How Forensic Video Analysis Changed History

forensic video analysis
Forensic Video Analysis can be used to solve mysteries of the past.

Forensics is not always limited to drama in courts or television in the forensic video enhancement and analysis world. What’s another use for forensic video analysis? Recently, forensic video expert Michael Plaxton of Crystal Beach, Ontario, got to change history. Plaxton used forensic video analysis techniques to reveal the truth behind evidence from World War II and therefore correct a mistake that’s over 70 years old.

Although Plaxton primarily works with the Hamilton police in Ontario, Canada, he also sometimes dabbles in private consultations on the side. According to the Hamilton Spectator, Plaxton was contacted by a Lucky 8 TV in New York because they were making a documentary about the second world war.

From the Halls of Montezuma…

Plaxton gained notoriety in forensics as a video forensics expert in helping to solve the case of the murder of Tim Bosma in Canada. (Bosma was murdered in 2013 by two people that came to see a truck he was selling through an online ad.) Plaxton’s work in the murder case was a major contributor to the conviction of the two suspects accused of Bosma’s murder. But when Lucky 8 TV contacted Plaxton, they didn’t want him to help with any criminal case, or not even a civil case for that matter. Lucky 8 TV wanted Plaxton to analyze the famous photo, Raising of the Flag on Iwo Jima (see below). As it turns out, forensic video analysis can even be useful in unraveling the details of events from history from over 7 decades (and several wars) ago!

Remember the men in this iconic photo?

forensic video analysis
U.S. Marines of the 28th Regiment, 5th Division, raise the American flag atop Mt. Suribachi, Iwo Jima, on Feb. 23, 1945 during World War II. (AP Photo/Joe Rosenthal, File)

Most people probably don’t know these men’s names. But for many years, the U.S. military thought that they were Ira Hayes, Franklin Sousley, Michael Strank, John Bradley, Rene Gagnon, and Harlon Block, from left to right. The military had already misidentified one of the men before. Turns out, the military was wrong again.

Although this case wasn’t about forensic video enhancement, per se, the case instead utilized modern forensic video analysis techniques. Analyzing frame by frame, Plaxton compared multiple sources of video and image footage (evidence) from when this photo was taken with the photo itself. He analyzed the equipment the men in the photo had been wearing earlier, reasoning that because of the fighting earlier the men in the photo would have unique differences in their equipment.

What Plaxton found by analyzing the videos and images is what revealed the facts of the case. According to the National Post, the equipment that ended up telling a new story were a broken strap on a helmet, a rifle sling with an odd swivel, a bulging right pocket, and a strip around one of the Marine’s neck.

The Conclusion

From the tiny details of the Marine’s equipment discovered by analyzing the historical videos and photographs, not only did Plaxton discover that one man, Franklin Sousley (second man from the left, foreground), was actually John Bradley, but he also found that John Bradley wasn’t even in the photo. The man who everyone had thought was John Bradley was in fact a man named Harold Schultz (third man from the left, foreground).

Forensic Video Analysis

By scrutinizing all the photographic and video evidence, it was determined that John Bradley had helped raise a flag earlier in the day, but he hadn’t been there for the iconic photo, seen above, which took place at a second flag raising later in the day.

This case is not only a great example of another use for forensic video analysis, but it’s also a great example of how the science of forensic video analysis isn’t just about forensic video enhancement. A good video forensic expert is also a detective with sharp eyes, a quick brain and a tenacious willingness to scrutinize every single frame of a video.

For more information on this case and the flag raising, watch the Smithsonian Channel’s The Unknown Flag Raiser of Iwo Jima, which debuted July 3rd, 2016.