How amateur web sleuths helped solve the case of missing lottery winner Abraham Shakespeare
A new Hulu series features an army of internet sleuths who aid investigators.
Florida resident Abraham Shakespeare went from rags to riches after winning $30 million in the lottery in 2006.
The newfound fortune brought the 40-year-old from Lakeland out of poverty and allowed him to give back to his community, but he started to feel burdened by the number of people who came to him expecting a piece of the pie, according to Shakespeare's friend Greg Smith and others who knew Shakespeare.
"When Abraham first won that money, it wasn't only Abraham Shakespeare. It was the community won the lottery," Smith said.
So when Shakespeare went missing three years later, it didn't take long for investigators to suspect that foul play was somehow involved.
Meanwhile, the news of Shakespeare's disappearance was gaining momentum in a bustling online forum called Websleuths. Tricia Griffith, a voiceover artist, owns the discussion platform where users scour the internet for clues and post their findings about unsolved cases.
Cindi Parrott, who goes by "Sleuthster" on the Websleuths forum, took a special interest in Shakespeare's case. She was among users who started digging, looking at everything from local news articles to property records.
"Sleuthster, man, she's like a dog with a bone. There was no stopping her," Griffith said.
"At first I thought maybe he did just go off and was on some tropical island drinking a margarita, but then as I delved into it, I discovered that he had a small child and he was close to his mother. He didn't seem like a man that would just take off," Parrott said.
Now, a new six-part Hulu series, "Web of Death," airing Jan. 19, follows the investigations of online sleuths into cases like Shakespeare's as they use digital records and social media to unearth clues to aid law enforcement officials in solving crimes. The series is produced by ABC News Studios in association with Blink Films.
A local reporter named Merissa Green covered the case for the Lakeland Ledger.
"As part of my investigation, I immediately took it to the streets and one of Abraham's friends tells me there's this white woman that everybody knows and she has been acting as Shakespeare's business partner," Green says in the episode.
That woman was Dorice "Dee Dee" Moore. The web sleuths discovered that Moore's company, American Medical Professionals, was now the owner of Shakespeare's million-dollar home, Griffith said.
"She's posting pictures inside the home, living it up. It started raising eyebrows and we started really focusing on Dee Dee Moore at that point," Parrott said.
David Clark, a former Polk County detective, said he was impressed by Websleuths' findings and the forum users' knack for quickly obtaining records online.
"I get on the internet and I come across this Websleuths forum. You have 10 or 15 people finding property purchase agreements, financial records. I questioned how are they getting this information? I need a subpoena to get it, but they've got it," Clark said.
The detective said he joined the forum and posted to "let them know that all the hard work they were doing wasn't going unnoticed."
Clark and the Websleuths were shocked when Moore herself started posting on the forum. She denied being involved in Shakespeare's disappearance and even claimed to be in contact with him.
"Dee Dee thought she was smarter than everybody, but I knew that she wasn't as smart as these people," Clark said.
Detectives caught a break when they discovered Moore had paid Greg Smith to make a phone call pretending to be Shakespeare. Smith agreed to become a police informant to try and get close to Moore for information.
Moore was eventually convicted of killing Shakespeare after his body was found buried under a concrete slab at a property she had bought with his money.
"I don't know if any other detectives would acknowledge the huge impact that the Websleuths investigation had on our case, but I will acknowledge it. The Websleuths were very instrumental in helping us in the case. Some of the stuff they uncovered was extremely helpful to us," Clark said.