The XX Factor

How a Fitbit Helped Solve a Murder Case

Fitbits shown during the 2014 International Consumer Electronics Show at the Las Vegas Convention Center on Jan. 8, 2014.

Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images

Fitbits and activity trackers are handy gadgets for monitoring your health, as you’ve probably heard. But if that doesn’t sell you on them, maybe this will: They can also help you avenge your wrongful death from beyond the grave.

Connecticut resident Richard Dabate was charged this month with the felony murder of his wife, Connie. One day in December 2015, Richard called 911 and told police that a man had broken into the couple’s home, shot Connie, and tied Richard to a chair. The only problem was, at a time when Richard claimed Connie had already been shot by the intruder, her Fitbit was tracking her movements, and local surveillance footage captured her visiting a gym. According to the warrant for Dabate’s arrest, as quoted in the New York Daily News, state police used an analysis of the home’s “alarm system, computers, cellphones, social media postings and Connie Dabate’s Fitbit to create a timeline that contradicted Richard Dabate’s statements to police.” It took over a year, and other evidence also pointed to Richard, but a cousin of Connie told the Daily News she was relieved an arrest was made and “looking forward to getting justice.”

Unfortunately to say the least, a husband murdering his wife is a tragically common situation in America—nearly three women are killed by their partners every day in this country. But the use of a Fitbit as evidence is a new wrinkle. “To say it is rare to use Fitbit records would be safe,” a Lancaster, Pennsylvania, district attorney with experience using activity tracker records in a case, told the Hartford Courant.* The “rare” part may be changing, though—Fitbit-as-evidence is a story that’s been making headlines more and more lately: In March, a women in Washington state fought off an attacker in a restroom in a public park, and her fitness tracker recorded the frenzied activity of the attack. Why not use all the resources available to crack a case? As the Pennsylvania district attorney said of Fitbit and other fitness-tracker records, “It is a great tool for investigators to use. We can also get the information much faster than some other types of evidence such as DNA tests.”

Prevention rather than proof would be a far better outcome—how soon will fitness trackers be able to disarm criminals already?—but there’s still a modicum of silver lining in being able to use a tool the victim relied on to stay healthy to catch the guilty party. And doesn’t it make a horrible kind of poetic sense? More women than men use activity trackers, according to market data; a woman would be the one who was conscientious enough to be wearing a Fitbit in the first place, whereas a man would be the one who was careless enough leave electronic evidence all over the place. It’s the Fitbit as modern telltale heart, the Fitbit as tech version of a parrot who witnesses a murder. Technology may evolve, but receipts stay necessary.

*Correction, April 26, 2017: This piece originally misspelled the Hartford Courant.