Skip to main content

Murder on Google Street View?

By Susannah Cullinane, CNN
June 3, 2014 -- Updated 2212 GMT (0612 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Images of Edinburgh's Giles Street on Google Street View appear to show an axe murder
  • But mechanics Dan Thompson and Gary Kerr say they staged the "murder" for a laugh
  • Thompson said he spotted the car coming and grabbed Kerr in time to set-up the tableau
  • He said that the image was spotted by a supplier and police later visited to investigate

(CNN) -- The images are shocking. A man apparently wielding an ax looms over a figure lying spreadeagled on the cobbled road, clad in red overalls.

The first man turns to face the camera as it passes and watches, ax in hand, as it drives into the distance.

Almost more disturbingly, swiveling around on Google Street View, a man stands watching the grisly scene, hand nonchalantly resting on his hip.

All three faces are blurred. But the identities of the two men at the center of the tableau are far from a secret in this corner of Edinburgh.

The man lying seemingly lifeless on the ground is Dan Thompson, who has owned and run the Tomson Motor Company on Giles Street -- in the Edinburgh district of Leith -- for 30 years. Above him, longtime employee Gary Kerr.

Zoom closer and, through the distortion, Kerr's expression could make you shudder. The "axman" is laughing.

Google's Street View Hikers
CNN joins Google to map Mount Fuji
A different kind of street view
Google sees too much on Street View

His boss and apparent victim is chuckling too, when he describes the hoax to CNN.

Thompson and Kerr have been at the center of much media attention in Britain after a local newspaper picked up the story of their Google Street View "murder."

But it took a while. The photos, Thompson reckons, were taken around August 2012.

"Giles Street is like a misshapen horseshoe. By chance, I saw the Street View car going in other leg. I knew it would reach us in half a minute," he says.

"I had just enough time to whip in, grab Gary and a pick-ax handle and he came out to give me a so called 'Leith massage,' which is essentially being bashed."

Kerr has worked at the Tomson Motor Company for more than a decade, and was "right up" for the prank, Thompson said.

He said Google had apparently uploaded the images and some months later the company was alerted when one of its suppliers rang it up "in fits of laughter." Thompson said it was more than a year before someone apparently alerted the police, who he says "very properly" came around to check out the incident.

"A WPC [female police officer] has her car serviced here and she said 'I know exactly what's going on here -- it's a wind up.'

Infuriatingly I think last Thursday the Street View car went past and we hadn't set anything up.
Dan Thompson

"They came in and said 'you guys, do you happen to know anything about this?' We explained what had happened," Thompson said.

"They were smiling when they came in and were roaring with laughter when they left."

Thompson said that he hadn't heard from Google about the prank but speculated that the publicity it had generated would be very good for the company.

"It's nothing obscene, but now a lot more people know about Street View -- so I would think this must be a joy to them."

When CNN contacted Google about the prank, the company declined to comment.

Thompson fears that his tableau may not be long for the cyberworld.

"Infuriatingly I think last Thursday the Street View car went past and we hadn't set anything up," he said.

"I expect there will ll be a lot of copycats of this now but the trick is spotting [the Street View car] in time."

As for the police, they told CNN they would "always respond to any reports of concern for personal safety."

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 2245 GMT (0645 HKT)
Pakistan Taliban say the school attack was revenge for the killing of children in a military offensive -- but they are being pressed by defections to ISIS.
A group that claims it hacked Sony Pictures has posted a public threat against moviegoers who see Sony's "The Interview."
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 0958 GMT (1758 HKT)
The gunman behind the deadly siege in Sydney this week was not on a security watch list, and Australia's Prime Minister wants to know why.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1246 GMT (2046 HKT)
Bestselling author Marjorie Liu had set her sights on being a lawyer, but realized it wasn't what she wanted to do for the rest of her life.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
CNN's Matthew Chance looks into an HRW report saying Russia has "legalized discrimination against LGBT people."
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 0212 GMT (1012 HKT)
The Sydney siege has brought home some troubling truths to Australians. They are not immune to what are often called "lone-wolf" terror attacks.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 0012 GMT (0812 HKT)
A social media campaign condemning Islamophobia under the hashtag #illridewithyou has taken off after Sydney hostage siege.
Bill Cosby has kept quiet as sexual assault allegations mounted against him, but his wife, Camille, finally spoke out in defense of her husband.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1144 GMT (1944 HKT)
China-bound AirAsia flight turns back to Bangkok after passenger throws water over crew member.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1026 GMT (1826 HKT)
It takes Nepalese eye doctor, Sanduk Ruit about five minutes to change someone's life.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1054 GMT (1854 HKT)
This epic journey crosses 13,000 kilometers, eight countries over 21 days. Find out where.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1253 GMT (2053 HKT)
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT