Computer Hacker Found Living on the Streets : Judge Lets Landreth Off Probation After Violation Lands Him in Court

Times Staff Writer

Famed teen-age computer hacker William Troy Landreth, who disappeared last year without explanation, was arrested last week in San Diego on a federal warrant for violating probation.

Landreth, now 24, had been living on the streets of downtown San Diego as a drifter with no permanent address. Police stopped him for an unknown minor violation March 1, then ran a warrant check and discovered Landreth was wanted.

On Monday, U. S. District Judge Rudi Brewster took pity on the convicted computer hacker and terminated his probation, which was to have lasted until Nov. 16. “The judge concluded that his attempt to give some assistance, guidance and constructive help simply wasn’t working in the context of the criminal justice system,” said Peter Hughes, Landreth’s attorney.

Landreth was released from the federal Metropolitan Correctional Center Monday night.


Known as the ‘Cracker’

Landreth, once known as the “Cracker,” was convicted at age 19 of tapping into a large corporation’s electronic mail network from his Poway home. He had also entered systems run by the Department of Defense and NASA. In November, 1984, Brewster sentenced the baby-faced youth, with an IQ of 163, to three years’ probation and ordered him to complete high school.

Landreth at first complied with the judge’s orders, but mysteriously disappeared two years later. He surfaced in June, 1987, in a small town in Oregon and was arrested for probation violation. A U. S. marshal said Landreth was dirty, without shoes and dressed shabbily at the time of his arrest in McMinnville, near Portland.

Landreth was returned to San Diego and given additional probation. There were no mishaps until Landreth missed an appointment with his probation officer last Sept. 21. When Landreth didn’t turn up after several months, Brewer issued a warrant for his arrest.

‘Bumming Around’

Hughes, who has represented Landreth in federal court since his 1984 arrest, said Landreth has been on the streets for some time, “just sort of bumming around.” Landreth had been approached several times by police for minor violations, such as jaywalking and loitering, Hughes said.

Police records show Landreth was contacted by police on a narcotics charge in September, according to police spokesman Bill Robinson. Landreth was also issued a citation for crossing the street against a red light last month, Robinson said.

Hughes said Landreth began living on the streets by choice, after there was a fire in the apartment he previously occupied. “He says he has been able to earn some money and is not destitute. . . . He is capable of generating some income.”


Spreading Knowledge

After his arrest in 1984, Landreth wrote a book about his computer capers and made a living by telling other potential corporate victims how to protect their computers from people like him.

In court Monday, Landreth said he intended to do more writing about computers and said he believes he would be able to turn his life around and accomplish something positive, according to Hughes.

“The judge said he didn’t know that continuing probation was really going to accomplish anything, and he basically wished Landreth well,” Hughes said.


Hughes said that, even in the earlier court case, Brewster had attempted to guide the troubled genius in a fatherly way, rather than punish him. “The judge was not being punitive--just the opposite,” Hughes said. “He was trying to fashion some type of program that might give Landreth motivation for getting his life together.”

Hughes said he believed the justice system had done all it could to help Landreth.

“I think we had really exhausted what can be done,” Hughes said. “We were trying to be his parents, and we can’t be. This is really no longer something that the criminal justice system can accomplish.”