Food by VICE

A Writer With Celiac Tried to 'Disappear,' Was Tracked Via Gluten-Free Pizza

Revisiting a journalist's stunt disappearance that ended because of a pizza order—and doled out a $5,000 reward.

by Bettina Makalintal
May 13 2019, 2:00pm

Photo: Evan Lang via Getty Images

The year was 2009: We still had to wait for a new episode of The Office every week; The Black Eyed Peas' "I Gotta Feeling" was legitimately inescapable; the wedding flash dance to Chris Brown's "Forever" swept through YouTube; gluten-free food wasn’t quite trendy yet. (Boy, don't ya feel old now?)

And in August of that year, writer Evan Ratliff went into hiding as a stunt for WIRED. "I’m going missing. I’m leaving behind friends, family, and everything familiar, and I’m challenging you to find me," he wrote. The winner would get $5,000 and their picture in the magazine. Ratliff provided some clues: "Thrimp Johnson" as his online alias; "wifi-enabled coffee shops" and "soccer-watching bars" as his go-to spots; celiac disease as his medical condition. He was found close to a month later—and what did him in was gluten-free pizza.

Ratliff wrote up the saga a decade ago, but the story was recently revived for a 48 Hours segment about Peter Chadwick, a murder suspect on the FBI's Most Wanted list, which aired this weekend. If you were not extremely online in 2009, you might have missed this, so to recap: Ratliff tried to hide for a month, during which time he shared credit card activity and logs of his calls and emails through WIRED to give people reasonable hints. If someone found Ratliff within the month, snapped his photo, and said a password, they'd receive the money.

As for how he was found, Ratliff told CBS, "The short answer is I have celiac disease and I have to eat a gluten-free diet." Ratliff was hiding in New Orleans, which the people searching for him discovered by tracing his IP address. They also noticed that a Twitter account Ratliff was running under an alias had followed New Orleans businesses, including a now-closed gluten-free pizzeria called Naked Pizza, Ratliff wrote in Wired.

These days, a celiac person in hiding would have plenty of options for food, but back then, it was pretty obvious that Ratliff would, at some point, get food from Naked Pizza. A person on the hunt explained the situation to Naked Pizza, and the owner of the joint was in; he even trained his employees to keep an eye out for Ratliff. Eventually, they found him, and the pizza owner got the $5,000 reward.

Gluten-free pizza: actually good for something.