The FBI used social media, an Etsy review, and photos from the scene of a May 30 protest in downtown Philadelphia to track down and arrest 33-year-old massage therapist Elisabeth Blumethal, who allegedly set fire to two Philadelphia police cars during the George Floyd protests.
During the violent episodes that began around City Hall that afternoon, Blumenthal allegedly set fire to both vehicles. According to the complaint, various videos taken at the scene captured the defendant wearing protective goggles and gloves, taking a flaming piece of wooden police barricade from the rear window of the PPD sedan that was already on fire, and then shoving the flaming wood into the PPD SUV that was not on fire. Within minutes, the PPD SUV was also completely engulfed in flames. As result of the fires, both PPD vehicles were destroyed. –Justice.gov
If convicted, 33-year-old Elisabeth Blumethal faces up to 80 years in prison and a fine of up to $500,000.
Here’s how the FBI tracked her down, according to an affidavit signed by one of the FBI agents involved in the investigation.
The agents were able to find a few Instagram pictures of the incident (seen above), and then obtained more than 500 photos from an amateur photographer who was at the protests that day. One of the pictures showed the writing on the woman’s t-shirt: “KEEP THE IMMIGRANTS, DEPORT THE RACISTS,” the FBI agent explained in his affidavit.
As it turned out, that was a custom made t-shirt sold on Etsy.
The FBI agents saw that an Etsy user named Xx Mv, whose personal Etsy URL was “alleycatlore,” which described herself as living in Philadelphia, had posted a review after apparently purchasing the shirt.
The FBI then Googled “alleycatlore” and found a user named “Lore-Elisabeth” on the mobile fashion store Poshmark. Another search for “Lore Elisabeth Philadelphia” led the agents to a LinkedIn page for a woman who works as a massage therapist for a company in Philadelphia.
On that company’s website, there are videos of massages hosted on Vimeo. One of the videos shows the tattoo that is visible on the woman’s forearm in one of the Instagram pictures that the feds found.
The agents also found a phone number for the woman, which they used to find a home address through the DHS Electronic System for Travel Authorization, a government system to screen foreign individuals traveling to the U.S. This then led them to find her DMV photo, according to the court document.
At the same time, Etsy provided purchasing records following a subpoena, which confirmed the Xx Mv user had purchased two KEEP THE IMMIGRANTS, DEPORT THE RACISTS t-shirts, one of the in the same color as the shirt that appeared in the photos. The subpoena also revealed the shirts had been sent to a Lore Elisabeth in Philadelphia, according to the FBI agent. The Etsy seller did not respond to a request for comment.
At that point, the feds had enough evidence to arrest the woman, who is now in jail and appeared in federal court on Tuesday.
“The techniques utilized by the FBI are gonna be scrutinized during the course of my pre-trial investigation of this case,” said Blumenthal’s lawyer, Paul Hetznecker, in an interview with VICE. The FBI and DOJ declined to comment.