Escape Artist

How one man faked his death—twice

Oct 1, 2003
Outside Magazine

ALL MILTON HARRIS wanted was to disappear—permanently. A native of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Harris faked his own death twice in an attempt to collect on nearly $3 million in life insurance policies, and then fell off the face of the earth for the (presumably) final time in 1995.

His first vanishing act was staged on a ferry off the coast of South Australia, where in May 1985 he jumped from the deck en route from Adelaide to Kangaroo Island. Reportedly, Harris was sitting on the seafloor breathing from a concealed oxygen canister when found by a 70-year-old retired police officer who had jumped in to save him. Four days later, Harris turned up in New Zealand, where he paid a young hitchhiker to help him disappear again. This time, Harris slipped off a New Zealand ferry as it departed. Once the boat reached open water, his accomplice shouted, "Man overboard!" and threw a life buoy with Oscar-worthy enthusiasm. Harris was gone.

Four years later, Harris was picked up by New Zealand police in Auckland, sent to the U.S., and sentenced to five years in prison for insurance fraud. Three years after his early release in 1992, he went missing again. "The authorities gave up searching for him," says Harris's sister, who wishes to remain anonymous. "It's one of those things that you'll always wonder about: Was there foul play, or did he pull another disappearing act?"

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