How a stolen MacBook Pro, Google Street View, Craigslist, and Backblaze led to a drug bust

How a stolen MacBook Pro, Google Street View, Craigslist, and Backblaze led to a drug bust

Everyone likes a happy ending. Even more so, everyone likes a happy ending with an added bonus. Make tells the story of how a victim of a theft not only caught the perpetrator, but how his sleuthing also resulted in a drug bust.

Here’s what happened. Two guys rented a car, left their computer equipment in backpacks in the trunk, and went off to Maker Faire in Detroit. Using a screwdriver, the thief unlocked the car, popped the trunk, and made off with a MacBook Pro, an iPad, and other equipment. His job was easy. The victims’ job was a lot harder.

First, they found a police station and started giving local officials all the information they could remember. The ball really started rolling when a police officer asked “Was there an iPad or any way to track your computers?” The owner of the iPad tried to use the “Find my iPad” service to no avail. Thankfully, the owner of the MacBook Pro also had something similar: he had subscribed to an online backup service called Backblaze. Not only was everything on his computer (personal files and photos) backed up, but there was a little “Locate My Computer” button that was worth a shot.

The first time the button was clicked, it showed the computer’s last position (based on Wi-Fi networks in the area), before it was stolen. Since the criminal hadn’t used the Internet on the computer, Backblaze couldn’t do much. They had reached a dead end, and the case wasn’t exactly a priority for local police:

Officer said to call if we had updates. While very nice, he didn’t sound overly hopeful. Clearly, the officers in Detroit had more important things to do like catch murderers, rapists, and other criminals than find our missing electronics. I can’t say I blame them.

The next morning, Backblaze and “Find My iPad” were still not showing anything. Later in the day though, the MacBook Pro owner was presented with this map when clicking on Backblaze’s “Locate My Computer” button:

Unfortunately, contacting Detroit’s police department only resulted in another: officials couldn’t do anything without an exact address. Thankfully, the thief was looking to sell his car and put a few photos of it on the MacBook Pro, which Backblaze then in turn backed up to the cloud. As a result, the victim managed to get the perpetrator’s address and phone number by doing two things: comparing the house in the background of the photos against what Google StreetView showed, and finding a Craigslist ad for the sale of the car.

The police eventually did the rest:

According to the detective, he assembled a team, and search warrant in hand, knocked on the door of the house. Receiving no answer, they turned on sirens and lights and announced their intention to enter — which they then did, with the aid of a Halligan bar and door ram. Once in, the house was swept and declared clear. Well, except for the drugs.

A search of the house, “designed for narcotics distribution,” yielded “multiple, large jars of suspected Marijuana, multiple individually packaged vials of suspected Marijuana and multiple knotted baggies of suspected Marijuana.” My computer was located in an upstairs bedroom next to a mattress.

Unfortunately, the iPad and other content in the bags still haven’t been found. The victims did, however, learn a few lessons that everyone should keep in mind:

  • Install a remote backup system.
  • Don’t keep important items in your car.
  • Be really nice to police officers. They have a very hard job.

If I had to add something to that, I would say: don’t despair and never give up! Oh, and always let the cops do the actual busting.

Image credit: stock.xchng

Read next: gets annotations, allows for attaching all kinds of sweet metadata to posts