It subsequently got taken down from the net, but jwz thankfully downloaded it and posted it.
It's definitely a great story - I read it all, and really liked it.
The question is, is it real?
Firstly, it's worth reading even if it's not. The author writes really well.
But on the substantive question, it's hard to say. The initial presumption is probably not - Occam's razor says that the more unusual a story is, the less likely it is to be true. Most people live rather boring lives, and some narratives are just too good to be true.
Beyond that, the two biggest points against it are the following. First, the idea that a rich daughter would escape pressure towards an arranged marriage by becoming a fugitive for several years, rather than just giving her father the middle finger. Sure, he'd cut off your money, but is this really better? Some people do crazy things, but this is pretty extreme without more explanation.
Second, if you were going to run away, would you start a blog to describe your experiences? It seems a bit unlikely. Then again, I can imagine that the need to connect to somebody would be pretty strong when you spent months on the run knowing nobody.
So that's the starting presumption against it being real, which seems fairly strong. But there's a reasonable amount of evidence in favor of it actually being true. At a minimum, if it's a hoax, it's clearly one that someone spent quite a bit of money and thought on, and one without a clear motivation.
First, she managed to convince a reporter from Esquire (linked at the jwz site), by at least having someone who matched her description and acted like her meet him in a very expensive hotel room with an armed guard. That on its own doesn't prove anything, but it's pretty serious commitment to a hoax. In addition, I presume that Esquire reporters are not entirely gullible, since the guy knows he'd look like a real fool if it turned out to be proven false.
There are other signs as well that are less visible. For instance, the Esquire article discusses some of the early investigations into the place where the domain was registered:
AeroBeta, Sociedad AnonimaAs another commenter pointed out, the name 'AeroBeta, Sociedad Anonima' is comprised of 'Aero', meaning flight, and 'Beta', the measure of financial risk, with 'Sociedad Anonima' in companies being abbreviated 's.a.'. So hence you have 'FlightRisk, s(he's).a.'
Apartado Postal 0832-0387
World Trade Center
Panama, Republica de Panama WTC
That quite a bit of planning, no? Not only do you drop enough cash to set up a company in Panama to hide the domain registration, you give it a name that's a coded version of the website.
The other problem with the hoax theory is that there's no clear payoff. Not only was the author not angling for a book or movie deal, but she turned down a number of offers of such (reported in the Wired and Esquire articles at the time). The website wasn't selling any products, and ended up just drifting off without a clear end. This fact becomes even more stark in hindsight - we now know ex-post that there really was no obvious financial payoff to the whole thing.
For my own part, there's two other small aspects that also point to the 'genuine' side. First, there's an odd tendency for hoaxes that involve a female protagonist to be written by a man. E.g. here and here. Being male fantasy, they tend to eventually end up focusing on male fantasies of female sexuality, with the characters being lesbian, bisexual, or that kind of thing. She's a flight risk had virtually none of that, other than one or two very references that weren't particularly sexualised and instead focused on the charisma of the men in question. In that regard, at least, it suggests a female writer, or a male writer very committed to representing the protagonist as sounding more female.
Second, there's one detail in particular that seems plausible in hindsight that would have been harder to come up with at the time. Here's a line from the April 2003 entry on some of the people she encountered:
Also amongst the exiles was a fairly famous software magnate who had elected to leave the United States "not so much for the tax issue, though that played a part, but more for the everyday nonsense of regulation."A software magnate, living in a sunny tax haven type country, back in 2003, who left due to "the tax issue" and "the everyday nonsense of regulation"? Tell me that doesn't sound an awful lot like John McAfee, who recently managed to get out of Guatemala and escape back to the US to avoid questioning by the Belize police over a murder. (Previously discussed by me here).
The point is that if I were to think of a name to add now about someone who might have been travelling in the Caribbean back in 2003, I'd pick a description of McAfee. But this one predated by many years the publicity that made him famous as a rich guy living in tax haven countries.
You add all this up, and you're left to choose between two scenarios, both of which would seem highly unlikely on their own, but one of which is very likely true. Odd, huh?
Hard to say. Overall, I'd give it about a 70% chance of being true. Then again, I'm rather gullible.