EDINBURGH, Scotland – The images are shocking. A man apparently wielding an ax looms over a figure lying spreadeagled on the cobbled road, clad in red overalls. The first man turns to face the camera as it passes and watches, ax in hand, as it drives into the distance.
Almost more disturbingly, swiveling around on Google Street View, a man stands watching the grisly scene, hand nonchalantly resting on his hip. All three faces are blurred. But the identities of the two men at the center of the tableau are far from a secret in this corner of Edinburgh.
The man lying seemingly lifeless on the ground is Dan Thompson, who has owned and run the Tomson Motor Company on Giles Street — in the Edinburgh district of Leith — for 30 years. Above him, longtime employee Gary Kerr.
Zoom closer and, through the distortion, Kerr’s expression could make you shudder. The “axman” is laughing.
His boss and apparent victim is chuckling too, when he describes the hoax to CNN.
Thompson and Kerr have been at the center of much media attention in Britain after a local newspaper picked up the story of their Google Street View “murder.”
But it took a while. The photos, Thompson reckons, were taken around August 2012.
“Giles Street is like a misshapen horseshoe. By chance, I saw the Street View car going in other leg. I knew it would reach us in half a minute,” he says.
“I had just enough time to whip in, grab Gary and a pick-ax handle and he came out to give me a so called ‘Leith massage,’ which is essentially being bashed.”
Kerr has worked at the Tomson Motor Company for more than a decade, and was “right up” for the prank, Thompson said.
He said Google had apparently uploaded the images and some months later the company was alerted when one of its suppliers rang it up “in fits of laughter.” Thompson said it was more than a year before someone apparently alerted the police, who he says “very properly” came around to check out the incident.
“A WPC [female police officer] has her car serviced here and she said ‘I know exactly what’s going on here — it’s a wind up.’
“They came in and said ‘you guys, do you happen to know anything about this?’ We explained what had happened,” Thompson said.
“They were smiling when they came in and were roaring with laughter when they left.”
Thompson said that he hadn’t heard from Google about the prank but speculated that the publicity it had generated would be very good for the company.
“It’s nothing obscene, but now a lot more people know about Street View — so I would think this must be a joy to them.”
When CNN contacted Google about the prank, the company declined to comment.
Thompson fears that his tableau may not be long for the cyberworld.
“Infuriatingly I think last Thursday the Street View car went past and we hadn’t set anything up,” he said.
“I expect there will ll be a lot of copycats of this now but the trick is spotting [the Street View car] in time.”
As for the police, they told CNN they would “always respond to any reports of concern for personal safety.”