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In the 1800s, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle introduced the world to his "consulting detective." As Sherlock Holmes is described, he is a private citizen who puts his powers of deduction and his network of allies and informants to work solving the crimes of England and beyond. Now, in 2019 another detective has emerged, this time in the real world, helping to bring unsolved crimes to a close using technology and deduction. Enter: Billy Jensen.

 

Jensen began his career as a crime beat reporter in New York, but he quickly grew disillusioned with the dispassion involved in the industry. Show up, jot down the facts that the police can divulge, and whether it gets reported on depends on how sensational the crime was. This kind of reporting was not helping to solve crimes, only to melodramatize the effects of crime on certain portions of the population.

 

Jensen likes a mystery. He likes to see all the pieces of a mystery laid out, and to work through the process of drawing connections and solving the mystery. This might be exemplified by his taking on a decades old missing person case in his spare time: who is an actor in the original Star Wars movie. In an early scene, Obi-Wan interacts with essentially an extra briefly. The character has no lines, just a shrug. He received no credit in the film. However, this being Star Wars, this character has a name - BoShek - and extensive back story, and action figures. Yet the man who played him was a day player, and his identity was unknown.

 

Jensen began his investigation conventionally, but hit dead end after dead end. The identity of this actor remained illusive. Finally, Jensen posted the materials he had gathered online. He lacked some piece of critical information that would unlock the key, and he hoped that the internet might be a tool that could be used to fill in the gaps of his knowledge. And it paid off. A family member of the actor - now known to be Frances Tomlin - saw the post and reached out to Jensen. Definitive proof was provided. The mystery was solved. And there the methodmight have withered on the vine, were it not for another tragedy.

 

In 2016, Michelle McNamara died. She had spent years investigating (and naming) the Golden State Killer when the case had long presumbed to have gone cold. After her death, Jensen along with Paul Haynes and McNamara's widower Patton Oswalt finsihed the book she had been writing, later released as I'll Be Gone in the Dark. And inspired by her focus on bringing this case back to the surface and the killer to justice, Jensen began to wonder if there were other crimes that could be solved by a consulting detective. What if the internet could be used to solve actual crimes, not just identify unknown science fiction actors?

 

In an era of where everything is crowdsourced - medical costs, pet projects, films, video games, arts and crafts, the naming of NASA rovers and tugboats - the idea of using the captive audience of the internet is no different than the idea of Sherlock Holmes using his network of homeless people to gather information. I personal might not know anything about sports, but there are people out there who are experts on every minor aspects of every concievable sport. Jensen's idea was to leverage that expertise to solve crimes.

 

So he began, finding street level crimes that the police had reached a dead end on. Cases where video evidence was available, but all leads had gone cold. Jensen examined the evidence and picked out elements that could be used to generate new leads. A partical glimpse of a getaway vehicle? Post it to a car forum on Reddit, and someone will be able to identify the design of the bumper down to the production line. Have a good shot of sneakers? Someone knows how many pairs of that shoe were made, and where they were sold. Jensen took it a step further, and started using Facebook ads to push footage to people who lived within blocks of where crimes happened, as many crimes are committed by locals. 

 

The methods and successes of this Crowdsolving has been put into a new book, Chase Darkness with Me. Want to follow along as Jensen solves minor crimes, and works his way up to investigating the murders of the Allenstown 4? Want to learn how to solve crimes on your own, using the powerful potential of the internet and social media. Jensen lays out the rules, the things to avoid, and what hasn't worked for him. So we can all be the Sherlocks of our Baker Streets.

 

To keep up to date with all of LSC’s latest offerings, please follow LSC on Facebook, on Instagram, and on Twitter, and to subscribe to our new YouTube Channel. We also encourage you to subscribe to the weekly Green Memo, and we hope you check back each and every week on this site for our latest musings on the publishing world.

 

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