Faked deaths, phony funeral fueled $1 million life insurance scheme
For four women in Southern California, it was like a plot right out of Hollywood.
Create two people.
Stage a funeral for one of the dead people.
Collect the life insurance money.
Authorities say that from December 2004 to January 2007, Jean Crump, a mortuary employee, and Faye Shilling, a phlebotomist, fleeced insurance companies to the tune of about $1 million by filing false claims with life insurance companies for two phantom people.
“A case like this is as brazen as it gets when you hear about cow parts and mannequins being stuffed into coffins,” says James Quiggle, a spokesman for the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud. “This is highly unusual.”
According to federal court records in Los Angeles, 68-year-old Crump, 62-year-old Shilling and two other women schemed to convince the Conseco Life Insurance and American General Life Insurance companies to issue a combined $950,000 in life insurance for “Jim Davis.” Furthermore, they were able to get The Chesapeake Life Insurance Co. to issue a $50,000 policy for “Laura Urich.”
Neither “Jim Davis” nor “Laura Urich” actually existed, however.
Rogue doctor and bogus mourners
When the life insurance policy for “Jim Davis” matured, Crump and Shilling helped prepare a fake death certificate and listed an attending physician, a real Southern California doctor identified in court records as “M.W.” Crump and Shilling purchased a burial plot, buried an empty casket — without a headstone — and even staged a phony funeral. “Mourners” included people Crump and Shilling had recruited to act like relatives, according to the FBI.
|A life insurance scheme in Southern California included a fake funeral for a phony man — “Jim Davis.”|
Federal agents began investigating after some of the people approached by the women to join the scam tipped off authorities.
To throw authorities off, Crump and Shilling exhumed the “Jim Davis” casket, then filled it with a mannequin and cow meat and bones so the coffin would weigh enough that crematory employees wouldn’t become suspicious. They had the casket and its contents cremated, and offered “M.W.” $50,000 to create medical records supporting the fake death certificate.
What Crump and Shilling didn’t know was that “M.W.” was cooperating with government investigators; the doctor previously was nabbed for unlawfully dispensing oxycodone, a prescription painkiller.
When meeting Shilling to discuss the “Jim Davis” insurance, “M.W.” was wearing a wire and a hidden camera as Shilling detailed how she and her pals were scamming the insurance companies. During one of the get-togethers, Shilling complained that one of her three accomplices hadn’t done as much work as she had, yet this accomplice reaped $80,000 of the life insurance proceeds.
Authorities determined that “Jim Davis” was fake, as was his death certificate.
Arkansas woman resurrected
For the death of “Laura Urich,” Crump and Shilling faked a cremation and sent a falsified death certificate to Chesapeake. The November 2006 death certificate listed a Los Angeles address for Urich that turned out to be a strip mall with a coin-operated laundry, a market, a check-cashing business and a Domino’s Pizza store, according to court records.
There was, in fact, a real Laura Urich, who died of a heart attack in December 2004 in Arkansas. Urich’s fake California death certificate listed the same Social Security number as the real Arkansas death certificate except for one number. Furthermore, the real and fake death certificates listed similar birthdates. Authorities think Crump and Shilling made these minor numerical changes to prevent discovery of the death of the real Laura Urich.
Crump and her accomplices also fleeced several companies that advanced cash to cover funeral expenses in exchange for a portion of the (un)dead’s life insurance policies.
Crime and punishment
Shilling and Crump were each charged with two counts of wire fraud and three counts of mail fraud.
On Jan. 23, 2011, Shilling was sentenced to two years in prison and ordered to pay $330,500 in restitution after pleading guilty.
Crump was convicted of mail and wire fraud and is scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 7, 2011. Jurors in Crump’s trial could not reach a verdict on two mail fraud charges related to the Urich case.
Co-defendant Lydia Eileen Pearce, 38, owner of the now-closed Steward-Pearce Mortuary, where Crump worked, pleaded guilty to wire fraud and is scheduled to be sentenced March 14, 2011.
Crump and Pearce face up to 30 years in prison.
Barbara Ann Lynn, 65, a notary who helped make the documents look legitimate, pleaded guilty to wire fraud and was sentenced to one year of home detention and three years of probation.