Monday, June 22, 2009

"A golden rule: to leave an incomplete image of oneself." - Emile M. Cioran

Six years ago, I spotted a guy in his late forties in a bookstore in New Jersey. He was buying books about offshore banking and a travel guide to Costa Rica. He paid with a credit card. Afterwards, when he sat down in the bookshop cafĂ©, I decided to talk to him. “I bet you want to buy a condo in Costa Rica and bank your money in Belize,” I said. “But if you’re running from someone, you’d better avoid paying for those books with your credit card.” We talked for a while. Before I left, I gave him my business card. He was the first person I helped to disappear.

Since then, I’ve helped more than 30 people vanish – people who had problems with ex-spouses, with business partners or with criminals. Normally, it takes me between one month and three to make the necessary preparations. Depending on the case, I charge between $10,000 and $30,000, but I work free of charge for women who are being stalked.

People who hire me are usually afraid for their lives. The guy in the bookstore was a whistleblower who had worked as an accountant in a mid-sized company with government contracts. He had testified against his employer in a fraud case. Somehow, information about him had leaked and former colleagues had threatened him. He could have gone to the police, but he didn’t trust them any more.

Before I started helping people disappear, I had worked as a “skip tracer” for more than 20 years. Skip tracers are private investigators who specialise in finding people, and I was good at my job. Over the years, I located more than 50,000 people. Helping a person to disappear required reverse engineering: I asked myself how I would have found a person, and tried to smear the leads.

Financial Times | First Person: Frank Ahearn

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