Did Rolex Sales Records Help Solve a Murder?

In September 2019, a Reddit r/todayilearned post claimed that luxury watch manufacturer Rolex maintained such “meticulous” sales records that their data was used to solve an open homicide:

Reddit’s r/todayilearned (usually abbreviated “TIL“) is a subreddit for users to share interesting facts and stories, and the Rolex murder story was highly upvoted. On October 4 2019, the story was reposted in a visual format to Reddit’s image-hosting sister-site Imgur (titled “Timely findings”):

A meme with the header “Diply FACTS!!!” featured an image of a blue-faced Rolex (“not the actual image”) and text at the bottom:

On July 28, 1996, a man’s body washed up on a trawler in the UK seas. There was no identification on the body except a 25-year-old Rolex Oyster on his wrist. As Rolex maintains such meticulous service records, they were able to ID the victim and ultimately the murderer.

The “Diply Facts” page shared the image to their Facebook page on October 3 2019. It likely sourced its claim from the popular Reddit post several days earlier, but didn’t mark its source on the meme.

As is often the case with r/todayilearned posts, the original poster selected the option to link to an article rather than appending a text-based summary of the post. They shared an article from which the description of Rolex’s “meticulous records” was apparently sourced:

On July 28, 1996, a man’s body was found in the net of the Brixham trawler Malkerry six miles off Teignmouth.

Detectives found nothing on the body to indicate who the drowned man was. Their only clue was a 25-year-old Rolex Oyster watch which was still attached to his right wrist.

Six weeks later, after researching Rolex’s meticulous service records, officers established that the victim was 51-year-old former soldier Ronald Platt.

The serial number and service documents showed the timepiece had twice been taken by Mr Platt to a firm of Harrogate jewellers in the 1980s.

In its original format on Reddit, the post’s title adequately and accurately summarized the initial details of the story. The body of Ronald Platt was located by a British trawler on July 28 1996, and UK police used the watch’s serial number as a means of identifying the victim. British news organizations reported that “fugitive Canadian businessman Albert Walker” was convicted of Walker’s murder in 1998, and described a complicated series of events which began when Walker fled his native Canada.

According to the September 2017 article (which was updated in September 2019), Walker first influenced Platt and Platt’s partner to relocate to Canada. But Platt moved back to England in 1995, disrupting Walker’s efforts to remain undetected:

Just weeks before the Canadian authorities began investigating the alleged theft of nearly $4 million Canadian from his financial services business, Walker had fled across the Atlantic to London with his 15-year-old daughter in December 1990 … [After stealing the identity of another man, Walker] he befriended mild-mannered TV repairman Ronald Platt and his 39-year-old girlfriend Elaine Boyes in Harrogate where the couple unknowingly played a part in extending Walker’s web of deceit and lies.

Walker used them as a front for a bogus company operation, with accounts in Switzerland, to launder cash to further his stay in Britain.

When [Platt and Boyes] had served their purpose, Walker paid for them to start a new life in Canada – a country Mr Platt loved after living there in his youth – and assumed his second false identity. But when a disillusioned and jobless Mr Platt returned to Britain in 1995 he became a threat to Walker’s security and freedom.

Coverage of Walker’s murder trial in 1998 described how police used Rolex service records to identify Platt and led them to Walker:

Mr Platt was only identified through a Rolex Oyster watch on his wrist which bore a reference number that allowed Devon police to trace its owner: the real Ronald Platt, and subsequently his family.

“The irony is that the watch was one of his proudest possessions and never left his wrist,” said Mr Barton, who added: “The person who put him on the sea-bed left it with him.”

Albert Walker is the subject of pages on both Wikipedia and Murderpedia, a Wiki for “true crime” buffs; Platt’s murder was the subject of other true-crime writing. Under the heading “Murder and conviction” on Walker’s Wikipedia page, the role of his Rolex watch in the investigation is described at length. Time elapsed between Platt’s death was described in a slightly different time frame, stating the body was found “two weeks” after the murder:

Walker took Platt out on a fishing trip 20 July 1996 where he murdered him, weighed him down with an anchor, and dumped his body in the sea. Two weeks later the body was discovered in the English Channel by fisherman John Copik with a Rolex wristwatch being the only identifiable object on the body. Since the Rolex movement had a serial number and was engraved with special markings every time it was serviced, British police traced the service records from Rolex. Ronald Joseph Platt was identified as the owner of the watch and the victim of the murder. In addition British police were able to determine the date of death by examining the date on the watch calendar and since the Rolex movement had a reserve of two to three days of operation when inactive and it was fully waterproof, they were able to determine the time of death within a small margin of error. Walker was apprehended shortly thereafter.

The role Rolex service records played in solving the 1996 murder was also mentioned on the brand’s Wikipedia page. A source cited for the claim on Walker’s page said that the murder occurred on July 20 1996, and Platt’s body was recovered eight days later, not two weeks:

The fugitive Canadian [Walker], who was number 4 on Interpol’s wanted list and feared his cover would be blown, lured Platt to Devon in southwest England on the pretext of helping him sail his boat, the Lady Jane, to Essex. Once aboard, Walker knocked Platt unconscious, tied a 4.5-kg anchor to his belt and tossed him overboard. Eight days later, a commercial fisherman scooped up the body and the anchor in a net about 10 km offshore. Police initially thought the victim had committed suicide. But after establishing Platt’s identity through the Rolex watch on his wrist, and discovering that someone else was living under his name, Devon police launched a murder investigation.

Although Rolex service records provided information critical to the investigation, additional forensic and forensic accounting work enabled UK police to solve Platt’s murder. Detective Superintendent Phil Sincock headed the investigation, and he described other case elements during 2019 media interviews:

“There was one bit of luck in terms of the Essex policeman going to the wrong door, but other than that it was down to painstaking police work and some new ground-breaking scientific inquiries which was why they had me over to Canada talking about them,” [Sincock] said as another film about the story was released.

“We seized a whole van load of documentation from Walker’s house and among it all was a two-inch square sales receipt which showed that he had purchased on a Barclaycard an anchor … We proved that his yacht was at sea at the material time. For the first time in any case, we took the yacht’s GPS navigation system back to its manufacturers and they were able to plot co-ordinates which gave us the time and date it had been switched off and proved it had been very near to where Mr Platt’s body had been found.

“Tests on the Rolex watch established it would have taken 44 hours to wind down. The watch stopped on June 22, which meant that he had died on June 20. From the GPS we could put Walker’s boat in the area on June 20.

“Inside the cabin were some cushions on which we found some head hairs. DNA tests proved that they were from the deceased man. And forensic tests found zinc traces from the anchor on Mr Platt’s belt and traces of leather on the anchor.”

In 2005, Walker’s daughter — who he presented as his wife during his time in England — spoke to Canadian news organizations about her father’s transfer from the UK to Canada as well as her fears for her family’s safety. As of 2013, Walker was alive and incarcerated in British Columbia.

As presented on Reddit and Imgur, claims about the Rolex murder investigation and the involvement of the brand’s “meticulous records” was broadly accurate. Walker’s arrest was initially reported as resulting from police reliance on Rolex service records. In actuality, however, additional Rolex-related data involving its “wind-down” function also played a part, as did then-novel use of global positioning satellites and DNA testing on hairs found at the crime scene. But according to initial reports, Platt’s identity was indeed established via his Rolex Oyster watch.