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!