'Everyone you meet is a potential vulnerability': Metafilter's fascinating advice on being a fugitive


Ask MetaFilter, the section of weblog MetaFilter that’s set aside for “Querying the hivemind,” is a wondrous place. As I write this, it features threads about a mid-life crisis, helping someone remember the name of a song, and how to have a good time on a Sunday afternoon in Amsterdam.

More importantly, though, right now it has an entertaining thread on how to best go on the run from authorities.

The thread, which has been up for several hours now, was started by a user going by “Trifling.” Trifling said she’s been thinking about it since watching the fugitive TV drama “Hunted,” and asked:

What are the best strategies for being on the lam?
If you are being pursued by the authorities, how should you avoid detection? Make money?
Assuming you’re the sort of person that knows this is a possibility, how does one prepare?
Should you constantly move? Or is better to be established somewhere?
Should you lose yourself in the wilderness or in a big city?

Ask MetaFilter, game for this particular thought experiment, has already offered up a bunch of serious-minded replies. It’s pretty clearly speculative, but watching the collective mind of Ask MetaFilter delve deeper into the potential intricacies of fleeing the law is enthralling to read.

The first response was from someone who said they’d also been watching the show as well, and who offered a number of strategies, my favorite of which is this:

– The other difficult things seems to be the pressure. I think Ricky Allen eventually got caught because he was just mentally worn down and got sloppy. This is much more difficult to prepare for or prevent.

And then the replies became more learned, more considered. Someone else suggested making like noted mobster Whitey Bulger:

Do what this guy did. Of course Bulger earned all of his money before he went on the lam – which is something you might want to work into your plans too.

I’m not sure I recommend that, at least if it requires murdering as many people as Bulger did. But hey, I guess he was very accomplished at being on the run.

The original poster, Trifling, also returned with some ideas about disguising yourself:

– Wear a hat with a brim so it makes it harder to pick up your face on the cctv cameras.
– Cut and dye your hair, something really different from what you have now but doesn’t stand out ie don’t dye it pink but go brunette if you’re blonde. If you’re a man that is clean shaven, grow a beard asap. If you have a beard, shave it all off.

There’s also some speculation about whether to go live in a small town or a big city.

– If you have to stay in the country, start making friends in small towns. Preferably small towns with poor mobile signals.

From multiple people:

As noted, in a small town you might stick out more than in a big city. But if you become a hermit like the Unabomber you can probably get away with it in a small town if (a) you avoid much contact with people and act a little crazy, (b) just work for cash, (c) change your appearance, and (d) don’t communicate with anyone from your past. What undid the Unabomber was issuing a manifesto, in which his brother recognized his writing style — so in effect, he wrote home and they turned him in.

Including case citations (like Abbie Hoffman):

Other case studies would include Abbie Hoffman (lived for 5 years under the name Barry Freed in a small town upstate NY in the 70s; probably the authorities were not looking terribly hard for him) and Bernadine Dohrn who was on the FBI’s 10-most wanted list for a portion of her 10 years underground. However, I think in both cases (and others from that era), they were able to do it because of an extensive network of co-conspirators and sympathizers, not as solo acts.

The thread is all in jest (hopefully), but has the characteristic seriousness that MetaFilter often approaches these questions with. Anyway, I’ll leave you with my favorite kind of serious sounding answer to the question:

It’s often relationships that do people in. I’m not talking about romantic relationships, but connecting with people. You shouldn’t call your family or friends, don’t tell them where you are or have been. In your new place, don’t form deep and meaningful relationships. Be friendly, but always a little distanced. Don’t date, and if you do, don’t tell them who you really are. Your cover story should seemingly answer questions and not make you seem like your mysterious or have no past.
Everyone you meet is a potential vulnerability in your plan. People have weaknesses you can’t always predict. There are lots of solved crimes that only get solved because someone talked, aand they don’mt need to know everything, but one small thing can make the whole endeavour collapse.

On the lam? Gotta die alone. It’s a bummer, I know.

Ethan Chiel is a reporter for Fusion, writing mostly about the internet and technology. You can (and should) email him at [email protected]

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Share Tweet Submit Pin