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A Hacker Vanishes : Computer Whiz, Missing Since September, a Source of Mystery

December 11, 1986|TOM GORMAN | Times Staff Writer

ESCONDIDO — Early one morning in late September computer hacker Bill Landreth pushed himself away from his IBM-PC computer--its screen glowing with an uncompleted sentence--and walked out the front door of a friend's home here.

He hasn't been seen or heard from since.

The authorities want him because he is "the Cracker," convicted in federal court in 1984 of breaking into some of the most secure computer systems in the United States, including GTE Telemail's electronic mail network where he peeped at NASA and Defense Department computer correspondence.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday December 13, 1986 San Diego County Edition Metro Part 2 Page 3 Column 1 Metro Desk 2 inches; 70 words Type of Material: Correction
Missing Man's Friend Was Never Arrested
In a Wednesday article about the mysterious disappearance of computer hacker Bill Landreth, The Times incorrectly reported that Landreth's friend, 16-year-old Tom Anderson of Escondido, had been convicted in federal court and placed on probation for a computer crime. Actually, Anderson's computer equipment was confiscated by the FBI in October, 1985, when federal authorities made a sweep of alleged computer hackers, but Anderson was not arrested.
For the Record Hacker's Friend Not Arrested or Convicted
Los Angeles Times Saturday December 13, 1986 Home Edition Part 1 Page 2 Column 1 Metro Desk 2 inches; 64 words Type of Material: Correction
In a Dec. 11 article about the mysterious disappearance of computer hacker Bill Landreth, The Times incorrectly reported that Landreth's friend, 16-year-old Tom Anderson of Escondido, had been convicted in federal court and placed on probation for a computer crime. Actually, Anderson's computer equipment was confiscated by the FBI in October, 1985, when federal authorities made a sweep of alleged computer hackers, but Anderson was not arrested.

He was placed on three years' probation. Now his probation officer is wondering where he is.

His literary agent wants him because he is Bill Landreth the author, who has already cashed in on one successful book on computer hacking and who is overdue with the manuscript of a second computer book.

The Institute of Internal Auditors wants him because he's Bill Landreth the public speaker who was going to tell the group in a few months how to make their computer systems safer from people like him.

Susan and Gulliver Fourmyle want him because he is the oldest of their eight children. They haven't seen him since May, 1985, when they moved away from Poway, first to Alaska and then to Maui, where they now live.

And his friends want him because he is crazy Bill Landreth, IQ 163, who has pulled stunts like this before and "disappeared" into the night air--but never for more than a couple of weeks and surely never for 2 1/2 months. They're worried.

Some people think that Landreth, 21, has committed suicide. And there is clear evidence that he considered it--most notably in a rambling eight-page discourse that Landreth wrote during the summer.

The letter, typed into his computer, then printed out and left in his room for someone to discover, touched on the evolution of mankind, the prospects of man's immortality, the defeat of the aging process, nuclear war, communism versus capitalism, society's greed, the purpose of life, computers becoming more creative than man and-- finally--suicide.

The last page reads:

"As I am writing this as of the moment, I am obviously not dead. I do, however, plan on being dead before any other humans read this. The idea is that I will commit suicide sometime around my 22nd birth day. . . ."

The note explained:

"I was bored in school, bored traveling around the country, bored getting raided by the FBI, bored in prison, bored writing books, bored being bored. I will probably be bored dead, but this is my risk to take."

But then the note said:

"Since writing the above, my plans have changed slightly. I have, in the past months, been kept busy dispersing the moneys in my bank account, and at this moment it is fairly low. Don't get me wrong; I still have plenty to live on . . . and I have about an additional $1,000 in checks that I have not bothered to cash. But the point is, that I am going to take this money I have left in the bank (my liquid assets) and make a final attempt at making life worthy. It will be a short attempt, and I do suspect that if it works out that none of my current friends will know me then. If it doesn't work out, the news of my death will probably get around. (I won't try to hide it.)"

Landreth's birthday is Dec. 26 and his best friend, among others, is not counting on seeing him again.

'Not Much Point to Life'

"We used to joke about what you could learn about life, especially since if you don't believe in a god, then there's not much point to life," said Tom Anderson, 16, a senior at Escondido's San Pasqual High, who also has been convicted in federal court of computer hacking and placed on probation.

Anderson was the last person to see Landreth. It was about Sept. 25--he doesn't remember exactly. Landreth had spent a week living in Anderson's home so the two could share Landreth's computer. Anderson's IBM-PC had been confiscated by authorities, and he wanted to complete work on his own book.

Anderson said he and Landreth were also working on a proposal for a movie about their exploits.

"He started to write the proposal for it on the computer, and I went to take a shower," Anderson continued. "When I came out, he was gone. The proposal was in mid-sentence. And I haven't seen him since."

Apparently the only things Landreth took with him were his house key, a passport and the clothes on his back.

Had Taken Off Before

Anderson said he initially was not concerned about Landreth's absence. After all, this was the same Landreth who, during the summer, took off for three weeks in Mexico without telling anyone--including friends he had seen just the night before his departure.

But concern grew by Oct. 1, when Landreth failed to keep a speaking engagement with a group of auditors in Ohio, for which he would have received $1,000 plus expenses. Landreth may have kept a messy room and poor financial records, but he was reliable enough to keep a speaking engagement, said his friends and his literary agent, Bill Gladstone.

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