Friday August 12, 2016

Pseudocide: Elizabeth Greenwood on faking her own death

(Simon & Schuster)

Listen 10:19

Have you ever joked about faking your own death?

That's how it all started for Elizabeth Greenwood, author of a new book "'Playing Dead, A Journey Through the World of Death Fraud."  

She made a lighthearted comment to a friend about playing dead to get out of her six-figure student debt.

Her random musing turned into months' worth of research into why people commit pseudocide — that's what it's called when you make the world believe you're dead even though you're actually not.

"One of the main reasons people disappear is they are trying to avoid a jail sentence," Greenwood says.

"One of the men in my book helped a number of his female clients disappear because they were afraid that their husbands or boyfriends were going to kill them." - Elizabeth Greenwood

"Another reason is collecting a life insurance policy, which is a very attractive crime to many. You can collect over a million dollars sometimes, and not have to do anything super dangerous like rob a bank and have a gun shoved in your face."

Greenwood also discovered that some women who are victims of domestic violence hire "death consultants" to vanish without a trace and escape their abusers.

"One of the men in my book helped a number of his female clients disappear because they were afraid that their husbands or boyfriends were going to kill them," she says.

While there are stories of successful "death fakers" in Greenwood's book, there are also people who died, came back to life and faced the consequences. John Darwin faked his own death in a fatal canoe accident more than a decade ago.

He lived under a new identity, using the name of a man who was born around the same time but died as a child. After years of living incognito, he decided he wanted to see his children again and turned himself in.

He and his wife — who helped orchestrate his fake death — went to prison for fraud.

Legal grey zone

There's no law on the books called, 'faking your own death,' Greenwood explains.

"However, all of the ancillary crimes that you would probably have to commit to support yourself and your new life are illegal."

As for Greenwood, she "officially" died in the Philippines, and has her death certificate to prove it.