US Sheriff Tracks Down Fugitive Using WoW And Google Earth

US Sheriff Tracks Down Fugitive Using WoW And Google Earth

Two weeks ago, Howard County Sheriff's Department deputy Matt Roberson managed to successfully track down and capture a wanted fugitive using World of Warcraft and Google Earth.

"You hear stories about you can't get someone through the Internet," Roberson bragged. "Guess what? You can. I just did. Here you are, playing World of Warcraft, and you never know who you're playing with."

As part of Operation: Falcon, the sheriff's department enlisted the aid of the U.S. Marshals this summer to track down a number of fugitives. One of those fugitives was Alfred Hightower who was wanted on charges of dealing in a schedule III controlled substance and dealing in a schedule IV controlled substance, and two charges of dealing in marijuana. A warrant was issued for Hightower's arrest in 2007.

Unfortunately, Hightower was able to skip the country before the U.S. Marshals could reach him.

"I received information from a childhood friend, who tells me the guy is in Canada," Roberson continued the story. "I held onto the information in the back of my head. I spoke to the marshals and asked if we could confirm the guy's location, would they help us get him? They indicated that they would."

With the help of sheriff's major Steve Rogers, Roberson began gathering information on Hightower through a number of sources.

"We received information that this guy was a regular player of an online game, which was referred to as 'some warlock and witches' game. None of that information was sound enough to pursue on its own, but putting everything we had together gave me enough evidence to send a subpoena to Blizzard Entertainment," Roberson added. "I knew exactly what he was playing - World of Warcraft. I used to play it. It's one of the largest online games in the world."

Roberson knew that Blizzard is in California and that he has no legal jurisdiction over them. "They don't have to respond to us, and I was under the assumption that they wouldn't," he admitted. "It had been three or four months since I had sent the subpoena. I just put it in the back of my mind and went on to do other things. Then I finally got a response from them. They sent me a package of information. They were very cooperative. It was nice that they were that willing to provide information."

Blizzard did more than cooperate. Te company gave Roberson everything he needed to track down Hightower, including his IP address, his account information and history, his billing address, and even his online screen name and preferred server. From there it was a simple matter to zero in on the suspect's location.

"I did a search off the IP address to locate him," said Roberson. "I got a longitude and latitude. Then I went to Google Earth. It works wonders. It uses longitude and latitude. Boom! I had an address. I was not able to go streetside at the location, but I had him."

Roberson and Rogers contacted the U.S. Marshals, who immediately notified the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Canadian Border Services Agency. Canadian authorities located Hightower in Ottawa, Ontario, and arranged to have him deported. The marshals picked up the suspect in Minneapolis, and Howard County has until Jan. 5 to bring him back here to face charges.

"Roberson did some great work on this deal," sheriff Marty Talbert commented. "This is the first time in my seven years as sheriff that a fugitive was located in Canada. Rogers and Roberson did an outstanding job coordinating this."