'Missing' Wired Magazine Writer Tracked Down

Photo: Vanish: Finding Evan Ratliff: Author Evan Ratliff Is on the Lam. Locate Him and Win $5,000.

You can run and you can hide.

But, especially in the digital age, do you have what it takes to disappear?

In a contest hatched by Wired magazine, writer Evan Ratliff tried to see if he could fly below the radar for 30 days with a bounty over his head.

Starting Aug. 15, he traveled the continental United States without revealing his location to a soul on the planet. Wired offered $5,000 to anyone who could find him before the time ran out, but Ratliff would pocket $3,000 if he survived the month incognito.

With just one week to go, it looked like Ratliff might outsmart the hundreds -- maybe thousands -- of hi-tech sleuths who had joined the hunt.

But, on Tuesday, on his way to pick up some pizza, he was nabbed in New Orleans.

"I actually thought that I'd make it back to New York. So much so that I had plans," said the New York-based writer. "I had already plotted out what I'd do. I hadn't quit trying. I really thought that I was going to make it."

At the same time, he said he wasn't absolutely sure he'd survive the whole month without getting caught.

"I started getting paranoid about two days into it and remained paranoid the whole time," he said.

Disappearing in the Digital Age: Easier or Harder?

Soon after the contest launched, Nicholas Thompson, Ratliff's editor at Wired and contest co-conspirator, told ABCNews.com the two had tossed around story ideas about disappearances for years.

In January, after noting an uptick in fugitive and missing persons cases, Ratliff threw out his seemingly far-fetched idea: He would try to go underground for a month and then write about the experience.

"My first response was, that's sort of crazy," Thompson said. But after kicking around the idea for another a month, they figured out how the plan could actually work.

For the September issue of Wired, Ratliff wrote about Matthew Alan Sheppard, a financially-beleaguered man who allegedly faked his own death and disappeared to escape fraud charges.

Then, Ratliff himself went on the run.

"It's just the excitement and the human narrative of people getting away," said Thompson. "How does it change in the digital age? Is it harder to get away from our past life?... Or is it easier?"

Wired Contest: Anyone Can Be a Private Investigator

The premise of the contest was that Ratliff was someone who wanted to disappear without sacrificing too many elements of normal life. The contest also assumed that anyone who wanted to could be a private investigator.

So while Ratliff trekked around the country, Thompson held onto personal information that any professional private investigator would have had.

Each day on Wired's Web site, Thompson (who didn't know Ratliff's location) parceled out clues, like credit card and bank transactions, IP (Internet protocol) address logs that might indicate where he connected to the Internet and other tips from tech-savvy Evan-trackers.

And to keep his hunters engaged, Ratliff promised to remain partially on the grid. He stayed connected on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, followed the progress of the contest online and went out for the occasional piece of gluten-free pizza (he has celiac disease and cannot tolerate gluten).

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