How We Turned the Tables to Catch My Sister’s Bumble stalker

My sister’s stalker, who had used Instagram and Bumble to work out where she lived and start stalking her in real life, was recently sentenced at court in Scotland.

This is the story of how my brothers and I turned the tables on the stalker to catch him in the act, identify him, obtain a confession, and gather enough evidence to enable the Police to arrest him and prosecute him for stalking.

This is not a short article, but there are lessons here for people to stay safe online, and I hope also the tech companies — Bumble in particular — will take some notice and maybe make some safety improvements.

Trigger warning: naturally this post is about stalking and includes a video of the creep.

Side note: there may be a car chase in this story…

The Stalking

Open the pictures to see the creep’s handiwork properly.

Since she drives every day on the motorway, there was always fresh dirt on the car. Annoyingly, the writing on the car continued. Two or three times a week, someone would write something offensive, and each time she would have to wash it off before leaving for work.

My sister is lucky (!) to have three older brothers. In our “Siblings” WhatsApp group chat, we speculated that it was probably just a bored youth striking late at night. The language was sexual in nature, but written in a way that made it seem like the work of a very immature, not particularly bright teenager.

We assumed they would get bored and stop, but they didn’t. Then the interference escalated to breaking eggs and smearing mud and sauce packets on her car.

Maybe when you first read this you think it sounds trivial. “It’s just writing in dirt on a car”. “That’s not stalking”. “It’s just an egg”. But it was only against her. No other cars were being targeted. And it wasn’t stopping.

Given my sister does not really know anyone in this town, someone was going out of their way to target and annoy her. She had no idea why anyone would be picking on her, and after a while it went from being annoying to being disturbing and upsetting. If you are a guy, ask your sister or mother how they would feel if this was happening to them.

The surveillance

We all had access to the video, which was streamed and saved online, and every morning we would pore over all the motion alerts. It didn’t take long before, we caught him on camera interfering with the car. We are pretty sure that one time he also urinated (or worse) on the car. Still, the video quality at night and from a distance was not great, so we were hoping that the dashcams would provide better video.

It took a bit longer to get the dashcam installed, but once they were we very quickly got our detailed video of the creep at work.

What this video showed was that it was no bored teenager — it was an adult man — a fairly well-built adult man, wearing a mask. The video was creepy as hell — you hear the egg get broken on the car, then he seems to walk away but then decide to come back (when we think he smeared more egg on the other side of the car).

One thing we did notice from the video was that he had a pretty distinctive walk.

Front and rear dashcam footage of the creep

Operation Cobra: Stalking the stalker

It was time for the Renwick brothers to do a stakeout (I should add that we had lots of offers from other friends that wanted to help — lots of people wanted to nail this creep)!

Credit: Craig Milne. This is now our Whatsapp “Bros” Group chat image! (That’s me on the left)

We spent the week discussing a plan and researching the law around “citizen’s arrest”. The idea was pretty simple — catch him in the act, call 999, and detain him until the police arrive.

Again, you might, especially if you are male, be thinking “is this really a 999 case?”. In fact, even my sister thought that. “Is it really worth bothering the police?”

The answer is clearly “YES”. If someone is harassing you regularly and you catch them in the act, that is when you get the police there ASAP.

So, one Friday in April 2022, I flew to Scotland with my wife and went straight to my sister’s flat. My brothers drove in from other parts of Scotland and we met near my sister’s flat, distributed walkie-talkies (which my brothers have for use in the family construction business) and then went to take up places in our own cars, near my sister’s car, and wait.

And wait we did. Three hours sitting in the cars, getting quite cold, with just a few cars coming and going. No creepy, stalker-looking people. My brother, Fraser, insisted on noting which cars came and went, which I thought was a bit unnecessary, but nevertheless we noted them down. And that was it.

Quite an anti-climax. No stalker.

Second time lucky

So we decided to do the stake-out again that night. This time it would just be two of us, and we would stay in one car in a different position and still use the walkie-talkies to keep in communication with our sister who stayed in the flat, overlooking her car.

It did not take long this time for us to notice something suspicious...

We could watch every car that drove into my sister’s car parking area via the Wifi connected security cameras we had pointing into the car park. Not long after 10pm, a car drove into her parking area, parked in a space and then sat with its headlights on. A minute later it drove away. Strange.

We took note of the registration number as the car left the car park, and then compared it to the plates we had noted (and which I had dismissed as a pointless exercise!) the previous night. Indeed there was a match! Certainly strange, but on its own not evidence of anything.

Until the car returned ten minutes later! This time instead of driving into my sister’s car parking area he drove past the car we were sitting in, and round the corner, out of sight, further into her housing complex (there was only one entrance/exit).

A few seconds later, from around the corner comes a large man. Andrew and I shrink down in the car seats (the car was facing into the car parking space) and he walks past without noticing us. What is very obvious is his distinctive walk and large build.

It’s obviously the same guy from the video. As our hearts start beating out of our chest we get on the radio to my sister to tell her it is “game on” and she should get ready to dial 999.

Things get more sinister, when instead of walking directly to her parking area, he walks past it, across a crossroad to a school gate (where there are no houses nearby) and we clearly see that he pulls a mask up and over his face. F**K! Our heart rates jump even higher and our breathing gets shorter.

He then takes the long route to get to my sister’s parking space and we watch on the CCTV via our phones, waiting for him to arrive at her car. Adrenaline is pumping through our veins as we get ready to make a “citizen’s arrest”.

But nothing. He never appears. Minutes later he comes back round the corner walking towards his car, this time taking a different route to get there and not walking past us.

Now what to do? He will have to drive past us to get out. Do we block him in? Follow him?

We opt for the latter and immediately regret it as he drives past us at great speed. He obviously has realised we are sitting there. We need to reverse out of the parking space to follow him and as we drive round the corner (our sister later tells us she could hear the screeching tyres), we can see the light is changing from red to green. He has just driven through the red light to escape us! Looking all directions from the cross roads he is nowhere to be seen, meaning he must have driven away like a bat out of hell!

Steven’s note: my brother’s version of this part of the story is as follows:

The scum bag jumped in his car and hurtled towards Andrew at over 60mph. Andrew, with his lightning fast reactions managed to do a backflip out of the way just in time! We jumped in the car and gave chase….

Back to reality…

We drive back to my sister’s flat and by this time she was understandably distraught. Not only is some random guy harassing her, it now seems he is driving out of his way to come and do this. Why her?

Now it was time to call 999. My sister had already had a couple of police visits about the previous incidents, so they knew there was a problem linked to her flat and came round pretty quickly.

We had given the police the car registration number over the phone when we called 999, and as we recounted the evening’s events, they gave us the bad news. We had probably made a mistake with the car registration number, as it was not even registered in Scotland. It was registered to a company from Yorkshire. Oh…

The police left with the recent video footage and promised to look to look further into the car, but it seemed like our surveillance efforts had been in vain.

Or had they?

Now that we knew it was someone from outwith my sister’s home town, we asked her to think if there was *anyone* that could be taking an unhealthy interest in her.

“Well, there is this one weird guy on Instagram,” she answered.

The problem with Bumble

It turned out he followed most of her friends too, so could see her when they shared Instagram stories of her.

Seems he was a bit creepier than that. He would regularly attempt to “Superswipe” her on Bumble, the location based dating app. She would never accept his super-swipe, which means she should not have seen him again, but she and her friends had worked out that he must be deleting his app and account and re-registering, so that he would appear as a “fresh” account and she would be available for him to super-swipe again.

Next-level creepy, she noticed that his profile basically described her as his ideal woman, and even mentioned that he wanted to move to her area. He would also add certain sports or activities to his profile when he noticed my sister doing them via Instagram.

Way, way, way out of your league, pal.

Side note for Bumble — this is what we would call an “entity resolution” problem, leading to safety problems for your platform. When someone installs your app, you need to detect whether they have already installed it previously. If they have, then their activity (including blocks and people who have already declined them) should be linked to this new account. I realise this might mean less revenue for you, but it is worth it for your users’ safety. Oh, that is what my company does btw.

Online detectives

Now, it is a bad idea (i.e. absolutely unacceptable) to stalk a girl at the best of times. For the creep, it was a particularly bad idea to stalk a girl with three older brothers with an interest in security technology and a keen understanding of the workings of various social media platforms (ok, maybe that bit is just me).

Thanks to this guy having his name on his Instagram account, it was pretty easy to find more information about him online. I decided to take a look at his LinkedIn profile and it seemed he worked for a company based in… drum roll… Yorkshire!

Yes, our car was registered to a company based in Yorkshire and our Bumble creep worked for a company based in Yorkshire. We had our man!

But we wanted more…

Extracting a confession

And it turned out these ways were as simple as messaging him on Instagram and asking him what he was playing at.

My brothers and I created some new Instagram accounts, and sent him messages that made it clear we knew who he was now. The first message refers to him posting an Instagram story pretending he had been watching a big boxing match that night, when we knew he must have been driving at high speed across central Scotland.

In response to one of the messages, much to our amazement, he gave us a full confession. We had our man!

Prosecution

He confessed everything in the first interview.

In his first court appearance he pled not guilty, which apparently is normal for the first appearance regardless of actual guilt (something to do with legal aid fees??). The next pre-trial date was set for late November with the full trial to be held on 23rd December.

At the next court appearance he pled guilty this time, and was scheduled for sentencing on 11th January. We do not know what sentence he received, but presume it was non-custodial. Probably just a fine. I don’t know if it has been reported in any newspaper.

First time offender?

Nevertheless, I do believe in the justice system and I don’t believe in creating a witchhunt after the guy. He has had his punishment and if he has half a brain, he won’t do anything like this again. I don’t know if this has affected his employment, but he was a sales rep so I guess so (did I mention he has a restraining order now for a large part of Scotland?!).

That said, I really doubt that this was the first time he went stalker-mode on someone. If that is the case, then maybe there are more cases out there that need to be brought against him. If you are a female living in the Central Belt of Scotland and any of the above sounds familiar, feel free to get in touch with me and I can connect you to the police officer who ran the case. To add one extra piece to the puzzle, he was a pretty decent photographer with a few thousand followers on Instagram for his photos of Scottish landscapes.

Note the date of this exchange between my sister and her friend.

With hindsight, my sister now realises he had been stalking her for at least 6 months before the car interference started. She had always found it odd that this guy would often be in the same place as her taking photos for his Instagram, a day after she had posted on her Instagram that she was there. She even recalled that she had once walked past him outside her flat.

Credits

Shuggy and Hanky for legal advice.

Paul for police advice.

Suzie for some impressive next-level Facebook research, about the creep.

My sister’s girlfriends who supported her throughout this all.

Our wives for letting us do this.

Various friends of my brothers who also offered to do surveillance shifts.

Yeah pal, you really messed with the wrong girl!

Lastly, big shout out to Police Scotland. We knew we could not expect them to do a two-day stake-out for a car getting egged, but throughout the whole process they took it seriously, were supportive to my sister and once we nearly caught the guy and we gathered our evidence they went straight to work.

The police did actually say it was the best non-police surveillance job they had ever seen and that we basically built the entire case. For my brothers and me it was probably the most satisfying (and exhilirating) thing we have ever done. Most importanly, we are just happy that our sister doesn’t have to wake up worrying what this weirdo has done this time.

Some closing words

Guys — my top tip is not be to a creepy stalker. If a girl does not chat back to you on Instagram, then leave her alone. More messages are not going to win her round to you. Same for dating apps. If she doesn’t match with you, then don’t take it personally. Move on. You have no right to someone’s attention. She is not going to change her mind after the 5th Superswipe.

Bumble — would be great if you can fix this weakness in your system that allows people just to restart their profiles all the time. Talk to me if you want (I wrote something similar about Twitter). Do other dating apps have this problem?

Bonus crazy coincidence

Unfortunately the High Court is quite close to the museum she was visiting, and who walks right past my sister and her class? You guessed it readers — Stalky McStalker in his best Top Man “my day in court” suit.

You could not make it up!

Editor’s note: images by author and provided by author.

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Steven Renwick

Co-founder & CEO at @Tilores | High-performance entity resolution as a service - www.tilores.io