True crime has always had its share of fans, ranging from those with a morbid obsession with murder cases to amateur sleuths. The new CrimeDoor app furthers those interests by allowing users to get a 3D, augmented reality view of real crime scenes -supposedly designed to look just like they did when the police first arrived at the scene. But could this app really help uncover crimes or is it just another way to exploit victims of horrific acts?
About the CrimeDoor App
The crime door app was created by Hollywood producer and journalist Neil Mandt, who wanted to create a space for true crime fans to truly and completely be able to dive into a criminal case. The case has over 600 crime scenes, ranging from scenes from the Menedez Brothers murders through small cases where the deaths were officially declared suicides despite the protests of the victim’s families. Each crime scene has been meticulously recreated based on police reports, photos and eyewitness accounts.
Impressive Technological Advances
There’s no denying this type of technology could be useful to provide a new perspective on a case when other trails have gone dry. Cold-case detective Paul Holes worked in the field for over 30 years, even playing an important role in the Golden State Killer case. “The three-dimensional aspects of a crime scene, or a location that is important to the case, being produced within the CrimeDoor app is revolutionary as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “It’s such a leap in being able to get a feel for the case. But then to take that information and put it into this augmented reality, so now I can walk through that scene like I was the original CSI that arrived on the case, I get so much out of that.”
Morbid Voyeurism to the Extreme
But while it’s easy to see the value in offering a new way to explore a cold case crime scene to detectives, it’s another to open these highly personal scenes to the public. As an example, one local San Diego crime scene featured on the app features the death of Rebecca Zahau who was found nude, with her hands and feet bound and her mouth gagged. The San Diego Sheriff’s Department ruled the death a suicide despite many unusual pieces of evidence at the scene.
The family collected evidence indicating Rebecca’s boyfriend’s brother may have been behind the death, but because the case was ruled a suicide, they couldn’t see criminal charges filed against him. The family did win a wrongful death suit against him, but that was overturned in appeals. The family is now hoping that by working with CrimeDoor, someone may come forward with a tip that can help them get the sheriff’s to change the cause of death from a suicide to a homicide.
Sadly, many people viewing the site may not be interested in helping Rebecca’s find justice, but simply in viewing a nude woman hanging by the neck from a staircase. Even Rebecca’s brother-in-law acknowledged the graphic nature of the app, saying, “It is graphic. It is. It’s disturbing. But it’s exactly how the scene was at the time. We couldn’t alter that. It’s not something that should be altered.”
Balancing the Benefits to Survivors
Having your loved one’s most private moments available for the general public to see is something many survivors of a cold case will not feel comfortable with. But there are some benefits to the families, with the most obvious being that the app may help bring in some tip that could help the family find the person responsible for their loved one’s death. On top of that, the family receives a portion of the fees paid to the app to get access to their family member’s crime scene.
While it’s good to think of the family getting some financial compensation for this exposure, it’s also easy to imagine low-income victims being exploited in the future when they find that they can earn money from the app building an augmented reality version of their family member’s death.
The Problem With the Court of Public Opinion
While less obvious, it’s also possible to see a potential problem arising when citizen detectives become convinced of a suspect’s guilt. They may improperly collect evidence to indicate their suspect’s guilt or even plant false evidence to help secure the conviction of someone they absolutely believe is guilty. It’s also easy to imagine someone stalking or harassing someone once they have become convinced of that person’s guilt.
In many cases, these people being investigated by wannabe Sherlock Holmes may have their rights violated, their lives thrown in disarray or their safety even put in jeopardy. There are, after all, reasons that police are the ones tasked with investigating crimes, not the public -and it’s not just the safety of the investigator.
Ultimately, only time will tell whether or not CrimeDoor actually helps the police or families of victims, or if it simply creates a creepy place for voyeurs and those who may commit their own crimes against their suspects of choice. Criminal attorneys are sure to keep their eyes on this technology to see how it may change the future of cold case crime solving.
If you have been accused of a crime, whether by police, the victims or a citizen investigator, be sure to call a lawyer right away. You can schedule a free consultation with Peter Liss by calling (760) 643-4050.