In our very interconnected modern world, the idea of faking your own death might actually seem kind of insane. All it takes is one accidental tweet or status update on Facebook for someone to figure out you're not actually dead. However, back in the 1800s and early 1900s, faking your death was actually pretty easy. Even if the corpse didn't especially look like you, there was no DNA testing back then to prove it wasn't you.
Often the reason for faking one's death was to collect on a life insurance policy. Faking your own demise and scamming an insurance company was considered quite preferable to defaulting on loans. Here are a few stories of death fakers pulled from various old newspapers. I gotta say, these folks are pretty creative.
A man named Kumf.
According to an August 1889 printing of The Daily Democrat in Huntington, IN, a German man named Kumf was caught collecting insurance money on his own life. It all started when he disguised himself as a woman, pretended to be his wife, and applied for insurance on his own life. The policy was issued. After a bit of time, he faked an illness and was seen by an old doctor he had selected. "One day during his spell of sickness he got up quietly, disguised himself once more as his wife, went to the insurance office, paid a premium about due, and tearfully announced the grievous sickness of the insured," the newspaper reported. Not long after, the physician was called and informed that Kumf had passed. He went to the house and was met by Kumf, now disguised as his wife. He was brought to a dark room where his examination of the "corpse" prompted him to draw up a death certificate. Kumf went to his burial disguised and later collected the insurance money. "Unfortunately for him, however, he got intoxicated, first with success and then with liquor," and went out without his disguise on. He was caught and jailed.
Business in Paris.
This story takes us to Paris in the 1890s. According to an account in the Daily Telegraph, a young woman with a recently failed business was having trouble dealing with the backlash of her creditors. The police were called to seize all of her possessions as a way to recoup what she owed to them. However, when the authorities arrived, they found what they believed was the woman's dead body all dressed up and lying on the bed. Luckily for the creditors, the policeman with them had a suspicious mind. He went over the body and proceeded to violently pinch it. When the not-so-dead woman let out a scream, the creditors knew they had been fooled. They quickly confiscated everything of value in the apartment and were off.
The case of Henry Schwartz.
At first, there was nothing suspicious about the death of Henry Schwartz, back in August, 1925. Schwartz was an inventor who was supposedly killed by an explosion in his laboratory. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, until police learned that Schwartz was carrying a $180,000 life insurance policy when he died. That's when they called in a dental examiner and found that the teeth in the corpse didn't match Schwartz's. A local laborer had recently been reported missing and police traced the corpse to him. That's when they issued an arrest warrant for Schwartz on the charge of murder.
Defrauding to the full extent.
In the 1870s, a Hungarian count named Enling was living in New York City with his wife and mistress. The wife seemed to have known about the mistress and was certainly not happy about it, but did nothing. Despite his position, Enling was nearly broke, so he took out a life insurance policy for $10,000 on his mistress. The woman then faked illness and Enling called the most incompetent doctor he could find to attend to her. She then pretended to die and was pronounced dead by the same practitioner. Enling quickly made the claim on her insurance money to replenish his coffers. However, the company was suspicious and ordered that her coffin be unearthed to prove death. When they raised the coffin, instead of a body, they found 19 brinks stacked inside. Needless to say, Enling and his mistress were quickly arrested.
Murder in Vienna.
For our final story, we travel to turn of the century Vienna. Our main character is a chauffeur named Toman. While not much is known about his background, we can be sure he was in financial trouble. In an attempt to claim the money of a life insurance policy he took out on himself, Toman brutally murdered an unknown man. He then proceeded to remove the eyes and the nose from the corpse and dress the name in his cloths. However, his scheme was easily uncovered by the insurance company and a warrant was issued for his arrest.
(via Haunted Ohio Books)
I'd love to try to see someone pull off one of these schemes in 2016. I reckon it would be a lot harder than it looks.