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This article was published on January 7, 2022

Cops claim Google Maps led them to a mafia member, but there’s more to it than that

Digital footprints aren't always clear

Cops claim Google Maps led them to a mafia member, but there’s more to it than that
Thomas Macaulay
Story by

Thomas Macaulay

Writer at Neural by TNW — Thomas covers AI in all its iterations. Likes Werner Herzog films and Arsenal FC. Writer at Neural by TNW — Thomas covers AI in all its iterations. Likes Werner Herzog films and Arsenal FC.

Google Maps is best known for finding places, but the service is also proving adept at finding criminals.

Gioacchino Gammino learned this the hard way. The mafioso had been on the run for 20 years when he got a surprise visit from the police.

“How did you manage to find me? I haven’t even called my family for 10 years,” Gammino reportedly told the cops.

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According to an anti-mafia investigator, they found him on Google Maps.

Mapping a murderer

Gammino was one of Italy’s 100 most-wanted criminals. The 61-year-old had been convicted of murder, but escaped prison in 2002.

His life on the lam led him to Galapager, a Spanish town near Madrid, where he lived under the assumed name of Manuel Mormino.

Gammino later opened a store bearing his alias: El Huerto de Manu (The Garden of Manu).

The greengrocer’s has a stellar 4.7-star rating on Google.

You can visit it for yourself — but only on Google Maps. The physical store is now labeled “permanently closed.” 

While chatting outside the premises one day, Gammino was photographed by a Google Street View vehicle. Years later, Sicilian police said they spotted him on the service.

Gioacchino Gammino on Google Maps
Gammino, right, had been a member of the Stidda, a Sicilian mafia group. (Credit: Google)

The lead investigator said the arrest wasn’t solely thanks to the app, but that it added to their suspicions.

“It’s not that we spend our days looking for fugitives on Google Maps,” Francesco Lo Voi told the Guardian“There have been many investigations that already pointed to Spain. We were on the right track and Google Maps helped us to confirm our investigations.”

Indeed, that wasn’t the only app that provided clues. Another image of Gammino was found on the Facebook page of a Galapagar restaurant called “La Cocina de Manu” — Manu’s Kitchen. The mobster was identified by a distinctive scar on his chin.

ItalianChef La Cocina de Manu
The restaurant was commended for the price of its pizzas: €7.90 to eat-in and €6.90 for takeaway. (Credit: Facebook)

It seems Gammino wasn’t living quite as quietly as he should have.

A bad egg

On the Restaurant Guru listing for La Cocina de Manu, customers praise the pizzas, Sicilian wine, and the attentiveness of the owner. However, not all the reviews are so glowing.

One criticizes the slow service; another says Manu attacked a local councilor and threatened to kill him.

Customers raved about Manu's Sicilian cannoli
Customers raved about Gammino’s Sicilian cannoli. (Credit: Google)

The dispute stemmed from an order to stop using a smoky stone oven, Spain’s ABC News reports. Gammino wrote the councilor a letter of apology, was fined €1,500, and paid the victim €325 in compensation — but he was spared a prison sentence.

The incident was captured by CCTV cameras:

Detective Google

It may seem strange to imagine cops trawling through Google Maps for fugitives — particularly as the app blurs faces to protect privacy.

Skeptics suspect that the police are hiding something. Was the Street View explanation used to avoid revealing their source? Did Google provide the cops with a special unblur or facial recognition feature? The latter wouldn’t be entirely surprising given the company’s roots in the CIA.

In any case, Gammino is unlikely to be the last criminal who’s found on Google Maps. With Street View constantly improving, it’s getting harder for anyone to evade the mapping app.

And if you’re a mafioso on the run? My advice is to avoid opening a Sicilian restaurant — although those cannoli do sound delicious.

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