Commentary: It appears that assistance from “amateur sleuths” is the future of investigation and crime fighting… The key will be separating those with valid information from those seeking to plant MIS-INFORMATION.
KALAMAZOO, MI – By time the media reported some of the most shocking developments in the Teleka Patrickdisappearance case — the online videos, her apparent obsession with Grand Rapids minister Marvin Sapp, the deleted Twitter posts — it was old news to people such as Brooke Pearson in Virginia and Diahanna Kinley in Ohio.
They are among amateur detectives from across the country who have delved into the Patrick case on websleuths.com, a online forum to discuss missing-person cases and brainstorm about clues to finding the victims.
Since Patrick’s Dec. 5 disappearance, Websleuth members — largely composed of true-crime-story fanatics — have gone to work tracking Patrick’s social media footprints.
In recent weeks, they’ve uncovered her online videos, figured out her various Twitter handles, discovered how to retrieve thousands of deleted Twitter posts,and analyzed the 20,000 Twitter posts to determine which were most relevant and important — developments picked up and reported by the mainstream media.
Websleuthers even figured out the Kalamazoo doctor’s apparent obsession with Sapp days before that development was made public.
“We were ahead of everybody on this,” said Tricia Griffith, co-owner of the website. “Although it’s not me, it’s our wonderful members. … It’s like having a gigantic worldwide research department at your fingertips.”
Although Websleuths tracks dozens of missing-person cases nationwide, Griffith said the Patrick case is one of the most compelling she’s seen in years.
For starters, the victim is young, beautiful and highly accomplished. The case also has a surprising twist: It now appears Patrick, a first-year medical resident, was experiencing symptoms of mental illness that led her to stalk Sapp, a Grammy-nominated gospel singer.
Another highly unusual development, Griffith said, are the Twitter posts, both in terms of their volume and content.
Patrick used Twitter as a daily online diary in which she detailed her innermost thoughts, including the voices in her head that led her to obsess about Sapp.
Websleuth members soon realized Patrick had a substantial online presence, and discovered Patrick posted a series of videos in November to an unnamed loved interest.
Patrick’s family said they didn’t know who Patrick was addressing in the videos. ButKathleen Streitenberger, a retired corporate “skiptracer” — someone who tracks individuals on the Internet — used her professional skills to link Patrick to Sapp.
“I knew she was stalking MS,” Streitenberger said in an email to the Kalamazoo Gazette. Shortly after she posted her finding on Websleuths, the media reported that Sapp obtained a personal protection order against Patrick in September.
Meanwhile, other Websleuthers worked on retrieving Patrick’s deleted Twitter posts, a complicated process that included figuring out Twitter handles such as “MosesBeautiful” and “caligurl203,” finding a search engine that would retrieve deleted posts, and teaching themselves how to best use the search program.
In the end, they hit on “an explosion of data,” an estimated 20,000 Twitter posts, said Pearson, who lives in Virginia and works as a federal data analyst.
“Most of these cases, there is very little sleuthing,” Pearson said about websleuths.com. “This one is crazy because there’s so much out there.”
Keith Komos, an IT specialist at the University of Houston, took the Twitter posts and put them into a searchable database, a 740-page document that has since been posted on Websleuths.
Considering the hundreds of hours Websleuthers put into the Patrick case, not to mention the range of expertise of the members, it’s no surprise that Websleuth has been ahead of the media, Komos said.
“This is where crowd-sourcing comes into play,” he said. ”These amateur investigators have the advantage of time, interest and focus that reporters and law enforcement don’t have.”
Some Websleuthers also theorize Patrick may be in hiding and using a new Twitter account, and point to a tweet with clues to the name of a new handle.
“I’m not a voyeur and I know my motives are pure,” Kinley said. “I totally believe the social media stuff will lead to finding her, regardless of the outcome.”
All three women are among dozens who continue to spend hours every day discussing the Patrick case on websleuths.com.