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South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, Town 'N Country's Susan Jordan knew how to disappear

You can still get lost.

The local story of Susan Jordan and the national story of Mark Sanford seem strangely linked. They couldn't be more different, the two of them — a woman from north of Tampa, and the governor of South Carolina — but in this Big Brother-y age of surveillance cameras, GPS and Google Earth, the two of them have this much in common: They disappeared.

Jordan, a 57-year-old divorced mother, was gone for six weeks before calling family.

Sanford, a 49-year-old politician, was gone for six days before getting off a plane in Atlanta.

But the point is this: Both of them, at least for a while, got lost, and stayed lost, because they wanted it that way.

That's getting harder and harder to do these days.

"This is a profound question about our identity and our place in society," Peter Eckersley said Wednesday from San Francisco. He's a staff technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. He studies privacy issues brought on by rapidly advancing technologies.

"Do we," he asked, "have the right to say, 'Hey I want to escape the life I was living? I want to be a new person in a new place.' "

Jordan was reported missing on May 8. Deputies learned that she had bought a bus ticket under the name "Debbie Kelly." Surveillance tapes showed her on May 7 in the Greyhound station in downtown Tampa, later that night in Orlando and then the following morning in Tallahassee.

After that …nothing. Gone.

Sanford, the Palmetto State's chief executive since 2002, left the governor's mansion last Thursday. A cell tower near the Atlanta airport picked up a signal from his phone. Then it was turned off. State law enforcement officials called his phone and sent him text messages on Friday. No response.

The governor's office issued a statement Saturday that people shouldn't be concerned.

People were concerned.

The governor's office said he was "taking some time away" to "recharge." Then his wife said she didn't know where he was. Then his office said he was hiking on the 2,175-mile Appalachian Trail.

Where was Jordan?

Where was Sanford?

Our trails are tracked, because of where we get online, because of ATMs, because of credit cards, because of tolls, because of we shop on Amazon and because we carry cell phones wherever we go.

We feel watched, we feel tethered to some kind of network, because we kind of are, but we play along. We get on Facebook, and log in our status.

Here I am.

"As electronic devices become more equipped," Hillsborough sheriff's spokesman J.D. Calloway said Wednesday, "that definitely helps us find people, whether they are a fugitive or someone who has disappeared."

"Fifty years ago, it would've been easy to get lost," Eckersley said. "Now you can do this, you can go off the grid, but only if you're really savvy, or really lucky."

You need money, according to "skip tracer" Frank Ahearn, and you need a plan. One slip and you're not lost for long. It's hard.

Ahearn, 46, works out of California, and can be found online at disappear.info. Some 95 percent of the people who find him, he said Wednesday, come by searching these three words:

How to disappear.

Jordan "un"-disappeared earlier this week, authorities said, when she called her family to say she was in Savannah. Case closed.

A woman from the suburbs who disappears for a while is under no obligation to explain. A governor? Totally different.

Sanford landed in Atlanta on Wednesday morning. A reporter from the State newspaper in South Carolina was waiting for him. No, Sanford said, he had not been on the Appalachian Trail. Instead: Argentina!

"I wanted to do something exotic," he explained. He said he had needed a break and did some driving along the coast. Lovely.

Come afternoon, though, back in Columbia, he said he had gone to Argentina to meet with a woman with whom he has been having an affair.

Later in the day Sanford's wife said she kicked him out two weeks ago.

That's wronged-wife-speak for — wait for it — get lost.

Times researcher Will Short Gorham contributed to this report. Michael Kruse can be reached at mkruse@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8751.

South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, Town 'N Country's Susan Jordan knew how to disappear 06/24/09 [Last modified: Saturday, June 27, 2009 12:04pm]
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