Top 10 People Who Faked Their Own Deaths

When life is all getting  too much, it’s tempting to look for a way out. A way to escape from debt, from personal problems, from pursuers…and some people, sadly, do take their lives when they just can’t cope any more. But others want to escape it all on a less permanent basis – to make the world think they are dead, without having to actually go through with it. And so occurs the bizarre phenomenon of faking your own death. Think it sounds ridiculous? A surprising number of people have faked their own deaths and been discovered (there’s no way to tell how many have faked their own deaths and not been discovered). Find out some curious tales in our Top 10 People Who Faked Their Own Deaths.


10. Allison Matera

Now, suppose that you were feeling stifled by a community you belonged to – for argument’s sake, let’s say a church – but you didn’t want to tell anyone how you felt. What’s the obvious way out? Just disappear one day and stop taking phone calls? Or concoct an elaborate plot, involving a fake cancer diagnosis?

That’s what Florida woman Allison Matera did in 2007. She told members of her church choir that she was suffering from cancer, and gave them regular updates on how she was doing. Eventually, she retreated to a hospice to die, where a nurse called with the updates and, finally, the news of Allison’s death. Only two problems remained – one was that every member of the choir identified the caller as sounding exactly like Matera. The second was that Matera turned up to her own funeral, claiming to be her sister. Not the most subtle way to fake your own death.


9. Robert George Arcieri

The next case up is that of criminal Robert George Arcieri, who had been released from jail on a technicality when he “died” in 1987. He had been the leader of a crime syndicate in the 80s and had been convicted of beating a woman almost to death, when he apparently fell off a jetty during a fishing trip on the Colorado River. The police were never completely convinced about his death and spent the next few decades hunting him down, before eventually discovering him living as Frank Roman Reynolds in Palm Springs, California. He returned to jail in 2011 for a 1o-year sentence.


8. John Darwin

The worst thing about faking your own death is that you must feel a certain amount of guilt at the anguish you put your friends and relatives through – they’re mourning for someone who’s actually skipping around just fine. But you can avoid some of that guilt by involving your wife in the plot with you. And that’s what happened to John and Anne Darwin, when they went on a canoeing trip to South America in 2002 and Anne arrived home alone, telling people that John had been killed.His wrecked canoe was found 10 days after his apparent debt.

The truth was that the Darwins were swamped in debt, and John’s life insurance was worth a lot of money. It only started to fall apart in 2007 when John Darwin turned himself into police, claiming to be a missing person with amnesia. A small amount of investigation revealed that he’d been living with Anne the whole time, in a flat next door. The pair were jailed for fraud and forced to repay the insurance companies.


7.  Dorothy Johnson

Faking your own death is never going to be tasteful, but there is something particularly crass about using a national tragedy to make financial gain. That didn’t stop Dorothy Johnson and her daughter Twila McKee doing just that. Twila filed an insurance claim saying that her mother had died in the September 11 attacks, and hoped that overwhelmed insurance firms would pay out without requiring too much in the way of evidence. But she was wrong – the presence of her mother’s fingerprints on the form revealed she was alive, as well as a car insurance claim she filed in her own name 12 days after her “death”. The pair were arrested in 2003 on charges of fraud.


6. Samuel Israel III

The credit crunch of 2008 blew open the crazy world of hedge-fund managers – trading with money they don’t own, often gambling larger and larger sums in an attempt to win clients’ money back. The whole business was rife with corruption, and one of the most extreme examples was Samuel Israel II, owner of hedge fund Bayou.

Bayou had been losing money for years, even inventing a fake accounting firm to produce their audits, so as to cover up the losses. Then in 2004, Israel started draining money out of the firm’s accounts, a total of $161 million, while still telling clients that all was fine. The following year, Bayou collapsed and Israel was arrested on fraud charges.

And here’s where things get strange. In 2008, he was sentenced to 20 years in jail, but was allowed to remain free until his surrender date of June 9. That day, his car was found on Bear Mountain Bridge, with “Suicide is Painless” written in the dust on the hood. The lack of a body sparked suspicion and a huge manhunt, until Israel finally gave himself up on July 2, having been living on a campground. He remains in prison today.

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