A smartphone was burning a hole in someone’s pocket on Saturday as he (or she)
stood over the headless and dismembered body of a young woman dumped in a
suitcase next to the Hagana train station in south Tel Aviv.
later there was a picture, and within a day, the shot and a few others went
viral on WhatsApp on a cellular collision course violating with impunity a
police gag order – one that restricted the release of information on a major
development in the case that was made on Tuesday.
While there’s probably
no clear public benefit to their publication, a quick glance at the photos
indicates several details about the victim that are banned by the gag
Anyone who’s seen the photos (by now it’s believed to be
thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of Israelis) knows a wealth of details
that shed light on who the woman was or, more specifically, what type of woman
she was, or wasn’t.
Eyes might be the window to the soul – but the body
can reveal if a person was an emaciated drug addict who spent every day in the
sun. It can indicate if the victim was heavily tattooed, or well fed and having
no obvious signs of illness. The body can also provide details about the murder.
Did the victim have bruises or stab wounds? Was the victim naked or clothed? Was
he or she mutilated and beaten, or was there just a single fatal wound? If a
news outlet were to publish such a photo in violation of the gag order, it could
potentially be a severe case of obstruction of justice, and it could expect to
face the consequences. But WhatsApp? Good luck finding where the photos
The pictures were taken either by a passerby before police
arrived, or by someone with access to the crime scene. This could have been one
of the first responders.
First responders often take pictures and can be
very helpful, giving reporters details of closed crime scenes.
also could have come from one of the dozens of cops at the scene, quite a few of
whom were standing around looking none too busy. Most police officers have
smartphones, and they, like reporters, might like to take pictures at work and
show their friends how messed up their day was.
Since one of the photos
online shows a crime-scene investigator in the frame, indications are that at
least one of the shots was not taken by a passerby before police
The fact that the suitcase was reported as a suspicious package
and apparently was first opened by the bomb squad would appear to add yet more
evidence to the theory that the photographer was a cop or first
Tel Aviv police said on Tuesday that they opened a board of
inquiry to probe who took and sent out the photos, but added that if it turns
out to have been a cop, the investigation will be handed over to the Justice
Ministry department for investigating police.
The controversy over the
picture is taking place at the same time that officers have made a major
breakthrough in the case, which has been covered under the gag order but is
scheduled to be announced Wednesday morning after the order is lifted.
a picture is worth a thousand words, the photos might reveal even more about the
inability of police (and also the press) to control the flow of information into
the public domain in today’s smartphone era. In the not too distant past, the
only cameras on the scene would have belonged to police crime scene
photographers and photojournalists kept on the other side of police
Today, with every bystander, first responder, detective, beat cop
and journalist having a camera in his pocket, such pictures are begging not only
to be shot, but to take flight instantly through WhatsApp and other smartphone
Earlier this year, an erotic video made by a woman’s boyfriend in
an elevator went viral in Israel via WhatsApp.
The woman had little
recourse, being that there was no website hosting the video – just countless
Israeli cellphones with it on their memory card.
The controversy over the
headless photo played out on Tuesday in the Tel Aviv crime reporters WhatsApp
group. This is a forum for police to report incidents, but also for reporters to
share information, phone numbers, crime scene photos and, quite often,
Three veteran reporters argued that whoever sent out
the photos did more harm than good, and that there was no journalistic value
whatsoever to the pics.
One went so far as to argue that the police
should open an investigation into who took the pictures in order to prevent such
cases from happening in the future.
On the other end, two veteran
reporters made the case for omerta, with one saying, “Let’s not shoot ourselves
in the foot here,” arguing that such leaked photos are an important tool in the
reporter’s repertoire, a valuable source of information that police won’t give
There appeared to be a consensus that there is no public benefit in
running the photos, but the disagreement remained over whether or not such
pictures, and the phenomenon of leaking them, are valuable to reporters in the
In the meantime, one woman’s tragic end has been viewed by an
untold number of Israelis, a final indignity to add to an already horrifying
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