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by Pauli Poisuo
Faking your own death, to some, may sound like a good idea to solve any number of problems. Maybe you're in financial trouble and need to cash in on life insurance. Perhaps you're on the run from some sort of criminal background. Or maybe there's a super embarrassing video from that one time you got drunk and tried to make out with your friend's iguana, and now it's all over social media. These things happen.
Regardless, the people who entertain the concept of their own false demise as a problem-solving technique generally have one thing in common: They're all idiots. Which is probably why they keeping getting caught in the dumbest ways imaginable.
Life Insurance Company Gets Notified Before The Official Date Of Death
Committing fraud to collect on a life insurance policy isn't exactly unheard of, so let's just say this specific act isn't the last time it will appear in this article. However, it's an ideal way to kick things off, because the "death" of Raul Pero is a perfect look into the mindset of the kind of people who attempt this sort of thing.
The 58-year-old Mr. Pero had taken out life insurance policies worth almost $2 million with six different insurance companies -- you know, as one does. Upon Pero's "death," his roommate contacted one of those companies to inform them that he had passed away of natural causes while in Chile. Now, having a diversified life insurance plan in place isn't all that weird by itself, and probably wouldn't raise any red flags. What might is the fact that Pero not only died in Chile, but was buried there, which made verifying the claim more difficult than usual. What definitely did, however, was when Pero's death certificate arrived. Not only did it list a different cause of death (respiratory failure and cardiac arrest), it also listed a different date of death than the roommate had given.
A later date of death.
"When did he die? Um ... tomorrow?"
After presumably entertaining a passing thought that the roommate might be a particularly stupid murderer, the insurance companies started digging into the case, as did the FBI. When the literal part of the digging uncovered an empty coffin in a Chilean graveyard, it became clear that shenanigans were afoot. Another sign was when it all started to fall apart and a man named Paul Terry Reed started frantically calling the companies, identifying himself as Pero's stepbrother and trying to explain that all of those insurance policies were, like, totally an accident, guys. We cool? We're cool, right?
The insurance companies were decidedly not cool, and neither was the FBI. Paul Terry Reed -- who was, of course, really Raul Pero -- and his accomplices were promptly arrested and slapped with roughly all the charges of insurance fraud.
A Crash Victim Leaves His Own Fingerprints On His Death Certificate
It's probably never occurred to you, but there's one piece of paper in this world you never, ever get to touch. That paper is your own death certificate. Which is probably why it came as a bit of a shock to a life insurance company when, after becoming a bit suspicious about the claim's validity, they took a closer look at Tony McErlean’s death certificate in 2011 and found the man's own fingerprints all over it.
We use the term "shock" loosely, since eyebrows were already being raised due to some oddities in the tale that McErlean had concocted. According to the insurance claim filed by his wife, he had died after tragically being struck by a truck in Honduras, which was verified by his traveling companion who had been with him taking wildlife photos. The story also went that there was no body, because local farm workers had taken it to a nearby village and "taken care of it." The paperwork was forwarded to the company by a friend of McErlean's wife, who was also staying in Honduras.
If you think that story seems a little weird, imagine how it sounded to a bunch of jaded insurance company employees. It didn't help matters that when they asked for the passport of the deceased, the query was refused. That’s when they decided to look closer and found McErlean's prints on the death certificate, which prompted a call to police who presumably thought, "Oh, it's that dumbass again."
"You seem to die a lot. You should see a doctor about that."
Because not only was Tony McErlean alive, he was also a long term crook with arrests dating back to freaking 1963. What's more, his wife and the witness weren't involved in the plot at all -- he was impersonating his entirely unwitting wife in all of the correspondence, and the witness was completely made up.
There's actually no telling just how many crimes McErlean would have gotten away with if he hadn't so completely botched his insurance fraud attempt. He was carrying a credit card under the name Green when he was arrested, and he immediately broke his bail conditions by applying for a new passport and attempting to escape. Once he was re-caught, the investigators found that he had been claiming his long-dead former father-in-law's pension illegally for years, and had also stolen tens of thousands from two other pension funds.
Let’s just say that his defense of "I've been having some money troubles and also I'm really sorry" didn’t go down super well with the judge.
The Dead Man Who Continued To See His Doctor
Back in 2006, a Gloucester, UK man named Ahmad Akhtary managed to get hold of a fake death certificate that said he'd died of brain trauma in Afghanistan, which at that time seemed like the kind of war-torn place where someone might get hit in the head. As if you haven't noticed a theme here, he decided on the fraud route so that his ex-wife could submit a $398,000 claim on their life insurance policy, a nice and comparatively inconspicuous sum for a grieving woman with triplets to take care of. And then, satisfied with a plan gone well he ... just kept living life in his hometown as usual.
Akhtary's carelessness went even further than failing to cover his tracks in any way whatsoever. It's almost as if he was actively trying to get caught, especially when you consider the fact that he continued visiting his doctor after he was legally dead. You know, the sort of place that has access to your medical records.
"Well, your blood pressure seems to be ... existent. Looks like you'll be fine."
We would have given anything to witness that particular meeting. Was the doctor worried about his face getting eaten off, because a mobile dead person is obviously a zombie? And did he panic, or marvel at the medical anomaly he was looking at? Did he at least bother to check Akhtary's pulse? There are so many questions.
As the news about a dead dude walking around town and visiting his physician started spreading, the insurance company decided to investigate and found that Akhtary had also pulled a Tony McErlean and left his own fingerprints on the Afghan death certificate. So they confronted his ex-wife, who quickly spilled the beans about the true state of Akhtary’s vitality.
A Man Enlists His Wife To Fake His Death, Then Remarries Behind Her Back
Let's say that you're totally set on faking your death, and whatever Stockholm Syndrome spell you've inflicted on your spouse is strong enough that you can convince them to help you. What would be the best way to thank your loved one, who incidentally is now also an accomplice and can blow your cover any damn time they like? Split the life insurance payout? Split the life insurance payout and anonymously send them flowers every week for the rest of your days? Secretly remarry behind your wife’s back?
Oh, dammit, Harry Gordon.
Gordon seems to enjoy a degree of "lovable rascal" type notoriety in Australia. He's the kind of guy who commits crimes and ends up getting called Champagne Harry and writing "how I did it" books about said crimes. And he's also the kind of guy who will ditch his wife/accomplice and start a new life with another woman. There are names for that sort of person, most of which we can't use here.
It rhymes with "class hole".
A Sydney businessman of the failing variety, Gordon decided in 2000 that a life insurance scam might be the way to go. With the subtlety of a brick through a window, he increased his life insurance policy to $2.6 million (amount converted to US) just two months before his disappearing act. The actual "death" took the form of his speedboat that he crashed on shore, with his wallet, mobile phone and empty champagne bottles left behind as evidence of drunken drowning. As he escaped his former life on a dinghy, his dutiful wife filed the insurance claim. The payout wasn’t anywhere close to $2.6 million, but it was enough for Harry to start anew. He sampled Spain, worked at a factory in England and, finally, settled in New Zealand.
That's where he took on a new bride, explaining away his "missing years" with a garbage story about witness protection. He then went on his honeymoon, where he almost immediately bumped into his very surprised brother while hiking. Thinking it odd, his brother checked in with Gordon's Australian wife who had been faithfully keeping his secret for years.
That is, until she heard the news of his new bride. That sort of information tends to change your attitude toward your husband's secrets. So, presumably after the appropriate amount of flipped tables and a hefty investment in the swear jar, everyone was in for a few surprises, not the least of which were the police and Gordon himself, who ended up spending a year in prison. We're guessing his new wife was pretty surprised, too.
The Dead Senator Who Started A Business Empire
Senator David Friedland was a prominent New Jersey politician in the 1970s, and as you might suspect given the entries you've read up to this point, he wasn't exactly the most stand-up guy. In 1980, he was convicted for taking kickbacks, but managed to weasel out of his punishment by working with federal prosecutors and entering into the witness protection program. This taught him precisely zero lessons, and in 1985 he was in hot water again, this time for defrauding a Teamster pension fund while under federal protection.
And then he went scuba diving in the Bahamas and disappeared, presumed drowned. Except that everyone knew he was a massive dong-bag and drowning is a super lazy way to frame your death. Not content with shrugging their shoulders and humming the tune to "Another One Bites The Dust," the authorities instead launched a massive, multi-continent manhunt.
Nice bracelets. Must be nice to be rich.
David Friedland was well aware of this and reacted accordingly. Using a fake U.S. passport, he zipped around Europe, Asia and Africa, skillfully evading capture. And then he ... well, he just stopped doing that. Instead, he assumed the cat and mouse game was over and set up shop in the Maldives. In fact, he set up multiple shops -- an entire chain of scuba diving stores, enabling him to live a luxurious lifestyle in the paradise islands.
Meanwhile, the federal manhunt went on, because while Friedland might have believed it was all water under the bridge, a couple of years is far from long enough to make the eye of the law blink -- especially when it's set on such a juicy target. Local officials soon noticed the weird guy setting up scuba shops left and right while living in luxury. And it didn't take long before the U.S. Marshals came knocking, arrested Friedland, and slapped his happy ass with an eight year prison sentence.
Like this article? Check out "5 Moronic Criminals Who Basically Caught Themselves" and "5 Criminals So Bad At Crime, It's Basically Slapstick".