Hey, y’all. When you’re elbow-deep in the digital trawl of scrolling, liking, tweeting, and subtweeting, it’s easy to see social media as the modern world’s favorite time sink. You might expect to find the best brunch spots in town or the worst takes on the latest reality TV drama. What you might not expect? Murders solved by social media.
Welcome to the unexpected intersection of true crime and social media, a place where tweets can do more than just spread memes. This is a realm where hashtags become crime fighters and ‘likes’ shine the spotlight on a murderer.
Forget doom-scrolling through pandemic updates or political flame wars. There’s a far more gripping narrative unfolding right here on our newsfeeds. And unlike that brunch photo that got exactly 13 likes, this stuff is changing lives and, in some cases, even bringing justice where it’s long overdue.
So, as we pivot from cat videos and start this surprising dive into the seedy underbelly of social media, remember: not all scrolling is doom-scrolling. Sometimes, it’s doom-solving. Who knew your Twitter addiction could be a force for good?
5. The Murder of Brittney Gargol
On the night of March 24, 2015, Cheyenne Antoine and Brittney Gargol took a selfie together and posted it on Facebook before they set off for a night out. But just hours later, Brittney, only 18 years old, was found dead on the side of a road in Saskatchewan, Canada.
Fast forward to nearly two years later, Cheyenne, now 21, admitted to killing Gargol. The clue that led to her confession was the belt she used to strangle Brittney, which she was seen wearing in the selfie they took and posted on Facebook on the fateful night.
The prosecutor in Saskatoon explained that the black belt Antoine wore matched the marks found on Gargol’s car. The car was dusty and the marks looked like they came from the belt and suggested a struggle took place.
Initially, Antoine tried to cover up the murder. She told police they had been out drinking and ran into a white man. She then claimed she’d spent the rest of the night at her uncle’s place.
However, when the police interviewed Antoine’s uncle, her story started to crumble. There was no white man involved and her uncle confessed that Antoine had asked him to lie, claiming two black men were responsible for Brittney’s death.
In March 2017, Antoine was arrested and charged with second-degree murder and causing disrespect to a body. She later admitted to the murder in court as part of a plea deal. According to her confession, both she and Brittney were drunk and had a fight. Antoine strangled Brittney with the belt and left her body behind.
Because of her admission and apparent regret, the court convicted Cheyenne of manslaughter rather than second-degree murder. As a result, she was sentenced to seven years in jail.
4. The Murder of Abraham Shakespeare
Abraham Shakespeare, a day laborer in Florida, won a $30 million lottery in 2006, and his life took a drastic turn. Unfortunately, his winnings brought not only a life of luxury but also danger. By 2009, he was missing and later found murdered. It was the unusual use of social media that helped crack the case and reveal his killer.
Dee Dee Moore, a businesswoman who claimed to help manage Abraham’s money, became the primary suspect. After Abraham’s disappearance, Moore had been posting messages on his Facebook account to make it seem as though he was still alive and well, just laying low. The posts claimed he was tired of people asking him for money and decided to move away. But those close to Shakespeare knew this was odd since he was known to be illiterate.
When detectives started investigating, they noticed these strange posts and found Moore’s behavior suspicious. Additionally, Moore had been using Shakespeare’s phone to send text messages to his friends and family. These messages were well-written, which again was odd, knowing Shakespeare’s limited literacy.
As the investigation continued, they discovered a video Moore had staged, where she paid someone to impersonate Shakespeare. This video, meant to convince people that Shakespeare was still alive, was the final piece of evidence that turned the tide against Moore.
The online community of amateur detectives Websleuths decided to step in and dig for more clues to catch Shakespeare’s killer. DeeDee Moore felt so freaked out by this that she made her own account to try and throw off anyone who stumbled upon evidence against her. However, the savvy users managed to track Moore’s IP address back to her office. They handed over this info to the cops, which just added to the growing heap of evidence against Moore. In the end, she was found guilty of the murder.
Through her awkward attempts to impersonate Shakespeare online, Moore unknowingly provided the police with a trail leading straight to her. This showed how crucial social media became in solving Abraham Shakespeare’s murder. It also serves as a stark reminder of the dark side of sudden wealth and the people it can attract. Moore was convicted of first-degree murder in 2012, all thanks to her incriminating digital footprint.
3. The Grateful Doe Case
After two decades, the identity of a young man killed in a car crash in Virginia in 1995 remained a mystery. Known only as “Grateful Doe” because of the Grateful Dead t-shirt he was wearing and Grateful Dead concert ticket found in his pocket, his face was reconstructed and shared around, but no one stepped forward to identify him.
In 2015, the power of social media came into play. A user on Reddit created a thread dedicated to the Grateful Doe case. They posted the composite images of the Doe’s reconstructed face and shared his story. The post went viral, reaching thousands of people across the platform.
It was through this trending subreddit and the collective effort of the online community that a major breakthrough occurred. A former roommate of a man named Jason Callahan saw the Reddit post and recognized the face as Jason, who had disappeared around the same time the Grateful Doe was found.
The Reddit user alerted the authorities, who then reached out to Callahan’s family. Jason’s mother confirmed that her son had left home in 1995 to follow the Grateful Dead and never returned. After a DNA test, it was officially confirmed that the Grateful Doe was, indeed, Jason Callahan.
Social media’s reach turned out to be the crucial element in solving this 20-year-old case. It allowed the story and image of the Grateful Doe to be disseminated far and wide, ultimately reaching the right people who could help solve the mystery. It shows how online communities can come together to make a real-world impact, providing closure to a long-open question and offering peace to a family that had lost their loved one.
2. The Hit-and-Run of Susan Rainwater
In the Susan Rainwater hit-and-run case, social media, particularly the platform Reddit, played a crucial role in solving the mystery. This tragic incident took place in August 2018, when Susan Rainwater was killed by a hit-and-run driver while cycling along a highway in Washington State. After the collision, the driver fled the scene, leaving behind only a small, mysterious piece of black plastic.
This is where Reddit and its community stepped in. A Washington State Trooper, Sergeant Johnna Batiste, posted a picture of the piece of plastic on Twitter, hoping someone might identify it. It wasn’t long before a Reddit user saw the tweet and reposted it in the r/whatisthisthing subreddit, a forum where users help identify mysterious objects.
The response was immediate and overwhelming. Users analyzed the picture, sharing their thoughts and suggestions on what the object might be. Some users conducted their own research, digging into databases of car parts, while others compared the plastic piece with images of vehicles online.
Eventually, it was a user named JeffsNuts who made the breakthrough. They identified the piece as part of a Chevy Silverado headlamp assembly, specifically from a late 1980s model.
This insight proved to be a game-changer for the investigation. Equipped with this information, police could narrow down their search to specific types of vehicles. Eventually, they located a truck that matched the description and belonged to a local man.
They picked up Jeremy Simon who was driving his 1986 Chevroley K-10 pickup. The truck had visible damage and missing parts that matched the piece found at the crime scene.
Jeremy Simon said he had fallen asleep while driving and drifted from his lane. Simon supposedly told the cops that he first thought he had hit a mailbox, but he took off when he saw the wrecked bike because he didn’t want to see a dead body. He pleaded not guilty to charges of killing someone with a vehicle, leaving the scene of a deadly accident, and having illegal drugs.
1. The Jane Doe of Akron
In 2016, Cleveland State University student Christina Scates stumbled upon a mystery while researching her own family tree. She found a record of an unidentified skeleton in a cemetery and was puzzled why the young woman seemed to be forgotten. She decided to dig deeper, getting access to police files and autopsy records. She then posted her findings on Reddit.
That’s when volunteer forensic artist Carl Koppelman came across her post. Using photos of the skull that Scates had managed to get hold of, Koppelman tried to recreate what the victim might have looked like. Sadly, this initial attempt didn’t grab much attention.
Later on, Koppelman and Scates ended up reaching out to the local law enforcement in Cuyahoga County about the unidentified bones. Koppelman was initially in contact with them for a different case, but brought up the mystery skeleton. Scates, meanwhile, had noticed that these bones didn’t appear in the county’s list of unidentified remains and thought it was odd.
This led to a surprising discovery – a simple spelling error in the case files had prevented the bones from being included in databases for missing and unidentified persons. New skull photos were sent to Koppelman for a more accurate reconstruction. Not long after Scates reached out to the county law enforcement, the bones were finally added to NamUs, the national database for missing and unidentified individuals.
After the case was added to NamUs, a web detective suggested that an unidentified body might be Linda Pagano’s. This hunch led the police to compare dental records and eventually dig up the body for DNA tests.
With help from the University of Akron to locate the right grave, they collected bone samples and took mouth swabs from Linda’s siblings for testing. In 2018, it was confirmed that the body was Linda’s, finally solving a 44-year old mystery.
Her brother Micheal thanked the authorities, and the family held a memorial service for Linda in 2019. Her remains were cremated and placed next to her late mother. The police are now focused on finding Linda’s killer. They’re keen on questioning her boyfriend, Steve Wilson, and some family members suspect that Linda’s stepfather, Byron Claflin, who died in 1990, may have been involved.