When the mother of an eight-year-old girl in Momence, Illinois, reported to the Kankakee County Sheriff’s office that 66-year-old Jerry Lee Hendricks had sexually assaulted her daughter and taken photos of the acts with his cell phone, the officers arrested him on suspicion of child molestation and began an investigation. They also immediately confiscated his phone.
The officers knew that Hendricks had been convicted of child pornography and molesting children in South Carolina, for which he had served time. But the question remained: Did he commit this crime and could they prove it? “Young kids don’t always make the best witnesses in trials, and they didn’t have a lot of evidence,” explains Josh Fazio, a forensics investigator at private firm 4Discovery, who helped police with the investigation. It would be up to detectives to build a case.
The phone was sent to the Illinois State Police lab for analysis, but the process stalled. The phone “sat there for a few months,” Fazio says, because there are not enough law enforcement personnel trained in mobile forensics, causing a backlog of evidence at regional crime labs.
But even when they did get to the evidence, they were not successful in obtaining any information. Law enforcement finally concluded they were unable to extract evidence from the phone because the SIM card had been damaged—broken into pieces—before the phone had been confiscated, most likely in an attempt to thwart the investigation. Each time they tried to extract data from the device, it kept generating error messages, prompting them to insert the SIM card. That’s when state police called in Fazio, who had a higher level of expertise in extracting data forensically from mobile devices.
At first, Fazio tried to put the SIM card back together, which sometimes works, but it was too badly damaged. He then decided to try a technique he was familiar with to possibly extract photos from the phone. “We created what was called a manufactured SIM. It basically tricks the phone into thinking it has its original SIM card. We made that, we put it in the phone, and it booted up, and we were able to pull off the images that this guy had taken [of himself] sexually assaulting this little girl,” he says.