I read an interesting article recently about the problems of identifying suspected purveyors of child pornography. The piece began with a vivid account of an incident in which misinterpreted photographic evidence led to the wrongful arrest of an innocent man.
According to the story, a grandfather was supposedly arrested "in the middle of a busy supermarket" after a one-hour photo processing company reported that he had left a roll of film for developing that contained pictures of little children in the nude.But, as the example concluded, "The story was all a mistake: The camera had been used by the man's grandchildren who had photographed each other without his knowledge, in a playful, and apparently innocent prank."
The article went on to discuss in well-researched detail the "possible weaknesses" in current laws concerning the use of such evidence to identify suspected child pornographers.
As for the horror story in the article's lead, the journalist stated, "Prosecutors aren't sure that the incident really happened."
At that, my urban-legend alarm went off, as it generally does in such cases. I recognize the illustrative value of a good anecdote, but I also know that reprinting apocryphal stories, even with good intentions, sometimes merely spreads them further.
Although I haven't heard exactly that same overexposure story repeated as an urban legend, I wouldn't be surprised to find it going around eventually. And I have heard a couple of other similar tales about photographic evidence exposing real crimes.
Both of these stories came to me via computer newsgroups, which nowadays spread legends with, I dare say, electrifying speed. These two tales have been hot lately on the computer nets:"Double Exposure"
Some kids broke into a motor vehicles bureau and stole the camera used to make driver's licenses. They used it to make fake IDs for themselves and friends. When they were finished, they dumped the camera where it eventually was found by someone and turned over to the police.
What the kids didn't realize was that the camera automatically took two pictures, keeping one copy inside for the bureau's records and spitting out the other one for the license itself. From the duplicate pictures, police identified the thieves and arrested them when they tried to use their homemade ID cards.
Don't state motor vehicles bureaus guard their equipment any better than that, and isn't there more involved in making an ID card or driver's license than just taking a photo? This story sounds too good to be true, and I've never seen a verified news story about such an incident."Gross-out Exposure"
The day after arriving in the Bahamas, a honeymooning young couple discovered that their hotel room had been ransacked and that everything had been taken except their camera and their toothbrushes, which were left hanging in the bathroom. Hotel insurance covered their losses, and since they still had credit cards, which they'd carried with them out of the hotel, they decided to complete their vacation and make the best of it.
They reported the crime to the police and filed their insurance claim. Then they bought some new clothes and other needed items, which was literally everything except toothbrushes and a camera.
Their honeymoon turned out to be wonderful after all, until they got home and developed the film from their camera.
In one picture, which the thieves had evidently taken, they recognized their own toothbrushes being mishandled and befouled in a most disgusting way.
I can't give further details in a family newspaper, but imagine the worst and you're probably pretty close.
The many occurrences of this story I've collected differ in where the incident occurred, who the victims were and where they came from. In no case, however, is the narrator any closer than a "friend of a friend" of these victims, nor has anyone I know about ever seen the revealing photos.
The camera doesn't lie, but maybe now and then the camera user does stretch the truth a bit.- "Curses! Broiled Again," Jan Harold Brunvand's fourth collection of urban legends, is now available in paperback from Norton. Send your questions and urban legends to him in care of the Deseret News.