Cryptocurrency saves the day as blockchain tracking reveals would-be murderer
Cryptocurrencies are infamous for their connection with financial crimes, prompting many countries to ban the holding of digital assets and stop the use of cryptocurrencies for transactions. However, in a bizarre incident, FBI Special Agent Clay Anderson used the technology to prevent a crime that was paid for in Bitcoin using Coinbase.
Nelson Replogle hired a hitman from a murder-for-hire website to have his wife, Ann Replogle killed. He sent the killer the details of his wife’s whereabouts and paid the hitman using Bitcoin through Coinbase. The staff of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) caught wind of the plot, through means that have not been revealed to the press, and alerted the sheriff in Knoxville, Tennessee.
The situation was then transferred to Agent Anderson who alerted the family. He also pressed the BBC staff for more details including the Bitcoin wallet addresses that made and received the murder-for-hire payment. Experts at the FBI Cyber Task Force analysed the Bitcoin blockchain and revealed that the payment was made by a Coinbase wallet.
A subpoena was issued to Coinbase under the “threat to life” clause for information regarding the wallet associated with the crime. In an immediate response, Coinbase not only provided the transaction history of the wallet in question but also the name, photograph, and bank account details associated with the wallet. All these details led the police straight to Nelson Replogle.
The FBI also recovered the IP address Replogle used while conducting the transaction and used this to issue a subpoena to the Internet provider, AT&T. This confirmed that the transaction was made from Replogle’s home. The bank account details were the final nail on the coffin as it re-confirmed that Replogle used his savings account to purchase Bitcoin for the hitman.
A court order has been issued for the arrest of Nelson Replogle, but the FBI has so far failed to track down the hitman. This is because the hitman used his personal wallet to transact rather than a commercial entity like Coinbase that must adhere to KYC norms.
While transactions using cryptocurrencies can be conducted anonymously, the case underlines the fact that every Bitcoin transaction is recorded on the blockchain network. As the number of requests by law enforcement agencies for customer information to companies like Coinbase continues to rise, the question of creating a balance between regulation and privacy has become more important than ever.