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2L's Sleuthing Makes Man's Day

Brian C. Ascher, a second-year law student at New York University, was eager to put off the paper he had to write on climate change treaties. So when his fiancé, Erika Gunderson, came home New Year's Eve bearing a digital-age mystery, he made a snap decision to try to solve it. The mystery, as AP technology writer Brian Bergstein recounts, involved a $500 Canon digital camera she found in the back seat of a New York City taxi. The cabbie had no idea who might have left it, so Gunderson brought it home to show Ascher. They decided to try to track down the owner, but with Gunderson busy in finance for Bear Stearns Cos., the sleuthing fell to Ascher.

Ascher checked the city taxi commission, put ads on Craigslist and even contacted Canon, all to no avail. That left only the camera's pictures as clues to its owner. Half the pictures showed New York locations, including tourist attractions, and half were at Florida theme parks. As he scoured the photos, he was able to deduce names of some of the people and even that they appeared to be from Ireland. Every time he and others looked at the photos, zooming in here and there, they picked up on other clues -- a New York hotel, a Florida restaurant, even a Florida pirate-boat cruise. But every clue seemed to lead to another dead end.

With law school classes about to resume, Ascher's time was running out. Looking over the pictures yet again, he noticed something new -- an awning showing the name of a New York bar, Standings.

"Ascher found Standings' owner, who reached the bartender who had worked Dec. 30. Yes, he recalled an Irish group. Especially because one of the women was a big tipper and said she worked at another New York City bar, Playwrights. The Standings bartender called Playwrights to ask which employees had been in his bar.

"Ascher soon got an e-mail from a woman named Sarah Casey, whose sister Jeanette works at Playwrights. Suddenly everything Ascher had seen on the camera came to life."

The Caseys had hosted friends from Ireland, including one, Alan Murphy, who had traveled first to Florida and then to visit the Caseys in New York. Now living in Australia, Murphy had been devastated to have lost the camera and thrilled when he learned it had been found. Even better, it was Jan. 10, his 34th birthday, when Ascher finally tracked him down. "I was over the moon," he told AP. "Best present ever." To Ascher, he wrote, "It's good to know there are some honest people left in the world."

And good to know at least one of them is on his way to become a lawyer.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on January 28, 2008 at 05:11 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)


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