Google Street View, in its attempt to photograph and upload digital images of every inch of dry land on Planet Earth, has captured some weird, embarrassing and sometimes disturbing images. From robberies and drug deals, to public sex acts, people picking their noses or urinating, dogs doing things dogs do and people just dressed up in weird costumes, with more than 20 petabytes of images on the Google Street View site, it’s not too surprising that most anything that can happen on a street turns up somewhere.
A petabyte, by the way, is 1,000 terabytes, or a million gigabytes. Suffice to say, Google Street View contains a lot of images.
But one image captured a couple of years ago, but noticed by Google Street View users only recently, was the most shocking of all. Google, apparently inadvertently captured the immediate aftermath of a violent and horrifying crime. A man lies face down on the street, as another man stands over him laughing, holding what appears to be an axe.
The grisly scene took place on Giles Street in Edinburgh, Scotland, in August 2012. Google took several months to upload the images — and about a year later, someone called the police.
As the Edinburgh investigators quickly found out, the suddenly notorious Google Street View axe murder was not a murder at all — but a quick-thinking, instant hoax by the owner of a Giles Street auto repair shop and one of his longtime employees.
“I recognized the Google car coming into the street from the camera tower on the top,” said Dan Thompson, owner of Tomson Motor Company in Edinburgh. “We just thought we had to do something. This opportunity wasn’t coming around very often so Gary grabbed a pick axe handle and we ran out into the street.”
“Gary” is Gary Kerr, 31-year-old employee at Tomson Motors. Kerr and his 56-year-old boss quickly arranged a scene. Thompson lay face down in the street while Kerr stood over him with the axe. Sure enough, about a minute later, the Google van rolled by, snapping multiple images of the “axe murder.”
It seemed like a good prank at the time, but nothing came of it until more than a year later. Thompson said that he and Kerr had pretty much forgotten about the stunt, but finally realized that that the images had been spotted when one of his suppliers called him on the phone “in fits of laughter.”
As for the police, they came around and saw both the “dead” man and his vicious killer alive and well and very much amused by the whole affair.
“They came in and said ‘you guys, do you happen to know anything about this?’ We explained what had happened,” Thompson told CNN. “They were smiling when they came in and were roaring with laughter when they left.”
Thompson said that he recently spotted the Google Street View van in his neighborhood a second time. “Infuriatingly, we hadn’t set anything up,” he said.