How To Disappear
September 18, 2013 6:26 PM   Subscribe

"So why might a guy want to go on the lam? [The author of How To Disappear Completely and Never Be Found] lists three categories: legal, financial and psychological. He missed one. Scepticism: a cynical itch to find out whether the advice is sound and, if so, whether it's still relevant almost 30 years after it was published. Which is how I came to be...a 'lamster'."

bonus: before and after photos of the author's attempt at altering his appearance
posted by paleyellowwithorange (21 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
 
I died my hair in a motel void
met the coroner at Dreamgate Frontier
took my hand and said, I'll help you, son
if you really want to disappear


Also, this great.
posted by es_de_bah at 6:51 PM on September 18, 2013


the photos are good

the rest of it... well, he didn't really try that hard, did he?
posted by sweet mister at 6:57 PM on September 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


I think the only way to do this nowadays is to have few IRL friends and no family. You can keep your name, and your hair, and your weight, and your walk because no one'll be looking for you.
posted by mochapickle at 7:03 PM on September 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


These days, you need Saul Goodman's connections and some cash.
posted by es_de_bah at 7:12 PM on September 18, 2013 [6 favorites]


But I don't WANT to move to New Hampshire!
posted by oneswellfoop at 7:18 PM on September 18, 2013 [6 favorites]


Inspired by the meeting, and another chance encounter six months later, Richmond set out to find more about people like Capa, circulating cards throughout San Francisco inviting identity changers to call him.

How To Disappear Completely And Never Be Found? Well, step one is not to call people to tell them that you've disappeared.
posted by azpenguin at 7:18 PM on September 18, 2013 [8 favorites]


With today's camera-laden society and face recognition software, it's going to be basically impossible to disappear. All the cops need is one good photo of your face, and unless you manage to alter the central triangle of how your eyes, brow, cheekbones, and nose are arranged, they will be able to identify you.
posted by hippybear at 7:28 PM on September 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


How To Disappear Completely And Never Be Found? Well, step one is not to call people to tell them that you've disappeared.

"Mr. Nesbitt has learned the first lesson of not being seen: not to stand up. However, he has chosen a very obvious piece of cover."
posted by mightygodking at 7:41 PM on September 18, 2013 [30 favorites]


Just need to buy a pair of these.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:59 PM on September 18, 2013



unless you manage to alter the central triangle of how your eyes, brow, cheekbones, and nose are arranged, they will be able to identify you.

A pair of weirdly-fitting slightly assymetrical sunglasses, a busted nose, and a McKayla Maroney grimace.

People will find a way.
posted by codswallop at 8:24 PM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I bought a copy of' this from AK Press as part of research I was doing for a screenplay fifteen or so years ago. Richmond really does try to give concrete tips, but he leaves out one golden opportunity for establishing a new identity: baptismal certificates. I don't know if this idea still washes in post-9/11 America, but all the way into the late 90s, it was not particularly uncommon for rural Southern towns to cheerfully accept baptismal certificates in lieu of birth certificates. On top of that, it wasn't that uncommon for poor, rural people to give birth at home and fail to apply for a Social Security number for their kids until said progeny needed to work. And thus, at least at the time of my research, it was entirely possible for say, a young man who looked like he might be around 16 or 17 to start off with a baptismal certificate whipped up at Kinko's and carefully aged and then worm his way into a fresh SSN, a new driver's license, and a birth certificate.

Baptismal certificates... the weak link in "proper forms of ID."
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:39 PM on September 18, 2013 [8 favorites]


Well, it is a BIT more labor intensive, but you can just slaughter everyone you've ever known...
posted by Samizdata at 8:48 PM on September 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


D. B. Cooper, where art thou?
posted by yohko at 8:51 PM on September 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


You know, when I take my glasses off, people still recognize me even though I go around with glasses for everything short of sleep or wet. How does Clark Kent do it, I ask you?

(Ditto "Hannah Montana" in nothing but a blonde wig. Come onnnnnnnn, Jem did it better.)
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:45 PM on September 18, 2013


yohko: "D. B. Cooper, where art thou?"

DUDE! SHUT UP! People almost forgot, YOU ASS!
posted by Samizdata at 10:50 PM on September 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


To obtain a new background, just pay close attention to the bulletin board behind Chazz Palminteri.
posted by Uppity Pigeon #2 at 5:30 AM on September 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


It's possible to change your social security if there is something that is disturbing, say 666 in the current number. That would sever quite a lot of paths, but as azpenguin points out most cannot avoid sending a postcard or making a call to someone. I wonder how witness protection folks manage to keep quiet, ah perhaps wanting to live.
posted by sammyo at 6:42 AM on September 19, 2013


I wonder how witness protection folks manage to keep quiet, ah perhaps wanting to live.

That and having a support structure of highly trained and motivated individuals working to keep them from doing anything stupid.
posted by Etrigan at 7:05 AM on September 19, 2013


If he doesn't want to be found, anything would be better than the broad striped shirt and huge specs specs he's wearing in the 'before' shot. Just add a wool cap and you've got a description we've been training kids to find for the last 25 years or so.
 
posted by Herodios at 7:30 AM on September 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


Baptismal certificates... the weak link in "proper forms of ID."

A couple of years ago I had my wallet stolen and needed to get a new driver's license. Despite their high tech database, complete with digital picture repository and facial recognition software the only form of ID I had available at the time was my high school diploma.

After I got out of the DMV I returned to my job at the local high school and spent the next few hours printing out the diplomas for their upcoming graduation ceremony, the whole time wondering what I'd want my new name to be and exactly how far $275 would take me.
posted by Blue_Villain at 7:55 AM on September 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


The article has a weird, kind of pseudo-comical bias in it, of the author trying a little too hard to prove that the suggestions in the book wouldn't work. Of course your friends are going to recognize you if you cut your hair, wear contacts, put on a few pounds and wear a suit; the whole point of disappearing is that you're going to be somewhere else, presumably where the likelihood of running into people who know you are slim, not that you're going to gain shapeshifting abilities that would fool your mom. Similarly, he overdoes the gait-changing thing. (And while we're talking about this sort of thing, something that needs to be noted about facial-recognition software is that it doesn't seem to work very well in real life.) And he doesn't seem to have tried to find a plausible birth certificate match very hard, or shopped around for a jurisdiction that had lighter requirements for requesting one, although that may have been because actually successfully doing so might have been grounds for bringing him up on charges. (As DirtyOldTown notes above, some jurisdictions have much looser requirements for this sort of thing; I remember being shocked once when moving to another state and finding out that the DMV required no proof at all of my current address for my driver license, although the library did for a library card... and they would accept a driver license.)

Mostly, though, I think that the main impediment (until facial recognition software really works) is that, the older you get, the less likely it is that the dead-baby's-birth-certificate ruse would work, because although you might be able to get one that didn't have a corresponding death certificate on file, you'd then have to explain how you'd been off the grid for all those years. And, as Fehily observes, Doug Richmond's book seems aimed not so much at people who really need to disappear (like Walter White), but at guys who fantasize about kicking their lives to the curb and starting over; the fantasy doesn't necessarily include a plausible explanation for or even a half-assed response to the question of what you've been doing with yourself all this time. Even if you have a barrel of cash and a "vacuum repair guy" who does all the new-identity heavy lifting in exchange for some of that cash, sooner or later you're going to need to engage the health care system as you get older... unless you're either in excellent health or, of course, not really caring about your health.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:10 PM on September 19, 2013


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