Inside the investigation: How police used tech to catch a killer in West Chester this year

West Chester Police held a press conference regarding the death of Ellen Weik and the arrest of Michael Strouse Tuesday, Aug. 28 at the police department in West Chester Township. This poster with photos of Weik was on display on the wall during the press conference. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF
West Chester Police held a press conference regarding the death of Ellen Weik and the arrest of Michael Strouse Tuesday, Aug. 28 at the police department in West Chester Township. This poster with photos of Weik was on display on the wall during the press conference. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Editor’s Note: This story first published on May 12, 2019.

Technology, especially the kind used with text messages, search engines and geolocations, is being used more prominently by police in criminal investigations.

Those efforts were underscored recently in hundreds of court documents that revealed a Butler County police department determined that Michael Strouse of Liberty Twp. “left a digital trail of evidence related to stalking and pre-meditated murder” of Ellen “Ellie” Weik, a 23-year-old West Chester Twp. woman who went missing in July 2018 and whose body was found in a field in August.

The more than 800 pages of court records unsealed earlier this month and obtained and examined by this news outlet, and a clear indication of how West Chester Police Department detectives used technology to investigate Strouse.

Those efforts included “various search warrants executed on email accounts, social media accounts, cell phone accounts, and electronic devices.”

According to court documents, police turned to a law enforcement database to determine harassing texts sent to Weik originated from an account registered to Strouse, who pleaded guilty to Weik’s death and is serving a life sentence for murder.

Police were able to look into a “spoof” phone number with a 213 area code, one used to communicate with Weik in the months before her death, by obtaining data from computer-generated phone number provider

That included account holder information such as user ID, username, sign-up date, last login, email, phone number associated with the account and IP address on signup.

Such information also included Facebook ID, device ID, geolocation and last IP address used, as well as call logs associated with the account.

The account was registered to a “Mikael Strouse” and police used a thorough search of Strouse’s social media pages determined he “definitively used” the name “Mika.” That, according to court documents, linked him to the number used to send Weik harassing and stalking messages.

After Weik was reported missing Aug. 1, police used text messages and the location from which they were sent to corroborate the alibi of a friend who said he had spoken to Weik about stalking issues.

Following a harassment complaint filed by Weik after someone sent a video filmed outside her West Chester home earlier in the year, police reviewed texts sent in early May between Weik and a friend.

Those texts showed the friend was able to use Snapchat to link the number Strouse used to harass Weik to a Snapchat account registered to Strouse. One message from Weik to that friend reads, “damn it. I know who it is,” while the second reads, “It’s my ex from a few years ago.”

According to court records, Weik texted another friend the same day that “I know who it is …,” then “My ex-boyfriend from when I was 17,” then identified Strouse by name. Weik went on to text other friends the same information in varying forms, according to court records.

Police also used information provided by Verizon to determine she was in the vicinity of her home around 2:58 a.m. the day she went missing.

The last text message sent to Weik originates from a number used by Strouse to spoof a 213 area code number and pose as “Nate.”

That correspondence between Weik and Strouse posing as “Nate” comprised approximately 275 text messages. On July 28, after repeatedly declining Weik’s invitations to hang out, “Nate” and Weik made plans to do so, but “Nate” told Weik, “I’m not bringing my phone. Is it cool if I jus (sic) knock.”

Court records also show police used text messages sent by Strouse to a friend to determine he was in Butler County during the period Weik disappeared.

According to court records, police said it was “concerning” that use of the 213 number stopped the day Weik disappeared.

They also determined he started a new account via another service 53 minutes after the last message sent by the GoTextMe number with the 213 area code. According to court records, police note that the new number was used to text another female whom Strouse knows, but not Weik, who wasn’t reported missing until four days later.

“There are no subsequent phone calls or attempts to check up on her, as was seen in (Weik’s) account by her friends and associates,” according to police.

Google also turned over information to police, showing that an IP address registered to Strouse’s residence searched for, in March, “how long does a dead body smell.”. In early July, three weeks before Weik went missing, the same IP address searched for “missing girl in Hamilton” and “missing girl in West Chester Ohio” and viewed seven articles about missing persons. On July 18, it searched for “how to survive prison poster” and “survivors guide to prison,” according to the documents.

On July 20, 10 hours before searching for “Ellie Weik” on Google, Strouse conducted three searches for “the Cincinnati strangler” and clicked on one Wikipedia article.

Records show that in the weeks leading up to Weik’s death, Strouse also Googled a business near Weik’s residence and searched for her by name on Instagram, Whitepage and Facebook.

After Weik’s disappearance, Strouse searched for “new york strangler” and variations of that on July 31, then “how to delete photos off a icloud account” and variations of that on Aug. 5, according to the documents.

On Aug. 22, results from a search warrant on Weik’s Verizon Wireless account were analyzed by an Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation intelligence analyst, who determined Weik’s phone was powered on at 6:12 a.m. July 31, then immediately powered off. That was enough time for the phone to send out a signal and to fix to a tower.

The tower the phone “hit” off, according to court records, is located at 5756 Princeton Glendale Road in Liberty Twp., located a little more than 2 miles from Strouse’s Liberty Twp. home. Activity logs indicated Strouse’s Google account was active at 5:46 a.m. that morning from his Liberty Twp. home

Ohio BCI investigators also searched Strouse’s iPhone, finding an Aug. 9 screenshot image taken from the “Maps” application of the field in which police discovered Weik’s body just east of Millikin Road and Maud Hughes Road.