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Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 November, 2004, 02:10 GMT
Couple face 'fake drowning' trial
By Chris Summers
BBC News

A couple go on trial this week charged with staging a fake drowning incident in order to claim $1m.

Derek Nicholson and Nikole Nagle, who have since married, are accused of insurance fraud and making a false distress call.

Mr Nicholson, 31, vanished from a beach in New Jersey in July 2003 and Ms Nagle , 25, alerted a lifeguard and tried to claim a $1m life insurance policy.

Both plead not guilty and say confessions they made are "not valid".

22 Jul 2003: Derek Nicholson obtains a $1m insurance policy
26 Jul 2003: Mr Nicholson's girlfriend Nikole Nagle reports him missing from a New Jersey beach
1 Aug 2003: Ms Nagle calls the insurance company to claim the $1m
2 Aug 2003: Mr Nicholson makes anonymous call to New Jersey police claiming to have seen a body in the sea
4 Aug 2003: Mr Nicholson turns up in New York claiming to have amnesia
12 May 2004: Mr Nicholson and Ms Nagle are arrested
Nov 2004: The pair go on trial accused of insurance fraud and making a false distress call

The trial will get under way in Trenton, New Jersey this week after the couple were indicted by a federal grand jury in August.

If convicted they face up to six years in jail.

The couple have three young children, the youngest of whom was born two days after Ms Nagle reported Mr Nicholson as missing.

They deny they wilfully tried to scam the life insurance company State Farm.

'No memory'

Mr Nicholson, who turned up in New York a few days after vanishing, claims to have no memory of the incident.

Ms Nagle, for her part, says she has no idea what happened to her partner and assumed he must have drowned.

The case is reminiscent of former British Government minister John Stonehouse who vanished in 1974 after leaving his clothes on a beach in Miami. He later resurfaced in Australia, where he was living under a false name.

'Pre-arranged scam'

Mr Stonehouse's attempted deception echoed the plot of the 1970s British sitcom The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin.

Assistant US Attorney Lee Rudy said there was evidence Mr Nicholson and Ms Nagle had organised a pre-arranged scam.

He pointed out Mr Nicholson went missing wearing only a pair of cut-off shorts but reappeared in New York fully clothed.

He said there was also evidence Mr Nicholson had pre-booked a ticket to Los Angeles a few days before he disappeared and that he lay low in LA for several days after his vanishing act.

John Stonehouse
The case has echoes of the 1974 disappearance of British politician John Stonehouse
Mr Rudy said the plot began to unravel when Ms Nagle was told by the insurance company that, without a body, it would take up to 12 years for them to pay out.

The following day an anonymous caller rang the police in New Jersey claiming to have seen a body fitting Mr Nicholson's description off the coast.

Mr Rudy said that caller was in fact Mr Nicholson. He was on a train in Illinois and was using a cellphone which was in the name of a fictitious Jacob Milsner.

It appears the couple, from Tinton Falls, New Jersey, failed to learn from a series of failed life insurance scams in the same area.

Nicholson made an anonymous call while on a train to Los Angeles
In 1999 the girlfriend of Antonio Mandarino - who happened to be wanted by police - claimed he had drowned in nearby Ocean County. He was later jailed for 18 months.

Two years later Annette McNeal vanished from a beach in Long Branch, leaving a suicide note.

She reappeared nine months later and charges were dropped after her family returned a $300,000 life insurance pay-out.

The trial of Mr Nicholson and Ms Nagle is expected to last for two or three weeks.


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