If you’re going to fake your own death, there are a few basic but key steps you need to take if you want the scheme to be successful. The first is making people believe you are dead. The second step is that you move far away to a place where no one will ever recognize you. You should also get new forms of identification and change your appearance as much as possible. Then, it’s just a matter of laying low. Don’t get in trouble with the law, and stay out of the public eye.
While one would think that these are fairly easy rules to follow, they weren’t for the 10 people on this list. All of them somehow managed to screw up their diabolical plans by doing something stupid that got them arrested.
10 Michael Rosen
In 2010, 42-year-old Michael Rosen of Salem, Massachusetts, was due in court for driving with a suspended license. He was also facing charges because a former girlfriend accused him of stealing her credit cards and running up charges. In an incredibly shortsighted ruse, Rosen pretended to be his brother and said that Michael Rosen was dead. He even handed over a death certificate to a county judge. The judge accepted it and cleared Rosen of all charges.
At the time, Rosen was on parole, and his parole officer was surprised to learn that Rosen was dead. The officer had just seen Rosen the week before he supposedly died, and he seemed healthy. So the parole officer looked at the death certificate and noticed that there were a number of problems with it: A major one was that there wasn’t an official stamp on it. Secondly, there were a bunch of spelling mistakes and incorrect data. Saugus, which is a town in Massachusetts, was spelled “Saugas.” As for where Rosen was supposedly buried, it was “Temple Isreal Cemetery” instead of Temple Israel Cemetery, and Rosen supposedly died from “acute cardio-respiratory arrest” as opposed to acute cardiac respiratory arrest.
It soon became obvious that Rosen simply found the template online and filled out the information himself. He was arrested, convicted, and sentenced to three years. Hopefully, they have a Microsoft Word course in prison so Rosen can learn about the spell-check function.
9 Harry Gordon
On June 3, 2000, one-time multimillionaire businessman Harry Gordon disappeared while boating on the Karuah River near Sydney, Australia. His boat was found washed ashore, and the deck was littered with empty champagne bottles. In April 2001, a coroner’s inquest ruled that Gordon was dead; he had been thrown overboard and drowned. In reality, he took a rubber dinghy and first hid out in Sydney. Using a fake passport with the name of “Rob Motzel,” he made his way to Spain and then to England before he returned to the country of his birth, New Zealand. He settled in Auckland. There, he sold garages and project homes and met the woman who would be his second wife.
Gordon’s unraveling was due to a chance encounter. Have you ever been out in public and you see someone from your past that you really don’t feel like talking to again? You walk by them, doing everything possible to not make contact, hoping they’ll just walk on by? Well, Gordon must have had this feeling in May 2005 when he bumped into his older brother, Michael, while he was hiking on a walking trail on Mount Maunganui in Tauranga, New Zealand. At first, Michael walked by, but then he decided to confront Gordon. Gordon confirmed that he was who his brother thought he was, but he didn’t want to tell his fiancee about his real identity. Instead, he called his brother after the encounter and he explained what happened.
In September 2005, Gordon married for a second time and went to the Cook Islands for a honeymoon. Meanwhile, Michael was in Sydney trying to convince Gordon’s wife to go to the police. Michael had spent five years helping her deal with her “grief,” along with coping with his own. She finally went to the police, and at the end of his honeymoon, Gordon wasn’t allowed to fly back to Auckland because he was using a stolen passport. Instead, in November, using his real passport, he flew back to Sydney, where he was arrested. Gordon’s former wife was arrested and sentenced to five months of house arrest for pretending her husband was dead. Gordon spent a year in prison.
A year after being released, he published a book called The Harry Gordon Story: How I Faked My Own Death. As for why Gordon did it, he said it was mostly about money; his family was supposed to collect a $3.5 million insurance payout, but they never collected the full sum. He also said that he was involved in a get-rich-quick scheme with Ukrainian gangsters that supposedly went violently awry. He’d also mismanaged 20 tons of asbestos and a workers’ compensation case. All of this, in addition to personal problems he was having with his marriage and his daughter that he had fathered as a teenager, made him fake his own death. He believes that the downfall of his con was meeting his second wife, who amazingly stayed with him through the ordeal.
8 Alfredo Sanchez
In 2003, web designer Alfredo Sanchez, who lived in Farnham, Surrey, England, hatched what he thought was a brilliant plan. He racked up a ton of credit card debt and took out a £500,000 life insurance policy. First, his family rented a home in Costa Rica in August 2004, but after they ran out of money, Sanchez returned to England. Sanchez took out more loans and then flew to Ecuador by himself. After he moved, his wife, Sophie Sanchez, told his employer, HMV, that Sanchez had died in South America and had been cremated. As proof, she turned over a death certificate.
The plan worked. Sophie was able to get the insurance payouts and a death benefit from HMV. Also, the loans that Alfredo took out had a stipulation that the debts would be forgiven in case of death. After collecting the money, Sophie joined Alfredo in South America, and the couple, along with their four children, moved to Australia.
Everything was going fine until around 2007. Problems arose because Alfredo had given his friend his HMV staff discount card before he “died,” and when the friend tried to use it to buy an Elvis CD, he was arrested. At the police station, the friend called Alfredo, who hung up on him.
This piqued the interest of the police, and they began to investigate Alfredo’s “death.” A major clue that contributed to Alfredo’s downfall was the fact that his fingerprints were found on something that should have never been handled by Alfredo—his death certificate. The police also talked to Sophie’s family and found that Alfredo was alive and was using the name “Hugo Jose.” He had legally changed his name to Hugo Jose years before he faked his death.
In 2010, Sophie was arrested when she returned to England for her sister’s funeral. She was given two years in prison. Alfredo was arrested in Australia in November 2011, and he was extradited back to England. In March 2012, he was sentenced to five years in prison.
7 Kimberly Du
In December 2005, 36-year-old Kimberly Du of Des Moines, Iowa, was due in court for traffic violations. On December 15, a Polk County judge received a letter from Du’s mother explaining that Du was dead. Included with the letter was an obituary that looked like it was printed from The Des Moines Register’s website. It appeared that Du had died in a car crash on December 5. The day after the judge received the letter, Du’s charges were dismissed.
Unfortunately for Du, dying didn’t improve her driving ability. She was stopped again on January 4, 2006, for a traffic violation. The officer checked her driving record and saw that she was supposed to be dead. This led to an investigation, and the police spoke to Du’s mother, who said that she never wrote or signed the letter that was received by the judge. The letter was examined, and investigators proved that the signature was forged. Also, The Des Moines Register never published an obituary for Kimberly Du, and none of the area’s funeral homes hosted her funeral.
Du was given two years of probation and a $500 fine and was ordered to receive help for substance abuse.
6 Alison Matera
Alison Matera, age 27, was getting tired of being involved with her church in Hudson, Florida, and she no longer wanted to be part of the choir. Instead of just being honest and quitting, in February 2007, Matera told the choir that she was sick with cancer. For a year, she told them that she was receiving treatment and would show up occasionally to church to give them updates on her condition.
As 2007 came to an end, Matera told her church that she was giving up treatment and would be entering hospice care. While supposedly in hospice care, members of the choir would get calls from a nurse with updates. Then on January 18, 2008, the choir director got a call saying that Matera had died at 7:04 PM. After the “death,” the choir director got another call from a woman claiming to be Matera’s sister, and she said that Matera’s body would be sent to her parents, so if the church wanted to do a memorial for her, it would be without her body.
An odd thing that people noticed about the calls was that the nurse and Matera’s sister sounded very similar to each other, and both of them sounded like Matera. Of course, no one said anything about it because who would lie about something as serious as dying of cancer to their fellow churchgoers? Despite the suspicion, the church choir, which consisted of some of Matera’s closest friends, gathered for a memorial service. One person who showed up was Matera’s sister, who looked exactly like Matera. The reason that she looked just like Matera was because she was, in fact, Matera. Like many of us, she was curious as to who would attend her funeral, and she had the unique opportunity to find out.
The police were called after the service, and they found Matera alive and well in her apartment. She said she faked her death because she didn’t want to be part of the choir anymore and thought this would be the best way to spare people’s feelings. She was not arrested for her deception.
5 James R. Lang
In July 1992, 37-year-old baker James R. Lang of Birch Bay, Washington, was having personal and financial problems, and he thought his family would be better off without him. The solution was to fake his death. If he did, his family would be paid $200,000 as beneficiaries of his life insurance policy. On the way to work on July 12, at about 3:00 AM, Lang pushed his car into the Nooksack River and then rode a bike that he’d brought with him away from the scene. Once he found a pay phone, he anonymously called 911 to report the accident. He then made his way to Tacoma. Two days later, his car was found.
Over the course of six weeks, Lang found life on the streets to be pretty tough without a job, money, or identification. He also found out that his family wasn’t going to get anything from the insurance company because the death was too suspicious. Not only had they not found the body, but they also found bags of Lang’s blood inside his car. He had apparently meant to cover the car in blood to make it look like he’d been in an accident, but forgot about them before he pushed his car down the embankment.
Six weeks after disappearing, Lang went to a hospital in Puyallup, Washington. He’d lost 9 kilograms (20 lb) and had grown a beard. He told his doctors and his wife, who had organized search parties to look for him, that he had amnesia; what other explanation could he give? When confronted by the police, he admitted he tried to fake his own death. Lang wasn’t charged with any crimes, but the police advised him to get counseling.
4 Peter Gentry
Peter Gentry, an international financial planner, was first arrested in November 1991 on suspicion of driving under the influence in Warrenton, Virginia. In February 1992, the district attorney who was to prosecute his case received a Maryland death certificate saying that Gentry had died in Los Angeles. It had a few inconsistencies: The first oddity was that it stated that Gentry died on February 9, but the doctor signed it on February 5. Also, if Gentry died in Los Angeles, why was the death certificate from Maryland? Despite these two glaring problems, it was good enough for the district attorney’s office, and Gentry’s charges were dismissed. In 1994, he was arrested again in Virginia, and he was charged with driving under the influence. Again, he sent in a death certificate and the charges were dropped.
In May and July 1995, Gentry was arrested for driving under the influence in Baltimore, Maryland. After the arrest, Gentry delivered a “Report of the Death of an American Citizen Abroad” about himself to the district attorney’s office. The report said that on August 30, Gentry died of “Denzor Hemorrhagic Fever” in Harare, Zimbabwe. His remains were cremated and buried there. Again, there were problems with the death certificate. For example, the doctor whose name was on the death certificate didn’t exist, and there is no such thing as Denzor Hemorrhagic Fever. Yet, the charges against him were dismissed once again.
By this point, Gentry had avoided four driving under the influence charges by faking his death three times, and he amazingly hadn’t learned to quit while he was ahead. He was pulled over again in November 1995 by the same officer who arrested him in July. This time, they knew that Gentry wasn’t dead and wouldn’t accept another death certificate. He was given a three-year sentence (with 18 months suspended) and three years of probation for drunk driving. He was also given two years for faking his death three times.
3 Edward Cates
On May 14, 1984, a charred body was found in a burned-out car on a rural road in Madison County, Mississippi. The police traced the car back to 55-year-old lawyer Edward Cates, who lived in Jackson, Mississippi. He went missing around the same time, so the police simply assumed that it was Cates’s body in the car. He was given a full military burial three days later.
Shortly after the death, Cates’s widow received a telegram from someone who signed off as “Christopher E. Curts, maj. gen. retired.” The telegram expressed his condolences for the loss of her husband, whom Curts called “Chic.” Mrs. Cates had never heard of Major Curts before, nor had she ever known her husband to be called Chic. Even stranger, shortly after the telegram, three money orders arrived from Curts, all sent from Georgia. Mrs. Cates ended up handing the telegram and the money orders over to her attorney, who turned them over to the police. The investigators traced the money orders and determined that the man who purchased them matched the identity of Cates.
The police also decided to look into Cates’s finances. In the months leading up to his death, he had taken out a $400,000 life insurance policy on himself. He also was deeply in debt and had embezzled more than $223,000 from a client he was representing. The police arrived at Cates’s new apartment in Lawrenceville, Georgia, on June 9, 1984, less than two months after he faked his death, and arrested him.
After Cates was arrested, the body that was buried in his grave was exhumed. The only thing that they knew for sure was that it was a white male between the ages of 35 and 55, but he was never identified. Cates pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
2 Ari Squire
Around 8:24 AM on February 23, 2008, there was a fire in the garage of Ari Squire’s home in Chicago, Illinois. When the fire department arrived, they found the body of a man under a truck. It looked like the jack that was holding up the truck gave way, the truck crushed him, and it broke a light, which started an electrical fire. The face of the man wasn’t recognizable, but his wallet indicated that he was 39-year-old Ari Squire.
The police investigated the scene and found a number of inconsistencies: The wire that supposedly started the fire wasn’t live. In fact, the whole fuse box for the garage was turned off, meaning it couldn’t have been an electrical fire. The body was also covered in some type of fire accelerant like diesel fuel.
A day and a half after Squire supposedly died, 20-year-old Home Depot employee Justin Newman was reported missing. His family said that he left at 7:30 AM to go to the home of his new boss, Ari Squire. It quickly became obvious that Squire didn’t die that morning. Instead, he killed Newman as a body double and stole his car and his identity. Squire, who was still driving Newman’s car, was tracked to a hotel in Eureka, Missouri, on March 2. When a police officer knocked on his hotel door, he shot himself.
After his death, Squire’s wife, Denise, claimed that she didn’t know about the faked death, but she exchanged emails with her husband while he was on the lam. She even talked about his memorial dinner with him. She also tipped him off to the fact that the police were on to him. She was sued by Newman’s family. They won $6 million.
Squire faked his death because he had some legal problems stemming from a conviction for bilking Medicare through a home health care business that he used to run. He was forced to repay $189,000. Besides escaping past trouble, Ari and his wife were hoping to start a new life with a $5 million life insurance payout.
1 Clay Daniels
By most accounts, Clayton Daniels of Georgetown, Texas, was a lowlife. Even his best friend acknowledged this at his funeral; he supposedly called him “an asshole” while giving a speech.
Clayton, whose charred remains were found in his burning car on June 18, 2004, was a 24-year-old unemployed sex offender. He had just been convicted of sexually assaulting his seven-year-old cousin. He had been sentenced to 30 days in prison plus 10 years’ probation, and he had to register as a sex offender. He was set to start serving his sentence three days before he died. His wife, Molly Daniels, was also about to receive a $110,000 life insurance policy payout that they had just recently taken out on Clayton.
Clayton supposedly drove off a cliff, and his body was so badly burned that he was identified by bits of his shoes, a necklace, and a pin he wore on his hat. Immediately, police noticed there were a few problems with the crash scene, such as the lack of skid marks leading up to where the car went off the cliff. Also, the fire was started in the front seat of the car, and it was accelerated by charcoal lighter fluid. Five months after the accident, the DNA test results came back and proved it wasn’t Clayton’s body in the car; it was actually a woman’s body.
The police began 24-hour surveillance on Molly, and it wasn’t long before their deception was exposed. While being watched by the police, Molly went to meet her new boyfriend, “Jake,” at Taco Bell for lunch. That’s when the police noticed that “Jake” looked a lot like Clayton Daniels. They confronted “Jake,” and he showed them a piece of Texas ID that said he was Jake Gregg. The police didn’t believe him and took him in for questioning.
“Jake” soon confessed that he had moved out for a little while before he moved back into his wife’s house, and he hid when people came around. One time, he was even caught sleeping in a closet by his sister-in-law. She swore she saw a man sleeping in his boxers in a bedroom closet. When she went to fetch Molly so she could see, Molly spoke in a loud voice, which woke Clayton up. He was able to hide before Molly and her sister came back to the room.
Possibly realizing that Clayton couldn’t hide in closets forever, a new ruse was hatched. They dyed his hair black, and he then introduced himself to Molly’s neighbors and even Molly’s son as her new boyfriend, Jake Gregg.
As for the body in the car, Clayton confessed that they dug up the grave of an 81-year-old woman who had been dead for over a year. He and Molly dressed her in Clayton’s clothes and pushed the car over the cliff. They thought this would cause an explosion. When it didn’t, they climbed down the cliff, doused the body with lighter fluid, and set it on fire. At first, Molly denied being involved and said that she only found out about the plan six weeks after Clayton faked his death, but when the police looked into Molly’s Internet history, they found that she had researched instructions on how to stage an accident and how to fake someone’s death.
Both Molly and Clayton Daniels ended up pleading guilty. Molly was given 20 years in prison and fined $10,000. Clayton was sentenced to 30 years in prison plus an additional 20 years for the sexual assault he was trying to avoid paying for.
Robert Grimminck is a Canadian freelance writer. You can friend him on Facebook, follow him on Twitter or on Pinterest, or visit his website.