Vanishing: “It’s Like Dying”

  • By Nicholas Thompson
  • On June 11, Evan traveled to Arkansas to interview Matthew Sheppard, a man who faked his death, tried to create a new identity, and was eventually caught. The story was the centerpiece of Evan’s Wired article, Gone Forever: What Does it Take to Really Disappear, which inspired Evan’s own disappearance. Read the entire transcript below carefully. It’s more than 9,000 words long, but it’s riveting and, at parts, quite emotional. It will give you clues to the way that Evan thinks, and it’ll show you the mistakes that he knows to avoid.

    Matthew Alan Sheppard, East Arkansas Regional Unit, 6.11.09

    Evan Ratliff: When did you first think of trying to fake your own death?

    Matt Sheppard: Well, it crossed my mind a few times. I started to feel a lot of pressure. I felt like I was very financial unstable; felt like the whole world was just kind of on my shoulders. And there just came a point where it was overwhelming, and then I just started trying to figure out well, how can I get away from this? How can I get out from under all this. And that’s when the thought of actually disappearing came to mind, and basically getting away from everything and starting over new, and fresh. That’s a big part of it, is actually having a fresh start, having people look at you in a different way, feel differently about you, and just being able to start from scratch and build on it. I would say that was the biggest driver. The money part—everybody seems to think that the money was the biggest motivator. But it really wasn’t, because I’m sure that everybody that you talk to, a million dollars, or a million three something is not a lot of money nowadays. When you are talking about disappearing and starting a new life with your family, it doesn’t go very far at all. Whenever I went into this, it was mainly about look, I just want to take off and move on, start off as a new individual in a different town, a different place, and build on it. That’s what I did.

    ER: Did you think about just doing that without the fake death part?

    MS: I thought about it, but I just didn’t think I would get very far. People were going to be looking for me, and I just don’t think I could have done it. Not without them, at least he thought crossing their mind that maybe he is dead, and not looking so hard.

    ER:How elaborately did you plan it?

    MS: I did quite a bit of research. I would say about three weeks. I googled a lot of different things online, and looked even outside of this country in Europe and other places.

    ER:There are a lot of cases these days, with the economy.

    MS: It seems like that’s what is going on. You type in “missing person” or “disappearance,” and you find a lot of things. You find that this almost, I was going to say a fad but that’s not the right word. It seems right now, with the economy the way it is, people want to disappear. There was tons of information for me to find.

    During the time, the most recent was a man who had disappeared in a hot air balloon. For all purposes he could be dead, but there was a difference. His wife was able to get a presumption of death without any evidence. No hot air balloon, no body, nothing. And his wife settled—I believe it wa

    in Chicago—his estate. And then the wheels just really started turning after I read that article.

    ER:You mean Steve Fosset?

    MS: Yeah. So that and a few other cases got me thinking. I looked at their mistakes, the ones that had been caught. Most of them had stayed within a small radius of where they were from. At that point I just started working on it—when I say that, I mean in my mind.

    ER:Did you talk to your wife about those plans?

    MS: No. My wife—this is still something that people may have a difference of opinion, but—my wife had nothing to do with it. And I have no reason to say anything different because she has already been charged and sentenced. At the time, my wife never would have participated in it.

    ER:But the prosecutors say she was.

    MS: A lot of that, I think, this will probably broaden their understanding of what actually happened. Because we didn’t even get into the details. Nobody even sat down and asked me the details. Not that I would have said anything, but nobody asked me. So I went ahead and pleaded guilty, because I am guilty of it.

    Anyway, my wife had no idea what was going on. If she did, she probably would have checked me into a hospital.

    ER:So what happened, take me through it?

    MS: My mother in law was visiting. I told my family that we were going to go spend a weekend on the river. And just get away, and get some R&R, because things were just building up and we needed some time away. So we went down there. We had a really nice weekend, and I think it was a Sunday or Monday. I had planned it to where I would take my dog out. I had a black Labrador named Fluke. If you know what labs are like, you get them anywhere near water and it’s very hard to keep them out. So it didn’t take much thinking to know what he would do if I went close to the water. So I managed to maneuver that my wife and I and Fluke walked out to the pier while my wife and I walked out the pier. I got the dog close to the water and kind of distracted my wife—she was looking at something or doing something different—and I helped him to get in the water. I just kind of nudged him a little bit and there he went, right off in there. I had to make it look real dramatic, so I pretended to be going into the water to help my dog out. To help push him out of the water.

    At the time I was about 315 pounds, so I was a lot heavier. I was out of shape. This is actually part of the planning; just a week earlier I went to the doctor and basically my physician told me basically I needed some time off. I was way overweight, way overstressed. He loaded me up with all kinds of messages to help with that stuff.

    I went into he water and it was in February, so the water temperature is about 39 degrees

    rest of article at



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    • behind da barz

      --------the chemicals R identical, we're one & the same / with 7 letters in all 3 of my government names / walked on water, nah, neither did jesus / its a parable to make followers & readers believers--------i gave her my honorable discharge & she took it like a soldier--------what's a black beetle anyway, a fuckin roach-------she told the director she tryna get in a school-he said "take them glasses off and get in the pool"---------what ya'll call swag to me is faggotry-------my outfit so disrespectful / u go 'head n sneeze let my presence bless u--------its quite amazing that u rhyme like u do / & how u shine like u grew up in a shrine in peru-------its hard fuckin with niggaz u hope u can trust / ure a fool if ure main bitch is easy to fuck--------beyond the walls of intelligence life is divine / i think of crime when im in a new york state of mind - ------THE WAY SOME ACT IN RAP IS KINDA WACK / IT LACKS CREATIVITY & INTELLIGENCE / BUT THEY DON'T CARE BECAUSE THEIR COMPANY IS SELLING IT / ITS MY PHILOSOPHY ON THE INDUSTRY--------From days I wasn't "Abel/able", there was always "Cain/caine-------know how to leave anything in 30 seconds / when you feel the heat coming & flee with the murder weapon--------ayo my silent moments' loud as the crack of thunder / my hunger like the crocodile that attacked the hunter-------i'm something between platinum & flop, underground & mainstream / conscious, backpack, scratch dat; 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passed more essays / than police motorcade parades thru east l.a.-------DEAD IN THE MIDDLE OF LITTLE ITALY LITTLE DID WE KNOW / WE RIDDLED SOME MIDDLE-MAN WHO DIDN'T DO DIDDLY-------visualizing the realism of life in actuality / fuck who's da baddest; a person's status depends on salary-------mechanical movement, understandable smooth shit / that murderers move with-the thief's theme--------DEEP LIKE "THE SHINING" SPARKLE LIKE A DIAMOND / SNEAK AN UZI ON DA ISLAND IN MY ARMY JACKET LINING / HIT THE EARTH LIKE A COMET - INVASION / NAS IS LIKE THE AFRO-CENTRIC ASIAN; ½ MAN, ½ AMAZING-------& why certainly i'm squirtin / bust a nut then get up & wipe my dick on your curtain-------walk by your casket & spit in your face--------i know how to get my peers off me / make 'em cry & die from high blood-pressure cuz tears are salty-------i'm not trying to give you love & affection / i'm tryna give you 60 seconds of erection / then im'a give you cab fare & directions / get your independent ass outta here - question?---------black cat is bad luck; bad guys wear black / must've been a white guy who started all that--------either you're slinging crack-rocks or you got a wicked jumpshot--------all us blacks got is sports & entertainment--------2 many athletes, actors & rappers / but not enough niggaz at nasa - ------why did bush knock down the towers?--------I REACT LIKE MIKE / ANY ONE TY-SON, JOR-DAN, JACK-SON / action, pack gunz, ridiculous--------all the teachers couldn't reach me & my mom couldn't beat me / hard enough to make up for my pop not seeing me---------kings from queens, from queens comes kings / we're raising hell like a class when the lunch bell rings---------excuse me miss, can i give you a minute? / may i buy you a glass of ice with liquor in it?--------what goes around comes around i figure / now we got white kids calling themselves nigga / the tables turn as the crosses burn...---------YOU LOVE TO HEAR THE STORY AGAIN & AGAIN / OF HOW IT ALL GOT STARTED WAY BACK WHEN--------i guess they got a grudge cause i won't budge / playin tough, staring down the judge with my hands cuffed---------A CHILD IS BORN WITH NO STATE OF MIND / BLIND TO THE WAYS OF MANKIND--------who shot biggie smalls? if we don't get them they gon' get us all / i'm down to run up pn them crackers in their city hall----------its kinda hard to be optimistic / when your homey is laying dead in a casket----------they say the blacker the berry; the sweeter the juice / i say the darker the flesh; then the deeper the roots---------i took your breath away then we'd perform cpr---------there's no real way it can be explained / i guess its just the way i smile when i hear your name--------CASH RULES EVERYTHING AROUND ME / C.R.E.A.M. GET THE MONEY, DOLLAR DOLLAR BILL Y'AAAAALL------------see I’m a poet to some, a regular modern day shakespeare / jesus christ the king of these latter day saints here / To shatter the picture in which of that as they paint me as / a monger of hate and satan a scatter-brained atheist--------i remember marvin gaye used to sing to me / he had me feeling like black was the thing to be------------this be that put-you-out-your-misery song / that makes you ask your man 'is this the joint he's dissin me on?'---------foul all your life now ure 90 / on ure death bed u regret being grimey---------INDUSTRY RULE #4080, RECORD COMPANY PEOPLE ARE SHAAADYYYY / so kids watch your back cause i think they smoke crack---------society's a weak excuse for a man-----------planet earth my place of birth / born to be the sole controller of the universe---------the mic had my prints, on on it was a body---------a squealer tells, but the dealer still sells---------some young male put in jail / lawyer so good his bail was on sale----------i'm just takin a piss......unless you're gonna do it----------fuck street clothes, we thug it out in tuxedos / stomp niggaz with hard bottoms in casinos--------people higher up have the lowest self-esteem / & the prettiest people do the ugliest things-----------IF YOU ADMIRE SOMEONE YOU SHOULD GO 'HEAD & TELL 'EM / PEOPLE NEVER GET THE ROSES WHILE THEY CAN STILL SMELL 'EM-----------goddamn, what a nigga gotta do to make a million / without the fbi catching feelings--------i got a story to tell / in these streets we got drugs & guns for sale---------we keep the nine tucked chop dimes up rap about it / wild out fuck niggaz up laugh about it---------- read between tha lines of ya eyes and ya brows / ya handshake aint matchin ya smile---------what the fuck i rap for? to push a fuckin rav-4?-------fuck all the glamour & glitz, i plan to get rich / i'm from new york & never was a fan of the knicks----------the white boy blossomed after dre endorsed him / his flow on renegade-fuckin awesome...applaud him-------before i start you know i gotta / pay homage & respects to afrika bambaata---------DRUGS IS THE KEY TO SUCCESS / MONEY IS THE KEY TO SEX------i pimped my crib so i must exhibit------- I - WILL - NOT - LOSE !
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