Internet detectives on the Delphi murders case

NewsNation PRIME

DELPHI, Ind. (NewsNation Now) — Hundreds, if not thousands, of tips have poured in from social media, internet sleuths and even podcasts during the investigation into the so-called Delphi murders in Indiana.

It has been five years since investigators found the bodies of 14-year-old Libby German and 13-year-old Abby Williams. The friends went on a walk along the Delphi Historic Trail the day before, but never returned home.

Indiana State Police Superintendent Doug Carter says his officers have received information about the murders from around the globe.

“We have this amazing ability to communicate today and I don’t understand it,” Carter said. “I’m not going to pretend to.”

He says it turns problematic when internet sleuths make accusations and post them publicly. It happened to his team numerous times after sketches of a potential suspect were released.

“I think when people start doing their own investigation and sharing what they think, that creates problems,” Carter said. “We’d ask them not to do that. There are a lot of people who look like the sketches we have released, and when you blow that out there with a picture of someone they think next to a sketch — imagine what it does to that person if they are not involved at all.”

While some agencies think social media dilutes the real investigative work that needs to be done, others are completely on board with the help.

“Social media allows law enforcement to be proactive, to get things in front of the masses,” said Deputy Chief Christopher Cook with the Arlington Police Department.

Arlington, Texas is home to one of the most infamous, unsolved murder cases in the country, that of 9-year-old Amber Hagerman. Her 1996 abduction and brutal murder eventually inspired the lifesaving Amber Alert.  Her killer has never been caught. Still, police continue to work the case and frequently update and monitor social media for new leads.

Cook said, at first, his investigators feared the internet.

“I think the wheels of bureaucracy always turned slow and so when social media first kind of came to age, it took policing several years really to embrace the platforms,” Cook said. “I remember when we first adopted social media, trying to get information from detectives was like pulling teeth because they really didn’t know exactly, well, how’s this going to work? You know? Or is this going to work myself out of a job where I’m no longer needed as a detective? And it’s quite the contrary.”

Cook says there are many cases his department wouldn’t have solved without social media, but he wants to remind people that a laptop is not a badge.

“Certainly, we want the tips and we don’t want to shy away from people sending us information, but there is sometimes a line that is crossed,” Cook said. “And we have seen this where some people are really their own private investigators, they’ll take a piece of information that’s come out from a law enforcement agency, and all of a sudden, they’re kind of on the trail.”

He says if you have what you believe to be credible information, contact police directly and don’t solely post about it online. And for consumers of social, be wary: you can’t believe everything you see on Facebook.

“There’s no perfect system, but ultimately, the overall goal for everybody involved should be to find the killer,” said Derrick Levasseur, who hosts a popular podcast called Crime Weekly.

He says the Delphi murders is the type of case his fans really get into.

“I think the web sleuths out there really are baffled by this case, because on the surface, it appears like the police have a lot, right? We have the suspect’s voice, right? We have video of the suspect or the alleged suspect,” Levasseur said. “And yet here we are five years later talking on the anniversary. And there’s still no one that’s been charged with the murder of Libby and Abby.”

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