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Man Who Vanished in June Faked Death, Investigators Say

August 10, 1992 GMT

BELLINGHAM, Wash. (AP) _ A man who vanished on his way to work, then turned up 150 miles from home six weeks later, tried to fake his death so his family could collect his life insurance, investigators say.

James R. Lang, 37, of Birch Bay confessed Friday when confronted by investigators, Whatcom County Undersheriff Dave Wareing said.

His disclosure ″completely devastated″ his wife, Mary, who organized numerous searches after his disappearance and was unaware of the scheme, Wareing said.

He said it’s unlikely Lang will be charged with a crime, but he will be required to get counseling.

Lang vanished about 3 a.m. June 12 on his way to work in Bellingham, then turned up July 27 in Puyallup, roughly 150 miles south. He had lost at least 20 pounds and grown a beard. He initially told his wife and doctors who examined him that he couldn’t remember what happened in the six weeks in between.

″He said that he had become so depressed because of a multitude of personal and financial problems that he was driven to the point of suicide,″ Wareing said. ″He convinced himself he was worth more to his family dead than alive.″

Wareing said Lang thought nearly $200,000 in life insurance would enable his family to go on and ″would give him an honorable out.″ He staged the death because he didn’t want to commit suicide, Wareing said.

On July 12, instead of driving to work as a baker in Bellingham, Lang dumpted the car into the Nooksack River, then rode away on a bicycle he had brought with him, Wareing said. He called 911 from a nearby store to report an accident and a car in the river, then made his way to Tacoma.

Searchers found the empty car at the bottom of the river two days later.

His plan fell apart, however, when he had difficulty surviving on the streets in the Tacoma area with no job and no money, Wareing said. In addition, Lang discovered through news stories that his wife was unable to collect the insurance money. Lang then devised a plan to fake amnesia so he could rejoin his family, Wareing said.

Among the reasons police suspected Lang, Wareing said, was that investigators found two small plastic bags of blood inside Lang’s car. Wareing said Lang intended to smear them inside the car to create the impression he’d been killed, but he forgot to use the blood before he set the car in motion toward the river.