New Jersey police agencies are teaming up to solve a decades-old case with the help of artificial intelligence (AI), which they hope will lead to a breakthrough in the cold case.
The Middle Township Police Department and Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office recently announced a partnership with the technology company Tabtu Corp. and its service provider Terawe Corp. to utilize an AI software tool in the case of Mark Himebaugh, who vanished on November 25, 1991, just 75 yards from his home in the Del Haven section of Middle Township.
Police believe that Himebaugh — who was 11 at the time — was abducted after leaving his home to watch firefighters battle a fire in the marsh.
He was last seen by a security guard at a nearby park. The only trace of the boy found by investigators was his left sneaker — found nearby where he was last seen.
Law enforcement agencies have struggled to make significant progress in the investigation over the past 30 years, with their strongest leads being a composite sketch of a person of interest and a theory involving a convicted child sex predator who is currently incarcerated, as well as several witnesses’ claims.
However, these leads have not been sufficient to bring charges or advance the case.
The introduction of AI technology, specifically the Vollee AI service provided by Tabtu Corp., aims to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the investigation by analyzing vast amounts of data and evidence accumulated over the years.
The Vollee Neural AI Assistant, built on Microsoft’s Azure cloud service, offers advanced computing and processing capabilities that can help identify patterns and connections within the extensive information pool.
Former Middle Township Police Chief Christopher Leusner, who recently retired and was succeeded by Jennifer Pooler, expressed his hope that AI would prove instrumental in solving Mark’s case and serve as a blueprint for future cold case investigations nationwide.
“It is important that we use every available resource and the latest technology to help us find Mark. My hope is this pilot program will help us solve Mark’s case and be used as a model to help with other cold cases,” Leusner said.
Middle Township Police Lieutenant Tracey Super stated that the partnership with Tabtu Corp. is still in its early stages.
According to Super, the department plans to consolidate data from various sources, including the Middle Township Police Department, Cape May County Prosecutor’s system.
This comprehensive approach aims to facilitate searches and identify potential connections even beyond the scope of the initial investigation.
Anil Balakrishnan, CEO of Terawe Corp., expressed his company’s enthusiasm for assisting the Middle Township Police and other law enforcement partners, claiming the AI assistant “accelerates digital evidence analysis by identifying new patterns and correlations across a wide variety of media and documents, which might otherwise remain hidden.”
Dr. Harvey Castro, a board-certified emergency medicine physician and AI expert, drew parallels between AI’s role in Office, FBI and State Police, into a unified clearinghouse accessible to the AI cold cases and the diagnostic process in medicine.
According to Castro, the AI system processes available data, helping investigators consider different possibilities and provide the most promising leads.
“It’s literally thinking about all the different cases … and taking all these data points and putting all those together to give you the best solution to what it thinks it has,” he stated.
The integration of AI technology in cold case investigations has sparked optimism among experts like Castro, who envision a future where law enforcement agencies collaborate and build extensive databases encompassing fingerprints, facial recognition and potentially voice signatures.
Such a centralized system could empower detectives to quickly analyze evidence on-site and receive prompt results.
Law enforcement officials remain committed to finding answers in the Himebaugh case, leveraging AI technology as a potential breakthrough in their pursuit of justice.
Meanwhile, Himebaugh’s mother is still looking for closure.
“He was taken, but I don’t know why. There’s a lot of theories, but I don’t know why, what it was. That’s why I’m hoping someone will come forward with that I’m hoping,” Maureen Himebaugh said in 2021.