On November 6 2019, the following post was shared to Reddit’s r/pics, featuring a roadside traffic sign reading “Epstein was murdered” in digitized text:
At the time the image was shared to Reddit, a vast number of memes culminating in one of two statements — “Epstein didn’t kill himself” or “Epstein was murdered” — circulated on social media. The memes referenced the jailhouse suicide of wealthy sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, and widespread public belief that Epstein’s suicide was not, in fact, a suicide.
“Road signs” as a term is broad, and the commonly seen device shown in this image is often called an “electronic road sign” or an “electronic highway sign.” Such devices are commonly reprogrammed by individuals without formal access to them, an action often called “hacking road signs” in the popular media.
In 2009, Jalopnik published an item titled “How To Hack An Electronic Road Sign,” beginning by stating that readers should “NOT under any circumstances run around hacking into electronic road signs using the information contained in this step-by-step guide of how to transmit hilarious messages to passing motorists.” At the top of the post was one such effort in which the sign read “ZOMBIES AHEAD,” and additional efforts were added to the post as they appeared after its publication.
Originally, Jalopnik said in part:
*** WARNING YOU SHOULD NEVER TAMPER WITH THESE SIGNS ***
• The access panel on the sign is generally protected by a small lock, but often are left unprotected.
• Upon opening the access panel you can see the display electronics.
• The black control pad is attached by a curly cord, with a keyboard on the face.
• Programming is as simple as scrolling down the menu selection to “Instant Text”. Type whatever you want to display, Hit Enter to submit. You can now either throw it up on the sign by selecting “Run w/out save” or you can add more pages to it by selecting “Add page”
** HACKER TIPS **
Should it will ask you for a password. Try “DOTS”, the default password … In all likelihood, the crew will not have changed it. However if they did, never fear. Hold “Control” and “Shift” and while holding, enter “DIPY”. This will reset the sign and reset the password to “DOTS” in the process. You’re in!
It seems almost inevitable that the long-held internet tradition of “hacking” road signs would merge with the “Epstein didn’t kill himself” meme to result in a highway sign reading “Epstein was murdered.” Per the Reddit post, that eventuality occurred on or around November 5 2019 in Modesto, California.
A reverse image search for iterations of the “Epstein was murdered” road sign returned no results in one search, and only recent images with the same text in another. Those results suggested that the image was less likely to be a digital manipulation created by someone altering an existing image of a digital road sign than an actual photograph.
One day prior to the image’s appearance on Reddit, the Twitter account @centralvalleytv tweeted what looked like a Snapchat screengrab of a similar (but not identical) image. While the version shared to r/pics was captured from inside a vehicle on the driver’s side, the @centralvalleytv image appeared to have been captured from the roadside. Both photographs showed a similar pattern of orange traffic cones, a yellow sign in the distance, and the same uneven and muddy terrain:
Text on the image as well as the tweet claimed that the sign was located in Stanislaus County, of which Modesto is a part. Most shares of the sign early on indicated that it was in Stanislaus County or Modesto, but at least one version subsequently claimed that it was spotted in Grand Junction, Colorado.
In 2017, a Modesto road sign was hacked to insult United States President Donald Trump, and footage of the message did not clearly show the same stretch of road. On Reddit, the post’s submitter did not deny taking the photograph personally, but didn’t say where it was taken. In a response tweet, @centralvalleytv provided a location where the image was purportedly captured:
South Carpenter/West Hatch Roads in Modesto, just south of the intersection.
Two separate photographs of a “hacked road sign” reading “Epstein was murdered” were shared to Reddit’s r/pics and Twitter late on November 5 or on November 6 2019. Its location was described on Reddit as “Modesto,” and initially as “Stanislaus County” (later Modesto, California) on Twitter. A subsequent version claimed that it was actually in “Grand Junction, Colorado,” but it is also not unlikely that varying locations would be referenced by meme-makers to localize the photograph. Based on the information available, it was likely a road sign was “hacked” by unknown people in November 2019 in Modesto, but only anecdotal information about the “Epstein was murdered” sign was shared in both initial iterations.