Technological private eye finds what computer lostDate: January 30, 2008
He has helped dig up data that led to divorce settlements and put child pornographers behind bars.
Williams uses his computer and detective skills, honed during years of fighting cyber crime at the Fayetteville Police Department, to operate his own private company. His is one of the few in the area — if not the only one — that does this type of forensic work, he said. Most others are connected to law enforcement.
In 1998, Williams helped Fayetteville police start its first cyber crimes unit. He headed the unit until he retired in March 2006 with more than 18 years of service.
Since going into business on his own, Williams said, he has recovered data from a business computer that proved several people were sending private company information to another company. Those employees got fired, he said.
For more than 10 years on the police force, Williams worked on a task force that investigated child exploitation.
Williams said he has never lost a case in court. Most investigations don’t get to court after damning evidence is uncovered, he said. “Most plea-bargain to get the best they can get.”
He hasn’t gone to court as a computer forensics expert since he started his own business. The most publicized case he handled while on the police force was the Michelle Theer murder trial. He retrieved 88,000 e-mails and instant messages from Theer’s personal computer. She was found guilty three years ago of murdering her husband, Air Force pilot Marty Theer, in December 2000.
Williams said he started thinking about his own business because he had so much training. He started buying expensive software for forensics experts and did some work on his own.
Some of the software can crack passwords in seconds. “You have to be in law enforcement or in certain types of security organizations to get some of the specialized software,’’ he said.
He has remained a reserve officer with Fayetteville police and volunteers at least 16 hours per month.
Williams, 57, also is a Cumberland County sheriff’s deputy and works 19 hours a week as a court bailiff. He previously served for 20 years in the Army.
In his business, Williams responds to calls by making house calls to take the hard drives back to his home office to start his sleuthing. “Anyone who has lost any kind of data — if the hard drive itself is not mechanically broken — I can normally recover any kind of documentation, data or pictures that was lost,” he said.
He usually charges $50 or $100 per hour, depending on the case and workload. Bills to his clients range from $25 for a simple job to $5,700 he once billed to the Orange County Sheriff’s Office for work in a criminal case.
Williams has worked in Bladen, Johnston and Wake counties, and in Fairmont. Some of the law enforcement agencies do not have their own cyber crimes units.
He works on civil cases, too. “Divorce mostly, or something that leads to divorce when a husband or wife is doing something on the Internet they shouldn’t be doing.”
If a husband suspects an affair, Williams said he can’t get to the wife’s private files. But he can get to the unallocated space on the computer, where both users have access and deleted messages get stored, he said.
Williams said he didn’t get to work with computers much in the Army. It wasn’t until 1996, on his first computer forensics case, that he got hooked. “I’ve always been mechanically inclined. Computers to me are just another tool to get to know the in’s and out’s. It’s fun to experiment with them to see what they can do.”
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