This Augmented Reality App Aims to Solve Cold Cases — and Change How True Crime Stories Are Told

Sam Blake

Sam primarily covers entertainment and media for dot.LA. Previously he was Marjorie Deane Fellow at The Economist, where he wrote for the business and finance sections of the print edition. He has also worked at the XPRIZE Foundation, U.S. Government Accountability Office, KCRW, and MLB Advanced Media (now Disney Streaming Services). He holds an MBA from UCLA Anderson, an MPP from UCLA Luskin and a BA in History from University of Michigan. Email him at samblake@dot.LA and find him on Twitter @hisamblake

This Augmented Reality App Aims to Solve Cold Cases — and Change How True Crime Stories Are Told
  • CrimeDoor, an immersive augmented reality app launched last week, is straddling the space between mystery entertainment and crowdsourced crime solving.
  • The app was conceived by Neil Mandt, a longtime film and TV producer-turned-tech entrepreneur. A true crime enthusiast himself, Mandt said he saw an opportunity to merge the popular genre with immersive reality.
  • The AR environments are constructed based on real crime scene photos, police reports and eyewitness accounts.

A new augmented reality app launched this week allows anybody to feel what it's like to explore a murder site as it appeared right after the crime occurred. They may even be able to help crack an unsolved crime.


The app opens onto a map that shows users historic crime scenes in their area, using GPS data. Each crime comes with a case file that includes a list of articles, documents, photos, audio clips and videos curated by crime journalists and researchers that is meant to provide an organized synopsis of "the 5 w's and h."

CrimeDoor was conceived by Neil Mandt, a longtime film and TV producer-turned-tech entrepreneur. A true crime enthusiast, Mandt said he saw an opportunity to merge the popular genre with immersive reality, an industry he's been increasingly involved in over the last few years and which he believes is "on the verge" of explosive growth.

The AR environments are constructed based on real crime scene photos, police reports and eyewitness accounts using CrimeDoor's patent-pending technology and Unity, a gaming engine.

Users can explore the crime scene using their mobile devices at the real, physical location when feasible, or with a joystick navigator from their own home. They'll see the scene as it was reconstructed, and can "pick up" evidence and enlarge it on their screens for closer inspection.

At launch, the app will contain about 500 cases and dozens of virtual doorways, Mandt said. Cases are free, but the app charges $1.99 to enter a door, or a monthly fee of $4.99.


Some of the cases are famous, such as the murder of OJ Simpson's former wife Nicole Brown Simpson or the shooting of John Lennon. But, Mandt said, most will not be as familiar.

One such case is that of Rebecca Zahau, a woman whose 2011 death in Coronado, California was ruled a suicide. The family contested the cause of death and filed a wrongful death lawsuit. Zahau's family has provided CrimeDoor with materials such as court documents and autopsy photos. A perpetrator was charged in a civil trial – not a criminal one – and Mandt said the family wants to bring the case back to light and give the public a chance "to look at it."

Mandt also noted he has heard great feedback from both user test groups and law enforcement agencies.

"The average detective has one hour on a crime scene and later a couple of photos and a matchstick and a hairy sock," Mandt said. "We have shown this to the FBI and law enforcement departments and without exception everyone compared it to DNA. The way DNA changed the game, this will do the same."

According to a company representative, a retired criminal investigator who helped to solve the infamous Golden State Killer case called CrimeDoor "a game changer for cold cases around the world."

UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh, who has studied and written about the intersection of AR/VR and law, told dot.LA that CrimeDoor should be wary of potential issues such as libel or needlessly upsetting a victim's family members. He emphasized, however, that such concerns are no different than those faced by any true crime storyteller, regardless of the medium.

"Generally, there are no legal or ethical problems raised by an AR or VR app as opposed to a documentary or a book," he said.

CrimeDoor, an immersive augmented reality app launched last week, is straddling the space between mystery entertainment and crowdsourced crime solving.Courtesy of CrimeDoor

Mandt, who is self-financing the app, sees partnerships with media companies as a big opportunity for future growth. He said an organization with legacy crime footage, such as "60 Minutes," could partner with CrimeDoor to build out the AR crime portal, re-air the legacy footage on television, then direct viewers to the app and share a cut of the income.

"I'm interested in where the social web goes and how other AR leaders come to us and say here's how we can collaborate," he said. "The tech community, I'm excited to see what kind of creative things they can do with this. And Hollywood – producers will look at this and come to us."

Mandt also hinted at potential expansion by augmenting the user experience with sounds and technology that stimulates a user's sense of touch. He's also considering adding a marketplace to sell merchandise and implementing a credit-earning system to allow for add-on experiences, such as a ride-along in the OJ white Bronco highway chase.

    Down the line, CrimeDoor may incorporate advertising, Mandt said. The app may also eventually incorporate premium content, such as access to movies, shows and books related to a given case.

    ---

    Sam Blake primarily covers media and entertainment for dot.LA. Find him on Twitter @hisamblake and email him at samblake@dot.LA

    https://twitter.com/hisamblake
    samblake@dot.la

    Subscribe to our newsletter to catch every headline.

    🏰 Disney's Epic Investment Stands Out Amidst Gaming Industry Layoffs

    Christian Hetrick

    Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

    🔦 Spotlight

    In the midst of widespread gaming industry layoffs, a glimmer of positive news emerges as Disney announces a significant move: a $1.5 billion investment in Epic Games. 🏰💰🐭

    Image Source: Disney

    Disney's $1.5 billion investment in Epic Games, disclosed late Wednesday, signals a strategic alignment aimed at expanding the success of "Fortnite." The deal enhances Epic's growth prospects after financial setbacks, including layoffs, and strengthens the partnership between the two companies. With Disney gaining a larger equity stake in Epic, the collaboration will broaden the integration of beloved Disney franchises like Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar, and Avatar into the game, potentially boosting its appeal and longevity. This significant investment underscores Disney's commitment to interactive entertainment and signifies a shift towards games as a primary revenue stream, aligning with the growing trend of digital engagement among younger demographics. Moreover, the potential for crossover sales of physical Disney products within "Fortnite" and the exploration of new content distribution channels are just some of the opportunities arising from this partnership.

    For LA tech, the Disney-Epic Games partnership represents a validation of the region's burgeoning tech and gaming ecosystem. The substantial investment in Epic, who maintains a large Los Angeles office with 1,000+ employees (according to LinkedIn), reflects confidence in the LA’s talent pool and innovation potential. Additionally, this partnership between two industry giants fosters an environment for further collaboration, investment, and growth within LA's tech sector. As Disney and Epic Games deepen their ties and explore new avenues for content integration and distribution, it not only elevates the prominence of LA as a tech hub but also stimulates economic growth and job creation in the region. This partnership highlights LA's unique position as a hub where technology and entertainment converge. With its ability to integrate diverse industries, LA is driving innovation and expansion in digital entertainment. 🚀💸🎮

    🤝 Venture Deals

    LA Companies

    • ProducePay, a financing and marketplace platform for the fresh produce market, raised a $38M Series D led by Syngenta Group Ventures joined by Commonfund, Highgate Private Equity, G2 Venture Partners, Anterra Capital, Astanor Ventures, Endeavor8, Avenue Venture Opportunities, Avenue Sustainable Solutions, and Red Bear Angels. - learn more
    • Blush, an invite-only dating app that drives users to local businesses on dates, raised a $7M Seed Round from individuals like Naval Ravikant. - learn more
    • Mogul, a startup founded last year that provides an overview of an artist's royalty earnings and identifies areas where money is owed but has not yet been collected, raised a $1.9 million seed round from Wonder Ventures, United Talent Agency, AmplifyLA, and Creator Partners. - learn more
    • Avnos, a hybrid direct air capture startup, raised a $36M Series A led by NextEra Energy and joined by Safran Corporate Ventures, Shell Ventures, Envisioning Partners, and Rusheen Capital Management. - learn more
    • AI.fashion, startup whose mission is to help retailers enhance the online shopping experience by providing consumers with virtual try-ons and personalized fashion recommendations, raised a $3.6M Seed Round led by Neo. - learn more
    • Suma Wealth, startup that aims to demystify financial topics and provide culturally relevant content, virtual experiences, and resources to help Latino users navigate financial challenges and opportunities, raised a $2.2M Seed Round . Radicle Impact led, and was joined by Vamos Ventures, OVO fund and the American Heart Association Impact Fund. - learn more
    • 222, a startup that helps users discover their city and meet new people through unique social experiences, raised a $2.5M Seed Round. Investors included 1517 Fund, General Catalyst, Best Nights VC, Scrum Ventures, and Upfront Ventures. - learn more
    • LimaCharlie, a security operations cloud platform, raised a $10.2M Series A led by Sands Capital. - learn more
    • Polycam, an app that uses a smartphone’s sensors to capture 3D scans of objects, raised an $18M Series A co-led by Left Lane Capital and Adjacent, and joined by Adobe Ventures and individuals like Chad Hurley and Shaun Maguire. -learn more.

    LA Venture Funds

    Actively Raising

    • ReelCall, Inc., an entertainment technology company focused on powerful apps and platforms that help build and maintain the professional network of connections vital to career growth, is raising a $850K Pre-Seed Round. - learn more
    • CZero, a startup building software to decarbonize logistics for logistics businesses and goods business through a vetted marketplace and optimization software. - learn more
    • Couri, a technology startup addressing last-mile delivery issues, is raising a $450K Pre-Seed Round at a $2.2M post money valuation. - learn more
    • Sweetie, a marketplace to help people plan date nights, is raising a $1.5M Pre Seed Round. - learn more
    • StartupStarter, an investment platform that provides real-time data and analytics on startups, is raising an $850K Angel Round. - learn more

    If you’re a founder raising money in Los Angeles, give us a shout, and we’d love to include you in the newsletter!

    Venture Waves, Climate Tech Wins, and Silicon Beach's Ongoing Evolution

    Christian Hetrick

    Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

    Anduril Seeks $1.5B in VC Funds

    Defense company Anduril Industries Inc., based in Costa Mesa and founded by Palmer Luckey, is seeking to raise $1.5 billion in fresh funds to boost its valuation to $12.5 billion or more, according to sources quoted by The Information. This fundraising effort, if successful, would mark one of the largest venture capital rounds of the year.

    Image Source: Anduril

    Anduril recently secured a contract to develop and test small unmanned fighter jet prototypes under the Air Force’s Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCA) program, beating out major defense companies like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman. Alongside General Atomics, Anduril will design, manufacture, and test these aircraft, with a final multibillion-dollar production decision expected in fiscal year 2026. This program aims to deliver at least 1,000 combat aircraft to fly in concert with manned platforms and is part of the Air Force’s Next Generation Air Dominance initiative. Central to Anduril’s success in this contract is the Fury autonomous air vehicle, acquired through the purchase of Blue Force Technologies. This victory underscores Anduril's rapid advancement in the defense sector, aligning with Luckey's vision of building faster and more cost-effective defense assets. - learn more

    Los Angeles Ranks Number 1 in Emerging Climate Tech Hub

    The 2024 Emerging Climate Tech Hubs Report by Revolution highlights Los Angeles as a burgeoning center for climate tech innovation. LA's growth in this sector is driven by its diverse talent pool, strong research institutions, and a culture of environmental consciousness. The city's unique mix of legacy industries, such as entertainment and aerospace, alongside emerging tech companies, positions it as a pivotal player in the climate tech landscape. This shift reflects a broader trend of decentralized climate tech funding across the U.S., reducing the historical dominance of California's traditional hubs. - learn more

    Silicon Beach: Looking Back, Moving Forward

    Assessing the overall health of the startup market is challenging, especially as venture capital funding has decreased by an average of 61% from 2021 to 2023 across the top VC markets in the US. Markets with robust ecosystems in AI, SaaS, Biotech, Healthtech, and Fintech appear to be weathering the downturn better than those focused on Consumer and Gaming industries, areas where Los Angeles traditionally excels.

    Percent Change In VC Funding By Region

    CB Insights

    LA Times paints a rather bleak outlook on the Los Angeles tech scene noting venture capital funding in Greater Los Angeles plummeted 73% from 2021 to 2022. Silicon Beach, once a vibrant tech corridor, currently faces high vacancy rates and lacks late-stage financiers, especially in the AI sector. However, there are positive signs, including growth in aerospace startups and increased venture capital investment in early 2024, suggesting a potential rebound for LA's tech ecosystem.

    While LA may not be exceeding expectations during this period, its tech ecosystem warrants a nuanced evaluation, given the broader market dynamics and its strong performance in specific sectors. Reach out to us with your thoughts.

    🚀 SpaceX gears up for another stellar year, active raises, and more

    Christian Hetrick

    Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

    Happy Friday Los Angeles! You made it through the first week of 2024!

    🔦 Spotlight

    Elon Musk may be a divisive (albeit entertaining) figure, but the continued success of SpaceX is pivotal for the aerospace industry in Los Angeles and more broadly around the world.

    Image Source: SpaceX webcast

    What happened with SpaceX in 2023?

    • Elon Musk challenged Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg to a cage fight.
    • SpaceX launched 96 successful missions with its Falcon series of rockets, a 57% increase over its previous annual record.
    • SpaceX conducted two test flights of the largest and most powerful rocket ever built, Starship.
    • Roughly two-thirds of SpaceX's launches in 2023 were devoted to building out Starlink, the company's satellite-internet megaconstellation.
    • Isaacson’s Elon Musk biography was published in September including everything from Musk’s tumultuous relationship with his father to his work ethic and “demon mode”.

    Moving forward what can we expect from SpaceX and its controversial founder? Continued innovation pushing the aerospace industry to new limits? Yes. More drama? Without a doubt.

    Here is some of what is to come in 2024:

    🤝 Venture Deals

    Just Announced

    Check back next week!

    LA Exits

    • CG Oncology, an Irvine, CA-based developer of immunotherapies for bladder cancer, filed for a $100M IPO. It plans to list on the Nasdaq (CGON) with Morgan Stanley as left lead underwriter, and has raised around $317m in VC funding. - learn more
    • McNally Capital agreed to sell Advanced Micro Instruments, a Costa Mesa, CA-based maker of gas analyzers and sensing technologies, to Enpro (NYSE: NPO). - learn more

    Actively Raising

    • ReelCall, Inc., an entertainment technology company focused on powerful apps and platforms that help build and maintain the professional network of connections vital to career growth, is raising a $850K Pre-Seed Round. - learn more
    • CZero, a hard-tech startup that is developing a technology for decarbonizing natural gas, is raising a $1.5M Seed Round. - learn more
    • Couri, a technology startup addressing last-mile delivery issues, is raising a $450K Pre-Seed Round at a $2.2M post money valuation. - learn more
    • Sweetie, a marketplace to help people plan date nights, is raising a $250K Angel Round. - learn more
    • StartupStarter, an investment platform that provides real-time data and analytics on startups, is raising an $850K Angel Round. - learn more

    If you’re a founder raising money in Los Angeles, give us a shout, and we’d love to include you in the newsletter!

    📅 LA Tech Calendar

    Sunday, January 7th

    Wednesday, January 10th

    • Startup Cafe: Networking with a Kick - Entrepreneurs, Startups, and Tech Enthusiasts join together to meet and connect with like-minded people, industry professionals and investors, while enjoying a nice cup of coffee in Venice at The KINN. This week’s interactive discussion about AI’s evolution in entertainment will feature Dr. Sam Khoze and Rachel Joy Victor.
    • Venice Tech Happy Hour- Join Startup Coil and FoundrHaus Wednesday evening and enjoy the sunset from the rooftop, grab a bite overlooking Abbot Kinney, and mingle with other tech enthusiasts and entrepreneurs by the bar on the patio.

    Have an awesome event coming up? Reach out to be featured on next week’s Newsletter!

    📙 What We’re Reading

    RELATEDEDITOR'S PICKS
    Trending