(cross-posted from my Globe and Mail blog)
Vancouver resident Markus Frind is a bit of a 21st-century superhero. After all, he helped to catch a suspected murderer who was featured on the TV show America’s Most Wanted. But instead of using superhuman strength or the ability to see through solid metal, Markus used his abilities as a programmer and Webmaster who runs one of the world’s most popular dating websites, PlentyofFish.com.
According to news reports, Mr. Frind got an e-mail on Saturday night from the U.S. Marshal Service, saying someone had seen a picture of the suspected killer, 26-year-old Calvin Bennett, on the dating website. Bennett had a warrant out for his arrest in the murder of an elderly couple in Nashville on October 30. Pierce Odell and his wife Mary were shot in the head and their bodies dragged into the woods after being robbed (more details on the America’s Most Wanted site here).
Provided with the user name that Bennett used on his site, Mr. Frind went through his logs and found several conversations the suspected murderer had had with women online, and eventually determined that he was staying with one of those women in Wisconsin (since messages from both Bennett and the woman came from the same IP address). Armed with this information, the U.S. Marshals Service was able to track down and arrest the man on Sunday. Parked outside the house was a truck matching the description of the one belonging to the elderly couple from Nashville.
“There are millions of people who use the site and I feel like I am responsible for them,” said Mr. Frind in an e-mail interview. “It felt really good to capture him. Unlike the other dating sites, who I’m told take days to get ahold of, I was able to do this all within 10 minutes on a Saturday. But all in all it feels surreal — this is what you hear about in the movies but you never actually expect to happen.”
Although it is one of the most popular dating sites on the Internet, with more than a million users a day and advertising revenue estimated at almost $1-million a month, Mr. Frind runs the entire website himself on three computers. And nabbing a suspected killer isn’t his only claim to fame: A research paper on high-level mathematics that Mr. Frind co-authored was recently used as supporting research for another academic paper that helped to win its author the Fields Medal, also known as the Nobel Prize for math.