Public, Pretzels Help Locate Alleged Child Molester

PHOTO: Wanted posterPlayU.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
WATCH Pretzel Bag a Clue in Hunt for Alleged Child Molester

Federal investigators have arrested a man accused of sexually molesting a young girl and distributing a pornographic video of the assault after officials made a public appeal partially guided by a bag of pretzels.

Old fashioned police work led investigators on two continents to file criminal charges this week against "John Doe," the man seen in the video, who authorities believed was living in the United States because the video contained a type of pretzels only sold there.

A phone line tip led to the man's arrest this afternoon, less than 24 hours after officials appealed to the public.

Officials did not identify the man or provide additional details about his arrest, pending the suspect's appearance in an unspecified federal court. However, officials claimed U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations rescued a child from "ongoing sexual abuse."

Two videos depicting the suspect -- described in a criminal complaint as a heavy set, bald male, aged 45 to 55, with a "beer gut" -- and a prepubescent girl aged 7 to 9, appeared on the Internet on May 2.

Both videos appeared to have been shot in the same location, a dimly lit room filled with musical instruments and equipment, as well as garbage, including empty beverage bottles and used snack bags.

The videos were discovered by the Danish National Police, which contacted U.S. authorities, believing the man in the video was American based on his appearance and items seen in the background of the videos.

Among those items was a bag of Rold Gold "Thins" pretzels. The pretzels, made by Frito-Lay, are sold exclusively in Canada and the United States. Investigators in both countries determined that the bag seen in the video, however, was only sold in the U.S. Canadian pretzel bags include French-language text.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency leading the investigation, isolated still images of the man's face from the explicit video.

Investigators circulated images of the man and the room in which the videos were made, hoping the public could help to identify him.

Authorities, in the past, have successfully used technology and the public's help in tracking down child porn filmmakers.

In 2008, Interpol was able to digitally "unswirl" the face of Christopher Paul Neil, who had posted images of himself molesting boys in Thailand. In the images, Neil had digitally obscured his face by swirling the pixels. Once his face could be clearly seen, the public identified him and he was arrested.

In 2005, police edited out a victim from explicit images posted online and asked the public to help identify the room in which suspected abuse took place. Citizens identified the bedspread in the images as coming from a Disney resort in Orlando, Fla.