How Google Earth helped police crack a 22-year-old case

A former resident of Wellington, Florida, was perusing Google satellite images of his old neighborhood just west of West Palm Beach when he noticed a car submerged in a pond. Little did the accidental sleuth know, but he had just helped solve a cold case that had stumped police for 22 years.

Thinking that his ordinary Google Earth images search had taken an unexpected turn, he called a current resident of the nearby Moon Bay Circle neighborhood to see if he had any information on the submerged car. The resident did not, so he sent his personal drone over to the pond.

His next call was to the sheriff’s office.

On Thursday, authorities confirmed the skeletal remains found Aug. 28 inside the white car that had washed up in the pond behind the Moon Bay Circle house helped wrap up the disappearance of William Moldt 22 years earlier, on Nov. 8, 1997.

The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office told the BBC that officials presume Moldt lost control of his car and crashed into the pond. The National Missing and Unidentified Persons Systems says that Moldt was returning home from a nightclub, but did not appear intoxicated as he left the venue, and also called his girlfriend saying he’d be home soon.

The two lived together in Lantana, Florida.

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According to The Charley Project, an online database that collects information on cold cases in the U.S., an image of the sunken car had been visible on Google Earth since 2007.

Barry Fay, who lives near where the car was found, was in disbelief over the sequence of events. “Never did I believe there would be a 22-year-old dead body,” he told The Palm Beach Post.

For the unknowing detective on Google images, he has a story to tell for the rest of his life, all because of something odd he saw jutting out of a pond near the house where he once lived.