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tv   2020  ABC  January 25, 2014 10:00pm-11:01pm PST

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tonight on "20/20," the perfect crime, almost. >> you really thought you would be able to pull this off? >> yes. stupid. >> he had the perfect plan for a bank heist. every bizarre detail worked out, every suspects courtesy of craig's list, check. >> that's when i went to craig's list. >> imagine me times 15. >> escape by inner tube, check. wife kept in the dark, check. >> not even my wildest nightmares could i have dreamt up the kinds of things that he was actually doing. >> so how did he get caught? >> this wasn't your typical witness, was it? >> no. >> catch me if you can. plus, tired of your life or
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just your wife? arrange a death, your own, and leave your son to discover it. >> i don't know where he is. i can't find it. that's when the whole search went crazy. >> so did his wife when she began finding those mysterious details. >> it was like someone rising from the dead. >> this mysterious lady, she's not even a woman but a cross dressing crook impersonating his dead mother to get her month. >> he became her? >> that's exactly what he did. >> the perfect crime almost. here's barbara walters. good evening. he almost got away with it. the high school hunk turned bank robber, pulling off one of the most outrageous bank heists in years. he had a script worked out. he had an escape plan. he had everything but the one thing no one could have foreseen, an eye witness.
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but what an eye witness. here's gg. here's gio benitez in the annals of robberies gone wrong, there is a long list of do's and don'ts. like always know your escape route. and try to come up with a better disguise than a tree. but for anthony curcio, the line between brilliant and botched is blurred. he pulled off the perfect crime -- almost. from high school football fame [ cheers ] to bank heist infamy, it's like something out of a movie. >> a brazen bank robbery suspect. >> wearing gloves, sunglasses and a mask. >> making his escape on an inner tube. >> reporter: curcio is now known in his hometown as the crook who almost got away with a seriously crazy plan. it started here on the outskirts of seattle -- the sleepy town of monroe, washington, where manicured lawns smack of ordinary life. the kind of place where life
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seems pretty predictable, unless of course you're planning the unpredictable. in curcio's case, it was a crime fit for hollywood, complete with decoys and disguises, daring escapes on jet skis and inner tubes, and bags overflowing with stolen loot. you had just stolen $400,000. what does that even look like? >> i would say enough to fit in a bathtub. sglrs curcio's life of crime started innocently enough -- a golden boy from a well-to-do family with everything going for him and for whom everything came a little too easy. captain of the high school football team, known for his friday night lights victories. >> catching a touchdown pass, that's a true feeling, like, a real, true feeling. >> how much of that defined who you were? >> everything. that's what i was. >> he had it all -- good looks, a talent for sports and a pretty cheerleader girlfriend named emily. >> i knew that there was something special about emily. beyond special, for sure. >> we were that couple where the
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the teachers would call me mrs. curcio. and i remember the first time that he told me that he loved me, i was just kind of like, oh my god. >> the two became inseparable in high school and stayed together when he went to college at the university of idaho. no longer the big fish in a small pond, curcio was now feeling the pressure of college sports. his way to cope? alcohol. lots of alcohol. >> that was your escape. you just kept drinking, and drinking, and drinking, and drinking. >> it got so bad after a couple months of that i was just drinking straight out of the bottle. >> the next season, a torn acl was curcio's introduction to a new vice -- vicodin -- which numbed the pain of just about everything. >> i was insecure about not being good enough. vicodin took that away from me. it calmed me down. it made me feel like anthony doesn't need to be an athlete. >> how far would you go to get it? >> i started forging prescription, faking injuries.
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one day i would be john with a dental issue. the next pharmacy i would be steven with a hurt leg. that was where i crossed the line. in high school, i had this moral foundation, integrity. once i met vicodin, that all went out the window. >> you talk about vicodin like it's a person. >> vicodin, well, it's an enemy, is what it is. >> pills became his lifeblood. >> when my addiction progressed, my criminal involvement progressed, too. >> the more pills he took, the more brazen his behavior, like dressing up as a mover to steal college furniture. he even created counterfeit baseball cards to sell on ebay, all for his addiction. >> all i remember is that moment after i take pills and feeling like the man again. everything's cool. everything's at peace. >> it was that man who married his high school sweetheart emily and became a father to a little girl. he lived a double life for over a decade. you were putting on this front. >> as best i could, yes. >> he was the spin master, and i
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was like putty. i believed everything that he said. >> he was a man used to turning a quick buck, so he got into real estate, flipping houses to support an increasingly lavish lifestyle. >> not even in my wildest nightmares could i have dreamt up or made up the kinds of things that he was actually doing. >> she stayed with him through multiple stints of rehab, but had no idea how far her husband had fallen. at his worst, curcio says he was blowing through $15,000 a month on drugs, popping 50 pills a day. he was living on the edge. then, he went over it. after investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in homes -- the market crashes. >> yes. >> and now you've not just lost your money, now you're losing your drugs. >> now i'm losing my drugs. >> the man on top of the world was going belly up on the verge of losing his big house and the mercedes parked out front. now, with less than $20 in his bank account, he was even stealing groceries.
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so, he did what came naturally -- find his next fix. sitting in a parking lot, munching on a jack in the box burger, curcio came up with an even grander plan for some fast cash. >> i had just been into the bank, the bank of america. and i see the armored car show up. >> what'd you say to yourself? >> this is the answer. >> curcio became obsessed with, even addicted to, planning an armored truck heist, drawing elaborate diagrams of the scene, spending hours watching the trucks and learning their blind spots, all to the hum of tom petty's "free fallin'" on the radio. ♪ >> and when i was on pills, i have ocd, very detail-oriented. >> curcio came up with a clever disguise when he was out casing the bank. >> i started to dress up as, like, a landscaper that was doing the grounds. i got this landscaping outfit -- blue shirt, blue hat, safety vest, and i was so obvious, right in front of them, that he couldn't see me.
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>> the getaway plan? use something fast to get down a slow-moving creek -- a jet ski would do. but when he found the water wasn't deep enough -- >> so, i start digging this thing out six, seven, eight hours a day. >> you realize you were literally changing the geography of a creek. >> yes. >> so that this could work? >> yes. [ chuckles ] stupid. >> i mean, you really thought you would be able to pull this off. >> yeah. there was no question that i would be able to pull it off. that's how i thought then. >> on the first dry, or rather wet, run, the jet ski hit a rock -- still not deep enough. so he came up with plan "b." he would use an inflatable yellow inner tube to float his way to freedom. and here's where curcio's plan jumped the tracks. on a practice run, curcio stashed his disguise behind a nearby dumpster, forgetting of course that where there are dumpsters there are dumpster divers. >> this homeless guy with this long beard and a dog started
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yelling, "i know what that stuff is" or something like that. i was like, "what are you talking about?" and i got into my car. i'm thinking, man, you just jeopardized everything. you've done all this planning you've done all this stuff not to get caught, and then i started to think, well, even if he has a light description, that doesn't mean anything. >> to curcio there was no turning back, and now there was just one step left -- creating 15 accomplices to help him pull off his perfect crime. >> i realized that i could create decoys by just blending in with the crowd. >> but you needed to create the crowd. >> i needed to create the crowd, and that's when i went to craigslist. >> and this latest idea took curcio's already wacky plan to a whole new level. >> this is my day. it's game time. >> stay with us. when you switch to sprint's new framily plan, friends are like family, so who's gonna be in yours? my girls, my lady and my fantasy league. except jerry. [ male announcer ] but the more people you add, the lower the rate. fine. jerry. [ male announcer ] add up to 10 people and everyone gets unlimited talk, text and one gig of data for as low as $25 a month each. we can get one more. add my boyfriend. whoa! whoa! whoa!
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>> announcer: "20/20" continues. once again, gio benitez. anthony curcio was about to attempt one of the most bizarre bank robberies in recent history. after three months of meticulous
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planning, everything was in place, including the final detail -- decoys. >> i needed to create the crowd. how can i get people to show up at all this place, you know, at one time or whatever? so my thing was, "i'm gonna go make a craigslist posting. and i'm gonna get people to wear the exact same thing i was wearing there." >> he posted a convincing ad luring eager landscapers with promises of 28 bucks an hour. it specified a uniform. blue hat, blue shirt, safety glasses and a yellow vest -- a minor investment for someone looking for a job. he even followed up by e-mail with more details -- where and when to meet and to stay put until their supervisor showed up. and it worked. the morning of the crime, a crowd of hopeful workers stood cluelessly outside the bank. this was the get up curcio's ad specified. okay, now imagine me times 15.
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one of these guys was going to pull the ultimate heist that morning. the rest, they were going to help. they just didn't know it. cori skinner was one of those workers. >> everybody was kind of sitting around talking and waiting to go to work, and about 35 minutes later was when we finally realized we weren't there to work. >> cori went to high school with anthony curcio, but had no idea what the most popular kid in school was about to do. >> and i'm definitely nervous. it felt just like a -- before a big game, except now i'm dealin' with my life here. and so all of a sudden i see the armored car. so i take my mace, get about 15 feet from him and pepper sprayed him. >> this bank surveillance video tells the story. curcio comes out of nowhere and hits the guard with enough mace to stun a bear. the guard reaches for his eyes and lets go of the bags of money hanging on the cart. curcio makes his move.
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>> i just did what i planned on doing. i grabbed the money, took off. >> detectives tim "buzz" buzzell and barry hatch didn't need to get the call that morning. they heard it. >> i was on another case and i kept hearing sirens and sirens. and i go, "oh, something big's going on." >> buzz and hatch, each with 15 years of sleuthing under their holstered belts, constitute two-thirds of the detective unit in the small town of monroe. but when buzz and hatch arrive at the bank that day, they encounter a first -- 15 clones of their crook. when you started seeing all these people wearing the same clothes, what were you thinking? >> a lot of people dressed up the same way might be a distraction to some. but, really, we're chasing a guy that's running down the street, stripping off his clothes. >> they learn from eyewitnesses that the culprit is tall, skinny and athletic, and that he took off carrying the two bags of cash under his arm like -- what else? -- a football.
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>> where was he running off to? did they tell you where? >> right down to the creek. >> right down this way? >> yep. >> we see how busy this road is. >> it's a very busy intersection and road. >> and it happened in the middle of the day? >> yes. and he almost got hit by a truck. >> the witnesses saw the robber race down this path toward the creek, fumbling one bag along the way, clearly overwhelmed by the weight of his treasure. then, for 200 feet at breakneck speed, he ran to the edge of the creek to make his unlikely getaway on an inner tube. >> right. the officers told me that the inner tube was on the far side of the creek, and i saw that it was resting up against some trees and brush. >> what'd you think when you saw it? >> i was, "that was a strange way to try to escape from a robbery," and, "where did he go?" >> where'd he go? the last place anyone would look for a thief. >> i have to get out of there. so i'm trying to think in this whole chaotic mess. and the only place i could think
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of was, "well, the one place that the police aren't going to be is at the police station right now. >> curcio sets off in the direction of the local police station, now looking like an average joe walking down main street. but this was where curcio's plan really goes awry with two thoughtless blunders. number one? >> my shoes are soaking wet. >> when he tries to use a phone at a nearby business, he nearly blows his cover. >> i'm hoping that the receptionist doesn't notice them. i say, "is it all right if i use your phone?" >> he gets on the phone and arranges a ride, but then blunder number two hits him -- where do you stash 400k in cash? >> after counting it, it was like, "okay, it's a done deal." you know, pat myself on the back, i saved the day, in my mind. then i'm trying to figure out, "well, what do i do with this money? where am i gonna keep it?" >> you spend all that time planning this heist and all that, you had no idea what you were doing with the money? >> no. >> but there was something
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curcio left behind in his mad dash. >> when he ran off he had tore off his mask -- a particle mask -- dark sunglasses, a hat, a wig and threw that onto the ground and continued running down to the river. >> and what were you thinking when you hear all this? >> i'm suspecting that all of that is great evidence to catch whoever did it. inside the robber's mask? trace amounts of saliva that would contain his dna. but finding the man that matched that dna would take these detectives on a cat and mouse chase right out of "catch me if you can." >> we had someone that called in a report of robbery-type items being hidden behind a dumpster near the bank. >> when they dig up the report, they find the caller not only discovered the disguise, he also took down the license plate of the man who came back for the items. when that officer put that license plate in there, what do you learn about that? >> the owner of the vehicle. >> and who's that owner? >> emily curcio.
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>> and in the small town of monroe, everyone knew emily curcio was married to anthony curcio. >> anthony's name was the one that quickly came to the top of the list. >> now you have this name at the top of the list. and what do you do with it? >> well, we go track down the witness to start with, to really solidify that what he saw was what he saw. >> and this wasn't your typical witness, was it? >> no. >> when we come back, who was the mystery caller who had been keeping on eye on curcio. his identity could shock everyone. stay with us. alright, whenever you get your stuff, run upstairs, get cleaned up for dinner. you leave the house in good shape? yea. yea, of course. ♪ [ sportscaster talking on tv ] last-second field go-- yea, sure ya did. [ male announcer ] introducing at&t digital life. personalized home security and automation. get professionally monitored security for just $29.99 a month.
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it's time to...believe. >> announcer: we return to the perfect crime, almost.
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once again, gio benitez. >> 9-1-1, what's your emergency? >> yeah. i found a bunch of burglary tools. >> reporter: three weeks before anthony curcio made off down that babbling brook on an inner tube, this call came in to 911 reporting suspicious items behind a dumpster. >> you found burglary tools? >> yeah -- a cap, a wig, a can of mace bigger than i've ever seen. >> can i get your last name please? >> dean -- d,e,a,n. >> your, your first name? >> alan -- a,l,e,n. >> what's your phone number? >> i don't have one. i'm homeless. >> reporter: homeless. that's right. the caller was someone who didn't have much, but among his belongings -- a moral compass. remember the dumpster guy who warned curcio, weeks before the robbery about being up to no good? >> i thought, well, maybe if he's homeless, maybe he's been drinking, maybe he's not going to remember my description. >> reporter: now, he was a crucial witness, and buzz and hatch needed to find him to help them nail curcio. but how do you find a witness with no address?
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>> i went to a mcdonald's and i bought ten regular hamburgers, and i started handing out hamburgers to homeless people, asking if they knew a guy named alan. >> reporter: in tiny monroe, there was only one place you take hamburgers to find a homeless guy, tent city. >> six hamburgers later, i found a tent with a guy named alan. >> reporter: so now you have four hamburgers left. and what happens when you reach alan's tent? >> you know, you can't really knock on the door of a tent, but i just said, "alan, are you in there? it's the police." and he responded with, "it's about time you got here." >> reporter: this is alan dean, perhaps the unlikeliest source for the key that would unlock this entire case. what did you see behind that dumpster? >> well, just a wig, sunglasses, a big can of mace. i knew what it was. >> reporter: what was it? >> burglar tools, robbery tools. >> reporter: how'd you know? >> i mean, who else is gonna wear a wig? >> reporter: and you see a guy, don't you? what happens?
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>> he walked straight up to it, so i knew it was his. and -- i went over, and told him that the police were coming to take a look at that stuff and he might as well just leave it alone. >> reporter: and so what happened? the moment he picks that up, what do you do? >> he got in his car, i wrote the tag number down. >> reporter: and you have a pen. you have a pen right now. >> yeah. i like to do the crosswords. >> reporter: so, you always have a pen with you. >> yup. >> reporter: what do you think he thought of you? [ laugh ] >> i think he didn't -- he felt like that i wouldn't remember anything or something like that. >> reporter: you never thought that he was gonna be the key witness. >> oh, no way. i underestimated him completely, yes. >> reporter: with dean's statement, detectives are closing in on curcio. >> we decided we need to set up surveillance on anthony. >> and now did that go? >> at first, not good because we couldn't find him. >> reporter: you can't find him. so, where does a thief with $400,000 go? >> las vegas. >> reporter: that's right. instead of laying low, curcio heads to the palms hotel in sin
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city, and sin he did. cheating on emily, throwing money around with another woman. but after a night of sex, drugs, and a britney spears concert, curcio's conscience got the better of him. nagging thoughts of his wife, toddler, and now a newborn, just weeks old. >> it was like, "why'd you do that? why are you in vegas? why aren't you home with your family? why aren't you a husband? why aren't you a father?" and here i have all this money, and it still didn't solve that problem. and it made me sick. >> reporter: he returns home to a very suspicious wife. the town rumor mill still buzzing from the heist. >> he would make comments about the robbery, like, oh, did you see this in the paper? and he'd hand me the paper and be like, "oh my gosh, isn't this awesome?" you know, "isn't this cool?" i'm like, "yeah, pretty cool." you know, like, whoever did that's gonna get caught, and then i'm sure they're gonna think it's really cool, then. >> reporter: but emily isn't the only one watching him. so are buzz and hatch -- waiting
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patiently while suspect number one keeps screwing up. his 400 g's now bankrolling flashy purchases like a range rover. then, one day when he stops at a gas station, cops get the break they need. >> they saw him get out with a gatorade bottle that he had it in his -- vehicle, and throw it into the trash. >> reporter: inside that bottle? enough of curcio's dna to compare to the saliva in that mask ditched at the scene. bingo! it's a match. >> what's going through your mind? >> "we got him. we got that -- we got our guy." >> reporter: while hanging out in this target parking lot with a little pocket money -- $17,000 -- anthony curcio was arrested. >> there was definitely a moment where it sunk in that definitely
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he had something to do with this and how the hell did i get here was when i looked through that peep hole. and, you know, there's four armed police, fbi agents on my porch. >> reporter: after years of secret addiction and lies, watching her best friend spiral out of control, emily was spent. >> my heart dropped, and at the same moment, it was like -- [ sighs ] thank god. [ crying ] it's over. you know? this is done. >> reporter: he eventually pled guilty, and was sentenced to six years in prison. but it was emily's sentence too. now a full-time working mom left to raise their two girls alone. >> i sold off all of our belongings, basically, and i just left the house. and moved in with my parents. >> reporter: when the stolen money was finally recovered, it took eight people four hours to hand count the crumpled bills that arrived in garbage bags.
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curcio has given up his addiction, and drawing diagrams of armored trucks. he's now taken to drawing pictures for children's books and educating young people about drug addiction. he's already co-authored a book about his wild heist, and is working on making amends with emily. so emily, a lot of people might be looking at this and saying, "what on earth is she doing with this guy?" he's lied to you. he's stolen money. he's cheated on you. why are you sitting right next to him? >> because i never forgot about who he was when i fell in love with him. and i just knew that he was still that person somewhere deep inside. >> reporter: nearly a year out of prison now, anthony curcio, the once local football hero, is back home in the small, quiet town of monroe. instead of crime on his mind, he
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has family on his mind. he's even coaching his oldest's daughter's first grade basketball team, something he does not take for granted. >> i had justified that i was doing this for my family. someone that was doing that for their family would've not gambled with them and lost five years of not being around them. >> reporter: you felt like you gambled with them. >> yeah. you should never gamble with something you're not willing to lose. >> as you can see, anthony is still together with his high school sweetheart. would you have taken him back? we're on twitter tonight so let us know using the hashtag abc "20/20." we'll be right back. next an under tow took this husband's life. >> i thought he was dead. >> she started planning his funeral but he started planning his own party pool side. >> this is not necessarily a genius plot, was it. >> when the perfect crime,
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in this freezing cold weather and snow covering so much of the country, tonight a lot of us are probably dreaming about a day at the beach. but the man you're about to meet took it one step further. he went to the beach to pull off the almost perfect disappearance, his own. paula faris has the amazing story of being swept away. >> it is a family fantasy, dump your old life for a one way ticket to paradise. it is the day dream of a million mid life crises. raymond roth decided to hit reset on his life a few weeks before his 48th birthday. his grand exit began with a day at the beach in new york and a great big lie. >> it was like surreal, you
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know. >> john roth shows us the exact spot where his father got in over his head. >> i was afraid that my dad might show up out of nowhere and that would be crazy. >> reporter: saturday, july 28th, 2012. the weather, overcast and cool with a chance of rain. nevertheless, raymond and son decide it's a perfect beach day. neighbor ron christian remembers. >> he just said, "see you later. we're going to the beach." >> reporter: a father/son day at the beach. what could be more fun? >> unless it evolves into criminal activity. >> reporter: at the beach, they choose their spot with care. >> we kind of went off over back there. it was a no-swim zone. >> reporter: just the place for a swim, raymond decides. >> he took his shirt off, he took his shoes off even. >> reporter: half an hour later, jon sounds the alarm, saying his dad went for a dip and disappeared.
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>> i called my stepmom, i told her, "i don't know where he is." >> "dad went into the water and never came back out." >> she started crying on the phone. >> reporter: roth calls 9-1-1 and runs for help. >> and i told them, "i don't know where he is. i can't find him. you got to help me." and then that's when the whole search went crazy. >> reporter: helicopters, lifeguards, the coast guard. everyone responds to the scene. raymond is not an easy guy to lose. >> he's, like, 6'3", about 280. >> reporter: they comb the beach, and fish for his large body in the sea. >> it was a full rescue effort at that time. >> reporter: but raymond roth is nowhere to be found. >> we're all crying on the beach that, you know, maybe he had a heart attack, maybe, you know, the undertow. >> reporter: but then, what about this? among his belongings left on the beach, a wallet with no driver's license, a cell phone with no calls or texts and, as evana soon discovers, bank accounts with no money.
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>> there was nothing left. >> reporter: and although it is unclear exactly when, raymond had also significantly increased -- >> tripled. >> reporter: -- his life insurance. but it would never do anyone any good because raymond roth didn't have the decency to stay dead. >> then the horror started. >> reporter: four days after the disappearance, evana roth stumbles upon her stepson jon's open e-mail account. uh-oh. >> all the e-mails popped up. >> reporter: she reads a dumbfounding series of secret messages from raymond sent the day before he went missing. raymond mentions a "last will and testament," speaks of "going the distance" and "getting cash for the trip." raymond warns jon, use a pay phone. and most mysterious of all, "call me at the resort." >> and i'm like, "i can't believe it, he's alive. we have to call the authorities." >> reporter: then evana gets a phone call. >> he called my name.
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he was like, "evana," and i just hung up the phone. i couldn't believe it was his voice. it was like someone rising from the dead. i thought he was dead. >> reporter: when evana figured out her husband was still alive, she wanted to kill him. instead, she did the next best thing. she blew the whistle on her allegedly scheming husband and his sidekick, her stepson. and where in the world was raymond during his not-so-near-death experience? tanning in tahiti? cooling his heels in cancun? posing as a playboy in paris, perhaps? nope. he drives his honda down to his timeshare in orlando, florida. >> and it's hard to believe that anybody would do that, and then go to his timeshare. you know, if you're gonna do that, you got to disappear for about ten years. >> reporter: jon roth says one day on the front porch, his
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father laid out the plan to end his life. >> he said, "well, i'm just gonna go into the water and not come out, and that'll be it for me." and i was like, "what? are you kidding? like, you're just gonna try to kill yourself?" and he goes, "no, no, no. i'll be in florida." you know, like, he was, ta-da, you know? like -- >> reporter: ray's magical thinking? >> he said that my role was to just convince everybody that he was dead. and once that happened, i would collect on the moneys, and deliver the moneys to him in florida. >> reporter: and then that day in july, it's go time. >> and he said, "okay, here's all my things. i, i'm leaving. see you later, bye. you wait 30 minutes, and then you tell everybody i'm missing." >> reporter: so the father basically told his son, if you don't do this, i'm gonna kill you? >> yes. >> reporter: as for raymond, his dream of a cosmic do-over, dashed. he heads for home, you know, in his honda, and immediately gets
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pulled over for speeding. never mind his real violation, dwd, driving while supposedly dead. >> i got a guy on a traffic stop that's listed as missing, involuntary, out of new york. >> reporter: raymond is sent on his way. being a missing person is not a crime. but insurance fraud is. and those are the charges waiting for him when he finally resurfaces in new york, where it seems nobody loves raymond. >> ray, now is the time to apologize. >> reporter: raymond says the life insurance angle was his son's idea. he had nothing to do with that. but prosecutors charge both men with insurance fraud. so ends one man's fatally flawed plan. raymond roth will have to live with the consequences, but not with his wife. living up to her vow till death do us part, she filed for divorce. >> i didn't realize that, you know, he turned into such a horrible person.
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>> reporter: the least of raymond's worries, since instead of a bachelor pad timeshare down south, he may be sharing a prison cell upstate. next, there's a big lie behind those granny sunglasses, but only these man hands would give it away. >> how bizarre was this case? >> i have never seen anything like this before. >> and you haven't either. just wait. the star of our new 2 for $25 menu. choose two melt-in-your mouth entrées topped with decadent parmesan like tender new parmesan crusted chicken or creamy new parmesan crusted tortellini. two appetizers. two entrees. unlimited salad and breadsticks. our best 2 for $25 yet! olive garden. we're all family here. get together for unlimited soup, salad, & breadsticks lunch just $6.99. we've got allstate, right? uh-huh. yes! well, i found this new thing called...
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once again barbara walters. there was something strange about mrs. prusik, how she always wears sunglasses on the cloudiest days, never said much, how her clothes never quite fit. but the strangest thing of all is how a woman close to 80 years old managed to pull of the almost perfect crime.
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here's amy robach. >> reporter: it's your average ho-hum afternoon at the dmv. as security cameras roll, a 77-year-old woman named irene prusik, dressed in red, her favorite color, steps up to the counter for the utterly routine task of renewing her license. not much to see, right? but in fact, this seemingly innocuous video holds the key to a tantalizing mystery, a twisted tale of cross-dressing and crime. >> how bizarre was this case? >> in all my years, i've never seen anything like this before. >> reporter: irene prusik was a former actress and model who made her home in this neighborhood in brooklyn, new york. irene spent her entire life in this elegant brownstone, and was a well-known figure to neighbors like john coffey. >> how would you describe irene? >> she was a woman that, she had elegance, she had poise, she knew how to carry herself.
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>> reporter: irene shared her home with her son, tom, who was known around the neighborhood as a quiet, enigmatic man. >> he didn't have too many friends in the neighborhood that i know of. he had none that i know of. >> reporter: by 2003, irene and her family had hit hard times. unable to keep up on payments on the family brownstone, the property was sold under foreclosure. staring eviction in the face, irene was getting desperate. fighting to keep her home, she filed lawsuit after lawsuit to avoid eviction. this photo of irene was taken by her attorney in april of 2009. it was later that year when security cameras recorded that video of her renewing her license at the dmv. but for the past six years, there was something about irene that was a hidden mystery. her real home was not the townhouse in brooklyn, but here. irene prusik had been dead and
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buried since 2003. "our beloved mother," reads irene's headstone, "everyone's talking about the lady in red." also, a note from her son, "love, tom." but thomas parkin, shown here at the funeral home in front of his mother's casket, had much more sinister matters in mind than bereavement. parkin was a con man and a thief who hatched the big lie, an elaborate scheme to impersonate his dead mother for criminal gain. >> he became her. that's exactly what he did. because in his own mind, in his own plan, she needed to still be alive. >> reporter: parkin's incredible ruse started the very day of his mother's funeral. for her death certificate, he provided the funeral director with a fake date of birth and social security number, which means her death was never
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officially recorded. so the government continued to issue irene's monthly social security checks, and parkin, seen here on a bank surveillance camera, cashed them for himself. parkin was also able to dupe various banks into issuing him credit cards in his dead mother's name. even the court system fell for parkin's scheme. he filed lawsuits in his dead mother's name in order to hang on to the brooklyn townhouse, and no one was the wiser. why didn't the court system catch him? >> the agencies he was dealing with are set up to take things at face value. he was exploiting that reliance on honesty. >> reporter: but in the most bizarre twist, parkin would actually dress up as his dead mother to further his scheme. that dmv video of irene renewing her license? authorities say that's really parkin dressed in drag, assisted by an accomplice. what was your reaction to that?
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>> the thing that jumped out at me was he's doing a pretty good job, except that person walking across the dmv floor is walking like a 45-year-old man, not like a debilitated 73-year-old. >> reporter: parkin might never have been found out if it wasn't for a stunning development in the case in march of 2009. believe it or not, parkin himself walked into the brooklyn district attorney's office complaining that he and his mother were being defrauded over their townhouse. >> thomas parkin came into this office and repeatedly told them, "irene prusik is alive, irene prusik is alive, irene prusik is alive." >> reporter: it doesn't take long for investigators to discover that irene is actually dead, dead, dead. while pretending to look into his fraud claim, investigators press parkin on the phone to set up a face-to-face meeting with his mother. >> it would aid our case if we could actually sit down and speak to your mother. >> okay. >> okay, sir?
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>> you know, the thing is, is that she doesn't know. we haven't kept her up-to-date or informed of what has been going on. most of the time, she is in jersey, like she is now. >> right. >> 'cause friday was her birthday, so she wanted to, to be out there with the rest of the family. >> god bless her. god bless her. you have a party? >> well, we had a, a little bit of a celebration over here. >> reporter: finally, parkin agrees to arrange a meeting with his mother at the brooklyn townhouse. a hidden camera is rolling as investigators enter the building, and parkin's accomplice leads them to a darkened room. >> and they walk in, and there is mr. parkin wearing dark glasses, and he's got a scarf around his neck, doesn't say a word. >> reporter: it's hard to tell exactly who's behind this getup, but there is an obvious clue to one of the investigators. >> he didn't know for sure who that was, but he does remember the hands. he remembers them being man hands.
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>> reporter: authorities had nailed the cross-dressing crook dead to rights. he was arrested and charged with grand larceny and mortgage fraud. in another bizarre twist, parkin gives this rambling statement to police, saying when he gave his mother cpr the night she died, "i felt a feeling in my chest and believe her spirit went in me," and guided him to "put on her things." >> what do you make of that statement? >> when i asked him about it, he said that he had not been taking his medication, that he didn't really mean it, that's not what happened. >> reporter: but parkin was convicted on all charges. he didn't want to talk to "20/20" on camera, but during our interview with his attorney, he unexpectedly called in and agreed to answer some of our questions over the phone. just explain and tell us, from your point of view, why you impersonated your mother. what was your motivation? >> well, that's completely erroneous, and i've always maintained that.
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>> reporter: so you say you've never dressed up as your mother? >> never, and there was never any, any indication or any witnesses that said i did. >> reporter: do you know who dressed up as your mother, who impersonated her? >> no. >> reporter: the judge was unmoved by parkin's denials. he threw the book at the transvestite thief, sentencing him to 13 to 41 years in prison. >> it's a very harsh sentence that was meant to send a message. tom parkin pulled off complex frauds for years. mr. parkin is on a level all his own. i don't think we'll see his like anytime real soon. of course i had no idea what it was.
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