When someone is declared legally dead, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re actually dead. Take these ten people, for example, whose families never expected to see them again, because – in the eyes of the law – they were no longer living. But all of them ended up resurfacing; some, though, were definitely worse off than others.
10. Brenda Heist
In February 2002 mom-of-two Brenda Heist, who was in the middle of a straightforward divorce, left her home in Lititz, Pennsylvania. And, after failing to show up again, eight years later she was declared legally dead. In reality, however, Heist had pulled off a stunt befitting her family name.
In fact, she had moved south to Florida, where she’d set up a new life as a cleaner named Kelsie Smith. But in April 2013 Heist – who also used two other false names – handed herself in to police in Monroe County, where she explained that she was a missing person. Morgan, her daughter, later tweeted that the situation was a “horrible nightmare.”
9. Carlos Sanchez Ortiz de Salazar
It was 1996 when 26-year-old Carlos Sanchez Ortiz de Salazar, who was understood to be suffering from depression, vanished from his home in Cazalla de la Sierra near Seville, Spain. And after 14 long years, when De Salazar was finally declared legally dead, his family had resigned themselves to the fact that he wasn’t coming home.
In 2015, however, mushroom pickers in Tuscany came across a hermit in the forest. He told the workers that he’d been there for two decades; but after showing them identity documents confirming that he was indeed de Salazar, the recluse had second thoughts and disappeared into the trees once more. His exact whereabouts today remain unknown.
8. Petra Pazsitka
Back in 1984, computer science student Petra Pazsitka failed to arrive at her brother’s birthday celebrations. The 24-year-old German was subsequently reported missing, with her disappearance going on to make national TV. Then, with no concrete developments following on her whereabouts, Pazsitka was declared dead in 1989.
But 31 years after her vanishing act, something remarkable happened. When police officers were called to a burglary in Dusseldorf, the victim gave her name only as “Mrs. Schneider.” She later revealed, however, that she was actually Pazsitka – and that she’d spent the previous three decades moving around Germany doing cash-in-hand work.
7. Donald Miller Jr.
It was 1980 when Donald Miller Jr. walked out on his family in Fostoria, Ohio, apparently never to be seen again. He was declared dead 14 years later, which enabled his two daughters to receive his Social Security payments. In 2005, however, something very strange indeed happened.
Miller Jr., who claimed to have been hiding in other states, arrived back in Ohio. Why? Because he wanted, in the eyes of the law, to be brought back to life. In 2013, however, a judge denied Miller Jr.’s request, meaning that he remains legally dead despite being able to stand in court and argue otherwise.
6. Ronald Stan
In 1977 32-year-old Ronald Stan succumbed to a devastating barn fire in the Canadian province of Ontario. Or so his wife and two kids thought; indeed, a witness said he had seen Stan in the barn’s vicinity before the blaze, and no trace of him could be found afterwards. For this reason, then, he was declared legally dead nine years later.
But Stan was actually alive and well. Yes, he had crossed into the United States and, using a new identity, gone on to have two more marriages. His ruse in fact continued until August 2014, when Canadian police – apparently with the help of Facebook – worked out what had happened during an audit of Stan’s missing person file. Officers phoned Debra Proctor, whom Stan had married using the alias Jeffrey Walton, and revealed everything.
5. Winston Bright
When her husband Winston Bright failed to return to their New York home in 1990, all Leslie Bright felt like doing was crying and praying. She had no idea what had happened to him, and when a missing person case failed to throw up any leads, all Leslie could do was wait until Winston could be declared legally dead.
This happened in 2000, but the partial closure it offered lasted only a decade – because in 2010 Winston went to pay his wife a visit. It turned out that he’d set up a new life under an alias, Kwame Seku, as a teacher in San Diego. The reason for his disappearance? Amnesia, apparently – an explanation that his son A.J. rejects.
4. Fernando Cuevas
In 2011 Fernando Cuevas left Uruguay for Argentina on a spontaneous trip. After six weeks, however, the 39-year-old still hadn’t returned home. His family, who opened a missing person case, heard absolutely nothing, and so they eventually went to court to obtain a notice confirming that Cuevas was legally dead.
However, Cuevas wasn’t dead – and yet he’d had no intention of doing a disappearing act, either. Days after setting off on his tourist’s trip, he was attacked by robbers and beaten so severely that doctors in Corrientes, north-east Argentina, weren’t sure if he’d even live. He did indeed survive, but his amnesia was so bad that he didn’t know who he was. A Facebook campaign set up by the medical staff treating him later reunited Cuevas with his family.
3. Dharamveer Singh
Dharamveer Singh, a junior soldier in the Indian Army, went missing in 2009 after his military vehicle crashed in the Himalayan foothills. Singh’s remains were never recovered, either, so the army decided to issue his family with his death certificate. His wife, however, always had hope that she’d lay eyes on her husband again.
And her hopes weren’t, as it turned out, unfounded. Singh had actually survived the crash, although he’d lost his memory. With nowhere to turn, he had been forced to beg for money in nearby Haridwar, where he was struck by a motorbike. Yet this second accident, according to Singh, restored his memory – which meant that he was able to return home to his family.
2. Richard Hoagland
In 1993 Richard Hoagland left his home in Indiana – and with it, his four kids from two moms. However, despite him being listed as a missing person, no clues to his whereabouts were forthcoming, and after a decade had elapsed, authorities had little alternative but to declare him legally dead.
However, Hoagland had actually turned up in Florida, where he’d taken the name of Terry Jude Symansky – a local fisherman, with few relatives, who had died in 1991. But, more than two decades down the line, the real Symansky’s nephew noticed a discrepancy while doing some family-history research. Hoagland was rumbled, although by this point he had a new wife and had raised a new son.
1. Ma Jixiang
Ma Jixiang went missing from his home in Tanjialong, central China, in 2009. His family heard nothing from him for three years, either, but they were given some closure in 2012 when police confirmed that the middle-aged man had died after being involved in a road accident.
Ma Jixiang’s relatives then cremated his body… except that it wasn’t actually his. In December 2015, moreover, the “dead” man returned home to his village with the craziest of stories. He had, apparently, spent the previous few years working in an underground brick factory after being kidnapped. He’d been dismissed owing to deteriorating health and had eventually found his way to a shelter, where he was able to recite his home address.