Tip: if you're "on the lam," try to resist the urge to log in to World of Warcraft—a SWAT team might break down your door the next morning. That's a similar story to what recently happened to a wanted fugitive, and it's one of the hottest anecdotal, WoW-related news stories making its way around the blogoshere today. According to multiple reports, the Howard County Sheriff's Department in Indiana had been searching for a man named Alfred Hightower, after a warrant for his arrest—relating to drug charges—was issued in 2007.
The fugitive's trail apparently went cold until just recently, when the department's investigators collaborated with U.S. Marshals and learned that Hightower had fled to Canada. According to the Kokomo Perspective, a local newspaper, the investigating sheriffs finally caught the break they were looking for when they discovered Hightower was a regular WoW player. The newspaper interviewed the man behind the investigation, Howard County Sheriff’s Department deputy Matt Roberson, to find out how the department used WoW to capture a wanted fugitive...
“We received information that this guy was a regular player of an online game, which was referred to as ‘some warlock and witches’ game,” said Roberson. “None of that information was sound enough to pursue on its own, but putting everything we had together gave me enough evidence to send a subpoena to Blizzard Entertainment. I knew exactly what he was playing — World of Warcraft. I used to play it. It’s one of the largest online games in the world.”
This isn't the first time Blizzard has assisted law enforcement or emergency services personnel in locating a person-of-interest, but it might be the first time that an international fugitive's WoW fandom led to his arrest. Robertson says he was both surprised and grateful that Blizzard provided the information he requested, according to the same article:
“They don’t have to respond to us, and I was under the assumption that they wouldn’t,” said Roberson. “It had been three or four months since I had sent the subpoena. I just put it in the back of my mind and went on to do other things. Then I finally got a response from them. They sent me a package of information. They were very cooperative. It was nice that they were that willing to provide information.”
As you can imagine, Blizzard was able to provide the IP address that Hightower was using to access WoW, which Robertson used to locate him. Once the deputy was able to obtain the longitude and latitude associated with that IP, he used Google Earth to identify Hightower's street address, which he promptly handed over to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The Canadian police ended up making the actual arrest, but Robertson was praised by his department for his innovative use of technology in tracking down the fugitive, according to the article.
There are two lessons to be learned from this story: if you're in law enforcement and you're investigating the location of a suspect or fugitive, try and find out if he or she is an online gamer. On the other hand, if you're an MMO player "on the run" from the police or a government agency, it might be a good idea to just go ahead and miss your guild's weekly Icecrown Citadel raid for the time-being.