John Noerr and his 5-year-old son were chasing snakes in the Adirondacks last month when they stumbled on a grimy, expensive digital camera sitting in a foot of water in a stream.
Mr. Noerr, a 39-year-old art teacher, took a screwdriver and pried open a flap that concealed the camera’s memory card. He extracted the card, cleaned it off and put it in his computer.
On it he found a mystery.
There were 581 pictures. Many seemed to be from New York City, 250 miles away. There were pictures from Union Square. There were pictures of a sign that said “real estate.” A woman had taken a picture of herself in a mirror. The most recent picture, from June 2009, had been taken very close to the spot Mr. Noerr found the camera, north of Pharaoh Lake.
For three weeks, Mr. Noerr, who lives in Vermont but is spending the summer in the little town of Adirondack, N.Y., searched for the owner of the camera, a Canon Rebel XT that no longer appears to work.
Dead ends were many. He noticed the name “Ziggy Comeau” on the real estate sign in the photo, called the agent and spoke with his wife, who didn’t know anything about the camera.
One photo showed a market in Park Slope, Brooklyn. No leads there, either. Another photo that jumped out showed a bright purple door with address number 322. “I didn’t have street names. I just had house numbers,” Mr. Noerr said.
Exploring Brooklyn on Google Maps, Mr. Noerr spotted a purple door, on Fourth Street in Park Slope.
“Of all the purple doors in the universe I found the right one by accident,” he said. But the purple door turned out to be a dead end, too.
Mr. Noerr, whose quest was first reported by the Glens Falls, N.Y., Post-Star, did not give up. Scanning the time stamps on the photos, he noticed that two that had been taken 88 seconds apart: one of a sunset that showed a street sign for Third Avenue at a traffic light, and one of a gray house with the number 327 on it.
So he began poring through Google Maps along every intersection of a Third Avenue in New York City that had a traffic light. After hours of searching, he found the house: 327 80th Street in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.
Quickly, he tracked down the names of the residents. Their last name was Comeau. Mr. Noerr reached out to Janine Comeau on Twitter.
“I felt creepy at the very end when I had her name and I was on her Twitter account,” he said. “It was almost 24 hours before she responded.”
Ms. Comeau replied. She hadn’t lost a camera; her brother, Michael, had.
“I’m ecstatic,” said Michael Comeau, 34, a writer for the financial Web site minyanville.com and amateur photographer. Mr. Comeau had tried to detach the camera from a tripod he had set up on a bridge, lost hold of it and watched it fall off the bridge and out of sight.
“There are still good people out there,” he said. “Without that, the whole mechanism of the Internet is useless. There are people with good will willing to go through with these things.” One of the photos on the camera was of his ill mother, who has since died. (Mr. Comeau had photographed the real estate sign because it featured his last name; Ziggy and Michael are unrelated.)
For his part, Mr. Noerr has already moved on to other projects. A neighbor, after hearing about his discovery, passed along another mysterious camera. That riddle didn’t take as long to solve.
“Their son was wearing a Cub Scout outfit and clearly visible was the name of the pack and where they’re from,” Mr. Noerr said. “It literally took five minutes.”