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Open source intelligence techniques & commentary

Winnipeg Serial Killer – Taking Measurements with Google Maps

One of the more useful features of Google Maps is its built-in tool that lets you measure the distance between two or more points on a map. This is extremely useful when you want to perform a geographic search using the Twitter API for example, so that you can set an appropriately sized search radius.

A perfect example of where this came in handy was a recent story that ran in the National Post:

National Post: Winnipeg Police warn suspected serial killer may be targeting homeless after two ‘brutal’ murders
National Post: Winnipeg Police warn suspected serial killer may be targeting homeless after two ‘brutal’ murders

As is the case sometimes, it can be useful to take a look at social media or other information surrounding the general area of a crime or a rash of crimes.

Gathering Selectors

As usual when I see these types of news articles pop up, I am interested in looking at the particular time and area that a crime happened, and then I want to be able to query geographic searches around that area. When reading (have you read the story yet?) through this article there were three selectors that came to my attention immediately:

1. Address – 333 Portage Ave.
2. Address – 329 Hargrave St.
3. Person – Myles Monias (1st victim, April 10, 2015)

The two addresses are from the more recent murders, and they are very close geographically, as you will see. The story references a third murder that happened on April 10, 2015 approximately 800m away on the corner of Main and Pioneer at a bus stop. Let’s find the location of the first murder. A quick Google search for:

Myles Monias Winnipeg

Yielded a CBC news article that discusses the murder. As shown in the screenshot below, they include a bit more detail and a photo of the bus stop where Mr. Monias was discovered. If you play the video and stop it at roughly 11 seconds you will be shown the following:

CBC.ca - Winnipeg bus stop where first murder occurred.
CBC.ca – Winnipeg bus stop where first murder occurred.

Using this article we can add to our selector list as it says that the bus shelter (shown in the picture) at Main Street and Pioneer Avenue is where Myles Monias was discovered. So here is our list of selectors as a refresher:

1. Address – 333 Portage Ave.
2. Address – 329 Hargrave St.
3. Person – Myles Monias (1st victim, April 10, 2015)
4. Location – Bus shelter Main St. and Pioneer Ave.

Taking Measurements with Google Maps

Now lets assume that we want to monitor the area surrounding the three murders using the Twitter API or some other geo-enabled site or platform. The trick is to not have such a gigantic area that you are collecting junk data but also to be wide enough that you aren’t missing posts that are on the periphery of your area of interest.

Google Maps has a handy little measurement tool that can help us here. Head over to maps.google.com and punch in the first two addresses from our selector list above.

329 Hargrave St.
329 Hargrave St.
333 Portage Ave.
333 Portage Ave.

 

We can see that the two newest locations are very close together. Now punch in the third location (literally you can do “Main St. and Pioneer Ave.”).

Main and Pioneer
Main and Pioneer

 

Now we have the general area of where this is located. In a separate post I will show you a beginner’s guide to finding the exact location of the bus stop where Monias was discovered. Now that we have our three locations we can get down to taking measurements.

Follow these steps:

1. Right click on the map near your Main and Pioneer marker and select “Take Measurement”.

2. Punch in one of the previous addresses: 329 Hargrave St.

3. Right click on the map again a little ways away from your 329 Hargrave St. marker and select “Measure Distance”.

You should now have a little ruler that has come up to show you the distance as shown below.

Measurement between crime scenes.
Measurement between crime scenes.

So what we are seeing is that the distance “as the crow flies” between the two crime scenes. We can now use this distance measurement to set a radius using a Twitter API search or other platform. For example you might use the latitute/longitude of the 329 Hargrave Ave. address, and set a radius of 750m to give you some additional overlap extending just beyond the furthest crime scene.

In a future blog post I will show you a simple example of how to geolocate the bus stop accurately based on the photo from the CBC article. This will give you a feeling of how the pros (such as the folks over at Bellingcat.com) do it with much more difficult-to-locate photos.

NOTE: They have a suspect in the killings if you were curious. More here.