Richard Huckle, the target of a complex investigation into a darkweb forum, was stabbed to death in his prison cell where he was serving multiple life sentence for various crimes involving child abuse and the distribution of illegal content on darkweb forums and chatrooms.
Richard Huckle, known to some as Britain’s most prolific pedophile, was killed in his prison cell on Sunday, the BBC reported.
A delicate investigation into a darkweb forum led by a special taskforce in Australia brought the man to justice in 2016. He pleaded guilty to more than 70 charges related to the investigation.
Task Force Argos—a group of investigators in Australia with experience investigating darkweb forums—secretly took control of a darkweb forum frequented by Huckle and operated it for several months. They gathered information on hundreds of suspects across the globe.
As one of the most active and notorious members of the forum, Huckle was one of the primary targets of the investigation. He had shared thousands of pictures and videos and had abused hundreds of children in Malaysia and Laos. But Huckle covered his tracks, making it difficult for investigators to build more than a basic profile. Investigators noted that Huckle religiously wiped the exif data from his pictures before sharing them with other pedophiles through a number of darkweb forums monitored by law enforcement.
Task Force Argos investigators took control of the forum Huckle used after arresting the forum administrator and secretly taking control of the administrator’s profile. Shannon McCoole, the former admin, is now serving 35 years in prison for child abuse and related crimes. Investigators noted the use of the word “hiyas” in many of McCoole’s forum posts. A search for that word online returned almost 500,000 matches. They narrowed the list down by eliminating all the women who had used the word as well as the men who did not fit into the profile they had built for McCoole.
With assistance from Dutch law enforcement, investigators learned that some evidence that McCoole had been living in Australia. Investigators then searched through a much shorter list of candidates. They had their initial profile and a likely location. They found a user on a 4WD forum living in Australia who used the same word in many of his posts about vehicle modification. The user had posted a question on the forum about obtaining certain parts for his vehicle. Someone in the same location had also asked about the same specific parts on a personal Facebook page. The remainder of the story unfolds as expected.
With McCoole’s credentials, Argos investigators began searching through forum for anything useful in the Huckle case. They developed a profile based on the subjects of his pictures. Investigators suspected that Huckle lived somewhere in Southeast Asia. The admin account gave Argos investigators access to all of Huckle’s private messages, allowing them to crawl through additional data. They checked his uploads for any identifying metadata. Months passed. Then Huckle slipped up. A single upload revealed the model camera Huckle had been using to photograph children.
Investigators then searched Flickr for pictures taken by someone with an Olympus camera in Southeast Asia. They found a user who had taken and uploaded hundreds of legal pictures of children for a photography company in Malaysia. The name of the company resembled one of the usernames Huckle had used on a different darkweb forum.
A search for that company ultimately resulted in the identification of Richard Huckle, one of “Britain’s most prolific pedophiles.” But Malaysian authorities declined to take any action. Authorities outside of the country could only watch and wait for Huckle to commit an extraditable offense. So they monitored the pedophile’s Facebook page for another four months. They lucked out not long before Christmas. Huckle posted “Great news, I’ve just booked a flight home for Christmas” on his Facebook profile. One of the investigators said that Huckle “had hashtagged the airline.”
The National Crime Agency arrested Huckle after he arrived at Gatwick Airport in the UK. He had more than 20,000 illegal pictures stored on his electronic devices at the time of his arrest. He was later sentenced in a London Court to 22 life sentences.
Huckle was stabbed to death in his cell on October 13, 2019. Less than four years into his sentence. Prison officials have declined further comment but confirmed authorities had opened an investigation into Huckle’s death.