From Facebook to Mug Shot

If you watch enough television, you know that the legal system has all sorts of ways to figure out who committed a crime — DNA tests, high-tech labs, thermal imaging, and more. But when it comes to crimes that don’t result in a physical altercation with the victim, these CSI labs don’t often kick into gear. According to a 2017 Pew Research study, only “35% of the property crimes tracked by the Bureau of Justice Statistics were reported to police.” And of those, only “19% of the property crimes reported to police in the U.S. were cleared.” In other words, only about 6.5% of property crimes result in an arrest or similar result. If your house is broken into, chances are the thief will get away with it.

Unless the bad guy decides to hang out a bit — and especially if he hangs out online.

On June 19, 2014, St. Paul, Minnesota resident James Wood returned home to find his house ransacked. Gone was whatever cash and credit cards Wood had lying around, as well as his watch. But the burglar also left behind some wet clothes and Nikes — it had been raining — and, importantly, had also left Wood’s computer where it was. But the burglary hadn’t just left the computer alone. Wood told the local news that at first, he panicked, “but then I noticed [the intruder] had pulled up his Facebook profile.”

The profile belonged to a “Nick Dub,” and Wood decided to post something on “Dub”‘s profile. Wood told “Dub”‘s Facebook friends that the owner of that Facebook account had broken into his house and, per the local news report, “shared his [Wood’s] phone number to see if someone would call with information.” The next day, “Nick Dub” texted Wood — apparently, he wanted his clothes and sneakers back. Wood agreed to make an exchange for a cell phone that “Dub” had previously stolen from someone else, and the two planned to meet that night.

Dub, instead, met with the cops. The police were able to recognize Dub — whose real name is Nicholas Steven Wig — from the photo on his left-behind Facebook profile. According to the criminal complaint against him, they also noticed that Wig “he was wearing a Relic watch that matched the description of the watch taken in the burglary.” He also had some other stolen items on him, and, according to City Pages, Wig later “admitted he was the mastermind behind the burglary, and said the missing checkbook and credit cards could be found at his mom’s house.”

Wig was convicted of burglary and a few other related charges, and was sentenced to 23 months in prison. Shortly after his release, he was booked and convicted on a variety of drugs and weapons charges. (In Minnesota, people with burglary convictions can’t own guns.) As of 2019 is back in prison. He seems to have deleted his Facebook page.

Bonus fact: Law enforcement has been using Facebook to thwart scofflaws since the site became even moderately popular, and in one case, college students fought back. In 2006, the New York Times reported that “campus security force got wind of a party [that George Washington University student Kyle Stoneman] and some buddies were planning last year by monitoring” (the article is so old, the Times used the “.com” in the site’s name). So Stoneman et al set a little trap for the campus cops. Per the Times, “once again they used the site, which is visited by more than 80 percent of the student body, to chat up a beer blast. But this time, when the campus police showed up, they found 40 students and a table of cake and cookies, all decorated with the word ‘beer.’ ‘We even set up a cake-pong table,’ a twist on the beer-pong drinking game, he says. ‘The look on the faces of the cops was priceless.’ As the coup de grâce, he posted photographs of the party on Facebook, including a portrait of one nonplussed officer.”

From the Archives: The Man Who Liked Himself So Much, He Went to Jail: Perhaps criminals should just stay off Facebook.