Two Stories for the Price of One

I believe I’ve mentioned before that I’m a night owl and often stay up watching true crime shows on TV. Bill calls them ‘blood and guts shows.” He doesn’t like them much, so I generally watch those after he’s gone to bed.

This past week I saw one about a woman whose major source of income was insurance fraud. She started out with arson schemes, with a history that included more than thirty fire-related claims for both residences and automobiles. When setting fires for fun and profit turned out to be small potatoes, she upped the ante and went into life insurance fraud. When her first husband was hospitalized with diabetes, she convinced his doctors that she was a nurse and they could release him to her for care at home. He was dead within weeks of his release from the hospital with his nurse/wife soon receiving a $35,000 pay off. Later, when her elderly mother became ill, the faux nurse again rode to the rescue with similar results, including another $35,000 face amount on an insurance policy for which said nurse was the sole beneficiary.

Then, in the eighties, she and her second husband took in a recently divorced young woman who needed a temporary place to stay. A few months later, on a road trip through California, the young woman fell to her death from a cliff near Big Sur. When the medical examiner found evidence of a prescription sleep aid during the autopsy, he listed her cause of death as “undetermined.” Meanwhile, back home, when her mother was trying to collect on a long-held burial insurance policy, the company back home wasn’t paying due to the fact that there was still some question about the young woman’s cause of death. A family attorney became involved, and he helped spark an investigation that caused an insurance agent to come forward.

It turns out that our fraudster nurse had purchased a $35,000 policy on the young woman, naming herself as beneficiary. A week after the policy was issued, she was back in the agent’s office explaining that the young woman was dead now and what was the process for starting an insurance claim? By that time, there were enough red flags to get the cops’ full attention. The killers claimed that the young woman was a drug addict who would take anything, and that was why there was evidence of a sleep medication in her system, but friends back home insisted she didn’t do drugs of any kind including aspirin. Once a document examiner got hold of the insurance policy application, it was clear the insured’s signature was a forgery. Both the husband and wife were eventually arrested for murder, but the husband died in jail prior to being brought to trial. The woman ended up being sentenced to life in prison. At the end of the program, during the wrap up, one of the detectives remarked, “I suppose having someone die the week after a life insurance policy goes into effect could happen, but it’s a lot like winning the lottery.”

And that sparked a memory. During my career in the life insurance business, I was a district manager in Phoenix. One of my agents sold a $25,000 policy to a recently divorced young man who wanted the policy to benefit his two young children as opposed to his former wife who, according to him, had done him wrong. The client, we’ll call him James, was a member of the ironworker’s union, but he worked as what’s called a “rod-buster.”

My first husband was an ironworker, so here’s a bit of vocabulary clarification that newspapers can never quite get right. They continually confuse steelworkers with ironworkers. Steelworkers are the folks who work in factories with furnaces that turn molten material into iron and steel. Ironworkers are the guys who can be seen walking on I-beams high in the air during the construction of skyscrapers. Rod-busters are the workers who put reinforcing bars (iron rods also known as rebar) into forms prior to the arrival of cement. They build things like highway overpasses and foundations.

When James’s policy was issued, it came back with a very high rating added to the original premium. It turned out the underwriter had rated that policy as though James was one of the I-beam walking guys as opposed to a mostly ground based rod-buster. I took exception to the rating and eventually got it changed, but it took several months. By the time the policy came back, James had gotten a job building a canal for the Central Arizona Project and was living in a little town west of Phoenix called Salome. One day I was heading to Lake Havasu to interview a possible female agent. (Speaking of fraud, I did hire her but fired her a few months later when I discovered she had lied on her job application!) Since I was going that way anyway, my agent asked if I would mind stopping in Salome to deliver the policy to James, and I agreed to do so.

My remembrance of Salome at the time is that it had a gas station, a restaurant, a motel, and a couple of houses. I went into the restaurant and asked the hostess is she could tell me where James lived, referring him by both his first and last names. Suddenly the whole restaurant went dead quiet. You really could hear a pin drop.. “Who are you?” she asked. I explained that I was a life insurance agent there to deliver his policy. That’s when she told me, that early in the morning, James had been killed while on his way to work. Driving in the dark, he had run into a wide load of unlit cement beams protruding on either side of a truck traveling in the opposite direction. So yes, within days of a life insurance policy being issued, the subject of said policy can indeed die. By the time that death claim was finally settled, I had transferred to Seattle, so I was no longer involved. I do hope those funds, a $25,000 face amount with another $25,000 accidental death benefit, made a difference in the lives of James’s two little boys.

Which brings me to the second story of the day, and that concerns Gilbert F. Lawson. I’ve probably mentioned his name several times before. He was the agency manager in Phoenix who hired me to be a district manager. Gil’s favorite trick was to stand up in agency meetings and announce, “Know the score; keep the score; report the score. The score will improve.” I believe that saying is attributable to some long ago and very famous football coach, but when those words came out of Gil’s lips, I took them as the gospel. As a district manager, it was my job to keep track of both my progress and my agents’ progress. Once I left the insurance business and began writing, my way of keeping score on that is to count the words every day. By the way, as of this morning, I’m 7,775 words into the next Ali Reynolds book.

Six years ago, when my doctor forced me to get off my butt and start walking, I did the same thing, keeping score by using the pedometer on my phone not only to keep track of my daily numbers but of the cumulative one as well. Remembering Gil Lawson’s admonition, I decided to report the score, and to whom did I report it? To my blog readers, of course. I figured that if I eased off on walking or quit, they would instantly call me on it, and since I’ve never wanted to be a quitter, I’ve kept going. This morning, I crossed the 13,000,000 step mark which adds up to 6,177 miles. That’s a lot of walking and several pairs of worn through Sketchers. Walking that many steps takes a lot of time—about two hours a day. Every day, Sundays and holidays included. No time off for good behavior. That many steps also add up to a round trip stroll from Seattle to Boston!

One day someone sent me a meme that says, “Grandma started walking 10,000 steps a day. Now we have no idea where she is.” Maybe that’s why I stay close to home, doing my walking around the pool deck or in the front driveway or, if need me, even inside the house. (Walking in thick outdoor smoke isn’t a good idea!). I’m 76 years old. Walking on flat, even surfaces makes a lot more sense than hiking through rough terrain.

As for you true crime aficionados? I recently saw a program where a husband claimed he had come home from work and found his wife dead, but her Fitbit told detectives exactly when she had died—hours earlier when the guy didn’t have an alibi. He ended up being convicted of murder which clearly shows that where Fitbits and fitness are concerned, crime doesn’t pay!

21 thoughts on “Two Stories for the Price of One

  1. It’s like you’ve walked across the continent and back then! Probably that’s partly why you’re still writing such mesmerizing books at 76. A friend just gave me her old Fitbit, because she bought one with a GPS, and I’m so excited to start using it, even if, in the winter when the sidewalks are icy, I have to walk around and around my car in my garage, as per your stick-close-to-home examples. WHEN I can figure it out (technology NOT being a strong point for me!). I wonder how you keep from getting bored though, walking 2 hours a day.

    • Faith, I don’t have a Fitbit but my daughter does. Years ago I listened to books-on-tape (before audio downloads) and it helped me walk farther. It worked very well back then. Find a teenager and they can help you figure it out.

    • The reply I meant to send to you was posted farther down. I keep from being bored by counting of course–steps and stints, and thinking by thinking about the next scene I need to write. I use my iPhone and the Pedometer ++ App to keep track of daily and cumulative steps.

    • I also try and do my 10,000 steps a day and I keep from getting bored by listening to great stories on my Audible app – I highly recommend it or others like it. I’m really looking forward to the next ‘Beau’ publication. Currently I’m enjoying listening to the Ali books again, I always find something I missed first time around. If the weather’s too bad for outdoor walking I walk in the sitting room to a YouTube video – sounds odd I know but it works

  2. Thank you for another interesting and entertaining blog post. We happen to be visiting the Pacific Northwest this month as refugees from Arizona heat. The area has sure changed since my school days in Bellevue in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Thanks for reminding us of the importance of keeping moving. Congratulations on your walking milestone.

  3. I have been reading your books for years. I have read all of the J.P. Beaumont books and the Joanna Brady books. Now I have started the Ali Reynolds series. I am on Book 6. I hope to finish them by the time you have finished the new one.
    How in the world do you keep the books and the characters straight. Do you have a file system? Do you have the whole book mapped out before you start? Do you plan event in one one to be used in future books? I love meeting minor people again a later book.
    Right now I am guessing I will meet the 17 year old boy, Mark, from the hospital waiting room, again in another book.
    I love your books and your Friday stories. I hope one day you wIll write a story taking us step by step of how you write a book.
    Until then keep writing.

    • My character file is in my head. I do NOT outline, not books and not series, either. I often talk about writing issues in my blogs, you might want to take a walk through back issues in the archives.

  4. This is an insurance story with a lesson. Over 50 years ago when we got a mortgage for our house from the small town bank, the man who handled it for us insisted we get insurance at the same time. He had had a case where a couple had gotten a mortgage at his bank and signed the application for mortgage insurance. The man died of a heart attack about a month later and before the policy was delivered, but his widow and two daughters were able to have the mortgage paid off immediately and lived in the new house. I think mortage insurance is required now, but it wasn’t back then.

    • By counting–laps and stints, and walking as fast as I can. If you have an iPhone, the Pedometer ++ app is how I keep track of my daily and cumulative steps.

  5. Thank you for your writing…both your books and your blog! I am an insatiable reader, 80 years old, I have hundreds of books, but invariably find myself drawn back to all of your series. I too am trying to get my steps in. My smart watch will tell me if I need to get up and move around. Lol . Keep up the writing and walking!

  6. On your recommendation I purchased Jan Bono’s first three books. Your insurance story reminded me of her third book–Crab Bait.

  7. Dear JA Jance, I have written you before about my husband’s death, and after reading your blog today, I want to share with you my surprise from yesterday when I returned from Grief Share with my daughter. (She knows I won’t drive at night so she comes from Sylmar to Glendale and then drives me to the church in Topanga Canyon.)

    At 9:30 PM as I was unlocking the door upon returning from “Grief Share” I noticed that I had not removed today’s mail from my mailbox on the front porch. Checking whether my daughter may have had something delivered here, I retrieved the letters before she left. I was especially curious about the large white envelope with no return address on the front but an interesting mailing label with the heading: IMMEDIATE ATTENTION REQUESTED

    “Roy Lopez:
    Your acceptance is guaranteed
    but we cannot begin your coverage
    until you provide the information
    requested, including:”

    I had no idea what “coverage” Roy, my husband who died at home on June 17 this year, was being guaranteed so I ripped open the envelope and saw the logo for AAA Life Insurance Company, dated August 6,2021. I read on…

    Dear Roy Lopez,
    Thank you in advance for your interest in a Guaranteed Issue Whole Life policy from AAA Life Insurance Company.

    As An Auto Club member aged 79, your acceptance is guaranteed. No health questions or medical exams are necessary, and any past or current health conditions will not affect your approval or your rate.

    For Roy’s convenience, a business reply envelope is included with the offer.

    What a deal!!!

    Wow! I’ve never before heard of a LIFE INSURANCE POLICY being offered to a dead person! Roy had been dead 40 days before this item was mailed!!! Although Roy is guaranteed acceptance without any health questions or medical exams necessary, I wonder whether the insured needs to be alive when the policy is issued?

    I read on until I was laughing so hard I could hardly breathe.

    Roy renewed our AAA coverage in March. I can’t imagine that he had shown any interest in life insurance. He thought that paying premiums for life insurance was a waste of money. He preferred investing in mutual funds or just putting money in a savings account to earn interest and be available for his own use. The last life insurance policy he had to pay off the mortgage in the event of his death as a 40-year-old, he cancelled as soon as I was teaching full time. “You earn enough to pay your own bills if I’m dead.” Obviously, that was way before our kids had applied for college!

    My parents sold life insurance for a few months when they couldn’t get other jobs in the 1950s. I paid medical claims for Aetna Life and Casualty in the late 1960s when I couldn’t get a teaching job in California because there was a glut of applicants and I “didn’t fit” any district’s needs at the time. I do not recall any instance where the newly insured had been deceased for even a day, let alone 40!

    Thanks for writing your blog and giving me another laugh.

  8. An interesting blend of fiction and fact. Most folks have no idea just how prevalent and lucrative insurance fraud is, nor how we pay for it with our premiums. Loved the closing paragraph.

  9. Your blog stories are always so interesting. To say that your walking is impressive would be an understatement. Keep up the writing and walking. We want you around for a much longer time. 🙂

  10. A friend got me started on the Joanna Brady books. Read every one of them and am on the last Ali Reynolds one. Beaumont comes next–so many of them. So happy another Reynolds one is in the works. Love them all==you are an amazing writer. Thanks for all the enjoyment you have brought to so many

  11. You have probably said in a Blog exactly why you chose to write Murder Mysteries-
    I know that you decided in second grade that you wanted yo be a writer- How did you decide on Mysteries? Was the Insurance Business a good background?

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