One Strange Book Is Connected To Thousands Of Disappearances

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paper trip book

Many of us pick up a self-help book or two in our lifetime, in hopes of learning and growing in various personal and professional ways.

As time passes, there are a plethora of books on how to do this or that, which are published on a daily basis.

But one book you may not have heard of was a how-to of a different sort, sharing details on the commission of a particular white-collar crime.

What is 'The Paper Trip'?

Barry Reid, a law student whose prospective legal career ended when he was convicted of smuggling marijuana and remanded to the Terminal Island low-security prison, launched Eden Press and published several "books for crooks."

Some of the publishing company’s titles included "How to Beat the Bill Collector," "Classic Mail Frauds," and "Short Cons."

But its most popular title and perhaps the most controversial was "The Paper Trip."

"The Paper Trip" was a short paperback book that told people how to "disappear" and assume a new identity for personal or financial gain.



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The book quickly became a bestseller in the criminal subculture, prompting the Department of Justice (DOJ) to release a 781-page report in the 1970s called "The Criminal Use of False Identification."

The DOJ’s report alleged that criminals had the ability to disappear whenever they wanted, creating fake "paper people," and that "The Paper Trip" was their textbook.

The book teetered between a straight up step-by-step manual on obtaining a new identity, and the right of Americans to assume whatever identity they wanted to.

Framing it as a traditional practice, the author wrote:

“Ever since the early days when the first Americans — the Indians — used the device of name-change to denote accomplishment (sort of like a tribal 'promotion'), Americans have changed their names in order to gain some form of success and/or acceptance... What some people do not realize, however, is that the custom did not die with the closing of the frontier — and, in fact, is still flourishing today.”

This assured people who were tentative or skeptical about partaking in the seemingly dubious process that it was okay and something they were entitled to.

"The Paper Trip" suggested that we have been conditioned to limit our own transformations, creating an environment where we could not reach our full potential in life.

The book promoted real identities, like a method called the "Birth Certificate Route," over creating fictitious personas.

This means that you get a birth certificate in the name of a deceased child and use it to obtain a social security card, ID, credit cards, and, finally, a totally new identity.

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Notable Disappearances Connected to 'The Paper Trip'

1. Commander Bobby Thompson

One of the most prolific disappearances associated with the book was that of a man who called himself Commander Bobby Thompson, an identity he had assumed from a Navy Veteran.

In 1997, "Thompson" had run a scam where he posted a bogus help wanted ad for a fictitious company called Totem Security in an Oregon newspaper, the Gallup Independent, in order to get demographic identifying information from unsuspecting applicants.

The Commander started out using names of young boys who had died around the time he was the same age, but as the government created new systems around birth certificates and social security numbers, he adapted a live-victim method.

2. Lori Ruff

There was also the case of Lori Ruff, a woman who died in 2010 and left behind her husband and kids. It turned out that Lori Ruff was an identity she had stolen years prior.

A Pennsylvania family had a member disappear without a trace in 1986. They had spent three decades hoping for her safe return. It turned out Lori was actually Kimberly McLean and had stolen the identity of a two-year-old girl from Pierce County, Washington, who had died in a house fire along with her two sisters in 1971.

Kimberly left home during a time she did not get along with her mother and stepfather, and first assumed the identity of Becky Sue Turner, the two-year-old mentioned above. She later moved to Texas and had her name legally changed to Lori Erica Kennedy Ruff.

3. Joseph Newton Chandler III

In the 1960s, when Robert Ivan Nichols disappeared, his family was perplexed about what could have happened to him. That is, until U.S. Marshals showed up at his son Phil Nichols' home in 2018 to see if he recognized Chandler’s photo.

Phil Nichols had assumed the name of Joseph Newton Chandler, a child who had died in a car accident back in 1945. Nichols continued to live under that assumed name until 2002, when he ended his own life, leaving behind $82,000 in the bank and no will, so law enforcement went looking for his next of kin.

That’s when authorities discovered that the real Chandler had died at eight years old in a car accident on Christmas Day in 1945 as he and his parents traveled to his grandparents' home.

It turned out that Nichols, AKA Chandler III, was suffering from terminal cancer and may have decided to end his life on his own terms.

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NyRee Ausler is a writer from Seattle, Washington, and author of seven books. She covers lifestyle and entertainment and news, as well as navigating the workplace and social issues.