A misplaced faith in Google Maps is being blamed for Queensland Police’s failure to locate a missing man’s body despite his remains lying within the “searched area” of his property for a full 18 months. Forty-six-year-old Darrell Simon was last seen at his girlfriend’s house, about 80 kilometres west of Brisbane, in November 2014. This was a week before police launched what they thought to be a complete search of Darrell’s bushland property in nearby Laidley Creek West—using printouts from Google Maps as a guide.
Both that and a second investigation of the property more than a year later failed to locate Darrell’s body, and it wasn’t until May 2016 that his remains were finally discovered: not by police, but by the new owners of the block, The Australian reports. Now Deputy State Coroner John Lock has filed a report suggesting that police would have found Darrell much sooner had they not relied on inaccurate Maps data.
The error stemmed from the fact that Google Maps had incorrectly marked the boundaries of the property, meaning that State Emergency Service crews only ended up searching half of the block.
"The fact the ground search was conducted over only half the property was very regretful and should not have happened," said the coroner in his report, noting that the year-and-a-half delay in finding Darrell’s body had "compounded the grief felt by his family and friends, particularly his father [Lawrence Simon]." Moreover, it resulted in speculation as to the reasons for Darrell’s disappearance—with Lawrence believing that his son’s death might have been “suspicious and that he may have been harmed by someone else, possibly in a dispute over money.” Police also suspected that Darrell may have met with foul play.
The coronial inquest, finalised last month, found that Darrell had in fact taken his own life on the property as a result of financial problems.
“One wonders if Darrell’s body was found during the first police search on 23 November 2014, whether such unhelpful and at times clearly defamatory and untruthful speculation would have even surfaced,” said the coroner. He also indicated, however, that even if police and search party volunteers had scoured the full block it’s possible that thick vegetation could have prevented them from locating Darrell’s remains, the BBC reports.
Nonetheless, the coroner’s report stresses that Google Maps is “less helpful” than certain other tools available to the police. Queensland police have been advised to use high-resolution mapping and GPS systems, and to communicate more effectively with the SES, in order to adequately coordinate and conduct searches for missing people.