There are few events more surprising than when a person who is presumed to be dead suddenly turns out to be alive. This type of mistake can happen for a variety of different reasons. Sometimes, a person will make a deliberate attempt to fake their own death and start a new life. Other times, false rumours are started when a person drops out of sight, and the subject is genuinely surprised to discover that the rest of the world thought they are dead. And believe it or not, there have even been cases when an innocent person was charged with murdering someone who turned to be alive all along!
10 John Cameron
In May 1872, William Jackson Marion and John Cameron arrived in Gage County, Nebraska to visit Marion’s in-laws. Marion made a small down payment to purchase Cameron’s horses before the two of them left to find work on the railroad. A few days later, Marion returned to Gage County with Cameron’s horses, claiming that Cameron had gone off on his own. Not long afterward, a decomposed male body was discovered on an Indian reservation. The victim had been shot in the head three times and was wearing clothing which was believed to belong to Cameron. It was concluded that Marion likely murdered Cameron in order to steal his horses, but it would be an entire decade before he could be located.
In 1882, Marion was found serving time in a Kansas jail for another crime and was indicted for Cameron’s murder. He was found guilty and sentenced to death at his first trial. On appeal, his conviction was vacated and he won a second trial, but he was found guilty and sentenced to death again. Even though he never stopped maintaining his innocence, Marion was executed via hanging on March 25, 1887.
Four years later, to everyone’s shock, John Cameron was found in Kansas, alive and well. Cameron claimed that he fled to Mexico in order to avoid a shotgun wedding and let Marion have his horses. On the 100th anniversary of William Francis Marion’s execution for a murder which never happened, he was granted a posthumous pardon by the governor of Nebraska.
9 Steven Chin Leung
Nearly 3,000 people lost their lives during the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, but believe it or not, at least one person used this event as an opportunity to fake their own death. Earlier that year, Steven Chin Leung was arrested in New York City because of a federal fraud charge in Hawaii, where he had attempted to obtain a United States passport using a fake Social Security number. Leung was released on bond and scheduled for a later hearing at Federal District Court in Manhattan. Shortly after September 11, Leung’s lawyer received a phone call from someone claiming to be Leung’s brother, who shared a surprising story.
According to the caller, Leung worked as a consultant for the financial services firm of Cantor Fitzgerald and was at their corporate headquarters at the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11. Of course, the offices were completely destroyed in the attacks and the firm lost more than two-thirds of their workforce.
An investigation soon determined that Leung’s “brother” was actually Leung himself. Leung even impersonated his so-called brother when he sent a letter to the city in an attempt to obtain a death certificate for himself. In February 2002, Leung was caught picking up his mail at a commercial mailbox outlet in Manhattan and arrested. If Leung had simply stood trial for his original passport fraud charge, he might have only gotten probation, but because of his callous attempt to exploit a national tragedy, he was sentenced to four years in prison.
8 Lula Cora Hood
Throughout her life, Lula Cora Hood suffered from serious mental health issues. By the time she entered her forties, she had already given birth to 14 children, all of whom were put up for adoption because she couldn’t take care of them. In 1970, Cora lived in East Galesburg, Illinois, and frequently visited with four of her children, who had been legally adopted by her sister.
In August of that year, Cora disappeared from town following a squabble with her family. Because Cora was known for disappearing for long periods of time and traveling the country, no missing report was ever filed, but she never did return home. On May 5, 1996, the skeletal remains of an unidentified woman were discovered in an abandoned brickyard in East Galesburg. Shortly thereafter, one of Cora’s children contacted authorities, believing that the remains might be her missing mother. Investigators concluded that this was a likely possibility and tentatively closed the case.
However, in 2011, years after Cora’s family had provided DNA samples for testing, they were surprised to learn that their DNA did not match the remains. Remarkably, only weeks after this news was made public, Lula Cora Hood was discovered to be living in Jacksonville, Florida at the age of 84. Even though Cora did not remember her children after all these years, they eventually reunited. Incidentally, in 2013, the female remains were finally identified as another missing woman named Helen “Ruth” Alps.
7 George William Wandyaka
In 1981, Edward Edmary Mpagi was a popular citizen from the village of Kyamabaale, Uganda, but his entire life came crashing down on June 12 of that year. That’s the day that he and his cousin, Fred Masembe, were arrested and charged with the alleged robbery and murder of Mpagi’s neighbor, George William Wandyaka. One year later, both men were sentenced to death for the murder. Mpagi thought he noticed something shocking that day, however—the supposedly “dead” Wandyaka appeared to be standing in the back of the courtroom. Masembe died on death row four years later, but Mpagi’s family sensed that something was fishy and conducted an investigation.
Throughout the decade, there were numerous sightings of Wandyaka in Uganda, and in 1989, he was finally confirmed to alive. Apparently, Wandyaka’s parents held a grudge against Mpagi’s parents, and decided to exact revenge by faking their son’s death and framing Mpagi for his murder. Even though Wandyaka was not actually dead, a conviction was made possible after his parents allegedly bribed a doctor to falsely testify that he had performed a post-mortem on Wandyaka’s body.
Unfortunately, in spite of new evidence that Wandyaka was alive, the courts did not want to admit their colossal mistake. Ngapi remained on death row for 11 more years before he finally received a full pardon from the president of Uganda.
6 Bill Henry
It’s not that uncommon for a famous or notable person to wind up reading their own obituary after a false rumor has spread that they died. However, the story of former Major League Baseball pitcher Bill Henry is an especially bizarre one. Henry started off his career as a relief pitcher in 1952 and played for a total of six different teams before his retirement in 1969. Henry was two months away from his 80th birthday in September 2007 when his wife received a shocking phone call at their home. A baseball historian was phoning her to offer his condolences over the death of her husband—who was sitting right next to her at the time.
It turns out that another man named Bill Henry had died of a heart attack in Lakeland, Florida the previous month, and his obituary stated that he was a former Major League Baseball pitcher. However, this wasn’t a simple case of mistaken identity. The Bill Henry who lived in Florida had spent decades telling people he was the same Bill Henry who pitched in the major leagues for 17 years, and because the two men resembled one another, everyone believed it. Since most of Bill’s family was deceased, there was no one to disprove his story, so even his third wife of 19 years thought he was telling the truth. After the Associated Press ran this man’s obituary, the Bill Henry who actually did pitch in the major leagues was forced to confirm that he was not actually dead.
5 Gandaruban Subramanium
In 1987, Gandaruban Subramanium was a husband and father of three children who lived in Singapore, where he ran his own car rental business. However, the business was in serious financial trouble, so with the help of his brother, he decided to flee from his creditors to Sri Lanka. Gandaruban was able to obtain a fake death certificate stating that he had become embroiled in a local civil war and killed during a shootout. After Gandaruban was legally declared dead, his wife, Renuga Devi Sinnadurry, collected $246,000 in life insurance.
Gandaruban started a new life in Sri Lanka, but still wanted to maintain a relationship with his wife and children, who frequently visited him. In 1994, Gandaruban decided to obtain a fake passport and travel to Singapore to re-marry his wife, who now had the unique distinction of having gotten married to the same man under two different identities. Soon after, the couple had their fourth child together, though they would eventually get divorced.
Gandaruban’s wife and brother both wound up doing jail time for helping him fake his death. In October 2007, Gandaruban made another attempt to sneak back into Singapore and was finally caught. He was convicted of insurance fraud and sentenced to three years in prison.
4 Jenny Wilson
In 1908, Bill Wilson was working as a farmer in Blount County, Alabama when his wife, Jenny, asked him for a divorce. Shortly thereafter, Jenny disappeared, along with the couple’s 19-month-old daughter. Four years later, the skeletal remains of what appeared to be an adult woman and a child were found buried next to the Black Warrior River. They happened to be found near property belonging to Bill Wilson’s father. Shortly thereafter, a farm laborer named Jim House who had previously worked for him started spreading rumors that the remains were Jenny Wilson and her daughter. He claimed that Bill Wilson had murdered them after Jenny asked for a divorce and buried the evidence.
Bill was soon indicted for the murders and went to trial. However, there was plenty of evidence that the remains were not actually the Wilson family. One expert testified that the bones were likely over 10 years old and been placed there as part of an old Indian burial. Furthermore, the child’s remains had permanent teeth, which the Wilson daughter was far too young to have. In spite of this testimony, Bill was found guilty of first-degree murder and given a life sentence. He served over two years until Jenny Wilson and her daughter—now 11 years old—were found alive and well, living in Vincennes, Indiana with a new family. After Jenny returned to Blount County to confirm she was alive, Bill Wilson was granted a full pardon and released.
3 Mike “Corporal” Kirchner
Living the life of a professional wrestler can take such a physical toll on one’s body that it often leads down the path to drug abuse. Unfortunately, because of this, it is not uncommon to learn about a wrestler’s death at a relatively young age. On October 15, 2006, another of one these obituaries hit the World Wrestling Entertainment website when they announced the death of one of their former wrestlers, Corporal Kirchner, at the age of 49.
By 2006, Kirchner was long retired from the wrestling business and working as a truck driver when he was shocked to learn that he was dead. While on the road, Kirchner received a call from his concerned mother, who was being contacted by people who had read the news about her son’s death on the WWE website. The most baffling part of Kirchner’s premature obituary was that the website incorrectly listed his real name as “Thomas Spear.” In fact, a man named Thomas Spear really did die at his home in White Marsh, Maryland on October 15. However, Thomas Spear seemed to have no connection to Corporal Kirchner whatsoever, so how this confusion came about remains a mystery.
2 Lucy Johnson
In 1961, 26-year-old Lucy Johnson was living in Surrey, British Columbia, Canada with her husband, Marvin, and two young children when she mysteriously disappeared. The last confirmed sighting of her was in September of that year, when she was seen by a neighbor. However, Marvin Johnson made the bizarre decision to not report Lucy’s disappearance to the police until 1965. Naturally, police were very suspicious of Marvin’s actions and concluded that he likely murdered his wife. Marvin was extensively questioned and his backyard was excavated, but no evidence could be found that he was responsible for Lucy’s disappearance.
Marvin died during the 1990s and the case remained cold until June 2013. Even though Lucy was long presumed to be dead, the Surrey branch of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police decided to put the spotlight on her case as part of their “missing of the month” series and appealed to the public for information. Shockingly, they would soon receive a tip from a woman living in Whitehorse, Yukon—who claimed that Lucy Johnson was her mother!
It turns out that Lucy had fled to the Yukon in 1961 and started a new family without ever telling them anything about her previous life. After being a missing person for over 50 years, she was finally confirmed to be alive at the age of 77. Lucy’s explanation for her disappearance was that her abusive, unfaithful husband had kicked her out of the house without ever bothering to tell their children.
1 Connie Franklin
In January 1929, a 22-year-old drifter named Connie Franklin showed up in the small town of St. James, Arkansas. It wasn’t long before he became romantically involved with a local 17-year-old girl named Tillar Ruminar. However, in March, he suddenly disappeared without explanation. Months later, Tillar told authorities that both she and Connie had been attacked by five local residents, who raped her and brutally tortured Connie before burning him alive. When teeth and bone fragments were found in a fire pit, along with a bloody hat which allegedly belonged to Connie, the five accused men were charged with his murder and put on trial.
However, everyone was shocked when a man claiming to be Connie Franklin was found working at a nearby farm. He explained that he had disappeared from St. James on his own after Tillar refused to marry him. Things got even more bizarre when investigators discovered that the man calling himself “Connie Franklin” was actually named Marion Franklin Rogers, who previously had a family of his own before he was committed to a mental hospital in 1926. Rogers escaped from the institution shortly thereafter and had been on the run ever since.
Connie Franklin/Marion Franklin Rogers had the dubious distinction of being called to testify at the trial for his own murder. Tillar and others tried that deny that Marion Francis Rogers was Connie Franklin, but there was a lot compelling evidence to prove they were the same person. In the end, the jury was convinced that Connie was never actually murdered, so the five defendants were acquitted.
Robin Warder is a budding Canadian screenwriter who has used his encyclopaedic movie knowledge to publish numerous articles at Cracked.com. He is also the co-owner of a pop culture website called The Back Row and recently worked on a sci-fi short film called Jet Ranger of Another Tomorrow. Feel free to contact him here.