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Double Indemnity

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Cause of Death

By Amir Faress • 12/25/19

Walter, a seasoned insurance agent, devises a scheme to help his lover, Phyllis, kill her husband and collect his life insurance. Having been in the insurance business for over a decade, Walter is intimately familiar with the innerworkings of the process. He knows what passes muster and what does not.

The scheme calls for Phyllis’s husband, Mr. Dietrichson, to “die” on a train. The two schemers kill Mr. Dietrichson on his way to the train station. Impersonating the late husband, Walter boards the train and jumps off a few miles away. Walter and Phyllis put the late husband’s corpse on the train track before running away.


The manner in which Walter wanted Dietrichson’s sudden and mysterious death to be classified by the insurance company is unclear and problematic. The cause of death could only be classified as one of the following three categories: suicide, accident, or homicide.

Suicide is not covered by Dietrichson’s life insurance policy. This means the claim will be immediately rejected if the cause of death was determined to be suicide, without the beneficiary receiving any reward.

It will not be easy for the insurance company to classify the case as suicide. As Baron Keys, the insurance investigator, points out, the company would have an extraordinarily hard time proving Mr. Dietrichson died as a result of falling from a train moving at a speed of only fifteen miles per hour. He has a point, but there is also a flip side to it. If the case were to go to trial with the plaintiffs basing their claim on “accidental fall” and the defense basing theirs on suicide, the plaintiffs would have to concede that one could indeed die falling off a slow-moving train. The insurance company, on the other hand, would not have a hard time arguing suicide as long as the other side bases their claim on “accidental fall.”

This leaves murder. Given that there are no visible bruises on the deceased husband, the plaintiffs would have to argue Mr. Dietrichson was shoved off the train, in which case they would again have to concede the defense is not on weak grounds when arguing one can die falling off a train moving only fifteen miles per hour. The other alternative would be to propose Mr. Dietrichson was killed beforehand and later put on the track by someone who impersonated him on the train, not a scenario Walter would want entertained.

A homicide claim, moreover, is bound to invite a criminal investigation with Phyllis, whose motives could most easily be illustrated, as the prime suspect. Would Walter really want an all-out criminal investigation into the matter? Given Walter’s familiarity with the manner in which the insurance company processes cases, it is hard to imagine him coming up with such a sloppy and vulnerable scheme.

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