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Death Hoaxes
Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Final Farewell
Gabriel Garcia MarquezDuring the summer of 1999 Gabriel Garcia Marquez, winner of the 1982 Nobel Prize for Literature and author of such classics as One Hundred Years of Solitude, was treated for lymphatic cancer. Following this, there were persistent rumors about his failing health. On May 29, 2000 these rumors appeared to be confirmed when a poem signed with his name appeared in the Peruvian daily La Republica. The poem, titled "La Marioneta" or "The Puppet," was said to be a farewell poem Garcia Marquez had written and sent out to his closest friends on account of his worsening condition... More…
Final Curtain, 1999
The Final Curtain Cemetery promoted itself as a different kind of cemetery. Artists would design their own tombstones before they died. The result would be a cemetery that would be part memorial, part art gallery, and part theme park. Visitors to the cemetery could dine at restaurants such as Heaven's Gate Cafe, or shop at the museum gift shop. The cemetery received widespread media coverage before being revealed to be a hoax designed by veteran prankster Joey Skaggs who explained that he wanted to draw attention to the death-care industry which he described as "a giant corporate scam, exquisitely successful at commercializing death." More…
Russia Sells Lenin’s Body, 1991
Following the 1989 collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia's financial situation was dire. So when the American magazine Forbes FYI reported that the Russian government had decided to sell the embalmed body of Vladimir Lenin in an effort to raise foreign currency, the news seemed believable. Bidding for Lenin, it was said, would start at $15 million. Both ABC News and USA Today repeated the story without questioning it, and so were embarrassed when the editor of Forbes FYI revealed that it had been intended as a joke. Russian Interior Minister Viktor Barrannikov denounced the story as "an impudent lie." More…
The Death of Alan Abel, 1980
The New York Times announced the death of Alan Abel on its obituary page on January 2, 1980. The well-known media hoaxer, it said, had died of a heart attack at a ski resort in Utah. The Times provided a flattering account of Abel's career, noting that he had gained national recognition during the early 1960s on account of a faux campaign to promote decency by making animals wear clothes. There was just one problem. Abel wasn't dead. The Times learned this when Abel held a press conference the next day in which he revealed that the news of his death was a hoax engineered by himself and a team of twelve accomplices. More…
Paul is Dead, 1969
In the Fall of 1969 a rumor swept around the world alleging that Paul McCartney, singer and bassist for the Beatles, was dead. In fact, that he had died three years ago on November 9, 1966 in a fiery car crash while heading home from the EMI recording studios. Supposedly the surviving band members, fearful of the effect his death might have on their careers, secretly replaced him with a double named William Campbell (an orphan who had won a Paul McCartney lookalike contest in Edinburgh). However, they also planted clues in their later albums to let fans know the truth, that Paul was dead. More…
Operation Mincemeat, 1943
In 1943 the body of a British officer, Major William Martin, was discovered off the coast of Spain, near Huelva. British diplomats strongly requested that all documents found with the body be returned to them, and the Spanish government eventually complied. But upon examination, it was obvious the documents had been opened and read before their return. This was exactly what the British had hoped would happen, because Major Martin did not exist. He was part of a military hoax, codenamed Operation Mincemeat, designed to fool the Germans. The British military had obtained a cadaver, chained a briefcase containing supposedly top-secret papers... More…

Jean Gauntt, the Immortal Baby, 1939
In 1939 a secretive cult known as the Royal Fraternity of Master Metaphysicians made headlines when its leader, James Bernard Schafer, announced their intention to conduct an unusual experiment. They were going to raise an immortal baby. More…
The Beheading of Baron Rothschild, 1890s
During the 1890s, Bosnian peasants, innocent of any crime, began surrendering themselves to the authorities with the request that they be beheaded. When the authorities investigated, they discovered that the peasants had heard a rumor alleging that the wealthy Austrian banker Albert Salomon von Rothschild had been sentenced to death and had offered a million florins to anyone willing to undergo the penalty for him. So syndicates had formed throughout rural Bosnia for the purpose of sharing the potential prize. Each member promised to sacrifice his life, should his lot be chosen, for the benefit of the other members. In reality, Rothschild hadn't been sentenced to death. He hadn't even been convicted of a crime, but the Bosnian authorities found it difficult to convince the volunteers of this, and new willing victims kept presenting themselves. More…
The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar
The December 1845 edition of the American Whig Review contained an account of an unusual experiment designed to test whether hypnotism could delay the arrival of death. According to the article, a terminally ill patient, M. Ernest Valdemar, who only had hours left to live, was placed in a trance by a hypnotist. The effect was quite remarkable. Valdemar appeared to go into a state of suspended animation, moving only in response to the hypnotist's commands. He remained in this state for over a day, much to the surprise of his doctors who hadn't given him that long to live. Then Valdemar's pulse stopped and his breathing ceased. He was dead, but... More…
The Death of Titan Leeds
Benjamin Franklin published a highly successful, yearly almanac from 1732 to 1758. He called it Poor Richard’s Almanac, adopting the literary persona of "Poor" Richard Saunders, who was supposedly a hen-pecked, poverty-stricken scholar. In the first year of its publication, Franklin included a prediction stating that rival almanac-writer Titan Leeds would die on "Oct. 17, 1733, 3:29 P.M., at the very instant of the conjunction of the Sun and Mercury." The prediction was intended as a joke. Nevertheless, Leeds took offense at it and chastised Saunders (Franklin) for it in his own almanac. Franklin responded by turning the death of... More…
The Predictions of Isaac Bickerstaff
An almanac released by Isaac Bickerstaff in February 1708 predicted that a rival astrologer, John Partridge, would die on March 29 of that year. On March 31st Bickerstaff released a follow-up pamphlet announcing that his prediction had come true. Partridge was dead. However, Partridge was actually still very much alive. He was woken on April 1st by a sexton outside his window announcing the news of his death. Isaac Bickerstaff was actually a pseudonym for Jonathan Swift, whose intention was to embarrass and discredit Partridge, because he was annoyed by the astrologer’s attacks upon the church. More…
Phony 9/11 Deaths
As estimates of the death toll rose in the days following the 9/11 attacks, enormous amounts of sympathy and media attention flowed out towards those who had lost loved ones in the attack. Those who had participated in rescue efforts were hailed as national heroes. But simultaneously, many people (motivated, perhaps, by a desire for sympathy or attention) fabricated tales of phony heroics and lost loved ones in the weeks and months following 9/11. Listed are a few of the more notable cases of these phony 9/11 tales: More…
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All text Copyright © 2014 by Alex Boese, except where otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.