A TikTok sleuth suggested he'd discovered possible evidence connected to a 2019 disappearance. Over 5 million people watched his video, but police say he was wrong.

  • TikToker Sean Austin suggested he'd found evidence connected to a 2019 disappearance.

  • The video received nearly six million views, but police say he was wrong.

  • It highlights an ongoing controversy surrounding true-crime social media creators.

A TikTok sleuth received nearly 5.9 million views with a post in which he wrongly suggested he may have found evidence linked to a woman's disappearance — and it highlights an ongoing problem with amateur true crime sleuths.

In the video posted September 12, TikToker Sean Austin said he was sending scuba divers into a river near Farmington, Connecticut, in order to retrieve a stained rug. He said his team had previously found something "shady," which he speculated could be connected to the disappearance and presumed murder of Jennifer Dulos, a mother of five who was reported missing from New Canaan, Connecticut, in May 2019.

He went on to livestream the rug retrieval on his YouTube channel, where the video received over 14,000 views.

@seandaustin Going live now will be extracting something suspicious from the river in #Connecticut possibly having to do with #jenniferdulos with 2 #scubadiver. #truecrime #paranormal #spiritbox ♬ Crime Scene - Hollywood TV Music Orchestra

But according to Connecticut State Police, which assisted the Farmington Police in testing the rug after it was discovered, the rug had no connection to the Dulos case.

"After investigating for several hours, Detectives tested several large, irregular brownish-red stains on the rug and a presumptive test determined they were not blood. Detectives have found no evidence of the rug being related to any criminal case," CSP said in a statement.

The statement went on to note that "rugs are used to launch and retrieve kayaks and to keep vegetation down at this location of the Farmington River."

Austin, who has more than 227,000 TikTok followers, describes himself as a demonologist and paranormal investigator. He told Connecticut Insider he found the rug after a "spirit box" told him to "go to the river."

Jennifer Dulos
Jennifer Dulos is presumed dead after disappearing over three years ago.New Canaan Police Department

Austin is among a number of TikTokers who use the platform to showcase and investigate crimes. Such videos can be extremely popular — the hashtag #truecrime has received over 15 billion views while #truecrimetiktok has over four billion — yet they are often accused of being exploitative or spreading misinformation.

Most notably, the disappearance of van life influencer Gabby Petito in September 2021 became a TikTok sensation, with true crime aficionados making countless videos investigating what happened to her and searching for clues to help the police locate her. The hashtag #gabbypetito has over 2 billion views.

Such creators also faced backlash. Mashable's Alison Foreman wrote, "The proliferation of true crime in the digital age has spurred a breeding ground for amateur detectives and vigilantes" that could make it more difficult for police to do their jobs. True crime on social media also tends to reinforce "Missing White Woman Syndrome," in which the stories of crimes against white women are amplified while crimes against women of color go underrepresented in the media.

#truecrime on TikTok
True crime videos on TikTok are extremely popular.TikTok

In recent years, more and more people are questioning the ethics of taking real-life crimes and turning them into entertainment on TV or social media.

Jennifer Dulos' body has never been found, but authorities have presumed her dead and charged her husband Fotis Dulos with her murder in January 2020. He died by suicide later that month, local newspaper Stanford Advocate reported.

Fotis' girlfriend Michelle Troconis has been charged with conspiracy to commit murder, evidence tampering, and hindering prosecution, and his friend and lawyer Kent Mawhinney is also charged with conspiracy, according to CBS News. Both have denied all charges and pleaded not guilty, and are awaiting trial.

Austin did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.

For more stories like this, check out coverage from Insider's Digital Culture team here.

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