While most of us have probably fantasized about finding an easy way out of a mess of debt or scoring a large amount of money in a not entirely legal way, few of us would actually carry out such a plan. The stories of the fraudsters in Elizabeth Greenwood’s fascinating new book, Playing Dead: A Journey through the World of Death Fraud did exactly that. Some things to keep in mind should you consider faking your death: 1. It’s a good idea to alter your appearance when you assume your new identity. 2. It’s preferable to keep your same first name so you don’t forget to respond to it. 3. Don’t take out big insurance policies before the event. 4. You’ll have to produce a body unless you opt for drowning. 5. Procuring a body is often easier than you’d think, especially if you can pass for a Filipina. 6. Obey traffic laws. You might wonder what happens when a death fraudster is found out. Of course, the insurance company doesn’t pay out, but if you’re willing to leave the country, that’s about all that will happen. You probably won’t be deported or jailed. You may wonder who is daring enough to carry out such a plan. More often than not, it’s someone with a lot of confidence in themselves. At least one of those featured in this book just couldn’t seem to lay low because the temptation to enjoy his own notoriety was just too great. Others were discovered during routine traffic stops. Still others turned themselves in because they missed their families, but don’t think the families welcomed them back with open arms.
On the other side of the coin from those who faked their deaths are those who are actually dead but whose fans just can’t accept their passing. Greenwood focuses on a group called the Believers who have spent a great deal of time logging evidence proving that Michael Jackson faked his death, and that he left clues to reassure his fans. They claim that he arrived at the hospital in a different vehicle than the one that left his home and that the corpse who arrived at the hospital also looked different. A mysterious high-voiced man known as Peter Pan further stirred rumors by speaking on the phone with some of the most passionate Believers insinuating that he was Jackson himself. Over a decade after Jackson’s “alleged” death, Believers are still looking forward to Michael’s return and tirelessly opine about when and where it will happen.
Greenwood wraps up her book by traveling to Manila and obtaining her own death certificate with remarkable ease and just a few qualms. Fortunately for readers, she wrote a book to pay off her student loans instead of the alternative.