The Google Street View image that helped catch an escaped killer

A killer who had been on the run for nearly 20 years was caught with the help of an image from Google Maps’ Street View, an investigator told Reuters on Wednesday.

Gioacchino Gammino, 61, was tracked down in Galapagar, Spain, a town outside Madrid where he lived under a fake name.

A Google Maps image showing a man in conversation outside a produce store was key in triggering a deeper investigation.

“The photogram helped us to confirm the investigation we were developing in traditional ways,” said Nicola Altiero, deputy director of the Italian anti-mafia police unit.

Gammino, a member of a Sicilian mafia group dubbed Stidda, had escaped Rome’s Rebibbia prison in 2002, when filming of a movie there disrupted the security protocol. He had been sentenced to life imprisonment for a murder committed in 1998.

After receiving a tip that Gammino was going by the name Manuel and had owned a fruit shop in Galapagar, one of the Italian investigators went on Google Maps to see if he could find the store.

It was there, under the name El Huerto de Manu (Manu’s Garden) — and, in the 2018 image, a person who could be the man himself was on the sidewalk in front.

Digging deeper, the investigator found that Gammino had once owned a restaurant — La Cocina de Manu — in the same neighborhood, and a TripAdvisor image showed him in its kitchen. Though the face in the Google image was blurred, that from the kitchen showed the man’s distinctive facial scar.

When he was arrested Dec. 17, he reportedly asked officers how they had tracked him down. “We saw you on Google Maps,” one told him.

Altiero said Gammino is in custody in Spain and they hope to bring him back to Italy by the end of February.

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