'Missing' Wired Magazine Writer Tracked Down

Wired writer tried to vanish for 30 days, but tech-savvy readers found him.

ByABC News
September 10, 2009, 4:39 PM

Sept. 11, 2009— -- 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.

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?"