FUQ: Is it illegal to fake one’s own death?

John, an amateur canoeist, paddled off into the North Sea in 2002, vanished completely and was presumed dead after the remains of his canoe washed up onshore. Five years later, he walked into a police station in Hartlepool, North-East England claiming to have been suffering from amnesia and declaring that he might be a missing person.

Several phone calls, investigations, photographs, verifications later, John was happily re-united with his teary-eyed wife. This overwhelming story of reconciliation was received with sheer enthusiasm by the public and even more so by columnists. Reporters and journalists made this couple local celebrities overnight. Unfortunately, some guy who decided to pry a little deeper found a photo of John and his wife grinning happily on the website of a Panamanian real estate agent. As one can guess, things didn’t look very bright for John after medical tests failed to prove his proclaimed amnesia.

This is a very interesting case of Pseudocide –  the act of faking one’s death.

This form of deception has been remarkably extensive in history, both in fact as well as fiction. Huck Finn carried out one to escape his alcoholic father, James Bond pretended to die (You Only Live Twice) as did Batman (The Dark Knight Rises) to escape an identity.  In real life, the trick has been attempted by a British parliamentarian who wanted to escape to Australia and live with his mistress; Ken Kesey, author of One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, who fled to Mexico to escape drug prosecution; and at least two people who pretended to have died in the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York.

To pull off the perfect pseudocide, one just needs to make the cause of death imply that the body has been destroyed or just gone. Death at sea would be the most ideal way to go.

One may ask, Why go to the trouble of faking your own death?

People may commit pseudocide so they can collect life insurance money, evade outstanding arrest warrants, get out of paying off school, car, or home loans, or simply start over with a new identity, leaving behind their problems with relationships or work. There are however, a few, who have faked their death for ridiculous reasons.

Amir Vehabovic, a bloke from Bosnia faked his death and only one person turned up at his funeral, his mother. This would have only been kind of crushingly devastating if he actually hadn’t staged his death to see how popular he was. (Doesn’t beat Ross eh?)

If you thought that Sherlock Holmes was the only mastermind eligible to fake his death and make a public come back, you are mistaken.

Alan Abel, a reknowned humourist and filmmaker of the 80s,  hatched an elaborate plan for six months to stage a very dramatic death and made reporters believe that he was found in a snow bank with his skis ominously forming a cross, which may or may not be the sinister calling card of the abominable Jesus. He orchestrated the whole thing to pull a prank on The New York Times. So, after the news of his death was printed, he held a press conference to announce to the world that the whole thing was a scam.

Of course he didn’t get away with it. Which finally steers me back to my question, (which I shall definitely answer this time) Is it illegal to fake your death?

Pseudocide isn’t inherently a crime. But it involves a lot of built-in frauds that it is almost impossible to legally fake it.

So although pseudocide isn’t actually illegal, someone who fakes his or her death may commit crimes such as conspiracy, fraudulently collecting life insurance money, evading taxes, having a spouse file a false police report, forging a death certificate, or delinquency on loan payments.

And although someone can technically pull off pseudocide without breaking the law, he or she won’t be able to legally establish a new identity. If they created a false identity, they are again committing a fraud.

Which means that if you are caught committing pseudocide, you will only be charged for the other frauds you committed while trying to pull it off.

It’s funny how the desperation to abandon one’s identity and escape the life around them drives them to the extent of faking their death, when it is something that can happen any moment,literally. Even our modern, tech advanced world can’t foresee it. In fact it wouldn’t be all that surprising if death were to strike me in the middle of writ.

Disclaimer : We don’t condone people attempting to take their own lives, fake or otherwise. The above article purely is in a theoretical sense. No Neveditas were harmed in the writing of this article.

  • Nevedita Sankararaman
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