10 People Who Faked Their Death And Almost Got Away With It
Conspiracy theories often arise after a celebrity’s death, with fans believing they’re still alive and well. Fans are confident that stars like Elvis Presley, Andy Kaufman, and Tupac Shakur faked their deaths and are living their best lives on a tropical island away from the spotlight. Also known as a staged death, many people believe these iconic celebs were so desperate to escape the limelight that they faked their own death. But it’s not just celebrities who are accused of faking their own deaths, with many people who faked their death every day regular Joe’s.
Just as many regular folks stage their death for a variety of reasons, often money-related. Staged deaths began to increase with the introduction of life insurance. It’s common for individuals to fake their deaths for purposes of insurance fraud. The other common reason people fake their death is to escape an abusive relationship. While faking your death is easy, staying dead is sometimes more challenging, as you will find out below.
1. John Darwin
On March 2, 2002, former British teacher and prison officer John Darwin disappeared while canoeing in Seaton Carew. After he failed to show up for work, his colleagues reported him missing, initiating a massive search. Despite not recovering a body, his death certificate in early 2003 confirmed his death, and his wife Anne collected on the life insurance.
Well, it turns out that John and Anne hatched a scheme to fake his death to pull themselves out of debt. With Darwin living next door, Anne used the insurance money to settle all their outstanding debts. Everything seemed rosy until a photo of the couple in Panama surfaced, instigating an investigation into Darwin’s death.
In 2007, Darwin showed up at the police station, claiming he had amnesia. The authorities didn’t buy the story and charged the couple. After going to a trial, the judge sentenced them to six years in prison, although they later divorced.
2. Susan Meachen
In 2020, the tragic suicide of romance writer Susan Meachen rocked her small online community of writers and fans. When her daughter announced her death in September 2020, Meachen’s friends and fans were devastated, but they kept her memory alive through fundraisers and book drives. Furthermore, Meachen’s daughter continued to post online through her mother’s account. But Meachen’s fellow writers began to notice something odd.
Meachen often wrote “post to” instead of “supposed to.” Many fans became suspicious when the daughter began making the same spelling error. Then suddenly in early 2023, Susan Meachen returned online. She announced she was alive on social media and claimed she faked her death for financial reasons to help her family. Meachen’s friends and fellow writers were furious as they had grieved for their friend for two years.
3. Lord Lucan
On November 8, 1974, aristocrat Lord Lucan disappeared after a gruesome series of events. Born Robert John Bingham, he was the son of the 6th Earl of Lucan. Lord Lucan had a reputation for gambling, fast cars, and partying hard. By the early 70s, his marriage had fallen apart and he incurred significant gambling losses. He was also obsessed with gaining full custody of his children.
The night before his disappearance, Lady Lucan investigated a strange sound in the kitchen. She found the body of the family’s nanny, Sandra Rivett, beaten to death. Lord Lucan then attacked his estranged wife before escaping. Police discovered Luncan’s car abandoned with blood stains and a piece of the lead pipe found at the crime scene. The authorities couldn’t locate Lucan, who vanished. Despite his disappearance, a jury found Lucan guilty of Rivett’s death. He was finally declared legally dead in 1999, although most believe he faked his death.
4. Timothy Dexter
Born in 1747, businessman Timothy Dexter is one of history’s most fascinating people. He was well known for his eccentric personality. Despite lacking a formal education, Dexter was successful in business, amassing quite an empire importing goods all over the world. Even when his rivals tried to sabotage him, he succeeded.
While great in the business world, Dexter had problems at home and often told people his wife had died. He even claimed the woman at the house was his wife’s ghost. Dexter went as far as to fake his own death and organize a funeral. He was so disappointed and furious when his wife didn’t cry that he appeared at his own funeral to ridicule her for not crying about his fake death at his fake funeral!
5. John Stonehouse
John Stonehouse was a politician and member of Britain’s Labour and Co-operative Party. Rumors also suggest he was a spy working for the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic Army. Despite all that, Stonehouse was best known for attempting to fake his own death.
In the early 1970s, Stonehouse set up several businesses that went bankrupt within a few years. With no more options left, Stonehouse faked his death on November 20, 1974. He left his clothes in a pile on the beach at Miami Beach, implying he drowned or was killed by a shark.
While authorities didn’t find a body, the British newspapers reported his death and published his obituary. Stonehouse was actually alive and hiding out with his mistress in Australia. Eventually, authorities discovered Stonehouse living in Oz under a fake name. He received seven years in prison for fraud and faking his death.
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6. Samuel Israel
In 2008, hedge fund manager and fraudster Samuel Israel received 20 years in prison for his role in running a Ponzi scheme. Instead of going to federal prison, Israel decided to fake his death.
With the help of his girlfriend, Debra Ryan, Israel parked his car at Bear Mountain Bridge and staged the scene to look like an apparent suicide. Authorities were onto Israel and his girlfriend immediately. They were both arrested, with Israel receiving an extra two years to his 20-year sentence.
7. Ken Kesey
Author Ken Kesey is best known for writing the critically acclaimed novel One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. He became a crucial figure in the 1950s and the 1960s, forming the Merry Pranksters with his friends in Los Angeles. They often hosted “Acid Tests” where they would combine LSD with entertainment.
After his arrest for marijuana possession in 1965, Kesey and the Merry Pranksters faked his death. His friends left his car by the side of the road with a suicide note to mislead the police into thinking he had killed himself. At the same time, Kesey snuck into Mexico. Eight months later, Kesey returned and received six months in prison.
8. Raymond Roth
In 2012, Raymond Roth devised a scheme to escape his problems. Roth convinced his son, Jonathan Roth, to tell the police that he drowned at the nearby Jones Beach. With mounting debt, Roth couldn’t find any other way to deal with his financial problems.
Roth had a difficult time maintaining his death. For days, rescuers worked around the clock searching for his body. Eventually, the search effort ended when a witness spotted him at his condo in Florida.
The next Roth was heard from was when he received a speeding ticket in South Carolina. Finally, the fraudster returned to New York to surrender to authorities. Roth received seven years of jail time and had to pay back $36,555.37 for the rescue effort. Roth’s son Jonathan also went to prison for a year for his role in the scheme.
9. Igor Vorotinov
In the early hours of October 1, 2011, a body appeared on the side of a dirt road in a small town in Moldova. Identification on the body indicated it was the body of a Minnesota man Igor Vorotinov. Within hours, his ex-wife, Irina, flew to Moldova to identify the body. She returned home to her grieving sons with a death certificate and their father’s ashes. She then held a large funeral at the Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis, where the urn remained.
In 2012, one of Igor’s sons traveled to Moldova to visit family and mourn the loss of his father. Instead, he found his father alive and well. Igor and Irina concocted an elaborate plan that required divorcing, taking out life insurance, paying off authorities in Moldova, and arranging for a fake body and ashes.
As Irina and Igor enjoyed the insurance money, officers conducted an investigation into Igor’s death. In 2013, an anonymous tip revealed Igor’s whereabouts. Police uncovered the scheme sentencing Irina to 37 months and Igor to 41 months.
10. Patrick McDermott
The disappearance of Patrick McDermott became a big new story around the globe. On June 30, 2005, McDermot boarded the Freedom fishing boat off the coast of San Pedro, Los Angeles. After the ship returned, his belongings were still onboard, but he was nowhere to be found. Two Coast Guard teams investigated his disappearance and declared McDermott lost at sea. However, not everyone seems to agree with that theory.
Rumors suggest McDermott faked his death to avoid paying his debts and $8,000 in child support to his ex-wife. At the time of his disappearance, McDermott was the on-again and off-again boyfriend of actress Olivia Newton-John. Since his disappearance, several investigators claimed to have found McDermott living in Mexico, although there is yet to be clear proof to back these allegations up.