Paying attention to detail, creative thinking and persistence are just a few very important personality traits needed to be an investigator. I read a great story the other day that was truly inspirational and a reminder that “The magic behind every outstanding performance is always found in the smallest of details” (Gary Ryan Blair).
With particular attention to detail, thinking outside the box, a little help from family members and good ol’ fashioned gumshoe detective work, Brian Ascher, a 26-year old law student at New York University, and fiancé Erika Gunderson solved a digital mystery…
On New Year’s Eve, Erika Gunderson, a New York Investment Banker discovered a $600 Canon LXUS Digital Camera in the back seat of the cab she was traveling in. She reported the lost property to the cab driver, but he seemed disinterested in her findings and she decided to take it home with her to show it to her fiancé Brian Ascher.
The couple, determined to track down the owner of the camera, began a full on investigation. After a grueling ten 10 day investigation loaded with dead ends, persistence and probing brought success… Here are the details of how it was done…
Ascher first called the New York Taxi and Limousine Commission to see if anyone reported the camera missing. No such luck. He then decided to place a “lost-and-found” ad on Craigslist; he did receive one response from a couple in Brazil who claimed to have lost their camera in a cab October 12, 2008 but not December 31, 2008.
Ascher continued to sort through the 350 images and two digital videos taken by the owner. There were images of several adults and children. Some of the photos showed landmarks in New York City and some of the photos showed the individuals enjoying Florida as depicted by a sign in a photo that read Clearwater, Florida’s Bob Heilman’s Beachcomber Restaurant. He now had locations. In one of the photos, Ascher discovered the individuals wearing name tags on their shirts. They read Alan, Eileen, Noel, Noelle, and Ciarnan. Under their names there was a word written “IRE.” He now had names.
He took a look at the videos and was able to determine that the individuals in the video all had Irish accents. He was now able to conclude that the owner was more than likely an Irish tourist. Ascher continued his investigation by calling the Canon Company in Ireland to check to see anyone had reported a lost camera matching the serial number. No such luck again. In an effort to generate some leads, he posted several ads on Irish Web sites…another dead end.
Ascher called Bob Heilman’s restaraunt to find out whether any of the staff remembered serving a large Irish group using the date stamp of the photo he had discovered. Without the last names of the members in the group, management was unable to provide any information of value.
Still persistent in finding the owner, Asher decided to recruit some help…his mother, Nancy, and his sister, Emily Rann. They all examined the pictures, looking for new clues. A fresh set of eyes always helps!
Nancy and Emily discovered in one photo that a doorman was assisting an individual in a New York taxi and he was wearing a New York Radisson Hotel uniform. Nancy visited the Radisson, and convinced an employee to do a search on Radisson guests by first name and country of residence. The search came up with a Noel from Ireland that stayed at the Radisson on the date stamped of one of the photos. Nancy obtained the guest’s e-mail address. Ascher emailed Noel, but Noel responded and said he did not loose a camera.
Ascher took a final look at the photos. He focused on one picture date stamped on December 30th. The picture showed an awning in the background that read “Standings.” This was a bar that Ascher was familiar with in New York. He called the Standings’ owner and located a bartender who had worked on Dec. 30th and recalled the Irish party. Apparently one of the women in the group left a great tip and he knew she worked at New York City bar called Playwrights. The Standings bartender called Playwrights for Ascher to inquire which employees had been to Standings recently. Shortly thereafter, Ascher received an e-mail from a woman by the name of Sarah Casey, whose sister Jeanette works at Playwrights.
The Casey family hosted relatives and friends from Ireland in December. The group included their friend Alan Murphy, who had just visited Florida before coming to New York. They all stayed at the Radisson Hotel.
Alan Murphy of Sydney, Australia was the owner of the missing camera and was apparently eternally grateful for Ascher’s hard work and discovery.
The moral of this story to private investigators everywhere is that perserverence and real detective work is the foundation of solving mysteries such as these.; this is the essence of what we do and should serve as an example to us all in the investigative professions.
Here’s to paying attention to detail, persistence and creativity…and to the good Samaritan, great investigator and aspiring lawyer Brian Ascher!