People have probably been faking their own death for centuries, some more successfully than others. But getting away it is a lot harder these days—especially with the Internet, tightened international security and the increased difficulty in creating false documents.
Some folks still seem to think they can get away with it, though, particularly when there's money involved. Here, we take a look at some of the more interesting cases of people who tried to fake their own death, many in an effort to avoid debt or reap financial gain.
By Constance Parten, Senior Producer
Posted Jan. 28, 2010
Note: A slide originally published with this slideshow has been removed due to factual error.
Corey Taylor was fed up with his cellphone service, but didn't want to pay the $175 cancellation fee for getting out of his Verizon Wireless contract. So he faked his own death.
"What have I got to lose, besides a cellphone I despise?" Taylor told The Washington Post.
Verizon eventually caught on, though, and Taylor had to fork over the money. No charges were filed.
Dorothy Johnson (left) and daughter Twila McKee of Milwaukee were arrested in August 2003, charged with insurance fraud and attempted theft for claiming Johnson had died in the World Trade Center attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. The mother-daughter duo filed two life insurance claims with benefits totaling $135,000, with McKee named as the beneficiary on both policies.
Two miscues foiled the alleged scheme: Johnson's own thumbprint was on the letter to Conseco Direct Life Insurance Co., and she also filed an insurance claim for a car accident that took place Sept. 23, 2001, 12 days after she supposedly died, according to the complaint.
Facing financial trouble and half a dozen lawsuits, Indiana money manager Marcus Schrenker decided to make a run for it. Leaving Indiana in his small plane on Jan. 11, 2009, Schrenker radioed controllers somewhere over Alabama saying his windshield had imploded and he was bleeding profusely. The radio went silent.
Schrenker later admitted he pointed the plane toward the Gulf of Mexico, engaged the autopilot and parachuted out, hoping the plane would crash at sea and it would appear he had gone down with it. His plane never made it to sea, but ran out of fuel and crashed near the Florida Panhandle town of Milton. Marshals found him two days later at a remote campground.
In June Schrenker pleaded guilty to charges of intentionally crashing a plane. Schrenker, 38, still faces millions of dollars in judgments and penalties.
The Marcus Schrenker case will be featured on American Greed March 17th.
British motorist Shafkat Munir really, really, really didn't want his driver's license suspended, so he told police he was dead to get out of three speeding tickets instead of paying the £180 in fines.
Posing as a friend, Munir called police telling them he was dead at the time the traffic cameras caught his vehicle speeding. He even provided a fake death certificate to back the claim.
Munir's lies caught up with him, though, when police rang his cellphone and he admitted his real name. There were also those pesky traffic camera photos to contend with. Police examined them and confirmed the man behind the wheel was Munir. He was sentenced to 12 months in jail.
Turns out the three offenses were not even enough to put Munir at risk of a suspended license. All he had to do was pay the fines.
Gandaruban Subramaniam fled Singapore in 1987 after the failure of his car rental business in order to get away from creditors and illegal money lenders. In order to do so, he faked his death in a civil war shoot-out in Sri Lanka, even obtaining a false death certificate, allowing his family to receive almost $250,000 in insurance money.
Using a fake Sri Lankan passport, Subramaniam was able to return to Singapore numerous times over the years, even remarrying his "widow" in Sri Lanka in 1994 and fathering a son — their fourth child — two years later.
Subramaniam was finally arrested in 2007 while trying to enter Singapore using a fake passport.
Mark Weinberger didn't exactly fake his own death, he simply disappeared without a trace for five years. The plastic surgeon from Merrillville, Indiana, was featured on America's Most Wanted in August and remained on the lam until his arrest in December in northern Italy. He went missing five years ago while travelling with his wife, Michelle, in Greece.
His wife, who filed for divorce after his disappearance, said the doctor had been troubled by malpractice lawsuits before their trip. It turned out that an attorney in Indianopolis was representing more than 100 of Weinberger's former patients who claimed to have received outdated, unaffective procedures.
According to AMW, if Weinberger fights extradition to the United States, it may take up to a year for him to return to American soil.
John Darwin was a British teacher and prison officer thought to have died in a canoeing accident in 2002. He was reported missing after failing to report to work. A large-scale sea search found the wreckage of his canoe but not his body.
In December, 2007, Darwin walked into a police station in London, claiming to have no memory of the past five years. His wife, Anne, who had sold her properties in England and moved to Panama three months earlier, acted surprised at his return. In fact, Darwin had been living with her since just days after his disappearance. He'd also travelled to Panama with her in 2006, as evidenced by a photo of the couple posted to the Web site movetopanama.com. He'd used a fake passport in order to exit the country.
Both John and Anne were convicted of fraud in 2008; John was sentenced to six years, three months in prison; Anne was sentenced to six years, six months. Their appeals were denied in March, 2009.
Samuel Israel was an enigmatic hedge fund manager desperate to succeed. He lived through the most decadent era in human history, and his hunger for fame and fortune — his greed — ultimately led to a bridge and a suicide note … and a scam that bilked investors out of $300 million.
See the complete story of this con artist who fell for the ultimate con himself.