Faked death

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A faked death, also called a staged death or pseudocide, is the act of an individual purposely deceiving other people into believing that the individual is dead, when the person is, in fact, still alive. People who commit pseudocide can do so by leaving evidence, clues, or through other methods.[1][2][3] In fandom slang, pseudocide is faking a suicide.[4] Death hoaxes can also be created and spread solely by third-parties for various purposes.

Committing pseudocide may be done for a variety of reasons, such as to fraudulently collect insurance money, to evade pursuit, to escape from captivity, to arouse false sympathy, or as a practical joke.

While faking one's own death is not inherently illegal, it may be part of a fraudulent or illicit activity such as tax evasion, insurance fraud,[5]: 12  or avoiding a criminal prosecution.


Deaths have been faked since ancient times, but the rate increased significantly in the middle of the 19th century, when life insurance, and therefore insurance fraud, became more common.[6][7] Life insurance payouts are often a goal for people faking their deaths, but most types of insurance fraud involve other subjects, such as thefts or fires, rather than faked deaths.[5]: 51–52 

In the 21st century, the advent of mass surveillance has made it much harder to hide after faking a death. Credit cards, social media, mobile phone systems, and other technological situations make it difficult to make a clean break with the past identity.[6] Widespread use of facial recognition tools can connect new identities to old social media accounts.[7] A narcissistic desire to see how others react has prompted fakers to check websites for information about their disappearances; the locations of people who visit a website can be identified through the internet.[5]: 30–31 


While some people fake their deaths as a prank or self-promotion effort, or to get a clean start, the most common motivations are money or a need to escape an abusive relationship.[4][8] Men are more likely to fake their deaths than women.[5]: 126–128, 213 

People who fake their deaths often feel like they are trapped in a desperate situation.[4] Because of this, an investigation may be triggered if the person disappears, no body is found, and the person is in significant financial difficulties.[6] Often, the desperate person has assessed the situation incorrectly. For example, John Darwin, known as "Canoe Man" in the UK, incorrectly believed that his financial difficulties could not be resolved through bankruptcy or by seeking legal assistance.[5]: 96–99 

Daydreaming or fantasizing about disappearing can be a form of avoiding problems that people do not want to address, such as their dissatisfaction with their current situations.[5]: 36–38  Faking a death in this situation goes beyond this common impulse to think about a different lifestyle and may be associated with manipulativeness, anti-social behaviour, or sociopathic tendencies.[5]: 36–38 


People who fake their own deaths often do so by pretend drownings, because it provides a plausible reason for the absence of a body. However, drowned bodies usually appear within a few days of a death, and when no body appears, a faked death is suspected.[6]

Many people who fake their deaths intend for the change to be temporary, until a problem is resolved.[5]: 188  For example, John Darwin hoped that his wife could collect money from life insurance, pay some debts off, and then he could reappear later to pay the money back, perhaps with a fine and some jail time. He framed it as a sort of unconventional loan from the life insurance companies.[5]: 99–100 


Although firm figures are impossible to identify, investigators resolve nearly all of the cases they receive, and researchers believe that most people are caught.[6][7] Most people are caught quickly, within hours or days. For example, Marcus Schrenker faked a plane crash to avoid prosecution and was captured two days later, after he sent an e-mail message to a friend about his plans.[5]: 62 

Faking a death is not a victimless act.[9] The people who grieved what they believed was a real death are usually angry and sometimes see the offense as being unforgivable.[6] Accomplices, such as romantic partners and children, may be asked to commit crimes, such as filing false insurance claims or making false reports to the police, which can result in criminal charges.[5]: 188–189  Those who are unaware that the death is fake may feel emotionally abused or manipulated. Rather than being happy or relieved to discover that the faker is alive, they may be angry and refuse to have any further contact.[5]: 135–136 

On social media[edit]

False claims of death, including false claims of suicide, are not uncommon in social media accounts.[4][10] The people who do this are often trying to get an advantage for themselves, such as more attention or likes, and they lie about their deaths "without thinking about the fact that there are people who would be upset, hurt or psychologically affected by the news of their death".[10] It may be an intentional effort to manipulate other people's emotions or to see how people would react if they had died.[4] Online, people have claimed to be dead as a response to real or perceived mistreatment on social media, and posting news of their death, especially their suicide, is a way to punish the other users.[4]

Examples of faked deaths on social media include BethAnn McLaughlin, a white woman who claimed to be Native American under another name on Twitter, and whose deception was uncovered after she claimed to have died during the COVID-19 pandemic.[11]

Notable faked deaths[edit]

1st century[edit]

14th century[edit]

18th century[edit]

  • 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.[13]
  • 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.[citation needed]

20th century[edit]

  • 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.[14]
  • 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.[citation needed]
  • C. J. De Garis, an 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.[citation needed]
  • Aleister Crowley, English occultist and author, faked his death in 1930 in Portugal aided by Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa, and then appeared three weeks later publicly in Berlin. Crowley actually died in 1947.[citation needed]
  • Alfred Rouse, an English murderer, set his own car on fire in 1930 with a different man inside, in an attempt to convince the police that Rouse had died in the vehicle. He was arrested and convicted, and executed in 1931. The identity of the victim remains unknown.[citation needed]
  • 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.[citation needed]
  • Ferdinand Waldo Demara, American fraudster, faked his death in 1942. He actually died in 1982.[citation needed]
  • Juan Pujol García, Spanish spy, faked his death from 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.[citation needed]
  • 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.[citation needed] He actually died in 1966.[citation needed]
  • Ken Kesey, American novelist, faked his suicide in 1965. He died in 2001.[citation needed]
  • 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.[citation needed]
  • 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.[15] Sent back to Britain, he was convicted and sentenced to seven years in prison for fraud.[16]
  • 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. Balisok actually died in 2013.[citation needed]
  • 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.[citation needed]
  • Sukumara Kurup, an Indian who faked his own death by placing the corpse of his murder victim in his car and setting it on fire in 1984. The face of victim was charred beforehand to prevent identification. He did it to collect the money insured on his name. The police identified the victim and his accomplices were put on trial. He evaded arrest and is a in fugitive list of Interpol and Kerala Police.
  • 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.[citation needed]
  • Charles Peter Mule, a Louisiana policeman, was charged with twenty-nine counts related to the rape and molestation of several young girls in 1988. After being released on bail, Mule left his truck alongside a bridge and sent a note to his police department. His claimed suicide was ruled inconclusive after police failed to find a corpse in the river, and a hiker reported to police that a man had opened fire on him without warning and whose description matched Mule's. After the case was profiled on the television show Unsolved Mysteries Mule was captured.[17]
  • 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 17 years, with his own family only learning he was alive when he appeared in a 2001 TV interview. He died of an accidental poisoning in 2008.[citation needed]
  • Francisco Paesa, an agent of Centro Nacional de Inteligencia, the Spanish secret service, faked a fatal cardiac arrest in 1998 in Thailand, after having tricked Luis Roldán, known for being the general of the Spanish Civil Guard when a big scandal of corruption arose in 1993, into stealing all the money that Roldán had previously stolen in that case. He appeared in 2004. During these years, he opened an offshore company, as it was exposed thanks to Panama Papers.[citation needed]
  • Friedrich Gulda, Austrian pianist, falsely announced his death in 1999 to create publicity for a following "resurrection concert". He died in 2000.

21st century[edit]

  • 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.[18] His wife, Anne, was also arrested and charged for helping Darwin to collect his life insurance of £250,000.
  • Clayton Counts, American musician, reported himself dead on his website in 2007 as a prank. He actually died in 2016.[citation needed]
  • Samuel Israel III, an American hedge fund manager who was facing 22 years in prison for financial malfeasance and fraud, left his truck and a suicide note at a bridge in an attempted fake suicide in April 2008. Authorities 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 for obstruction of justice, which he is currently serving.: 1–12, 38–39 
  • Marcus Schrenker, a financial manager from Fishers, Indiana, US, 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 two days later, after he sent an e-mail message to a friend about his plans.[19][5]: 62  In October 2010, after pleading guilty to state charges, Schrenker was sentenced to 10 years in prison and was fined $633,781.[20]
  • Chandra Mohan Sharma, Indian activist and murderer, murdered a homeless man, placed the body in 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.[citation needed]
  • 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.[21]
  • Nicholas Alahverdian, an American child welfare advocate and convicted sex offender from Rhode Island, purported to have died in February 2020, was found alive by police in Scotland in January 2022.[22]

Celebrities accused of faking their deaths[edit]

On occasion when a prominent public figure (such as a singer or political leader) dies, there are rumors that the figure in question did not actually die but faked their death for some reason or other. These theories are all considered fringe theories. Among the suspected faked deaths include:

  • Adolf Hitler, dictator of Nazi Germany (1933 - 1945). Writers such as Emil Ludwig have speculated on the theory that Hitler did not die as with the official story but instead faked his death and escaped with the help of his fellow Nazis, with Ludwig also suspecting that Hitler used a body double to help cover it up.[23][24]
  • Elvis Presley, American singer. When Presley died in August 1977, there were rumors that he faked his death and went into hiding. Many of these fans have claimed to sighted Elvis (whose face was well known) in various places around the world. The earliest known alleged sighting of Elvis after was at the Memphis International Airport where a man who resembled Elvis gave the name "John Burrows", which was the same name Elvis used when booking hotels.[25] In 1978, Gail Brewer-Giorgio published a book titled Orion, a novel about a fictional Presley-like singer called "Orion", who in the story faked his death to escape the pressures of fame. According to Brewer-Giorgio, her publisher inexplicably had her novel recalled from stores which made her wonder if the real Elvis Presley faked his death.[26] She then began an investigation and wrote another book The Most Incredible Elvis Presley Story Ever Told AKA Is Elvis Alive? where she claimed that the investigation led to the conclusion of Elvis faking his death.[27] In 2017, Elvis fans claimed to see the singer visit his home Graceland on his 82nd birthday.[28]
  • Alexander I of Russia, Tsar of Russia (1801 - 1825). Towards the end of his reign in 1825, Tsar Alexander was increasingly suspicious of those around him and was more religious than he was previously.[29][30][31] He then caught typhus and died.[32] Russian legends claim that the Tsar faked his death and left for Siberia where he became a hermit and took on the name "Feodor Kuzmich". Such legends existed during Kuzmich's lifetime. When Kuzmich was on his deathbed in 1876, the priest there to perform the last rites on Kuzmich asked him if he was Tsar Alexander. Kuzmich replied with a vague sentence that did not answer the question.[33] Historians are skeptical of the claim that Tsar Alexander I was Feodor Kuzmich.[34]

Pseudocides in fiction[edit]

  • Romeo and Juliet (Shakespeare) To avoid a forced marriage, Juliet drinks a vial that shuts her system down for 2 and 40 (forty-two) 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 also killing herself.[5]: 27 
  • In The Adventure of the Empty House, Sherlock Holmes re-appears to Dr. Watson several years after his presumed death grappling with Professor Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls. He explains that he survived the fall where Moriarty did not, but had to remain "officially" dead while Moriarty's lieutenant, Sebastian Moran, was still at large. This event was loosely adapted by Steven Moffat for the 2010s television series Sherlock starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the episode "The Reichenbach Fall". Sherlock is the subject of Jim Moriarty's work to undermine him in the public's view to drive Sherlock to suicide. Moriarty instead kills himself and Sherlock appears to kill himself to save his friends but survives with the help of brother Mycroft Holmes and returns to his work in the next episode, "The Empty Hearse".
  • Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – to escape both his drunken father and his strict legal guardian, the main character fakes his own murder.[5]: 27 
  • The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin[5]: 105 
  • Gone Girl (2014): In the bestselling book and film, the Dunne marriage is falling apart after the husband is discovered to be having an affair and the wife commits pseudocide and travels to the western United States.[5]: 27 
  • House, M.D.: Dr. Gregory House, the titular character of the television series, fakes his death in the series finale by switching dental records with a deceased patient. Gregory House, based on the character of Sherlock Holmes, commits pseudocide just as Holmes did in The Adventure of the Empty House.[citation needed]
  • The Outsider (1953) by Richard Wright tells 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.[citation needed]
  • Pretty Little Liars (2010): A high school student fakes her death in order to rid herself of a stalker in the episode "-A". Mona Vanderwaal, another character, also attempted to fake her own murder.[citation needed]
  • Despicable Me 2 (2013): While Gru, Nefario and the girls are fighting the purple minions, Eduardo Perez reveals himself to be El Macho, a villain who faked his death by jumping out of a plane while standing on the back of a shark, having strapped two hundred and fifty pounds of dynamite to his chest, into the mouth of a volcano, which would end up killing both him and the shark.
  • Big Hero 6 (2014): When Hiro manages to knock off the supervillain's mask at a teleportation research in a island, he thought that the villain was Krei, but its true identity was revealed to be Professor Callaghan instead, who faked his death by revealing that he escaped from the burning building by using Hiro's microbots to shield himself from the flames which killed his student and Hiro's brother, Tadashi after rushing into the burning building to save him.
  • The Simpsons: Homer Simpson fakes his death to take a day off from work in the episode "Mother Simpson". In another episode, Krusty the Clown twice fakes his death in "Bart the Fink".[citation needed]
  • Grand Theft Auto V: This video game portrays a faked death.[5]: 27  In the first mission "Prologue" Michael Townley (main protagonist) robbed a bank in North Yankton, then used a bullet hit squib to fake his death, and moved to Los Santos with a fake name "Michael De Santa", claiming to be in witness protection.
  • Alarm für Cobra 11 - Die Autobahnpolizei: on the ending of the season 6 finale "Ein Einsamer Sieg" (A lone victory), Andre Fux, the 2nd partner of Semir Gerkhan, was arpooned by Carlos Berger, the antagonist of the finale, after a boat fight in the seas of Mallorca. Semir kills Carlos and he searches under the sea, with no result. After Semir goes back to Germany and before the 3rd partner, Tom Kranich, arrives at the highway police, a fisherman founds Andre's body and call the ambulance, and he tells to don't say the secret about his fake death, so he started a new life and he's got a new family. 14 years later, in the episode "Auferstehung" (Resurrection), Andre finds out that Semir is still in the police and he goes to help him and they become again friends. However Semir finds out that his family died and he's working in a secret organization to know who killed his family, even Ben Jager, the 6th partner of Semir, disagrees that Andre is a good guy. During the climax of the episode, in the mountains of Kaunertal, after a car crash into a cliff, Semir tries to save Andre in falling the cliff, but unfortunately he falls and he dies for real, and before that, he gives to Semir, the USB key which contains the assassins of Andre's family. After he comes back to the police, Semir fells deceived and even nearly killed by his own friend.
  • Kathy Beale in EastEnders faked her death for 10 years and made a return on the 30th anniversary in 2015
  • Yakuza 6: Kazuma Kiryu faked his death to protect Haruka Sawamura and those around her and his friends. While under the radar, he helped Ichiban Kasuga in Yakuza: Like a Dragon by giving him the information he needed after a duel.
  • Who Killed Sara? Appeared few times.
  • In the James Bond film Spectre, Bond's adoptive brother Franz Oberhauser faked being killed in an avalanche alongside his father. In doing so, he took up the alias of Ernst Stavro Blofeld.[citation needed]
  • Nora Prentiss in which a man fakes his own death and is later charged with his own murder.

True crime genre[edit]

Several books and television shows are dedicated to the theme of faked deaths. These include the 2014 television show Nowhere to Hide on Investigation Discovery, hosted by private investigator Steve Rambam.[5]: 43 

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Is Faking Your Own Death a Crime?". Live Science. 17 August 2012.
  2. ^ "Pseudocide: The Art of Faking Your Death". Psychology Today. Retrieved 3 November 2017.
  3. ^ "Pseudocide definición y significado - Diccionario Inglés Collins". www.collinsdictionary.com. Retrieved 3 November 2017.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Burns, Janet (27 October 2018). "The Psychology of Faking Your Own Death". Gizmodo. Retrieved 2021-03-28.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t Greenwood, Elizabeth (2016). Playing Dead: A Journey Through the World of Death Fraud (1st ed.). Simon & Schuster. ISBN 9781476739366. OCLC 927166036.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Reese, Hope (2018-06-04). "How people fake their own death — and why". Vox. Retrieved 2021-03-28.
  7. ^ a b c Kohn, Isabelle (2019-08-26). "Inside the World of Investigators Who Know You've Faked Your Death". MEL Magazine. Retrieved 2021-03-28.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  8. ^ Gillespie, Tom (19 February 2019). "You only live twice: The man who catches people who fake their own death". Sky News. Retrieved 2021-03-28.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  9. ^ "3 Steps To Faking Your Own Death From The Author Of 'Playing Dead'". NPR. 9 August 2016. Retrieved 2021-03-28.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  10. ^ a b Alvarez, E. (19 September 2018). "Why are people pretending to be dead on Instagram?". Engadget. Retrieved 2021-03-28.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  11. ^ Viren, Sarah (2021-05-25). "The Native Scholar Who Wasn't". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2021-05-27.
  12. ^ Little, Becky. "A 14th-Century Nun Faked Her Death With a 'Dummy' to Escape Convent Life". History. Retrieved 2021-03-28.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  13. ^ Todd, William Cleaves Timothy Dexter. Boston, Massachusetts: David Clapp & Son., 1886: 6.
  14. ^ Robson, Jocelyn (March 17, 2016). "Radical Reformers and Respectable Rebels: How the Two Lives of Grace Oakeshott Defined an Era". Archived from the original on 3 May 2016.
  15. ^ Robertson, Geoffrey (1999). The Justice Game. London: Vintage. pp. 62–63. ISBN 978-0-09-958191-8.
  16. ^ MP planned fake death for months, 29 December 2005, BBC, retrieved at 2 September 2014
  17. ^ Crownover, Cathy (10 January 1990). "Charles Mule gets 14 years in prison". Ocala Star Banner. p. 1.
  18. ^ [1] CNN
  19. ^ Johnson, Dirk (2009). "A Man With Everything, Including a Lot to Flee". The New York Times.
  20. ^ Staff, RTV6/ABC. October 8, 2010 Schrenker Sentenced To 10 Years In Prison
  21. ^ "'Murdered' Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko is alive". BBC News. 30 May 2018. Retrieved 30 May 2018.
  22. ^ "'Nick Alahverdian, suspected of faking his death, found in Scotland, say police'". Providence Journal. 12 January 2022.
  23. ^ Musmanno, Michael (23 July 1948). "Roundup of Facts and Evidence Proves Conclusively Death was Hitler's Fate". The Pittsburgh Press. Pittsburgh, PN. p. 21. Retrieved 2021-07-23 – via Newspapers.com.
  24. ^ Musmanno, Michael A. (1950). Ten Days to Die. Garden City, NY: Doubleday. pp. 236, 238–39.
  25. ^ Partridge, Kenneth (August 14, 2017). "Suspicious Minds: The Bizarre, 40-Year History of Elvis Presley Sightings". Retrieved January 6, 2018.
  26. ^ Reece, Gregory (2006). Elvis religion: the cult of the King. I.B. Tauris. p. 156. ISBN 9781845111649.
  27. ^ Susan Doll "Elvis Presley Biography Retrieved on 2022-08-16.
  28. ^ "Elvis ain't dead – the weirdest Elvis Presley sightings and conspiracy theories". NME. 2 January 2019.
  29. ^ Nichols 1982, p. 41.
  30. ^ Cox 1987, p. 121.
  31. ^ Truscott 1997, p. 26.
  32. ^ Palmer 1974, ch 22.
  33. ^ "Святой праведный старец Феодор Томский".
  34. ^ See V.A. Fedorov in Donald J .Raleigh, ed. (1996). The Emperors and Empresses of Russia: Rediscovering the Romanovs. M.E. Sharpe. p. 252.

Further reading[edit]