YouTubers are solving cold cases across the US

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By , NewsRadio 1080 KRLD

Today's newest crime fighters aren't learning theories and techniques at police academies. They're true-crime internet sleuths armed with cameras, some technical knowledge and a great desire to bring grieving families some closure.

YouTubers are helping police solve cold cases across the United States. In a case making recent headlines, two teens who disappeared 21 years ago were located inside a car in Tennessee's Calfkiller River by a scuba diver who runs a YouTube channel focused on finding missing people and property.

Jeremy Sides said his adventures on YouTube started in 2016 with metal detecting for gold nuggets. After realizing he had a knack for finding stolen items, he learned how to scuba dive, invested in some sonar technology and turned his attention to lost cars and missing people.

Sides told the Washington Post he finds his targets on a website for cold cases and is drawn toward "people who vanished off the planet and vanished in their cars," adding that "nine times out of 10 they're in the water."

That's what drew his attention to the case of Erin Foster, 18, and Jeremy Bechtel, 17, who vanished on April 3, 2000 after leaving Foster's home. Sides had gone to look for the car the teens were last seen in, and his search brought him to Sparta, Tennessee. Police caught wind of his investigation and shared some information, which led to Sides locating Foster's car underwater with human remains inside. The moment was captured on video that soon went viral.

The medical examiner is still working to confirm the remains, but police believe they have found the teens.

"It was right under our noses the whole time," White County Sheriff Steve Page told the Post. "It's heart-wrenching to know it was that simple."

Sides isn't alone in his search for the truth where others have come up short. A group of YouTubers called Chaos Divers travel the country working to solve similar cases. In the last two months, they've located seven missing people.

Jacob Grubbs, who founded the group, told CBS News their mission is to help others. He said the group uses revenue generated by clicks and views on YouTube to pay for future searches.

"I'm sorry that I have to bring this content like this to be able to help defend the next family," Grubbs said. "But this is a way that we have figured out to be able to fund the help for another family."

Adam Scott Wandt, an assistant professor of public policy at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, said the rise of internet armchair detectives has become a cultural phenomenon over the past decade.

"The public is getting better at it, but it still can be very self-serving," Wandt said, noting the temptation for seeking clicks. "But I'm definitely seeing more positive use over time."

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