Men used Google Maps to find homes to burglarize

September 28, 2011 (CHICAGO)

Some traditional police work and a bit of luck led suburban police to a pair of men who they say were knocking off homes in the western suburbs with ease. Their tool: Cyberspace and the window on your world that is Google Maps.

According to Indian Head Park Police, for leader Samuel Watson and his accomplice Claude White, burglarizing homes in the tiny western suburb -- as well as nearby Burr Ridge -- was simply a matter of typing into Google "expensive homes along highways."

"He took it a step further, went to Google Earth, and he was able to zero in with the satellites the homes and streets to burglarize," said Curt Novak, Indian Head Park Police. "He knew exactly where he wanted to go."

Novak's men arrested Watson Friday on the South Side of Chicago after White led them to him. Watson had been picked up a week ago in Burr Ridge right after someone reported a burglary. Watson later admitted he was with White that day and escaped by crossing a creek and hiding.

The pair are believed to be behind nine robberies since March, netting them about $100,000 in stolen TVs, jeweler and other electronics. They would case their targets on Google, then act between 8 and 10 p.m. It's enough to unnerve long time residents.

"It makes you want to lock things up tighter and be much more aware," said Indian Head Park resident Ann Holman.

Jason Shah of mobile data experts Mediafly says opting out of Google Maps information that you think is too personal is about all you can do to protect yourself from this new threat.

"All you need to do is find yourself, find your property on Google Maps or Google Street View, at the bottom there is a 'report a problem link,' and you can report yourself out," said Shah. "Over time. your image and your property will disappear from Google Maps."

As for the Holmans, tending to their elephant ear plants in the rain, they have a message for crooks using technology to find other victims.

"You are going to get caught," said Ann Holman." Of course you know that. You are plain stupid if you don't think you are going to get caught."

"I do have a shotgun, and anybody who breaks into my house, they are in trouble," said Roger Holman.

Watson was charged criminally after an Indian Head Park resident whose home he allegedly burglarized identified him in a police line up. Police say he had come face to face with the resident in a bedroom of the home.

Both suspects are being held at the Cook County Jail.

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