Federal facial recognition technology has led to the capture of a fugitive who had successfully evaded the FBI for the past 14 years.
Neil Stammer fled the U.S. in 1999 after he was arrested for kidnapping and child sex abuse. Stammer speaks almost a dozen languages, according to police, and exited the country using false documents, leaving investigators with very few leads for tracking him him down.
Stammer told investigators he worked as a talented juggler on the streets of Europe as a teenager, where he learned multiple languages and gained travel experience. The fugitive used to own a magic shop in New Mexico, and was 32-years-old at the time he fled.
Then in January an agent with the U.S. Diplomatic Security Service (DSS), which protects U.S. embassies and monitors visa and passport use, tested the services’ new facial recognition technology by comparing current passport photos with the FBI’s online wanted poster database.
The system, which was designed to catch passport fraud, matched an updated Stammer photo from the FBI’s Albuquerque division to a passport photo tied to a different name.
“In addition to the current fugitives, I had a stack of old cases, and Stammer’s stood out.” FBI Special Agent Russ Wilson, who runs Albuquerque’s fugitive division, said in a statement from the bureau Tuesday.
The DSS agent who made the match contacted the FBI, and Wilson followed the passport’s trail to Nepal, where Stammer was frequenting the U.S. embassy while trying to renew his tourist visa under the assumed name “Kevin Hodges.” Stammer had reportedly been teaching English and other languages in Nepal for years while trying to enter universities in the U.S.
“He was very comfortable in Nepal,” Wilson said. “My impression was that he never thought he would be discovered.”
The Nepalese government cooperated in extraditing Stammer to the U.S., where he’ll face criminal charges in New Mexico, where he evaded authorities while out on bail in 1999.
“We had tremendous assistance from DSS, the State Department, and the government of Nepal,” Wilson said. “It was a huge team effort with a great outcome.”