Finding Mollie: Digital Footprint Can Lead to Clues

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Thirteen days after University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts was last seen, reporters from across the country huddled this week outside a sheriff’s office looking for any detail, no matter how small, about the search. The newest information suggests she was doing homework late on the night she vanished.

Tibbetts, 20, disappeared nearly two weeks ago in Brooklyn, Iowa, according to the Poweshiek County Sheriff’s Office. On July 18, the day she disappeared, she was last seen jogging around 7:30 p.m., wearing gym shorts, a black sports bra and running shoes, the sheriff’s office said.

“We are not giving up on any possible leads and hope that we can find Mollie Tibbetts very soon,” Winker said, reading a statement on Tuesday,” said Kevin Winker, director of investigative operations for the Iowa Department of Public Safety, in a prepared statement.



Theresa Payton, former White House Chief Information Officer under President George W. Bush and current CEO of the industry-leading security consulting company Fortalice Solutions, feels that Tibbetts digital footprint may provide the best chance of finding her. A digital footprint is a trail of data people create while using personal electronic devices such as computers and phone.

We know that investigators have traced data from Tibbetts’ Fitbit to track her trail showing that she returned home from the run safely. Mollie’s boyfriend reported that he had received a Snapchat around 10 p.m. that appeared to be taken indoors. However, it is unclear what the caption in the Snap was and at what time she took the photo.

Based on her own experience assisting law enforcement in helping victims of revenge porn, human trafficking and romance fraud, Payton suggests:

  • Mollie’s cloud accounts and all of her devices – phones, tablets, laptops, smart TVS, etc. need to be thoroughly searched for any photos or data that could provide clues.
  • All private messages of her social media accounts and texts need to be searched.
  • What homework was she doing? Does she log in and do online homework? Get all that login information including IP addresses, WiFi or broadband network connections.
  • Grab the web and search cache off the computer / devices she used that day and the days before.
  • Track her credit card / debit card / any and all transactions.
  • Check the alarm system where she was staying for when it was armed and disarmed.
  • If any smart devices are in the home such as Alexa or Google Home, ask them the last questions asked.
  • Sirius XM radio movements from her car — if applicable.

She also suggests studying the digital footprint of the boyfriend and his friends to determine things like if he the jealous type or were he and Mollie fighting at the time of her disappearance.

“Do the same with the neighbors,” she says. “Check sexual offender database in the area. Did a predatory neighbor realize she was housesitting/dog sitting alone? Track down names and examine their social media accounts and web presences.”

Tibbetts’ family started a Facebook group dedicated to finding her. If you have any information that may help the investigation, contact the Poweshiek County Sheriff’s department at (641) 623-5679.


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