Death + Crime Death + the Web

Stay Classy, AccuQuote and CNN

In the wake of Saturday’s shooting in Arizona, leaving among the dead a federal judge and a 9-year-old, with Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in critical condition among the many wounded, life insurance company AccuQuote reminds surfers of CNN that our family’s future is uncertain (even if widowhood turns women into FOXES… part of the threat of death, perhaps?)… especially with that unknown person of interest still on the loose.

I know how internet advertising works. When not random (though I doubt this is random), it’s keyword correlated, in effort to show viewers relevant content. And life insurance is definitely relevant when a sociopath murders citizens and public servants at a community forum. But c’mon, AccuQuote and CNN. Have some taste and show respect.

…Though I suppose such a censure ignores that media orgs are always selling fear, mayhem and ad space. Ugh.

Our thoughts are with the victims of the tragedy. May we see a shift in political and cultural discourse toward the sane and peaceable.

Cemeteries Death + the Economy Death + the Law

Bring Out Your Dead Checkbook

FTC Proposes New Guidelines for Collecting Debt from Dead People
Ylan Q. Mui, The Washington Post (November 22, 2010)
The Federal Trade Commission is seeking to revise the protocol surrounding two of life’s touchiest subjects: debt and death.


Are Cemeteries the New Safe Investment?
Patrick Collinson, The Guardian (October 16, 2010)
With a shortage of space in cemeteries, private operators claim there are healthy returns to be had by buying burial plots

Here are a couple different angles on the economics of modern death. The top article examines the ever expanding world of debt collection from the dead. Postmortem debt typically falls on a spouse or family member, but a proposed policy revision will widen the pool to include other legal representatives.


The Death Reference Desk has been covering various aspects of the postmortem economy so these debt collection issues come as no surprise. An entirely different side of these economic concerns is the money that some investors are pouring into life-insurance policies. Meg wrote about that situation here. And everyone can read about the economic problems people face with death and dying under our insurance tag.

Some of the earliest death and the economy articles that I followed, involved unclaimed bodies filling morgues. These aren’t unidentified bodies, rather dead bodies where the next-of-kin know that the corpse is in the morgue but cannot afford to have the body sent to a funeral home.

And then there is the Cemetery-as-Investment side of these economic question. The Cemeteryscapes blog did an excellent post on this very topic. The Guardian article at the top also discusses how London cemeteries are becoming possible investment opportunities.

Buyer beware. That’s all I’m saying.

These cemetery discussions reminded me of an early Death Ref post that I did on a cemetery in foreclosure in California.

It was an exceptionally sad story then and remains so today.

cremation Death + the Economy Monuments + Memorials

Man Dying of Cancer Sells Ad Space on Urn

Springfield Man Selling Ad Space on His Urn
Laura Rillos, KVAL News

I have read many, many ridiculous death and dying stories over the years but this one is really amazing. The backstory itself isn’t ridiculous– it’s actually really sad and tragic.

On the one hand we’ve got an inspirational story about a guy with terminal cancer trying to make sure that his wife isn’t stuck with an expensive funeral bill. On the other hand, and this is the part of the story that you have to dig a little bit to find, Aaron Jamison is also using the money to cover his medical bills. The medical bills that he can’t afford to pay because his health insurance doesn’t cover the costs.

Think about this for a minute. A person with cancer needs to sell ad space on his urn to pay off his medical bills. This is what I meant by ridiculous. The whole situation is also slightly infuriating.

What Jamison is doing reminds me of a conceptual art piece by The Art Guys, entitled SUITS: The Clothes Make the Man, in which they wore identical suits covered in corporate logos for a year (1998-1999). The Art Guys’ point was how commodified everything, including fashion, had become and it was funny.

Selling ad space on your future urn is clever but it isn’t particularly funny. And now that it’s clear a portion of the money will cover medical costs, I think that the whole situation is terrible.

Aaron Jamison has a website which he uses to update his ad space plan. I suggest checking it out.

Finally, here is a short video piece by KVAL News about Jamison and his urn:

Death + Crime Death + the Law

Dying by the Numbers in New York City

In the City’s Vital Statistics, so Many Ways to Die by Accident
Al Baker, New York Times (February 15, 2010)

Summary of Vital Statistics 2008
Bureau of Vital Statistics, New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (January 2010)

‘Tis the Season for Annual Reports on Mortality Statistics. The City of New York has now released its 2008 numbers for all forms of human death. Good news for Gotham: homicides are down and so are accidental deaths. That said, at least one person is killed a week while walking. Make sure and wait for the crosswalk sign.

Here is an interesting section from the New York Times article at the top on the overall mortality rate changes.

In 2008, of the 54,193 people who died in the city, 1,044 deaths (excluding drug overdoses) were classified by the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene as accidental — an 8.8 percent decline from 1998, when there were 1,145 accidental deaths. In contrast, the number of homicides fell 17.5 percent in that same period. The contrast is more stark going back to 1993: accidental deaths have fallen by 30.1 percent, while homicides have dropped by 73.2 percent…

…There are roughly 6,000 codes used to define deaths by accident, reflecting all types of violence and disorder. People are run over by cars, buses or taxis. There are dozens of codes to define deaths from drug consumption. Some die from the smoke and flames of fires, or they fall at construction sites or in their own backyards. Others are hit by trains, drown at beaches or crash their bicycles.

I understand why Departments of Health compile these statistics because it is useful to know how people are dying in a local area. Lawyers generally like to know these numbers too and a good funeral director can just tell you how people are dying without even looking at the vital statistics. Death by the numbers, as I like to call it, also reminds me of Meg’s recent post on Life Insurance Policies. Mix in bizarre, insane, unbelievable accidents and you basically have the annual Darwin Awards.

But I digress…

If you are a true student of Mortality statistics (and I have some friends who are) then please download the official 2008 report by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Bureau of Vital Statistics.

And if your attention span can’t handle charts, graphs, and brief descriptions of tragedy then please, oh-please, watch these short Public Service Announcements about preventing accidental deaths in the workplace. I am always amazed at what YouTube offers when you really need a solid bit of video:

Death + the Economy Death + the Law

Death: a High-Risk Investment and High-Tax Evasion Tactic

Grim Risks of Reaping Death’s Rewards
Leslie Scism and Larry Light, Wall Street Journal (February 6, 2010)

Slemrod Sees US Tax/Death Experiment
Marc Abrahams, Improbable Research (January 13, 2010)

Here’s a death and dirty money twofer for this lovely Saturday. Enjoy!

The Wall Street Journal reports on “life settlements” — investors buy elderly people’s insurance policies with the stipulation that they’ll cover the premiums while the person is still alive and then cash in upon death. As a result, the sooner death occurs, the greater the return on investment. Unfortunately (??) some people don’t go so easily…

Carol Tonzi, a court reporter in Palmyra, N.Y., sank $51,700 into partial ownership of a $5 million policy in 2003 … She says her tax preparer touted the investment as “safe and secure” and said her money in five years would grow to $82,720, a 60% increase.

But Ms. Tonzi, 52, is still waiting for the policyholder, now 89, to pass away. Over the past three years, she says she has shelled out an additional $15,000 in premium payments. She is suing the tax preparer … alleging negligent advice. “It’s a mess,” she says. “If I wanted to gamble, I would have left the money in the stock market.”

Ouch. In a similarly gruesome vein, Improbable Research (via BoingBoing) posted last month about estate taxes and timed deaths:

Our prize-winning research showed that when estate taxes are known in advance to be changing, some people time their deaths (or have their deaths timed for them) so as to save their heirs money. The evidence: in the U.S. history of estate taxes, when tax rates went up, there were less (than otherwise) deaths after the law change, and when tax rates went down, there were more deaths after the law change. …

Now the U.S. Congress has granted us a social scientist’s fondest dream — or worst nightmare — the perfect “natural experiment.” As of January 1 of this year, the U.S. estate tax has been abolished for the year 2010, and is scheduled to be reinstated in 2011 with rates as high as 55%. If our findings (and those of our colleagues in Australia and Sweden) are right, there some would be “moved” from the end of 2009 to the beginning of 2010, as some rich folks hold on to bequeath their assets tax-free. Of course, the really morbid stuff will happen at the end of this year, when dying in December of 2010 will incur no estate tax, but dying beginning in January 1, 2011 can trigger a tax liability equal to more than half the taxable estate. It’s being called the “Throw Momma from the Train” tax provision.

Weird, sad and huh? As one of them groundling proles who will inherit naught but gewgaws, good looks and bad circulation, I’ve never been compelled to imagine such things. Sounds like being super rich is unexpectedly macabre.

Death + the Economy Funeral Industry

Death and the Economy: Unclaimed Bodies Fill the Detroit Morgue

Detroit: Too broke to bury their dead
Poppy Harlow, (October 1, 2009)

This CNN story on Detroit is heartbreaking. The economic situation in Detroit is horrible enough, but this particular dispatch says more about the financial straits of life and death than anything I have seen.

Over the summer, the New York Times ran an article on why home burials were a sign of the recession. I wrote about it here. The unclaimed dead body situation in Detroit is a much more profound statement about the economy than home burials.

Not only can families not afford to retrieve a deceased loved one because of the cost (even if they want to) the Wayne County Morgue does not have enough money for the final disposition of the bodies. So the bodies all remain in cold storage, waiting for something to happen.

Watch this video attached to CNN article:

Articles about the economy and death have been a re-occurring theme the last few months. This article got published in Green Bay, WI: Unclaimed cremated remains accumulate at Allouez cemetery.

Unclaimed Cremated Remains in Green Bay

Earlier in September, the New York Times ran an article on Wall Street investment firms buying and selling elderly and ill persons’ life insurance policies: The Back to Business: Wall Street Pursues Profit in Bundles of Life Insurance.

And this AP article discusses a subject that I assumed would pop up eventually: Weak economy sparks rebirth of funeral sciences.

Then there are these stories: that the economy is actually good for some funeral homes because of increased mortality rates…

The video is the lead to this article about a Dallas, TX funeral home: At Golden Gate Funeral Home, Bodies Are John Beckwith Jr.’s Business, And Business Is Booming.

But when push comes to shove, and the economy gets really really bad, there is always Craigslist…

Date: 2009-07-20, 10:59AM
Guaranteed to keep your Goth hide translucent white during these hot and bright summer days, this hand-made coffin is just right for the petit Vampire or Vampette. If you are just under 5 feet tall (or can shape-shift to something smaller) with a 29-inch wing span, you will feel cozy and safe sleeping away the pesky daylight hours with this tasteful but unassuming box tucked away in your lair.

Goth Coffin

Your minions can keep your chamber mobile with these fine handles made of Transylvanian hemp and the tucked and buttoned red padded lining will have you snoring until sun down. The hand-painted, one-of-a-kind, whimsical take on a Coptic cross is certain not to offend any version of Goth, vamp or even warm-blood who might have the privilege of actually seeing your private chamber.

It’s hard to let this beautiful treasure go, but we’ve just run out of room. And with all of the sensible people around (see True Blood), we just don’t need to be so private anymore. It can be found and taken for free in the 3400 block of Barranca circle near Mt Bonnell. Better hurry though. It is Big Trash week in our neighborhood.