The rise of social media has spawned an outbreak in inconsistent news reporting. In some cases, celebrities have been given a false death report, which spreads into an Internet hoax. In the past, when people were confused over a death, a premature obituary was often published. In other instances, people were wrongly declared dead after being lost or badly injured. Here are ten individuals that were falsely reported dead, and went on to live an extended life.
10. Henry Elionsky
Henry (Buster) Elionsky was a champion long-distance swimmer and open water performer. He was called an “aquatic freak,” and many of his endurance records remain unmatched. In one case, he towed seven men eight miles with his hands and feet tied. Another one of his most famous tricks was staying afloat while being wrapped in sailcloth and heavy rope.
On October 13, 1918, it was reported that Henry Elionsky had died not from drowning, but from the flu pandemic. His obituary was published, and he was presumed dead for many years until he reappeared in the 1920’s and swam 100 miles from Battery Park to Sandy Hook, New Jersey. Several books still list Elionsky’s death as occurring in 1918, though his true date of death remains unknown.
9. Luca Barbareschi
Luca Barbareschi is an Italian-Uruguayan actor that appeared in the 1980 horror film Cannibal Holocaust. The movie, directed by Ruggero Deodato, tells the story of a documentary film crew that went missing in the Amazon Rainforest. It was so realistic-looking that, after previewing the film, Italian police were convinced that it was a genuine snuff film that depicted the death of four actors, including Luca Barbareschi. The movie was confiscated by the police, and Deodato was arrested and charged with murder.
Now, Deodato had forced his actors to sign a contract and agree to not appear in the media for one year after the movie’s opening, in order to promote the film’s authenticity. But upon being faced with life in prison, Deodato contacted Luca Barbareschi and begged him to tell the authorities he was alive. He appeared in court with the other actors, and eventually Deodato was released from prison. Since the event, Luca Barbareschi has become a very-alive member of the Italian Chamber of Deputies.
8. Kate Webb
Kate Webb was a New Zealand-born Australian war journalist who made headlines in 1971, during the Vietnam War. Word got out that she was killed, the New York Times published her obituary and the story made front page news around the world.
In reality, Kate was one of six people taken hostage by North Vietnamese troops in Cambodia. She was held captive for 23 days and tortured, but not murdered. Webb was forced to march with North Vietnamese troops, but managed to escape and reach safety. After the event, Webb almost died from malaria, but continued her career as a war reporter. She became a celebrity and traveled to the United States in order to show support for the war movement. In her later life, Kate Webb worked in Iraq during the Gulf War, and was the first journalist to report on the death of Kim Il Song. Webb died of bowel cancer on May 13, 2007.
7. Lal Bihari
Lal Bihari was born and raised in eastern Uttar Pradesh, India. In 1975, he attempted to apply for a bank loan, but was denied because he was officially dead and nobody bothered to tell him. After an investigation was carried out, it was discovered that Lal’s uncle had bribed a government official to register him as dead in order to take ownership of his ancestral land at Khalilabad, which was less than an acre. After a lengthy 19-year battle, Bihari was recognized as being alive by the Indian government, and given the right to his land.
The decision was reported by the media, and Bihari used the attention to gain exposure for others who have the same problem. Yes, this is not a one-time thing: land theft is a serious issue in eastern Uttar Pradesh, because land is one of the only sources of income and survival. So Bihari formed the Uttar Pradesh Association of Dead People, to help those who had their property stolen by someone who claimed they were dead. The association has grown to over 20,000 members, and helped people get their lives back.
6. Alfred Nobel
A large number of historical figures have had their false obituaries published in the newspaper. In most cases, the person is confused with another because of a similar name or false report. One of the most famous cases is that of Swedish innovator Alfred Nobel. In 1888, Alfred’s brother Ludvig died in Cannes, and a French newspaper falsely published Alfred’s obituary. The article condemned Nobel for being the inventor of dynamite, leading off with, “The merchant of death is dead,” and going on to say that Nobel became rich by finding “ways to kill more people faster than ever before.”
After reading the obituary, Alfred became concerned about his reputation, so he decided to set aside a bulk of his estate to establish the Nobel Prizes. of the most famous Nobel Prize (Peace,) Alfred’s will stipulated that it should be given out to the person that has “done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.” Due to his contributions, most people now recognize Alfred Nobel as the creator of the Peace Prize, and not as the inventor of dynamite.
5. Delimar Vera Cuevas
On December 15, 1997, a fire destroyed the house of Luz Cuevas. In the midst of the blaze, Luz attempted to retrieve her daughter 10-day-old daughter Delimar from her bed, but couldn’t find the girl. The police concluded that she had been incinerated by the flames, and Philadelphia police declared her dead.
In the wake of the tragedy, Delimar’s mother remained suspicious of her daughter’s death, as well as the official cause of the fire (extension cord failure.) Five years after the event, Luz spotted a young girl at a birthday party that looked similar to her other children. She obtained a sample of her hair, and test results determined that the girl was her daughter.
The police were shocked by the news, and discovered that a woman named Carolyn Correa had purposefully set fire to the house and abducted Delimar. After a prolonged search, the police located Correa and she was charged with arson, kidnapping, and concealing the whereabouts of a child. She was given a sentence of 9 to 30 years in prison, and will be eligible for parole this year.
4. Hiroo Onoda
Hiroo Onoda is a Japanese soldier that fought in World War II, and didn’t surrender until 1974. On December 26, 1944, Onoda was sent to Lubang Island in the Philippines and ordered to do everything he could to stop an Allied attack on the island. In February of 1945, when the US and Philippine Commonwealth arrived on the island, Onoda ordered his men to the hills. From that location, the group conducted guerrilla warfare on the Filipino citizens. Over a period of several years, Onoda engaged in several shootouts with the police.
Towards the end of 1945, the Allied Forces dropped a large collection of leaflets that read, “The war ended on August 15. Come down from the mountains!” Onoda saw the message, but dismissed it as propaganda. In December of 1959, Hiroo Onoda was officially declared dead by the Japanese government.
However, people continued to believe he was alive and on February 20, 1974, Onoda was encountered by a Japanese man named Norio Suzuki, who was traveling the world searching for “Lieutenant Onoda, a panda, and the Abominable Snowman,” in that order. The men became friends, but Onoda refused to return home unless he received orders from a superior officer. Eventually, the Japanese Government contacted Onoda’s commanding officer and on March 9, 1974, Major Yoshimi Taniguchi traveled to the Philippines and relieved Onoda. He was eventually pardoned, and returned to Japan, where he lives to this day.
3. Anne Greene
Anne Greene was an English domestic servant that worked in Duns Tew in the 17th century. At a young age, Anne got pregnant from a relationship with her master’s grandson. The baby died at birth and Anne was blamed for the death, despite evidence that it was stillborn. Greene was given a death sentence and hung on December 14, 1650, at Oxford. She requested that her friends be allowed to beat her swinging body, in order to make sure she was dead. After being hung for a half hour, Greene was cut down, pronounced dead by the coroner, and given to a group of medical students for dissection.
The following day, before starting the dissection, the students noticed that Anne Greene had a slight pulse. She was admitted to the hospital, given treatment, and eventually made a full recovery. Greene was declared dead for over 24 hours and became one of the few cases of failed execution. After gaining her health, Anne was given a full pardon due to the “special interference by the hand of God” on her behalf. The case was featured in a number of news pamphlets from the 17th century. Greene lived for fifteen years after the hanging, and died in 1665.
2. Whitney Cerak
On April 26, 2006, a van carrying nine students and staff members from Taylor University collided with a tractor-trailer on Interstate 69 in Indiana. The driver of the truck fell asleep and collided with the van head on. Five people died in the accident, including a young blonde woman who was identified as Whitney Cerak. A similar-looking student named Laura Van Ryn was seriously injured in the crash, and placed in a coma.
After more than five weeks in the hospital, people started to notice that Laura was acting strangely. Her roommate and boyfriend said that she didn’t look like herself and when asked what her name was, she wrote Whitney Cerak. After dental records were examined, it was confirmed that the hospital made a horrible mistake and falsely identified the two girls.
Before the mistake was discovered, Laura Van Ryn was buried in a grave with Cerak’s name on it, and the funeral was attended by 1400 people. During her time in a coma, Whitney Cerak was cared for by the Van Ryn family. The Grant County, coroner said that the mistake was made after a group of students identified the survivor as Laura Van Ryn, but no scientific testing was carried out to prove it.
1. András Toma
András Toma was a Hungarian solider that grew up in Sulyánbokor near Nyíregyháza. He was drafted into the Axis powers in 1944, and joined a regiment fighting around Auschwitz and Kraków against the Red Army.
On January 11, 1945, Toma was taken prisoner and placed in the camp of Boksitogorsk near St. Petersburg. In 1947, Toma was sent to a psychiatric hospital in Kotelnich, but the Russians didn’t keep a list of hospital patients, so he was lost. Toma was officially declared dead in 1954, and his family was notified. In reality, he was still at the hospital, under the name of András Tamás. He wasn’t identified until 2000, when a Czech linguist identified him as being Hungarian. After DNA analysis was carried out, Toma was sent home to Hungary. He is probably the last prisoner from World War II to be repatriated.
After returning to Hungary, Toma was promoted to Sergeant Major, and received a back salary for all his years of service. He lived with his half-sister until passing away on March 30, 2004.