Most people have probably fantasized about staging their own grisly demise as a way to escape their problems (and/or cash in on life insurance) à la Krusty the Clown or (spoiler) Batman in that third Christopher Nolan movie. But it’s hard to disappear forever. Just ask Raymond Roth of New York, who went for a swim off Jones Beach and vanished—only to reappear five days later when the not-so-dead unemployed 47-year-old got busted for speeding. Or talk to the Taiwanese family whose parents faked their deaths in a car accident and collected $3.6 million in insurance but got caught earlier this year. My personal favorite faker, Leninguer Carballido, “died” to avoid a rape charge in 2011 but was discovered after being elected mayor of a village in southern Mexico last July.
So obviously there are some rules to the faking-your-own-death game. Don’t get elected mayor of a Mexican village, would be one. Are there any others?
Adam Virzi, the operations manager at Lyonswood Investigations and Forensics Group, an Australian private-detective agency, spends a lot of time tracking down disappeared people and claims most screw it up. “If you really want to disappear you have to be prepared to turn your back on your previous life,” he said. “People cut up their [credit] cards, their driver’s licenses, and they empty bank accounts. That to me is a sign of someone hiding, not dying.” For Verzi, fake-dying professionally means having a new, hard-to-trace identity ready. “It seems like the US has half the privacy laws we have so it’s much harder to disappear there. Actually, the hardest people to track are New Zealanders because they come here [to Australia], and they don’t vote or pay taxes and then they go home. It really helps if you’re a Kiwi.”
According to David Ranson, a professor of forensic medicine at Melbourne’s Monash University, it also helps if you can turn the hunt into a homicide investigation, thus confusing the cops and others who will search for you. “To do this you could bleed yourself, so as to get the right [DNA and blood type], then smear it on the ground so you have a drag pattern toward a door. You could then flick some blood around to create the impression of being beaten up. That would be very convincing, as there is no way of determining the legitimacy of cast-off blood.”
Assuming you then return to New Zealand and hide out among the sheep and mountains, you’ll have a long life of staying away from everything you’ve ever known ahead of you. As Virzi said, “Faking your death is only one part. It’s what you do afterward that’s the problem.”