Life insurance ensures that the family members of a deceased loved one will be able to pay for the funeral as well as any outstanding debts while ensuring that they can maintain the life to which they are accustomed. Because policy payouts can range from $250,000 to more than a million dollars, life insurance fraud unfortunately occurs more often than most people think.
Creepy Insurance Claims in History
More often than not, many instances of insurance fraud can be categorized as life insurance murder. Obtaining life insurance is an uncomfortable discussion to have with your loved ones, especially since one person will benefit financially from another person’s death. If that discussion alone isn’t creepy enough for you—and you’re looking to feel a little more spooked with Halloween just around the corner—check out the top five creepiest and mysterious insurance claim cases. Just don’t get any ideas—and watch your back!
In the mid-to-late 1800s, Dr. William Palmer had a reputation of being a womanizer and having a strong interest in poisons—and many of his acquaintances had a reputation for suspicious deaths. After the suspicious deaths of a friend (cause of death: winning a bet against Dr. Palmer over who could drink more whiskey), his mother-in-law and all five of his children, Palmer’s wife supposedly died of cholera. Palmer had “coincidentally” taken out a life insurance policy on his wife right before she died. This time, lightning did indeed strike twice, when Dr. Palmer’s brother “passed away.” This time, however, the insurance company was wise to Palmer’s practices and did not pay out. Palmer was eventually charged with murder, tried, and hanged at Stafford Prison in England in front of more than 30,000 people in 1856.
Walmart and the “Dead Peasants Insurance” Fiasco
Corporate-owned life insurance, if used correctly, is a great form of insurance to protect businesses—but it’s quite complex. Unfortunately (or fortunately, if you’re Walmart), Walmart found a way to “beat the system.” Or so they thought. The discount big-box store took out life insurance policies on 350,000 lower-level employees. When Uncle Sam came knocking on Walmart’s door, he found that Walmart had marked itself as the beneficiary of all those employees and was “exploiting the tax advantages” from the corporate-owned life insurance policy. When the families of the deceased found out, they of course began to sue; a class-action lawsuit was settled for $5.1 million. Thankfully, now companies are required to perform an act of common decency and get employees’ consent before taking out a life insurance policy on them.
“Thank You for Being a Friend”
With a friend like Gerald B. Hardin, who needs enemies? Hardin, with the help of David Player, intentionally cut off their friend Michael “Porkchop” Weaver’s hand with a pole saw by tying poor Porkchop’s arm to a tree. They claimed they had “lost control of a chainsaw.” The trio claimed about $670,000 from an insurance policy and three accidental death and dismemberment policies. Player, who was in the middle of a divorce with his wife, was outed when she uncovered their plot during document preparation for the divorce.
As if being a convicted sex offender wasn’t enough, Clayton Wayne Daniels can now add insurance fraud to his list of crimes. Trying to make some cash in order to start over with a fake name and new life to cover his past, Daniels and his wife committed a ghoulish example of insurance fraud. The pair dug up a dead body from the cemetery, dressed her in Daniels’ clothing, and placed the corpse in his car—which they set on fire and pushed down an embankment. When his wife went to claim her husband’s insurance policy for his death—which totaled $110,000—the police performed a DNA test, uncovering that the corpse in the vehicle was of an 81-year-old woman who had died six months prior to this “accident.”
“Lady” in Waiting
As we now know, insurance fraud isn’t necessarily a “new” phenomenon, and Belle Gunness from Norway was committing this crime back in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Her first foray into insurance fraud involved the mysterious burning down of her and her husband’s confectionery store; the pair later collected insurance money. Later, her insurance fraud tactics turned grisly: Gunness would lure potential suitors (and two future husbands) to her home by placing ads in the local paper; she killed more than 40 suitors, including her two husbands, to collect their life insurance settlements. Another husband was involved in a “freak accident” where, according to Belle, he was killed by a meat grinder falling off a shelf. This insurance claim gave her about $3,000—a pretty hefty chunk of change back in the 1900s.