back to article 'Kidnapped' child tracked by mobile phone and Street View

A "kidnapped" nine-year-old Massachusetts girl is safely back at home after a team effort by an enterprising local cop and deputy fire chief which exploited the signal from her mobile phone and Street View to track her to a motel in Virginia, the Worcester Telegram & Gazette reports. Natalie Maltais went missing on Saturday …


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  1. caffeine addict

    no title

    Wow... "Police in doing their damn job shocker".

    Actually, I am shocked...

  2. Andus McCoatover

    SMLC!!!! What goes around, comes around...

    Serving Mobile Location Centre

    Grief, when I worked at a Finnish-based major telecom. network manufacturer, I used to travel to US to train the network operators on that! I was the only trainer...

    Now, it's proved at least once that it was worth it's weight in children. Good feeling....

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    US of course...

    No warrant needed of course, since the child is a minor and her parents can give permission.

    But just to point out that in the US, they *do* need a warrant if they don't have permission and the judges find the rozzers often don't have probable cause to request that info and reject the request:

    So presumbly the UK rozzers often don't have probably cause too, only there's no judge there is reject their request and they get their info regardless.

    I'd like to think UK rozzers are sooooo much better and soooo much more professional than their US counterparts, but I have no evidence to support such an assertion and common sense tells me they are just people not superheroes.

  4. A J Stiles


    How can any charges possibly be brought in this case?

    It was the girl's GRANDMOTHER, for crying out loud! Don't members of a family have some implied right to be together?

  5. Ad Fundum
    Black Helicopters

    For God's sake ...

    ... don't let wacky Jacqui see this story, it'll give her all sorts of unholy ideas.

  6. Rob Beard
    Thumb Up


    So this must prove that mobile phone signals are actually GOOD for children.

    How long until kids get mobile phones embedded in them, Captain Cyborg style?

    Seriously though, if I thought that something like this would be possible in the UK (I'm on about the police actually doing the investigation work like they did in this story) then I'd be more inclinded to give my kids mobile phones (even if they didn't have any credit on them).


  7. Arclight

    @A J Stiles

    No one, outside of mother and father, has any right of access to a child, unless determined by a court for the childs welfare.

  8. David Neil
    Paris Hilton

    @A J Stiles

    If the Grandmother has removed the child from the custody of the parent who has access, and has previously indicated that said parent will not se the child agin, then yes, charges should be brought.

  9. Dennis
    Black Helicopters

    Re: For God's sake ...

    ... don't let wacky Jacqui see any episodes of The Bill. Almost every episode the police in Sun Hill use cell site analysis to locate someone by their mobile phone.

  10. Bassey

    How is this news

    The only new thing here is the use of Google Street View. Missing Persons Search Teams (and yes, I work in one) have been using triangulation data provided by mobile telcos for years now. Normally we would either look it up on a map or (more often than not) we'd have local knowlege of the area and would have a fair idea where the signal was coming from.

    The only new thing is that, rather than phone their colleagues in the local area and say "we keep getting a signal from this area. What's the most likely?" they wasted time on Google Street View. How is that clever?

    Incidentally, the triangulation thing works well in most areas but is pretty useless by the coast. Obviously, if you don't have masts roughly either side of the signal it's pretty near impossible to triangulate.

    So, if you do want to kidnap someone and the ARE determined to use a mobile phone whilst doing it, stick to the coast. They'll never find you!

  11. Andy Turner


    "At this point, Athol cop Todd Neale had the bright idea of tracking the pair using the mobile phone - a technique made possible by legislation which since 2005 "

    Why is this a "bright idea"? Surely since it's been possible for over 3 years, it should be standard procedure in cases like this!

  12. Rob Crawford
    Thumb Up


    I think the hint may be in the word "Guardian"

    Personally if I was the guardian of a kid and a relative of the chile was visiting, and said that I wouldn't be seeing the child again I would probably not let them leave the house with the child in the 1st place.

    It may be a simple story, but it is a case of somebody doing the right thing.

  13. Mike Crawshaw
    Black Helicopters

    @ Bassey

    "So, if you do want to kidnap someone and the ARE determined to use a mobile phone whilst doing it, stick to the coast. They'll never find you!"

    Bassey, you are under arrest for revealing information possibly of use to a person for activities not approved by The State. Stay where you are, the helicopters are on their way...

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton


    So how did goggle prove beneficial? Presumably a quick call to the local plod saying "we think xxx and yyy are at zzz, can you go pick them up?" (which is what happened) would have resulted in local plod going to said junction ('intersection') and seeing a motel they might use their initiative.

    Oh, I see where the problem lies: local plod + initiative != reality.

    Christ, even Paris could've worked it out.

  15. Damn Yank

    @A J

    Google "Amber Alert" and see why.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I propose a race!

    Seeing as the grandmother had basically told them what she was planning and wouldn't have been very hard to catch, could the police have split into two teams, one doing things the old fashioned way by going to her house and asking her contacts questions, the other doing it the new fangled, slow-news-day-friendly way, and see which found the girl first? The first cop to return her to mom's trailer could win a donut.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @ Bassey

    I think the 'news' is that someone managed to convert GPS coords covering a 300ft areas into an actual address without moving his arse.

    I hate to break it to you but the definition of "news" is not "an entirely new concept never before conceived by man in 4 dimensional space / time".

  18. Aetyr
    Thumb Down

    @ A J Stiles

    Even if, morally speaking, you believe that family members should be allowed to see each other whenever both of them want to - not something I'd disagree with myself to be honest, I think family is one of the most important things we have - no one, anywhere, ever, can kidnap another human being and claim that's OK just because they're family.

    Dare I mention a high-profile recent UK case of a now-infamous mother kidnapping her own daughter? That was the same thing, and no one anywhere thinks that was acceptable, do they?

  19. Eddy Ito
    Black Helicopters

    Doesn't add up

    If the cops had the number and were speaking to both of them, I think they would have a good idea what was going on so why are the charges "as-yet undertermined"? If the child was picked up "for a weekend visit" how could she go "missing on Saturday"? Who are "the child's guardians" and how did they come about to have custody? Methinks Big Brother has a hand in this and it would be nice to know why if just for completeness sake. Bah, Ath-holes, the lot of them.

    Also, did the cops in Virginia burst in with a fully pumped and prepped SWAT team, all Elian Gonzales style or did they take the rational and sedate approach of knocking on the door? Before anyone answers, can I put 100 on the former?


    "extensive experience using GPS technology" = has a Garmin in his car.

  20. Mike

    @How is this news

    >>The only new thing is that, rather than phone their colleagues in the local area and say "we keep getting a signal from this area. What's the most likely?" they wasted time on Google Street View. How is that clever?

    Wasted time? sounds quick to me, probably quicker than trying to find a physical map, and probably far more useful to have that info available when they phoned up the local cop shop, after all, having a common frame of reference would speed up the process (ahem... just like using a map)

    I think that Bassey is suffering from a green-eyed monster, and giving advice to would be kidnappers how to avoid being caught? now that is really clever.......

    PS. some modern phones (with real GPS) will send actual GPS coordinates when phoning emergency services (obviously within limitations, last "known - outdoor" location etc.) but coupled with the cell information it's very accurate (even by the coast).

  21. Anonymous Coward

    @Rob Beard

    Careful what you wish for.

    Wacky J would embed phones in children Dark Knight style

    "I just want my phone call"

    Mine's the one with the bluetooth headset

  22. Tim Wesson

    Kid's Perspective

    All this talk of "kidnapping" presupposes that the courts have it right. The term isn't being used in the normal sense of the child being taken from their parents, but of the child being taken /by/ a parent.

    To know how the child felt would help me to decide how to judge this case, which otherwise is just an article about (possibly random) law enforcement.

  23. Rachel

    @ A J Stiles:

    Only the custodial parents or guardians actually have a right to be with the child. I don't know what part of the world you're from, but here in the US, 'kidnappings' of children by non-custodial parents or relatives do happen, and with surprising frequency - not all families are happy and get along well. If the grandmother implied to whoever had legal guardianship to the girl that she was taking the child away and they wouldn't see her again, that's kidnapping, even if the girl doesn't object to being taken, even if she let the girl talk to her parents, and even if the kidnapper and child are related.

  24. caffeine addict


    I hope Telco triangulation works better than the same deal from the phone's end of things. When googlemaps tries to guess where my house is from my cell triangulation data, it moves it by about 5 miles.

    Cambridge is hardly the technological arse end of no-where...

  25. Sarah Bee (Written by Reg staff)

    Re: @ Bassey

    >I hate to break it to you but the definition of "news" is not "an entirely new concept never before conceived by man in 4 dimensional space / time".

    I've just emailed our tech overlords to see if we can have this at the top of the comments form. It would save all of us so very much time and stress and screaming.

  26. Charles Silver badge

    Re: US of course...

    No warrant was issued because of the consent of the parent, but with the evidence up front before the GPS trace occurred, police probably already had reasonable suspicion of abduction/kidnapping. If push came to shove, they could probably present their case before the appropriate judge and get a suitable warrant and still end up at the same result. It was simply more expedient to employ parental consent.

  27. Don


    Millions of dollars spent and it sounds like everyone is still pretty clueless on how to use the system.

  28. Anonymous Coward

    @ Rob Beard

    I was thinking about how you'd charge a embedded mobile phone and then it hit me - the charging mat on the Reg yesterday... But that means the phone needs to b?

    "Dear you're beeping - go sit on the mat until it stops"

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    man gets co-ordinates, man types co-ordinates into google maps.... and google looks gets some 'awww' time.... boring.....

  30. Apocalypse Later

    Police work?

    To me, the one interesting point in this piece was that the police were not up to the job themselves, but had to call on the aid of a fireman to interpret the GPS data.

  31. pctechxp

    Cell tracking

    wasn't this used in the conviction of Ian Huntley for murdering those two girls.

    I am glad such facilities exist.

  32. Chris C

    re: US of course

    "But just to point out that in the US, they *do* need a warrant if they don't have permission..."

    Tell that to Bush and the NSA. What you meant to say was that in the US, they are legally required to get a warrant. But the law only matters when you have someone willing to enforce it. And most government workers are extremely unlikely to enforce the law against other government workers (especially when the law-violaters hold more power than the law-enforcers).

  33. Chris C

    re: zzz

    "man gets co-ordinates, man types co-ordinates into google maps.... and google looks gets some 'awww' time.... boring....."

    A kidnapped child is safely recovered without harm (and presumably without violence), and you call it "boring". We would be lucky and extremely fortunate if all kidnappings were this "boring".

  34. george
    Thumb Down

    This story is Missing Something

    I don't think most of you really listened to the story. Great they found a kid using cell phone tech and street view but really did they find the kid? The girl has "Guardians" , probably meaning she lives with STRANGERS, NOT PARENTS, STRANGERS!!! If another family member was kidnapping from another family member, NOW that is different story, NOT COOL!!!

    So a gung-ho cop got her away from her grandmother only to bring her back to her "GUARDIANS" ; I say job well done, another one finger salute to you.

  35. Neoc

    Did I miss something?

    1) Grandma comes over to take the kid away for the weekend. From the tone of the article, this was an expected event. No problems here.

    2) Again from the tone of the article, it seems relations between the current guardians and Grandma's side of the family are rather strained.

    3) Grandma has relations on Rhodes Island.

    4) Guardian tell Police that Grandma threatened a kidnapping.

    Am I the only who thinks the Police over-reacted? Yeah, maybe they should have kept an eye on the kid and made sure Grandma returned the child safely at the agreed-upon time, but so far as I can Grandma did nothing wrong - we only have the words of a (possibly manipulating) guardian as to what actually occurred.

    Unless Police uncovered evidence of flight (in the legal sense) or the guardian taped the conversation, I think Grandma has fair grounds for civil action against the guardian.

  36. Moss Icely Spaceport

    Need charges to lay?

    How about housing a child in a seedy two-bit hotel for a start?

    I suppose it had vibrating beds too.

  37. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    -Insert title here-

    Its funny to see how many waste time complaining that this artocle was a waste of time and that i now waste time complaining about time wasted by time wasters wasting time cmplaining about time..... or someting like that.

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