Tuesday, 26 July 2011

A long time dead

I'm amazed someone can be declared dead and then spend 25 years with a new identity without anyone smelling a rat. But that's what a Chicago man managed to do.

Forty year old Arthur Jones vanished in May 1979 after being sacked as a commodities broker and struggling to pay off tens of thousands of dollars in gambling and other debts.

In 1986 he was pronounced dead, and his wife and children collected about $47,000 in benefits. They claim to have never heard from him since.

But Mr Jones, now 72, was tracked down last week in a Las Vegas bookmakers, where it seems he worked for a decade. He had been living with his girlfriend for 22 years. He was arrested and charged with crimes including fraud, burglary and identity theft.

He reportedly bought a fake identity for $800 under the name Joseph Richard Sandelli and has used it ever since. He was only found out after someone got suspicious about his Social Security number.

Apart from the sheer ruthlessness of abandoning his wife and children without a word and leaving them in a colossal financial mess (or so it's claimed), I wonder how on earth he avoided detection for so long. You'd have thought there would be something fishy about his new ID or his account of his life that would have raised a few doubts pretty quickly.

I guess it shows how easily we trust other people. We believe what they tell us - their name, their personal details, their life history. Why should we disbelieve them unless there's some obvious sign they're lying?

But it must have taken an astonishing acting ability. He must have adopted his new alias so completely, so seamlessly, that he never betrayed himself, never gave any clue he had a second identity. His wife and children, his previous job, his huge debts, all securely buried in a corner of his mind and never ever revealed. What perfect self-discipline!

When you think how hard it is to keep a secret, and how easily we blurt something out when we're not totally vigilant, or we're drunk, or we're under pressure, his impregnable silence is impressive.

PS: A further thought. Did he not love his wife and children? So how could he bear to leave them and never see them again? Wouldn't he have felt a terrible sense of loss and emptiness?

18 comments:

secret agent woman said...

I couldn't do it. But what about all those people in the Witness Protection Program? They take on entirely new identities and have to learn to just BE that new person. And I doubt I'd be suspicious of someone if they moved in - why would I question their history, social security number and so on?

Nick said...

Secret Agent - I don't think we have such an advanced witness protection programme in the UK. Witnesses often complain they're treated worse than the defendants.

You're right, I wouldn't be suspicious of a new neighbour either. They'd have to have their bogus life history very well-rehearsed though.

Baino said...

Imagine living like that though, looking over your shoulder all the time. I'm tragic at keeping secrets so don't tell me any - ever. Then I read somewhere that trust in someone is just believing their lies.

Macy said...

"Charged with burglary and theft"

See if he'd stayed clean after running off with his new identity no one would have bothered trying to track himdown. It was the burglary and theft that complicated things.

Nick said...

Baino - Trust in someone is believing their lies. I think there's a bit of truth in that. How often do we think, what she's saying sounds a bit funny but it would be rude to challenge her?

Macy - I don't understand the burglary and theft bit. But it was the fake social security number that eventually scuppered him.

Leah said...

incredible story! I'm reminded of John List, a similar but much more grisly tale. Absolutely astounding. by the way, hi Nick!

kylie said...

i bet there were slip ups but a person can get away with a slip here and there if the person listening isnt on the ball or wont challenge

Nick said...

Hi Leah! - Well, John List was rather different in that he actually murdered his wife, mother and three children. But yes, he was on the run for 18 years before he was finally apprehended.

Kylie - True, the odd trivial slip-up could easily not be noticed. You'd have to say something really peculiar to arouse immediate suspicion.

Rummuser said...

Leaving aside the emotional angle to the desertion, the rights and the wrongs, while I would never be able to do it, the thought of doing so had crossed my mind on several occasions when the whole universe seemed to conspire against me. Sanity returned every time, but in all fairness, I have to admire the man for having pulled it off.

Scarlet Blue said...

People do very strange things. The hardest thing of all is to imagine how life is in someone else's head.
Sx

Nick said...

Ramana - I guess most of us have fantasies about starting again when life has got too burdensome. But I can't admire someone who (a) has systematically deceived other people and (b) deserted his family with no explanation and left them to pick up the pieces.

Scarlet - Very true. We all think and feel and see the world in such very different ways.

Wisewebwoman said...

oops problems with comments, mine just vanished...
XO
WWW

e said...

I've actually had the reverse happen: having to prove that I was who I said I was to an agent of the government.

Nick said...

www - So what was the gist of your comment? I must be lucky, I've virtually never lost a comment, either on my own blog or other people's.

e - That must be a rather spooky experience, as if you might not exist at all....

John Gray said...

I think we all have the fantasy of just disappearing sometimes.... and then starting a fresh....

wiping the slate clean!

Nick said...

John - I can't say I fantasise much about having a new life. There's no guarantee it would be any better than the old one. I do sometimes fantasise about leaving life altogether - human existence can be pretty daunting on occasion!

Liz said...

Maybe I could understand how he could leave his wife but his children? No. Unless he was so ashamed.

Nick said...

Liz - Ashamed? An interesting idea. You might be right.