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Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
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Disappearing Act

The late Jack Benny said he’d purchased so much life insurance from one company that Benny’s demise threatened its solvency. “When I go, they go,” Benny said.

Raymond Roth, the 47-year-old Massapequa man who has emerged as Nassau’s most notorious life insurance policyholder, purchased coverage valued at more than $400,000, the Wall Street Journal reports. But law enforcement authorities theorize Raymond wanted Jonathan Roth, his 22-year-old son, to cash out the policy’s proceeds while Raymond was alive. Alas, that is illegal, and not easy to do. The saga’s courtroom machinations have been well-chronicled while the hurdles to getting a person declared officially dead, if their body has not been found, have gone largely ignored.

To recap, Raymond and Jonathan Roth went to Jones Beach on July 28, and Jonathan reported his father missing after seeing him wade into the Atlantic Ocean and not return. A search for the elder Roth ensued and substantial amounts of taxpayer monies were spent to find someone who was no longer in the ocean. Raymond Roth supposedly fled to a Florida residence he had access to.

I do have one question about Evana Roth, Jonathan’s stepmother; why did Mrs. Roth call a press conference to dish on Raymond and Jonathan Roth’s travails? Unless she was the named beneficiary of Raymond’s life insurance policy, few would assume she’d done anything wrong. Evana Roth’s bid to secure an order of protection against Raymond Roth was also bizarre. If your spouse wants you to believe they’re dead, and has driven 1,000-plus miles to get away from you, the thrill is gone.

Let’s return to the timeline. Raymond Roth was presumed to have drowned on July 28. Jonathan Roth then filed a life insurance claim on July 31, according to published accounts of his actions. Um, Jonathan, did anyone ever tell you a life insurance company will want a government-issued death certificate bearing the policyholder’s name, or a judicial ruling declaring the policyholder is presumed dead, before paying the claim? Moreover, it might have taken years for the courts to declare Raymond dead even if Raymond remained missing, Jonathan, a scenario that would have been further complicated if the district attorney suspected you knew no one was going to find your father’s lifeless body.

The legal proceedings may get ugly, although I envision a potentially bright future for the Roth family. Raymond, Jonathan and Evana are the main characters in Back from the Dead, a reality program I’d like to pitch to Bravo. Cable television’s on-air lineup already includes admitted plagiarizers, likely phone-hackers, and men who have acknowledged cavorting with prostitutes, and those are just the people who appear on the political programs. The Roths are respectable in comparison.

The opening scene would feature Raymond walking along the Jones Beach surf while wearing a court-ordered, waterproof ankle bracelet. His voiceover: “I acted that morning as though it was the last day of my life.” I do want a cameo, in episode 3, when The New York Times calls me for a quote amid reports that Raymond Roth applied for a $5 million life insurance policy. My line, to be delivered energetically with hands on hips: “Oh, no, he didn’t!”

Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism. Email: