Episode 61: Vanish
I had never really thought about it until listening to the latest installment of the Criminal soundcast but it’s not against the law to fake your own death. The problem that occurs when trying to get away with making yourself presumed deceased is when you try to use it to escape your debts or rip off the insurance company by cashing in on your own policy.
Which is what brings the topic under the purview of host Phoebe Judge and the producers of Radiotopia’s Criminal series. She talks to Elizabeth Greenwood, author of Playing Dead, A Journey Through the World of Death Fraud, and they mention a few of the unsuccessful cases of people trying to virtually off themselves. (As is pointed out in the show — we’ve never heard from the folks that were able to actually pull it off…or have we?)
One case that got a lot of news at the time was out of England, when John Darwin was thought to have been killed while out for a morning canoe ride in 2002. Investigators turned up an oar and, eventually, the canoe. But Darwin was presumed drowned. It turns out that he was not only alive but also living in his hometown under an assumed name and wearing a disguise whenever he went out.
His wife was in on the scam, to the point that she rented out the in-law unit next to the Darwin home to her husband’s alias, and they even had a passage between the buildings.
The jig was up in 2007 when the Darwins in the process of buying a home in Panama — with money collected from Darwin’s insurance — and a picture of the supposed deceased showed up online on a Panamanian real estate site.
Another guest on the episode, Steven Rambam, who is an investigator who specializes in tracking down the not-quite-dead. He and Judge walk through the process of trying not to be caught while attempting to give the world the slip, during which he points out all the ways people typically give themselves away. Hobbies they can’t give up, staying in touch with loved ones, even if they’re a dog or cat person — when their new identity decides to get a pet, that’s something an investigator may notice.
It’s interesting to note that way more men fake their own deaths than women. At least that’s the common thinking. The truth is that way more me are caught trying to get away with it. As Judge and Greenwood can’t help bringing up, it may just be that women are much better at getting away with it.
• • •
Epi4: Matt Braunger – Gentlemen’s Day
I love that Randy and Jason Sklar (Sklarbro Country), along with Daniel Van Kirk (Hindsight) have teamed up in Dumb People Town to focus on weird crime stories — the stock-in-trade of so many basement podcasts — and give them the comedic love and banter they deserve.
Along for the ride in episode 4 is Matt Braunger, who is driving the bus to Crazytown as much as the hosts. The three stories they cover, which includes a pantless man run amok with a baggage cart at the Orlando International Airport, a woman who gives her ex a beatdown for making out with her mother, and a wrecking crew of a maid of honor at a wedding.
The tales are really just comedy delivery systems for the four guys, who cram the time full of non-stop humor and also spin off into related tales of their own along the way. Unlike some of the yackfest podcasts that would like so desperately to be this show, the hosts and guest know how to work a mic and have true give-and-take without stepping on each other even once, nor is there a moment of dead air to be heard. It’s an hour and a half of true entertainment.
• • •
• • •
Start your workday the right way with the news that matters most. Learn more