I corkscrewed down the research rabbit hole today. I got interested in stories of people who faked their own death — the whys and hows of it — and I came across an interview with an expert in faking death, Elizabeth Greenwood, who wrote a book titled “Playing Dead: A Journey Through the World of Death Fraud.” This book is now on my to-read list.
Turns out that lots of people want to fake their own deaths, and most of them don’t get away with it. The reasons for faking your own death are typical: to escape debt or criminal prosecution, or to commit fraud and collect on a life insurance policy.
Not as common might be the desire to change your identity and start a new life, but you’d really need to have a problem with who you are or your situation in order to go to such extremes. One fascinating case was Ukraine’s security forces faking the murder of journalist Arkady Babchenko in order to flush out Russian assassins who were targeting him.
According to Greenwood, it takes a lot of money and planning to successfully fake your own death, particularly in an era where almost everyone is leaving digital footprints everywhere they go.
Why am I researching death fraud? Because I’m generating ideas for stories and novels. Why else? But this topic hasn’t crystallized yet. The idea of premeditation — planning long in advance to create a new identity and establish the death story — is one path. With enough foresight and attention to detail, you can probably get away with it. The story would have to focus on motivation for faking your death, execution of your plan, complications along the way, and finally whether or not you can do it.
But what about a spontaneous decision to fake your death? That strikes me as more interesting. What situation could cause you to commit death fraud? A terrible mistake you made? A suddenly recognized need or opportunity? How would that story play out?
I don’t know and may never know. It’s just research, after all. What I do know is Nancy Sinatra sings like a mythological Siren the opening credits of the James Bond Movie, “You Only Live Twice.” I love the line, “One life for yourself, and one for your dreams.”
Ah, the rabbit hole.