example was the time authorities in The Philippines used the service to help crack down on illegal logging. Elsewhere, similar tactics were employed in Brazil, in order to hammer down on illegal deforestation of the country’s rainforests. Chief Almir Suruí embraced the internet in a huge way in order to help his indigenous people stave off illegal logging and mining at home, amassing photographic evidence and keeping Excel spreadsheets to help further his cause of saving the rainforest. Chief Suruí was even acknowledged by the UN for his efforts, with the title, “Hero of the Forest.”