A faked death, also called a staged death and pseudocide, is a case in which an individual leaves evidence to suggest that they are dead to mislead others. This is done for a variety of reasons, such as to fraudulently collect insurance money, to avoid capture by law enforcement for some other crime, escape from being held hostage by abductors or as a practical prank. Unless in the furtherance of some other crime (such as fraud or avoiding debt or jail), faking one's own death is not necessarily illegal.
People who fake their own deaths sometimes do so by pretend drownings, because it provides a plausible reason for the absence of a body.
Timothy Dexter was an eccentric 18th-century New England businessman probably best-known for his punctuationless book A Pickle for the Knowing Ones or Plain Truth in a Homespun Dress. However, he is also known for having faked his own death to see how people would react. His wife did not shed any tears at the wake, and as a result he caned her for not being sufficiently saddened at his passing.
Georgy Gruzinsky, a Russian nobleman, faked his death in 1798 to avoid a court sentence. He reappeared when he was effectively pardoned in 1802, and actually died in 1852.
Grace Oakeshott, British women's rights activist, faked her death in 1907 to get out of her marriage. She lived the remainder of her life in New Zealand and died in 1929.
Violet Charlesworth, a British fraudster, faked her death in 1909. She was sentenced to three years in prison and released in 1912. Nothing is known of her life after her release.
C. J. De Garis, and Australian aviator and entrepreneur, faked his death in 1925 and became the subject on an eight-day nationwide search, before being spotted on a ship in New Zealand. He committed suicide in 1926.
Aleister Crowley, English occultist and author, faked his death in 1930 in Portugal, and then appeared three weeks later publicly in Berlin. Crowley actually died in 1947.
Alfred Rouse, an English murderer, set his car on fire in 1930 with an unknown man inside in an attempt to fool the police that he died in the vehicle. He was arrested and convicted, and executed in 1931. The identity of the victim remains unknown.
Alexsandr Uspensky, Russian government official, faked his own suicide in 1938 in an attempt to avoid capture by Soviet authority during the Great Purge. He was captured in 1939 and executed in 1940.
Ferdinand Waldo Demara, American fraudster, faked his death in 1942 as part of his many frauds. He actually died in 1982.
Juan Pujol García, Spanish spy, faked his death of Malaria in Angola in 1949, with help from the British spy agency MI5. He lived the remainder of his life in Venezuela and died in 1988.
Lawrence Allen Bader, an American salesperson, disappeared in 1957 and was presumed dead. He was found alive five years later under the name John "Fritz" Johnson, working as a local TV personality. Bader may have suffered amnesia of his previous life. He actually died in 1966.
Ken Kesey, American novelist, faked his suicide in 1965. He died in 2001.
John Allen, a British criminal and murderer, faked his own death in 1966 to avoid prosecution for crimes he had committed. Allen actually died in 2015.
John Stonehouse, a British politician who in November 1974 faked his own suicide by drowning to escape financial difficulties and live with his mistress. One month later, he was discovered in Australia. Police there initially thought he might be Lord Lucan (who had disappeared only a few weeks earlier, after being suspected of murder) and jailed him.. Sent back to Britain, he was convicted and sentenced to seven years in prison for fraud..
Jerry Balisok, an American professional wrestler, successfully convinced the FBI that he had died in 1978 in the Jonestown massacre. He was arrested in 1989 living under the name Ricky Allen Wetta in 1989. Balisok actually died in 2013.
Audrey Marie Hilley, an American murderer, jumped bail in 1979 and lived under the assumed identity of Robbi Hannon. In 1982, under a different alias, she announced the death of Hannon. She was captured and imprisoned, and died in 1987.
David Friedland, a former New Jersey senator, faked his own death via scuba-diving accident in 1985 while awaiting trial on racketeering charges. In December 1987, he was arrested by officials in Maldives, where he had been working as a scuba dive master and had posed in scuba gear for a picture post card. He eventually was returned to the United States and served nine years in prison.
Charles Mulet, a corrupt Louisiana policeman, had been accused of molesting a teenage girl in 1988. Mulet left his truck alongside a bridge and sent a note to his police department. The suicide was ruled inconclusive after police failed to find a corpse in the river, and a hiker reported to police a man opening fire on him without warning, whose description matched Mulet's. The case being profiled on Unsolved Mysteries led to Mulet's capture.
Philip Sessarego, British author, faked his death by car bomb in Croatia in 1991 for unknown reasons, and lived under an assumed name for the next 18 years, with his own family only learning he was alive when he appeared in a 2001 TV interview. He died in an accidental poisoning in 2008.
Lucian Ludwig Kozminski, Polish-American Holocaust survivor convicted of swindling other survivors out of restitution money. Alleged to have died in 1993 but authorities believe he is still alive.
John Darwin, a former teacher and prison officer from Hartlepool, England faked his own death on 21 March 2002 by canoeing out to sea and disappearing. His ruse fell apart in 2006 when a simple Google search revealed a photo of him buying a house in Panama. Darwin was arrested and charged with fraud. His wife, Anne, was also arrested and charged for helping Darwin to collect his life insurance of £25,000.
Patrick McDermott disappeared at sea in 2005 under suspicious circumstances. Despite a coast guard investigation concluded that he likely drowned, various journalists claim that they have located him alive, living in Mexico.
Clayton Counts, American musician, reported himself dead on his website in 2007 as a prank. He actually died in 2016.
Samuel Israel III, an Americanhedge fund manager who was facing twenty years in prison for fraud, left his car and a suicide note on the Bear Mountain Bridge in an attempted fake suicide in April 2008. His girlfriend later confessed to aiding in the deception, and Israel surrendered himself to authorities on July 2. It was always suspected that his suicide was faked since, among other things, passersby reported that a car had picked someone up on the bridge from near Israel's abandoned car. Two years were added to Israel's sentence, which he is currently serving.
Marcus Schrenker, a financial manager from Fishers, Indiana, was charged with defrauding clients, and in 2009 attempted to fake his own death in a plane crash to avoid prosecution. The plane crash was quickly discovered to be staged, and Schrenker was captured after a multi-state, three-day manhunt that followed. In October 2010, after pleading guilty to state charges, Schrenker was sentenced to 10 years in prison and was fined $633,781
Chandra Mohan Sharma, Indian activist and murderer, murdered a homeless man, placed the body his own car, and set the car on fire, in an attempt at faking his death in 2014 to get out of his marriage. He was captured by police and arrested later that year.
Arkady Babchenko, a Russian journalist living in Ukraine who in 2018 faked his own assassination, which was widely reported in the international press, as part of a sting operation aimed at exposing an agent sent to kill him. Babchenko's appearance at a press conference the day after his "death" caused an international sensation.
Romeo and Juliet (Shakespeare) To avoid a Forced marriage to the prince of Verona, Juliet drinks a vial that shuts her system down for 24 hours, appearing dead to her family. This backfires when Romeo hears of her death, unaware she was going to wake up, and kills himself, leading to Juliet killing herself.
The Outsider (1953) by Richard Wright takes up the story of Cross Damon, who survives a subway accident but leaves his coat on another man's severely disfigured corpse. Investigators assume it is Cross' body, and he takes the opportunity to escape his previous life.