How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found by Doug Richmond

How to Disappear

RATING: 7/10

A shockingly detailed account of how to actually change your identity and disappear. From getting a new ID, passport, setting up in a new city…it’s all here. The book was written in 1986, so its a bit dated, but surprisingly most of the information seems like it would still hold up today. If you ever want to entertain fantasies of becoming Jason Bourne for real, check this book out.

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Who and Why:

All disappearance statistics are ultimately based on “official” records of “missing persons and are completely unreliable because (1) the large number of disappearances who are never officially reported as missing persons; and (2) the small number of people listed as missing persons who are not.

A person who disappears has to be formally reported missing before the police will take any official notice, handled by the MPB Missing Persons Bureau.

Most adult missing persons reports are filed by wives whose husbands have ducked out.

Teenage runaways make up a large portion of officially missing persons.

People disappear mainly because of legal, financial, and psychological reasons. Most fall into a combination of the three.

The prime reason for disappearing is an unhappy marriage. It is fairly common for a man to leave his wife, but very rare for a woman to leave his husband. The system of “justice” in the United States heavily slants in favor of women in a divorce –Why would a woman want to slit on her husband if she could divorce him and make him take care of most of the bills.

The greatest reason for women to disappear is battering.  It is the fear of being harmed that is the cause of most female identity changes.

If husband splits and the wife wants to get married again, he will have to either divorce her spouse or have him declared legally dead. Most choose the former as it takes less time and is less expensive.

If the wife wants to collect on her husband’s life insurance policy, she will have to get him declared legally dead.

One of the basic attributes of a person willing and able to disappear and create a new identity is rock-ribbed practicality.

Gauguin Syndrome – depressed men in their forties and fifties who realize they will never accomplish their dreams in life.

A large number of “retired” people establish a second identity so they can work and still draw their maximum Social Security benefits. So they devise another identity, obtain a second social security number, and re-enter the ranks of the employed on a sub-rosa (secret) basis.

One of the unique attributes of criminal disapperees is that they tend to get better with practice. Middle-Class husbands who duck out on their wives’ attorneys are rarely ever located but criminals on the run are often brought back time and again. After their first or second arrest they begin to understand what it takes to stay free and they plan very carefully for their next foray into the free world. The seasoned identity changer is probably the most difficult disappearee to locate.

How – the Mechanics of Disappearing

The most successful vanishers are those whose disappearance was planned well in advance and painstakingly executed.

Many of the disappearances on the surface that look like whimsical undertakings are actually the result of years of detailed and methodical planning even though the person doing the planning may not actually realize it at the time —because of daydreaming of being at another place, perhaps buying maps of South America, guidebooks to Alaska, magazines on boating, etc. One day something happens (an argument or financial situation) and he entertains these fantasies built over the years.

Paul – spent years studying boats, sailing, and the geography of places he wanted to visit. He had the skills and knowledge to successfully travel by water. Two, he got lucky to fall into his new identity (the ship captain coming into town & befriending him, wife not investigating further, Mexican police not doing a thorough background check). And three, the time he spent at sea allowed him to grow into his new identity without having to immediately find a job or a place to live.

Unlike Paul, most start to assemble fake ID. They research the mechanics of identity change; they study the bureaucratic requirements of city, state, and federal governments, of foreign nations and employers. They prepare their disappearance.

Disappearing is a form of suicide. It is a revocable kind of death where one destroys his old life but not his chance to start a new one.

Out of 100 cases of apparent suicide from the Golden Gate Bridge, 26 were found alive and well later —faked their suicide or pseudocide.

One of the ground rules in identity changes is to keep your plans to yourself. It is near impossible to identity change in tandem.

Keep some cash reserve –where will you live, what kind of job will you get?

It isn’t who you are that counts, but whether you can prove it.

Consider a new ID before making a break for it.

Get a confidential mailing address; perhaps the best way is renting a address aka a mail drop, people who rent their addresses for a fee.

Do not bring your car with you, it leaves a trail.

The majority of foreign countries require a passport or birth certificate and supplemental ID – drivers license, credit cards, other licenses, etc. from U.S. Citizens –subject to change often without prior notice.

Mexico actually demands a “proof” of nationality. Drivers licenses and a lot of other things are acceptable. Because of their shitty economy, they don’t have super strict rules. There are even rules for issuing permits in the absent of these things and allow immigration officials to offer a small fee or they may refuse. If this occurs, a small propina (gratutity, almost like a tip) is in order. If the official turns it down, they may demand more money and it becomes a mordita (bribe). If you give too much up front they may get suspicious.

The MPB will not pursue a disapearee across state lines even if they do share information with other MPB’s. You have a good chance of going undetected as long as you follow the simplest of identity-changing procedures.

Fleeing persecution or taking “French” leave with an employer’s money is subject to the FBI – they will hunt you down.

The more money and/or publicity involved in a disappearance, the more intensive and prolonged the search will be.

Creating a Bullet-Proof Identity

The first step in creating an identity is locating a good one to use. The word “locate” is key here. While it is possible to fabricate an identity from scratch, it is extremely difficult.

Build your documentation on a genuine identity, it is a mistake to assume the identity of another living person. Too much of a trail.

Millions of people in the United States are “inadvertent phantoms;” that is, their current documented identity is not the one they started out in life with. This group includes foundlings who were “given” by their parents to another couple who raised the child as their bonafide offspring, adoptees who took the name of their adopting parents without voiding their original birth records, people raised under false names so their false parents could collect more welfare benefits, etc.

—Each and every one of these inadvertent identity changers has a second identity readily available. It will be a simple matter to document the identity he has lived with all his life, and it will also be easy to document the identity under which his birth was actually registered.

If you don’t have a built in second identity, the best way is to use the identity of someone that’s died; there are very little correlation between birth and death records in the U.S.

—War Buddies: a friend that you went through the service with, and that either died in combat or is “missing in action” is an excellent choice. There is a good chance his death was not officially registered in the town where he was born.

—Childhood Friend: you know a lot of your friend’s early life that will help support your story. If he died in a city other than he was born in, chances are there are no records of his death in his hometown.

—Headstones: Cruise the graveyards in any town looking at the tombstones. These usually give the deceased’s original name, date of birth and date of death. Sometimes they include the names of the parents and the place of death, which only make it easier to then get the ID you need.

—Newspapers: check the obituary section of the newspaper. Particularly good in small towns and rural areas because they usually give much more detail about the deceased’s family, age, place of birth and death, and reason for death. You can then investigate anyone of the proper age who was born in a distant city.

Also look for accounts of disasters like plane crashes, train derailments, fires, etc. If the death happened outside of U.S. territory then there is almost no chance that the individuals birth records have been connected with the death.

—Personnel Records: access in a large company, employment agency, or government agency to personnel records. You’ll find complete dossiers of employees, ex-employees, deceased employees, and all their families. Will likely include background, education, and the name, place and date of birth neatly spelled out.

Its best to consider some of the secondary characteristics of the identity you are going to appropriate.

The best names seem to be those from the British Isles or Northern Europe that are common all over the U.S.

Spanish or Spanish-sounding surnames should be avoided.

Check the education background of the identity you’re taking, hopefully they have a good background that will help get you a job.

Avoid identities that have very specialized training.

You don’t want to assume the identity of someone who left a family behind when they went. Chances are their ex-wife or kids are collecting social security as a result of the death.

Documenting your new identity

Need to get information on date of birth, place of birth, and parent’s names and mother’s maiden name to get a birth certificate.

–If having difficulty, hiring law school students or moonlighting legal researchers are the best types to hire, as they don’t ask a lot of questions and like the money.

Once you have the proper information, need to request copy of birth certificate; don’t be nervous about this step as many lose their original or never get it.

-use a letterhead run off in the name of the person whose ID you are after, you should use money orders for all payments required, and conduct your communications through a mail drop.

Then you can go to the Department of Motor Vehicles and get a drivers license.

-Along with your birth certificate you will want to bring a couple letters addressed to you as proof of residence. It should be easy enough to arrange for them to show your mail drop address rather than your actual address.

To get a SSN, but don’t use the number that came with your new identity. Make up a reason to the SSN clerk for applying so late in life; ie. a “perpetual student” living abroad, etc.

The best place to get a new passport is the passport office and not the post office –the passport clerk will ask you for your birth certificate and some sort of supporting ID, like your drivers license. The winter months are better for quicker mailing.


The successful disappearee, especially one who is earnestly sought, must be able to land on his feet like the proverbial cat and move quickly and carefully thereafter.

Don’t stay with friends and families for the first few days of your new identity…this is where people from your former life will seek you out and leave a trail.

For the first few days, try to stay off the street, as police are more incline to checking out those on the street. Try to find a mission, salvation army, or place to stay…traveling probably works out best.

Small town USA is a no-no, people usually know everyone in these towns –seek a bigger city.

For the typical disappearee, the question is not whether to work, but what work to do and how to get it.

The most important principle to working for a new disappearee is to establish credit. The second reason, to establish personal contacts.

Accept in the beginning you will be taking low pay jobs, but you need to build up an employment history. Consider freelancing. Consider (nowadays) making money online.

Construction industry is a good industry for new identity. Also temp work.

Avoid positions that put you in the public eye; ie TV, radio, bartending, lecturing, bellhopping, etc.

If you need references, a couple of mail drops by creating fictious vague sounding companies will work. Use letterhead printed for these companies and write your own letters of reference. If someone asks for a phone reference, you can simply tell them that your immediate manager retired or went to work for a competitor.

The identity you assume will almost automatically assume his education, but do not attempt to “use” his degrees. –people you cross will ask about your education, alumni, etc.,

If you feel you must have educational credentials it is much better to buy degrees mail order than to use ones that came with your new shell

You can always get new degrees and take waiver exams of the classes you already took.

Get the most basic or easy to get credit card to start establishing credit.

One peculiar problem you may run into is the identity you assumed had previous debt problems. This is why an identity changer assumes only so much of another’s identity as is absolutely necessary, and why it is so important to start with a new and pristine social security number.

There are 6 general ways that a person is recognized: 1. Gait 2. Overall appearance 3. Shape of the head and face 4. Voice 5. Features, not the same as #3 6. Location

Consider changing hair color,  hairstyle, clothes you wear, wearing glasses, losing or gaining weight, growing a beard, etc.

If you are making a big change in status, it is best to keep quiet for awhile until you learn the ropes.

Must be prepared for identity checks at all times and proceed with caution to avoid them.

In the early stages, you must leave as little paper trail as possible.

Stay out of government buildings as much as possible

Avoid publicity as much as possible; rallies, clubs, etc.

Never go about with more than one set of identification papers on you…a common mistake

Perhaps the hardest, you must detach from your past. Many get tripped up from communicating with people from their “former” life.

All money should be transferred from one identity to another in cash.

Avoid the great temptation to confide and divulge your secret to a new lover or young lady.  —The extreme vulnerability being blackmail.