dfm covers

The Facebook Murder

The Facebook Murder: A Linguistic Master Criminal

Dr Jon Olsson analyses the electornic exchanges that took place between teenager, Ashleigh Hall, and the man that eventually murdered her, Peter Chapman, and shows how linguistics plays a crucial role in successful digital investigations.

At just after 7pm on 25th October 2009, Ashleigh Hall, a popular, vivacious teenager with a wide circle of friends left her home in Durham for the last time. She was looking forward to meeting her date for the evening, ostensibly a teenager by the name of Peter Cartwright. They had met on the social networking site, Facebook. ‘Peter’ was presumably too young to drive and so could not meet her in person, but his father would be passing nearby on his way home from work, as ‘Peter’ explained in a text:

"Me dad’s on his way babe he said excuse the state of him lol He’s been at work lol he doesn’t have to come in and meet your mum does he lol he’ll be a mess probably lol x"

The bit about having to meet Ashleigh’s mum amused the young girl. She replied:

"Okaii babe and no he doesnt lol and its okaii haha x x"

A little later, sure enough Peter’s ‘dad’ texted as follows:

"Hi hun its pete’s dad are you sure you dont mind me picking you up? Pete is really looking foreward to seeing you and yes its ok for you to stay"

Ashleigh, excited by her forthcoming date, saw nothing wrong with this. She immediately replied:

"No its fine i dnt mind i trust him so i trust u and thank u"

At the same time she sent a text to ‘young’ Peter:

"How long will it take him to get here babe x x"

What Ashleigh did not know was that the dad and ‘Peter’ were one and the same individual. Hidden behind the mask of electronic anonymity was Peter Chapman, a 33-year old convicted rapist and multiple sex-offender who had escaped the clutches of Merseyside Police’s offender monitoring system and headed to the north east. Chapman, presumably as eager to meet Ashleigh as she was to meet his ‘son’, had almost sent her the following text:

"You’ll be safe with me when would you like me to come for you?"

However, this text remained in the ‘Unsent’ folder of his mobile phone. I will refer to this text again later in this article. Instead of the ‘you’ll be safe’ text, Chapman sent the following, in his role as the ‘young Peter’:

"Oh should take him 20 mins or so with sat nav x"

The elated Ashleigh replied:

"Okaii babe x and haha mad u babe x x"

While waiting, she also texted:

"Cnt wait to meet u babe, lyk u loads babe x x x"

Unaware that Ashleigh was actually waiting on the street, Chapman then texted:

"He just rang to say He’s round the corner so go outside x"

Quite why Peter ‘senior’ would phone Peter ‘junior’ so that he could text Ashleigh, rather than text her himself is not known: impractical though it undoubtedly was, it probably inspired confidence in Ashleigh, who almost immediately replied:

"Hes here babe x x"

So convincing was Chapman’s ruse that Ashleigh had now totally fallen for the story that she was dealing with two people, and that it was the ‘father’ whose car she was going to get into.

The full article appears in Issue 3 of Digital Forensics Magazine, published 1st May 2010. You must log in with a valid subscription to read on...


Please make cache directory writable.

Submit an Article

Call for Articles

We are keen to publish new articles from all aspects of digital forensics. Click to contact us with your completed article or article ideas.

Featured Book

Learning iOS Forensics

A practical hands-on guide to acquire and analyse iOS devices with the latest forensic techniques and tools.

Meet the Authors

Mark Osborne

Mark Osborne is the author of 'How To Cheat at Managing Information Security'


Coming up in the Next issue of Digital Forensics Magazine

Coming up in Issue 42 on sale from February 2020:

Forensic Syntactical & Linguistic Investigation

Mark Iwazko presents a case study regarding a Forensic Syntactical & Linguistic investigation: Instructed by the Moscow General Council of one of the actual big four accountants. Read More »

Forensic Readiness: A Proactive Approach to Support Forensic Digital Analysis

An increasing number of criminal actions are inflicting financial and brand damage to organizations around the globe. An impressive number of such cases do not reach the courts, mainly because of the organization’s inefficiency to produce robust digital evidences that are acceptable in the courts of law. Read More »

Subscribe today

Using Error-Patterns for Attribution: An Applied Linguistics Technique

Corpus Linguistics within Second Language Acquisition has developed models of error patterns made by defined groups of second language learners. This knowledge base can be leveraged by a knowledgeable analyst to attribute content to a subset of authors. Read More »

Every Issue
Plus the usual Competition, Book Reviews, 360, IRQ, Legal

Click here to read more about the next issue