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How an Unlikely Subpoena to Google Helped Solve a Complex International Missing Person Case

Sunday December 18, 2022. 09:54 AM , from Slashdot
Long-time Slashdot reader wattersa is a lawyer in Redwood City, California, 'and a Slashdot reader since 1998.

'I recently concluded a three-year missing person investigation that unfortunately turned into an overseas homicide in Taiwan. I was authorized by my client to publish the case study on my website, which is based on our recent court filings...' And yes, he writes that the case was solved with a subpoena to Google:

I filed that case in late 2019 and then used the subpoena power to try to solve the disappearance, which seemed appropriate. We solved the case in late 2020 due to a fake 'proof of life' email that the suspect sent from the victim's email account, which he sent from a hotel where he testified he was staying alone on the night of the disappearance — after (according to him) dropping off the victim at the local train station. The victim could not have sent the email from the other side of Taiwan, which is where the email indicated it was from.... The suspect in my case is a Tony Stark-level supergenius with a Ph.D. and dozens of patents, who works at a prominent engineering company in California. He is currently wanted in Taiwan. The case was solved with a subpoena to Google for the login/logout history of the victim's Gmail account and the originating IP address of the proof of life email. Although Google does not include the originating IP address in the email headers, it turns out that they retain the IP address for some unknown length of time and we were able to get it. When it became clear that this case was a homicide, co-counsel and I dismissed the conservatorship case and filed a wrongful death case against the suspect in 2021.

We continue to gather information through subpoenas, depositions, and interviews, all of which show that the victim died in a 10-hour window on November 29, 2019. The wrongful death case goes to trial in late 2023 in Santa Clara County. This is a rare case in which the family can afford an expensive, lengthy, attorney-led private investigation.

The original submission includes additional details about a rarely used statute in California that allows conservatorship of a missing person's estate — and apparently grants subpoena power. And it was in response to such a subpoena that Google produced the originating IP address of that crucial proof of life email.

'This obscure statute in the Probate Code was instrumental in solving the case because we didn't have to wait for law enforcement to take action, and we were able to aggressively pursue our own leads. This gave the family a sense of agency and closure, as well as the obvious benefit of solving the disappearance. Also, Taiwan law enforcement could not do subpoenas from Taiwan, so we ended up contributing to their investigation to some extent as well.'

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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