Crime File: Global Gamer Community Tracks Down Xbox 360 Thieves

April 2, 2008 -
When his Xbox 360, Apple PowerBook and flat-screen TV were stolen in a recent break-in, Jesse McPherson (left) had no inkling that gamers from around the world would band together to hunt down the thieves.

Frustrated by what he said was a lack of police response, McPherson began a bit of his own sleuthing and found that someone had tried to sell his PowerBook at a nearby pawn shop. As the Philadelphia Daily News reports, the big break in the case came after McPherson's coworkers chipped in to buy him a new 360. When he logged on to Xbox Live, one of the thieves began taunting him and even left voice messages offering to sell the stolen console back to McPherson.

When McPherson posted the story of the brazen - but not especially clever - thief on Digg, the gaming community too notice and swung into action. Armed with the crook's Xbox Live GamerTag, they found his online photo collection, his self-made rap video on YouTube and even his real name, address and phone number.

The thief soon found himself targeted by an onslaught of gamers who filled his accounts with nasty messages and called his house continually. One gamer in England even posted an audio file of a conversation he had with the crook's mother. Eventually, the pressure became too great and McPherson's 360 and his PowerBook were returned to him. The police made a fingerprint match and were preparing to arrest two suspects.

GP: This story once again shows the impressive power of gamers for collective action. Daily News reporter Ronnie Polaneczky frets, however, about the potential for online vigilantism:
I'm glad that so many strangers rallied behind McPherson. But, I'll be honest with you - his story chills me. Vigilante justice can be chaotic and uncontrollable, whether it's conducted online or face-to-face...

On the other hand, what have we come to when a home invasion elicits what comes across as a shrug from police, instead of urgent action? And should we expect anything less than vigilante action as frustrated victims become technologically savvy enough to take justice into their own hands?

The local Fox affiliate, WTXF-29 has a video report on McPherson's case:


I'm shocked and appalled by the fair and balanced report given by Fox News! Where are the dogs and the curtains and the exploding vans? How are we supposed to make new in-jokes without any sensationalism to latch onto?

Ah, well. I think the cops do a pretty good job around here; I haven't been tasered in at least a month. And it's always nice to have a story that focuses on the good aspects of the community.

I don't trust the police at all. Not even slightly. I can't even imagine the type of people I'd go to for help before the police.

I'd feel much better about being hounded by normal people, because IME, they are far more logical, and FAR less of a physical threat. Not to mention a physical threat that I can respond to without fear of being thrown in jail for protecting myself.

As a great activist once said.. 'Don't tase me, bro.'

Its the same as the guy who was documenting his (whateverfancy) cell phone that had been stolen. He got no help, and even some hostility once his case started to get notice in the community, from the police. It took vigilante type investigation and justice to get media attention to eventually get phone back.

When police shrug off a break in (and I've had it happen to me), you don't care about "legal" punishment. And it's not like the police CAN'T do their job, it obviously clear that a littler internet matlockery was able to turn up the criminal.

Why am I not surprised that some pot bellied dough nut monsters didn't want to get involved with any police work more complicated than pointing a radar gun at something.


Because that is what a majority of the police have become these days, the government needs to milk more cash out of people so they will happily place coppers on roads all across the country so they can fine people for driving 1MPH over the speed limit, real crime goes unpunished, the government has turned our legal system into another shameless cash cow.

and there are very few good police officers left, this is why vigilantism is the only way in the modern world to see a crime resolved

One word for that crook:

Pwned xD

Anyone familiar with Korean Dog Poop Girl? Or any number of cases in China, including the cat crushing video, the student having an affair, etc.?

Those latter two were considered a sort of "internet lynch mob" that got out of hand, basically using the Internet to make a person's life and their family's life a living hell.

Perhaps Americans are less likely due to having a robust civil society, but I'm a much more pessimistic person. There's always a fine line between group collaboration and mob justice. I guess I'll just say that I'm glad this ended well and with nobody hurt, but somebody should have formed the proper authorities once the perpetrator's address was revealed.

Wow, what are you guys? 16?

Rage against the system some more. Sucks that this guy lost his stuff, but if you think the Police don't have other crimes to investigate as well, then get real. I'm sure in the big picture, petty theft doesn't really matter so much.

And to the comments about Police giving traffic tickets than stopping crime.... You know there is something called a "traffic cop" right? His sole purpose is to enforce the traffic laws. So when you sit there in your car and complain that he should have something better to do then write you a ticket, the truth is, he doesn't have anything better to do. They have seperate divisions for different crimes.

But I guess in our little high school world of the MAN always out to get us, we can't really think rationally about the world around us.

I read about this roughly a week ago on my favorite gawker sites.

It was a sad thing, not because of what happened but because the local police didn't help him with his stolen possessions.

I also don't see vigilantism as the best solution, as it tends to involve innocents in most scenarios which puts others at risk. Although that's not always unavoidable. Also, if vigilantism grows, then we'll have lynching for people simply having mod chips at some point. Then we'll fit the stigma many people peg on gamers as violent and bloodthirsty.

On the topic of Mob justice gone wrong. A few weeks ago there was a posting on a WoW guild forum about two members of their guild who were intimately involved with each other. Apparently the female half ended up betraying the male half, and in revenge he posted explicit pictures of her. Word spread around to other message boards, and people went to that guild's site to check out the story. Things got really creepy when they tracked down her myspace, then her personal contact information, and even the Starbucks she worked at. They made it clear that they would let the whole world know about her infidelities.... only in much less flattering terms.


The government doesn't make cops looks ways to fine people. It's the cops that decide that they have the power to ruin someone's day, and they will use that power because it makes them feel more significant.


Honestly, no one knows exactly what kind of crimes they may have in their queue, but it isn't a wild stretch to believe that no one simply wanted the case because of no feeling of self-worth or the nigh impossibility of them finding the real criminal. The problem is that the victim basically did the work for them and they refused to get off their ass to get a search warrant. The fact that they just basically needed to visit and check up the possessions would've sufficed for him and them as a means to do their job. They didn't need to spend a day working on it.

Also, don't say higher priority from things like that, there's a reason we have quite a few officers, a growing concern is how big content wants to put higher priority on copyright infringement over murders and larceny crimes.

A flat screen alone probably broke the petty theft line. And the 360 definitely did in CA. A felony was committed, and the police did nothing. Just because it occurs fairly often doesn't mean that it's just something the police can shrug off.

Let that be a lesson: You don't fuck with gamers. You do something like that to one of us, the rest of us will help out.


The police are human beings just like the rest of us; just as lazy, just as open to corruption, just as overworked, just as many egomaniacs and just as many incompetants. There is no big epiphany on joining the police force that suddenly makes them perfect individuals. I don't know why people are so surprised when the police make mistakes or discover there are some bad apples in the force.

Policework is a job just like any other, except that with it comes responsibility and power. Some thrive on it and some abuse it. Welcome to human nature. Personally I think with regards to the comments on thefts, if those who attend break-ins are told by bosses that it is more important to meet targets on traffic violations, they do as they are told.

(I should also point out I've never had any problems with the police - whenever I have been stopped when driving or otherwise; I'm polite to them, they return the favour and I'm on my way again. I suppose never committing crimes also helps :) )

Philly isn't exactly the most peaceful city either. But in this case the "mob justice" though I'm hesitant to call it this, is perfectly appropriate due to the the (third?) criminal continuing the crime and leaving himself open for this.


So, what you're saying is that if a criminal flaunts themselves, a mob would be "perfectly appropriate" to decide the severity of the punishment and execute it?


Petty theft? Given what was stolen, this should easily get up into the Grand theft range. Plus as you say, the cops have different divisions. Do you really think the division that handled larceny had so much to do that they couldn't check on a case where it was so easy to get leads?

I looked through youtube on the ridiculous rap video and the interview with the mom. Well first, that was stupid for stealing stuff and even stupider for bragging it. Did those thieves have a misconception of fame or misconception of possession? Geez

There seems to be some debate if "mob justice" is an oxymoron. Personally, I feel that it is in a case by case item. If someone threw a moltolov cocktail at this guys house, yes, that would be going too far. But pretty much they just harrassed a crook into giving himself up. Sure beats a high speed police chase through a residential area or a standoff with hostages. In this case, everything turned out ok.

Next, people lashing out at the reaction for police. I feel there are some misconceptions here. Some people are stating that police are just as likely to fail to coruption, however, I feel they are more likely since the job often attracts people who want power and are more prone to corruption. I see a lot of the attitude where I work (not in law enforcement). People will say things like "Show up, get paid, go home." The idea is to just get enough low hanging fruit to justify your position, don't put yourself out trying to solve difficult things. It's not like TV where they will get a case and follow it all the way to the end. They have so many cases coming in that they just wait until someone calls in with a tip on one of them, or a guy gets caught in the act.

Look at it statistically. What percentage of breaking and entering crimes get solved? When you hear of someone getting caught, how many homes have they burgalized before they get caught? The vast majority of the crimes don't get solved simply because there are so many of them. The police can look good if they catch a few people a month, slap them on the wrist and send them back out.

Traffic cops seem to be the only ones doing their job anymore. So far in my life I've been involved in one homicide (someone killed my friend), one valdalism (neighborring apartment dweller broke the mirror off my car), and one break in (someone kicked down the door to my house). In my eyes, the police are batting a goose egg in my cases. The only ones who at least did a second call were the homicide detectives, and they just gave up. For the break-ins, our neighborhood is keeping an eye out, but likely it is someone in the neighborhood who is doing it since no one ever sees strange cars parked anywhere and the breakins are happening in broad daylight.

In the end, you start having to choose between mob justice, or no justice. Sometimes, the crime is more important to you then it is to the police. Sometimes, you don't just sit back and say, "They'll get him next time, twenty-second time's the charm." If that guy breaks into my house again, I'll let him speak to Buck, .00 magnum Buck. Yes, I know in that example, I would be within the law and not mob or vigilante justice, however the feeling is the same.

One word: Karma

he learned not to fuck whit the gamers!

Just read the whole article.

I just hope the said angry gamers did end up harassing the right guy.

I think a large portion of this is simply that police in general are overworked and underpaid. They work long hours to solve murders, rapes, and robberies of businesses, you know "real" crimes, that the lower level felonies largely escape their notice. It's more a commentary on society and government than on that individual police department.

It also shows another interesting thing. Any time you have a subculture, especially one that is marginalized by the mainstream, the members of that subculture tend to be extremely protective of it's members. A 'you mess with one you mess with the flock' mentality.


@ Jack Uphill

read up on it a bit more. He did contact the police, and they hung up on him. Even after he had his name, a video of him and where he lived, they hung up on him.

I think thats brilliant.

That person deserves it after having a go at him after stealing his stuff.

In this case i think it ended reasonably well, but there are probably plenty of examples where internet vigilantes have gone over the line or even condemned an innocent person.

While i can see very little wrong with people assisting law-enforcement through a medium they know considerably better than the police, they should never take the law in their own hands and considering the nature of the internet, that will happen.

I'm all in favor of vigilante justice, especially in cases like this. Let the police handle the larger, more important crimes, but let people help each other out in situations like this.


Just like you, I'm happy this did not turn out ugly. In restrospect - the thief got off with comparative slap on the wrist. No physical harm was involved.

It's good to see a community pull together and track a criminal down. In regards to vigilantism, so long as no one goes beyond telling the thief he's an arse and does so within the law then fair game. Harassing phone calls and going after family members is going too far though, once the guy was identified people should be content to let the police deal with the matter. I know the they can't always pursue crimes and that is very frustrating, but we really shouldn't take the law into our own hands.

In any case, it sounds like this guy was more or less handed to the police by the community, it wasn't as if the law wouldn't act once they knew the culprit. So even if inaction was justification, and I don't believe it is, there's even less reason to have a go at the guy in person. One last thing, I know this case was pretty clear cut, but others may not be. What if a community accidentally identifies the wrong person for a crime? There's not much by way of due process in mob action, so how will they clear their name? Furthermore, even if there was due process, is it right that the innocent should endure being treated as if they are guilty by a vigilante community while they wait for the truth to come out? I feel as indignant regarding criminals as the next man, and it it tempting to take personal action, but it can be a bad idea to reach for the pitchfork. ;)


Online Vigilanti is better than real physical Vigilanti.

Also perhaps the Police need to better train themselves to be computer savy too and also take cases like Theft more seriously.

Because, if someone stolen your consoles and Videogames and stuff, you would be preety upset too.

In the words of King Soloman...

"Treat others in a way that you wish to be treated."

I suppose it depends, what should have been done really was for the evidence of who this person was to be taken to the Police, that way they could have tried for a search warrant. I get the feeling it went in the Order of:

1: Theft
2: Report to Police
3: Taunting the Victim
4: Evidence Gathering
5: Action

I'm not certain that is what happened, and I'm not surprised if it was, but really 5 should have been 'take evidence to Police', and at least seen what their reaction was first.

This is really pathetic, and I would encourage anyone in the area to contact their elected representatives about this.

The way I see it, this was probably Grand Larceny, which is usually a felony. Since the criminal act during the breakin was a felony, that would mean that the Breaking and Entering would also be charged as a felony. Whatever your personal view of how "minor" this crime was, the courts have obviously seen it differently since this is a double felony case...a double felony that the cops ignored.

People talk all the time about how laptop theft is so common...why do you think that is? Around here we had a case a few years ago where someone broke into a house and stole their XBox and camcorder. Well, they didn't seem to move on that case very fast, and guess what happened? The guy forgot the charger, so he went back the *NEXT DAY*. When he got to the house the families teenage daughter was home, so he shot her in the face. So much for B&E being a "minor" issue, eh?

I agree there's a fine line between justice and vigilantism. A lot of police departments are probably overworked, understaffed, and just generally buried with cases, but when they basically give up on something like this guy's theft, it just sends a message to the criminals that it's okay. After all, an unenforced law isn't really a law at all.

It's great that in this particular instance the online gaming community was able to work together to help this guy, but we need to be extremely careful not to give people like Faux News and Jackass Thompson more ammo to use against us. ("Violent Gamers Attack Thief!") Going after the thief himself was fine, but that's the line. Harrassing his family or friends shouldn't be a part of it.

Also remember that the Internet is forever. It's likely the story is still out there in many places, minus its resolution. The guy's family will likely have to change their phone numbers, maybe even move, to prevent the continued harassment over this.

Someone once told me "Cops are never around except when you don't want them to be."

If that were true I imagine the robber didn't want the cops around but they didn't come. so does that mean that cops are only around at the most inconvenient and unimportant times?

Wookie (misspelled BTW - it's wookiee),

The difference between larceny and infidelity should be fairly clear. Banding together to stop a thief is a public duty. Banding together to stop infidelity is one step from a moralistic lynch mob.

There's no reason for a community to have interest in 'helping' punish a cheater by stalking her. But tracking down a thief and turning over his identity to the cops is perfectly legal. Now, I don't condone talking to the thief's mother, unless he was shown to be a minor, but as long as there was no harassment, no foul was done there.

~~All Knowledge is Worth Having~~

@ GoodRobotRUs

And "take evidence to police" would have resulted in *at least* a couple of more weeks of investigation, paper work, no doubt with the poor dude's stuff being held as evidence for weeks after that until the criminal's trial.

If the police can't be motivated to help people, why are they so surprised when people take the law into their own hands?

Vigilante or not, no one did anything illegal. Now, without details of the phone calls etc, unless the person specifically says stop calling me then they have no recourse. Same thing with spam mail and other forms of communication. Once the person announces that they would like you to quit contacting them and you don't..THAT starts getting into illegal territory.

@catboy_j: In a word, Yes.

I am and have always been a proponent of more police funding and coverage. However, I think in actually I have always been a proponent of more 'Law Enforcement' funding and coverage as Police in general are a useless waste of money.

I think I can give them the benefit of the doubt though, they dont set their mandates. The problem usually stems from horrible fiscal planning from city councils. Emergency services (Police, Fire and Ambulance) should set their own budgets and city councillors should get whats left.


Not necessarily, a Search Warrant can be obtained within 24 hours, and would be executed shortly afterwards, what takes the time is the procedures after arrest, the court hearings etc, but the Police need sufficient evidence to present to a Judge to obtain one, which this info would have been. It should at least have been tried before people started harassing his family.

Ultimately, the internet community was harrassing someone who knew they had stolen property and had the audacity to taunt the victim and even offer to sell his own property back to him.

Got what he deserved, just goes to show how gamers always band together. Spose it comes from being a constantly persecuted and misunderstood 'minority'.

The main problem with vigilantism is the correct identification of the perpetrator. What if he had used someone else's XBox ID to taunt the bloke who had his stuff stolen?

I still remember the man who had his house attacked by a bunch of brainless morons because he was a paediatrician (not a paedophile like they thought it meant).

Behold the power of the Internet. Vigilante Justice is the best kind of justice, but about what posters have said in regards to the WoW forums: The "not your personal army" meme needs to catch on there.


I'd say a minor, or still living at his parents house. If one of your roomates is a criminal, you're going to have to either find a new roomate, or live with the consequences of their actions. Likewise if he's 18 or over, but still living at his parents, and opting to steal then it falls to the parents to either report his criminal activities, throw him out, or deal with the consequences of his activities themselves.

He did, and the police ignored him. He even had pics off the surveilance video of one of the thieves selling his stuff at a pawn shop before any of this even hit the web and the police ignored him. He didn't post the message online because it appeared as if the police were possibly being inactive, or that he wasn't trying to help the police in their "investigation" in every way that Jesse could, he posted it online because it was clearly obvious that the police were actively ignoring him and the case.
Jesse got a very lucky break thanks to that stupid kid. Generally if this kind of crime isn't caught within 2-3days, it becomes near impossible to retrive any lost possesions.

I'm glad to hear that this guy got his stuff back.
Just goes to show what happens to idiots in this Web 2.0 world.

Ok I have two points here...

One. Xbox 360 and laptop theft will decline when a theif knows an entire community of tech savvy individuals will find you. THAT is a major theft deterrant.

Two. Mob mentality? I think it is prudent to look at this in a different light. I hate to even use this name, however what if this had been *gagging* Paris Hilton or some other well known celebrity's stuff that had been stolen. Would the police have just hung up and ignored them? Hardly.

If you do the right thing and report the incident to police, hand them the evidence they need to catch they guy and get put off with, "we're getting to it." where is the responsibility line for law enforcement? I'm curious about people opinions on this. Personally I'm against vigilany justice, but this story has me torn. If it was my stuff and I knew who had it, and the police just never went to pick the guy up I'd have probably announced it to the gaming community as well. What would you do? Keep in mind this theif didn't just steal McPhearson's stuff, he then taunted him WITH that stuff over Xbox live. That's right up there with stealing someone's cell phone and then calling people on your contact list to harass them or even your home phone to harass you whom the phone was stolen from.

What's everyone's opinion on this from a law enforcement responsibility perspective?

I don't think the intention was to harass the thief through his mother, I think they were simply informing her of what her son did. I bet she was PISSED.

And, taunting the owner of the gear on Xbox live, the thief was asking for it.

Also, since we have no idea what kind of info was on that laptop, the thief likely also committed identity theft.
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