The Shadowz Brotherhood on the Dark Web: Case Studies in Digital Forensics
**WARNING** There is mention of some graphic details involving child molestation and pedophilia within this historical account. As a father myself, I cringe reading and writing about this genre but I also firmly believe that the story needs to be told so people know what happened and, more importantly, so it doesn’t happen again. If you’ve been a victim of sexual molestation or assault, you may want to stop here.
Over the years we’ve gone through some dark times involving Internet crimes. Evil persists on the Web whether we know about it or like it. It is just a fact of life and it is incredibly difficult to trace and stop. The Internet is a utility that is used for both good and evil purposes. The case I am about to highlight, the Shadowz Brotherhood case, is one that not too many people outside of law enforcement and digital forensics professionals know about. There are those whose job it falls upon to investigate these cases. It takes a toll on the investigators who work these types of cases. Once you have seen images of abuse, they can never be unseen.
Behold The Monster Hiding in Plain Sight
St. Charles, Missouri, November 18, 1993, fourth-grader and 9-year-old Angie Housman hopped off the school bus she rode every day to walk the short, half-block home to her parents duplex in Saint Ann, Missouri. Tragically, it would be the last time she would ever make that walk in her short life. Lying in wait for little Angie was 36-year-old Earl Webster Cox, a disgraced US Air Force veteran who was court-martialed in the 1980s for molesting four other little girls while babysitting them when he was stationed in Germany. In 1989 Cox was again accused of sexually abusing two other young girls that he had taken to a movie theater and a local park and sent back to Leavenworth prison for another year for parole violation (Murphy, 2019).
No one apparently witnessed the abduction of Angie, but the acts of violence and sexual depravity that were inflicted upon this poor young child are too egregious to mention without taking readers to the darkest, sickest, and most vile imaginations. Cox did unspeakable things to the girl including depriving her of food and water for nine days. He eventually handcuffed her to a tree in the woods of the August A. Busch wildlife area in St. Charles County where a deer hunter eventually found her naked body against the tree partially covered in snow a week later. The fourth-grader had been brutally sexually assaulted, gagged with her own Barbie underwear, and left for dead in below-freezing temperatures until she eventually succumbed from exposure to the elements. Unbelievably, investigators discovered that Angie died only hours before her body was found by the deer hunter (Farzan, 2019). Incredibly tragic… We can only hope that there is a special place in Hell for people like Cox.
How a person could do such awful things to another person, let alone a sweet little girl, is beyond me. It is unfathomable in my mind. If you can look me in the eyes and honestly tell me that as a human being you can read the above paragraph without having some sort of internal visceral reaction to what you read, then you are truly inhuman. The police brought in their best detectives and the best technical forensics specialists but the case went unsolved for more than 25 years until the police were able to match Cox’s DNA to the underwear that Angie was gagged with and that Cox left remnants of at the crime scene. Investigators believe Cox had help in the abduction and sexual abuse while she was shuttled around from location to location for nine days (Farzan, 2019).
Earl Webster Cox Charged With Murder, Sodomy in Angie Housman's Killing
click to enlarge COURTESY OF ST. CHARLES COUNTY Earl Webster Cox, a disgraced U.S. airman with a sickening past, was…
Cox was arrested again in 2003 in an undercover sex predator sting operation in which he thought he was communicating with a 14-year old girl whom Cox had sent bus fare money to have her to travel to Colorado to be his sex slave. The arrest led investigators to a major discovery when they found that Cox had been operating a child pornography ring on the Dark Web. On Cox’s computer, FBI investigators found over 45,000 child porn images on the drive (Farzan, 2019).
While in prison for the 2003 conviction, on June 5, 2019, Cox who is now 61, was finally “…charged with first-degree murder, kidnapping, and sodomy in the 1993 killing of Angie Housman…” based on new DNA evidence police were able to obtain (Murphy, 2019). This absolutely wretched excuse for a human being is still alive, barely, rotting away in a North Carolina prison. Angie Housman’s mother, Diane Bone, died of cancer in 2016 before ever having the opportunity to see a conviction in the murder of her daughter. In Cox’s recent February 24, 2020 court appearance he used a walker. This may seem like a familiar tactic used by Nazi war criminals and Harvey Weinstein to appear less intimidating to jurors and ultimately to receive a lesser conviction. Guess what asshole? We’re not buying it. Rot in Hell and may prison justice exact it’s most heinous revenge on this pathetic excuse for a human being.
Shadowz Brotherhood Pedophile Ring
So, what does any of this have to do with digital forensics, right? Well, it turns out that at some point in 1997, Cox had gotten mixed up with a pedophilia group known as the “Shadowz Brotherhood” according to court records (Murphy, 2019). The group hosted chat rooms and webpages that facilitated the sharing of illicit child porn images and videos. These guys were hardcore, their system administrators trained site members on how to evade law enforcement techniques.
“Police said administrators operated a “star” system to rate members: after initial vetting, new members received a one-star rating, allowing them to view certain chat rooms, newsgroups and bulletin boards. To gain further stars they had to post images of child sex abuse on the group’s site; as they gained stars, they obtained greater access to restricted sites containing the most graphic material” (AP, 2002).
“Cox, who had been a computer operator in the Air Force, became an administrator for the Brotherhood, running the “Panty Raiders/Lolita Lovers” group. In 2003, he was caught in an FBI sting after exchanging emails with an agent posing as a fourteen-year-old named “Brenda.” Using the screen name ‘Youngstuff,’ Cox told ‘Brenda’ that he wanted to fuck her and spank her,” court records say. “Cox sent ‘Brenda’ emails encouraging her to leave her home in Virginia and come to Colorado to be his ‘sex slave.’” He sent her $60 for a bus ticket and told her wear a short skirt, red tube top and no bra or panties” (Murphy, 2019).
When the FBI arrested Cox, they performed digital forensics on his computer and discovered the Shadowz Brotherhood link which led to the arrest of 60 people in 11 countries (AP, 2002). The arrest of Cox has to be one of the most prolific takedowns of pedophiles in that not only did the authorities finally take this evil monster off the streets, but Cox’s arrest led to the takedown of the Shadowz Brotherhood and it was eventually discovered through modern DNA technology that he was responsible for the rape, torture, and murder of young Angie Housman.
“Police described the images created and distributed by the group as some of the most shocking they had ever seen. Members of the ring allegedly broadcast live pictures of abuse on the Internet and posted images of children, including babies, being sexually abused and tortured.
“In terms of the kind of material they are posting and allowing access to, it’s the worst group I have ever encountered,” said Detective Chief Supt. Len Hynds of Britain’s National High-tech Crime Unit, which coordinated a yearlong investigation with the European police organization Europol” (AP, 2002).
This story highlights the importance of digital forensics in bringing criminals like Earl Cox to face justice for the crimes they have committed. No Law Enforcement Officer (LEO) or non-LEO Digital Forensics/Incident Response (DFIR) wants to see this stuff. But it’s out there and if no one investigates it these pedophiles get bolder and bolder. One day it could be your kid they snatch up for sick wiles. Pedophiles have always been a part of society but their ability to secretively share images and videos, even live sexual abuse, has exploded with the Internet and particularly the Dark Web, Peer-to-Peer (P2P) networks, and social media where child pornography is still rampant.
Sick and demented cases like “Daisy’s Destruction” on the Dark Web have brought the wrath of law enforcement which will stop at nothing to shine the brightest of lights on the Dark Web illicit activities. I realize this type of material is very difficult to read and talk about, but people need to know about it nevertheless so you can help spot the signs of human trafficking and help prevent the sexual abuse of minors. If you feel strongly about getting into digital forensics after reading this story, then here are some links to help get you started. If you go this route just understand in advance that you will be subjected to this type of imagery sooner or later.
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Associated Press. (2002, July 2). International Child Porn Ring Exposed. Retrieved from https://www.cbsnews.com/news/international-child-porn-ring-exposed/
Farzan, A.N. (2019, June 6). A 9-year-old’s murder stumped police for 25 years: Her killer may have been hiding in plain sight. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2019/06/06/angie-housman-earl-w-cox-jr-st-louis-murder/
Murphy, D. (2019, June 5). Earl Webster Cox Charged With Murder, Sodomy in Angie Housman’s Killing. Retrieved from https://www.riverfronttimes.com/newsblog/2019/06/05/earl-webster-cox-charged-in-angie-housmans-killing