Computer forensics remains a growing field in private investigations. Sometimes referred to as computer forensic science, private investigators specialized in computer forensics, may be hired by private individuals and major corporations to securely collect data, examining and preserving the contents of the computer, cellular or storage device, and assist with investigations from pornography detection to corporate espionage. Law enforcement detectives and private investigators are a very specialized group of professionals with the ability to recover, analyze, and present their findings and opinions in a court of law. Many serve as expert witnesses in court trials.
Considered a branch of digital forensic science, the search of computers and other devices commonly refers to legal evidence presented in a court of law. There is a wide range of serious computer crimes that have emerged since the early 1980s such as fraud, the exchange of child pornography, cyber-stalking and more recently ‘hacking’ that created the necessity for this specialized group of detectives.
Forensic science used in computer investigations in civil proceedings is now termed ‘electronic discovery’ and is another form of information gathering. Through use of computer forensics, information referred to as ‘digital artifacts,’ such as an electronic document, email, and images are is gathered, identified, preserved, extracted, analyzed, documented and then interpreted using forensic methodology.
One of the most famous cases in history solved by the use of computer forensics was the feared “BTK Killer’ in Wichita, Kansas. From 1974 until 1991, a string of murders had occurred that cost millions and thousands of police man-hours to investigate but remained unsolved for over thirty years.
The investigation into the murders of four members of the Otero family began on January 15, 1974. Joseph Otero Jr., 38, his wife Julie, 34 and their two children, Josie, 11, and Joey, 9, were found murdered inside their home. The couple had three other children that were not home at the time of the homicides.
Police did not know it at the time but Dennis Rader, who claims he had been depressed after a lay-off at work, began searching for his first of ten victims. He spotted Julie and her daughter, Josie and followed them to school one morning. Raider regularly had thoughts of sexual bondage and approximately two months later, he decided to act upon his twisted thoughts with the intention of fulfilling his sexual fantasies by attacking the mother and young daughter.
With his parka filled with weapons and bindings, he headed to the Otero home and cut the phone lives before entering. Rader had not planned on the father or son being home when he entered the Otero residence so he ordered all to lie on the floor at gunpoint. He placed plastic bag over Joseph’s head killing the father first, and proceeded to strangle Julie with a rope in front of her children. Next, Rader sat in a chair and watched on as little Joey thrashed around while he slowly suffocated to death.
Josie he took to the basement where he already had a rope hanging from the ceiling where he hung the little girl, her little toes barely touching the floor. Julie’s body was found hanging from a noose tied to a sewer pipe with panties pulled down and semen traces on her body. Her siblings, Carmen, 13, and Charlie, 15, were the ones to discover their parents and younger brother and sisters bodies.
Three months later, Rader attacked a brother and sister, Kathryn Bright, 21, and her younger brother Kevin, 19, in their home. While forcing Kevin to tie up his sister, both put up a fight and Rader shot Kevin two times with a .22 caliber, once in the head. Rader then attempted to strangle Kathryn but ended up stabbing her with a knife and left her for dead. Departing the residence, Rader saw Kevin fleeing, running down the street. Kevin was the only one of Rader’s victims known to survive.
Over the next fifteen years, Rader killed five more victims. During this time, Rader also taunted investigators with notes, poems, puzzles, and pictures; even naming himself ‘BTK’ for Bind, Torture, Kill. Then ten years went by with no communication until police received a 3.5 floppy disk with a Word document in 2004.
Computer forensics broke the case. Investigators were able to find a document on the disk that had been deleted but contained metadata indicating someone by the name of Dennis at Christ Lutheran Church has modified the document. Looking on the church website police quickly found Dennis Rader served as president of the church council. After thirty years, it only took forensic computer investigators a couple hours to break the base.
Thomas Lauth, private investigator and owner of Lauth Investigations, with headquarters in Indianapolis, IN also has offices in Colorado and Arizona. An experienced private detective, he has spent years working all kinds of investigations but credits computer forensics as one of the most effective ways to delve into a person’s activities, even if the individual has gone to great lengths to cover their tracks. “Spending twenty years as a PI, I have seen incredible advancements in technology and computer forensics allowing police and those of us working in private investigations solve more and more crimes,”says Lauth. “Using computer forensics, we are able to examine computers, cell phones, web chats, and various other Internet activities contributing to helping solve everything from missing person case to corporate fraud and forgery.”
About the Author: Kym L. Pasqualini is founder of the Nation’s Missing Children Organization in 1994 and the National Center for Missing Adults in 2000. Kym is an expert in the field of missing persons and continues to advocate for crime victims utilizing 20 years’ experience working with government officials, law enforcement, advocates, private investigators, and national media.