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By Leslie Kim
The initial contact was by e-mail: from a keyboard in Israel to my computer screen in Southern California in a matter of seconds. JCIFR subscriber Michael Giron, in the midst of a troubling death claim, wanted to know if the US had a centralized database of all policyholders and beneficiaries on paid life claims. He was hoping for an industry- sponsored AISG/NICB “Index” system, like that which covers P&C claims.
After responding to the query (unfortunately, here in the US we have only some private enterprise databases for such searches and only a percentage of life companies participate) and adding the usual tagline of “If there is anything further I can do to help you, please let me know,” I hit the reply key and instantly sent the response 10,000 miles in a few short seconds.
Because the following is an open case and a live investigation, the only real name appearing is that of Michael Giron. The rest have been changed, in the words of Jack Webb from “Dragnet” days, to protect the innocent – or the guilty.
Further e-mail, faxes and phone calls supplied the remaining case details. Giron had been assigned to confirm the occurrence of a vehicle “accident” that resulted in the death of an American citizen, Donna Saylor. The occurrence took place in a part of Israel (acquired in the 7-day War) that is reverting to Palestinian control. As the story unfolded, Giron’s concern was contagious.
Donna Saylor, a 36-year-old single woman, took out a $100,000 (DI: $200,000) life insurance policy in 1992. Her two children were named as joint beneficiaries.
In late 1998, Saylor (rather suddenly) married Mohammed Al Hassan in a brief civil ceremony at a downtown Courthouse. The witness listed on the marriage certificate was an employee at the clerk’s office. Sometime in the next two days, Donna changed the beneficiary clause on her life policy to reflect her new husband’s name. Then she boarded an airplane with him and they flew to Israel, reportedly to meet his family and spend about a month in his homeland.
Al Hassan had originally come to the US in 1985. He had three prior marriages and reportedly seemed to have money – although no one knew what he did to earn it. Saylor, single for about 16 years (after one very brief marriage), was on disability and suffered from numerous health problems, including asthma and morbid obesity.
While in Palestine, Al Hassan rented a Toyota Van. One day they went to swim in the Dead Sea. There were five people in the van: Al Hassan (driving), his nephew (in the front passenger seat), his sister (on the floor, in the front section), his uncle (in the back seat) and Saylor (in the back seat, next to the uncle). The middle seat had been taken out to give everyone more room.
According to Al Hassan’s statement, on the way back, after swimming, he pulled the van to the side of the road and four of the five occupants got out to take some pictures, leaving Saylor some privacy inside the van to change out of her bathing suit. He stated that the van was left running, in park, because it was a diesel (and as such, not to be turned on and off too often) and the air-conditioning may have been running.
Al Hassan returned to the van to get another roll of film. He shot his last picture of Saylor, in the van at that time, and then reclined the front driver’s seat so he could reach into a bag (in the back) and get a new roll of film. He went back to his relatives to continue taking pictures with the new film. Next, he reported, he saw the van moving forward toward the road edge, and Saylor was reaching over the (down position) front seat. He surmised that the Toyota had mysteriously gone into gear – perhaps because she inadvertently grabbed the gear shift as she tried to climb into the front seat so she could drive the rest of the distance back to their hotel.
The van rolled down the side of a mountain and into a valley. It rolled and rolled and rolled, finally landing on its side. Al Hassan ran down to the scene. He saw that the engine was smoking and he thought it might explode. He pulled his wife out of the van and began to wipe blood from her face, hoping she would regain consciousness.
When the Israeli police arrived on the scene, Saylor was dead. She was dressed in a body suit but had no underwear on. There was a large amount of blood in the van. There were two towels and two clothing items in the van, all covered with blood. The report also noted blood on a few rocks around Saylor’s body. Al Hassan was quiet and subdued, although not showing any outward signs of grief or shock at the horrible death of his new bride. The scene reports were written in Hebrew.
An autopsy would later show that Saylor died of blunt force trauma to the head. The doctor noted a Y-shaped injury to the right forehead and a T-shaped injury to the back of the head and stated it was these injuries which caused Saylor’s death. How she sustained such injuries was anyone’s guess. It could have been from the rolling of the van; it could have been from ….. ?
Giron found the entire scenario deeply troubling. None of it made sense. That’s why he wondered what Al Hassan’s history was … and had he ever been a party to any other life claims.
We went to work …
As an owner of a late model Toyota Van, I knew that the only way to get the vehicle into gear (from Park) is to depress the brake pedal. Even if Saylor had grabbed the shift lever, it could not have moved. While that might have worked in the US to debunk the “she grabbed it by accident” theory, Giron had already confirmed with the Israeli Hertz rental agency that their vans were not equipped with this safety feature.
I phoned Prudential’s Dan Marsano to ask how much validity a statement analysis would be if the statements were recorded in Hebrew and would be translated prior to being analyzed. Marsano, brilliant man that he is, had a better idea. Don’t take the chance of losing anything during the translation process, call Avonim Sapir, one of the fathers of the statement analysis process. Marsano correctly stated that Sapir’s first language is Hebrew and, as such, nothing would be lost. The tricks of the statement analysis trade are applicable in all languages.
Giron, actually having taken one of Sapir’s courses, faxed the statements to Arizona for a look-see (in process at this very moment).
Then came the ethnic angle. I called Ayman AlKhabbaz, JCIFR’s expert on Muslim traditions and culture. The supposed seating arrangement in the van bothered him. “The wife would never give up, or be expected to give up, her seat next to her husband – unless it was to one of his parents or another elder, perhaps a grandmother,” he said. “Also, the very notion that Saylor was wearing a bathing suit and sitting in the back seat with the uncle is absurd,” he added. Giron, obviously very astute in Muslim culture, had also been deeply troubled by these aspects of the story.
Perhaps the very best weapon of all those in my arsenal is the JCIFR subscriber list. I did a quick sort by city and checked those readers we had in Saylor’s home town. Bingo. In two hours we had two investigators checking files and doing some low-profile nosing around (pro bono, of course) to develop additional information. Best of all, was the FBI (life insurance fraud section) agent who readily agreed to assist.
In the past few days we have learned that Al Hassan is in jail on an unrelated grand larceny charge. We have also learned that there was a previous death – and a $250,000 life insurance payoff – in a related case that also appears suspicious. In that case, premiums on a life policy covering an employee of Al Hassan’s were being paid out of a dummy account opened by – you guessed it – Al Hassan. That unfortunate victim was killed in a “random drive-by shooting” incident, and Al Hassan collected a quarter of a million dollars as the beneficiary.
JCIFR has now backed out. Our mission statement, “Fighting Fraud Through Communication and Education,” once again proves true. Michael Giron’s job is far from over. There is much to be done to get to the bottom of this actual investigation. But time, as always, is of the essence. Al Hassan has already filed the death claim and asked for the money.
While miles were once an enemy in the investigative process, that is no longer the case. The fraud-fighting community is world-wide, and a measly little ocean can’t stop fax machines, e-mails, phone calls and, most importantly, people-connections. If you think you can be of some benefit in this (so far unsolved) case, give a call to the JCIFR offices and tell us what you have. (714) 289-7777. Communication is an awesome power in and of itself.
© Copyright 1999 Alikim Media