Important court cases involving the dead

Note: the following is a work of fiction based on Cthulhu universe writings by bradhicks

John Doe aka “Henry J. Ford” versus the Estate of Henry J. Ford, or as it’s commonly known, “Ford” v Ford. When the reanimated corpse of Henry Ford showed up to contest the reading of the will, the estate counter-sued, asking the probate court to rule that Ford’s death certificate was final. “Ford” argued that the law permits withdrawing death certificates in the event that the subject turned out not to be dead after all, such as when the attending physician mistakenly declares the subject legally dead and then they wake up. The probate court demurred, saying it didn’t have authority to define death, so the case got kicked all the way up to the US Supreme Court.

In the end, they left it to the state and local courts to establish the facts of death “in accordance with the commonly accepted usage of the term” (Justice Frankfurter, writing for the majority). Of course, that definition was so vague that it’s lead to a huge number of subsequent court cases, challenging “re-animation” by every means from mouth-to-mouth to recovery from a coma after artificial life support to several occult technologies. The way the case law looks to me, by and large, if a technology derives from pre-human magical technology in any way instead of from post-Enlightenment technology, if there’s even the faintest whiff of the Necronomicon or Cultes de Ghoules about how the person came to be disputing their own time of death, the courts have ruled against the deceased.

Other cases that followed “Ford” v. Ford include:

John Doe aka “Hiram Jeremy” v. Alabama, 1950

In this case, Mr. Jeremy had been receiving a railroad pension from the state, and upon his death, his benefits ceased being paid. After writing a letter asking to have his benefits resume, and receiving a polite denial, “Mr. Jeremy” sued the state, asking the court to order payments to resume and for damages in the amount of the missed payments.

Most state courts and federal circuit courts held in similar cases that the death certificates issued in those cases were valid, because death was an event, and not a condition. If it could be proved that the physician making the certification was in error as to the facts, or was intentionally committing a fraud in filing the death certificate, it could be reversed, as was actually done a few times when patients were apparently dead but were found to be still alive at the time of expected autopsy or burial, with no intervening reanimation having taken place, If the death certificate was voided, the legal results of death should also be voided.

But, since Hiram Jeremy stipulated to the facts of his death, the Federal Circuit Court found unanimously that “evidence of life in and of itself is not enough to overturn a judgement that death had occurred.” Though it was a lower court finding, the higher courts refused to hear any appeals, and the result of “Jeremy” v. Alabama is often cited in cases where the deceased have sought to regain benefits they enjoyed while living.

William Jensen vs. Chicago Mutual, 1955

Many reanimated men and women were upset to find rights and privileges stripped from them, bit by bit. After the historic Ford case, where “Ford” was denied legal rights to his former property, most courts consistently found for the States, the Government, the banks, etc., and against the reanimated people (or as they were disrespectfully referred to, “corpses”.)

One exception to this was Jensen v. Chicago Mutual. Jensen, who had died along with his wife both died in a boating accident, had recently updated his will to add a clause stating that if his wife did not survive him, his estate should be held “in trust” and could be claimed by his own reanimated corpse (immediately) or by another living relative (if his corpse did not rise to claim it within one year). Mr. Jensen’s brother Harald became the executor and trustee, and when Harald and one other relative were both satisfied that William Jensen’s spirit still inhabited the body, they gladly turned the property back over to him. This type of “death trust” became more and more popular from 1950 on, as a way of ensuring access to property in the event of death and reanimation.

However, the life insurance claim had not yet been paid to the estate, and when Mr. Jensen asked to have his own life insurance paid out to him (in the amount of $100,000, a large amount in 1955) the insurance company balked. So Mr. “Jensen” sued in Illinois State Court and the court found that there was no fraud intended, and Mr. Jensen had made the contract in good faith and paid his premiums, so Chicago Mutual was ordered to pay the full amount of the accidental death benefit. The case was appealed, but attorneys for “Jensen” cited both the Ford and Jeremy cases as precedent, saying “If the benefit is not to be paid upon presentation of a valid death certificate, when should it be?” Chicago Mutual didn’t have an answer to the question, and the Illinois Court of Appeals upheld the ruling.

People of Wisconsin vs. Blake Sibley, 1956
People of Wisconsin vs. Blake Sibley, 1958

Also for a brief time, some radical fundamentalists decided to test the boundaries of the law, and started “killing” dead people. This naturally led to arrests, because while the walking dead may be considered an abomination, killing someone in broad daylight was not to be tolerated in polite society either. The first of these to go to trial was People of Wisconsin vs. Blake Sibley, who was convicted of First Degree Murder after he doused a zombie with kerosene and burned him to… beyond the point of further animation. The conviction was overturned on appeal, and the appeals court in Wisconsin found that since the deceased was already dead, Sibley could not be held for his murder. The State of Wisconsin could not re-try the case, because jeopardy had attached, but they would soon get another chance; after Sibley committed another execution upon an innocent corpse, the State charged him with Attempted Murder and Desecration of a Corpse. This time the charges were upheld on appeal, and the Wisconsin State Supreme Court held that Sibley could indeed be guilty of attempted murder, because he had committed acts that would have caused death if the victim had been alive, with the intent of denying the victim the right to life.

The case continued up to the United States Supreme Court, with the defendant still arguing that the victim had previously died, so therefore could not be “killed” again. The Supreme Court also upheld the conviction, stating that “the victim in the case simultaneously met the conditions for being dead and being alive, and the one did not necessarily contradict the other”. The court further stated that “there is a well-established definition of death, but there is no established definition of life, save that given in the murder statute. Thus, any human being apparently alive should also enjoy the same right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.”

Many churchgoers were horrified that the court had upheld the “Right to Life” for a victim who was clearly already dead, but at the same time did not want to associate themselves that strongly with a murderer. Reanimation was still *not* resurrection, and Christ was still the only person recognized by the Church as “resurrected”. However, they were forced to admin that resurrection was indeed possible, and had happened before in at least one case. Writing for the majority, Justice Warren wrote, “This court has no means to rule on whether a dead individual was resurrected, or merely reanimated, and takes no position as to whether resurrection is possible; therefore this court cannot adjudicate whether the victim was really alive, only that he was ‘apparently alive,’ which satisfies the Attempted Murder statute.”

It was indeed ironic that the phrase “Right to Life” was picked up and used by the anti-abortion activists some years later. Some of the same people who had spoken out quite vehemently that the Dead were soulless and should lose the right to life at the time of actual death, later spoke out strongly in support of the “Right to Life” of a fetus which was not yet born. Not surprisingly, many activists failed to see any contradiction between their positions on the two “Right to Life” issues.

Death trusts can secure property, but not other privileges and contracts

Despite successes in cases involving “death trusts”, reanimated people were still losing rights and privileges. Licenses and permits were routinely denied to these “corpses,” including business permits, building permits, driving licenses, Anything that was a privilege and not a “civil right” was in danger of being refused.

Many business owners refused to serve the “walking dead”. In 1954, the US Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation was illegal, and black people everywhere demanded equal rights. Those equal rights were consistently granted by courts, but when dead men and women tried to assert the same rights, for equal protection and non-discrimination, they were denied. Lower courts consistently held that such “discrimination” was legal — there was nothing in the Constitution or any law guaranteeing equal rights to the dead, and therefore that type of “discrimination” was held to be perfectly legal.

For a brief time, some civil rights activists who were sympathetic to the problems of the dead, made the news by declaring their causes to be compatible and suggesting that they all march together for their collective civil rights. However, most churches were quick to distance themselves from the problems of the “corpses”, and most church leaders said that reanimation was *not* resurrection and therefore the reanimated dead did not have souls and were not worthy of equal treatment.

Based on this decision, lower courts have consistently held that the animated dead were entitled to “human rights” and “civil rights”, but not privileges enjoyed by US citizens before their death (such as voting).

Additionally, some reanimated dead people tried to sue to enforce contracts made while they were living, but in almost all cases the court found there was not sufficient means to identify the dead person as having the same identity as the living person. This was the flip-side of the People v. Sibley decision (see below)… the court could not rule on whether the person was either alive or not alive, so they were granted the benefit of the doubt and labelled them “apparently alive” but stopped short of establishing their identification as the “same person” as the previously living man or woman.

Since the recently passed Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1952 was passed, many dead people sought to re-establish rights as citizens by way of naturalization, but the government refused to grant citizenship on that basis.

“Death decree” — the opposite of a “death trust”

In response to the growing popularity of “death trusts”, many devout religious men and women wrote opposite clauses into their wills, stating that they were *not* to be reanimated, and that their bodies should be cremated to avoid possible reanimation (most forms, anyway). Most clauses went on to further state that if their bodies were kept alive after a clinical certification of death, that the reanimated corpse would emphatically *not* be the same person and should be delivered to the executor or morgue for appropriate cremation.

In one case, Imelda Denning, a woman with a death decree in her will was reanimated against her will, by a loved one who did not share her views. After a brief period of disorientation, Denning’s condition was explained to her and she became quite upset. She exhibited signs of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. After the death certificate was validated by additional laboratory testing (see below), she decided to voluntarily submit herself for a quick (but apparently painful) cremation. In a brief interview before her cremation, Denning said “I thank God for bringing me back to Earth, and giving me a chance to say good-bye to my loved ones, but staying any longer would mean being untrue to my own convictions, and then I would really be someone else; someone I don’t want to be.”

Church spokesmen were quick to dismiss the Denning case as “yet another possession case” and not a case of the soul staying with/returning to the body after death, but could not explain the behavior of the deceased choosing voluntary cremation, and said only that if God works in mysterious ways, then the Devil can too. Still, many people who had put the “death decree” in their wills were shaken by the post-death statements of Denning, and dropped the death decree from later versions of their wills.

Followup regarding church doctrine

Though most churches take the position that reanimation is wrong and bad, their own faith *does* acknowledge that actual resurrections *do* occur, in at least one notable case. That’s why the Supreme Court’s position really sticks in their craw. Only God has the power to resurrect, and cases of reanimation are really abominations, but they can’t set aside the possibility that one person in a million might be Actually Resurrected By God, even during an arcane ritual involving the corpse. Which is why the Court neatly sidestepped the issue, declaring that any corpse “apparently alive” must be afforded the rights of the living (but scant other privileges).

In at least one case involving an execution by lethal injection, the loved ones took possession of the body after execution, and reanimated the corpse. The apparently-not-quite-deceased was immediately re-arrested, but attorneys for the dead man immediately filed a writ of habeus corpus. The District Attorney failed to establish the identity of the prisoner as being the same as the condemned man, so the same logic that has been used to deny the reanimated dead access to property and contract rights, was in this case used to free the executed, reanimated, arrested prisoner. Who of course killed again later the same month and was tried, and convicted again.

Soon after, all states with a working death penalty quickly revised their statutes to ensure that the remains of the executed prisoners were to be cremated — of course they didn’t want a repeat of what happened to the Cook County DA (who promptly resigned after the fiasco)

Science attacks the problem of classifying the dead

Dr. Jonas Salk, after years of working on Polio and other vaccines, did some pioneering work on analyzing dead-and-reanimated people. He was the first to design a successful test to distinguish between Type B and Type C reanimations after the fact. (Type D was fairly easy to distinguish from types B or C, because there was usually a notable lack of circulation or nervous system activity, and there was usually an odd smell associated with Type D). A blood test similar to the standard blood typing test was therefore designed to distinguish Type B or C reanimatees from the living, though it would be some years after Salk’s death that Type A reanimations became detectable by laboratory methods.

There was briefly a bit of infighting between the Type D “patients” and the Type B or C “patients” — though the types were not referred to as B, C or D at the time, only as “The Curwen Effect” et al. Type B or C “patients” generally believed that they were “really resurrected” but that Type D patients were merely “reanimated”, but the distinction was lost on most people not intimately familiar with Forbidden Lore. Most ordinary people could not tell whether the soul had stayed with the body, or had gone to Heaven (or Hell) and then been called back, or worse, if another soul (or soulless being) now controlled the body.

Additionally, the courts consistently refused to rule that the reanimated dead were “alive” and would rule only that they were “apparently alive”. So, seeing nothing to gain (and seeing the results of the first successful Type A procedure) the Type B and C patients were quick to jump back behind the “all dead are created equal” banner.

0 thoughts on “Important court cases involving the dead

  1. bradhicks


    Questions for the student:
    Prior to Lawrence v Texas, the primary argument used to prohibit rights to gay or lesbian couples, including legal marriage, was that the underlying conduct of homosexual intercourse was illegal in many states. Since Lawrence removed that defense, states and cities have been involved in lengthy equal-protection debates, and two states have legalized gay marriage or civil unions.

    With the few exceptions noted above, courts have ruled that reanimated dead people do not have legal rights, because the act of reanimation is illegal under federal and state law. Are the cases parallel? If so, why? If not, why not?

    The Supreme Court declined to take “Jensen” v Chicago Mutual, upholding the Illinois state supreme court ruling without comment. Under standard constitutional doctrine, this does not create a nationwide standard; however, subsequent cases in multiple jurisdictions have cited the reasoning in “Jensen” when the facts were sufficiently similar, without any intervention by the SCOTUS. Does this create a presupposition that the federal governmental prohibitions on the publication, enabling, or performance of reanimation ceremonies is prima facie unconstitutional? Why or why not?

    1. nekodojo

      Re: Exercise

      Here’s an attempt to answer… let me know if I’m on the right track.

      1. Reanimating the dead is pretty clearly illegal, but the charges would have to be brought against the people doing the reanimation, and the status of the corpse itself is probably neither guilty nor innocent. Most cases of criminal reanimation probably never go to trial, because the government is either complicit and covers it up, or they cover it up anyway to keep it out of the public record and the news.

      It is commonly accepted as fact that these are “reanimations” and not “resurrections” — most people don’t believe that resurrections can happen in the modern world. The common belief is that reanimations are abominations and not miracles. The change in personality is enough to convince most people that the person was not fully restored. However, the church will never admit that true resurrection is impossible, so all the dead person has to do is claim “It’s a miracle” and legally they have to be given the benefit of the doubt. It’s very hard to establish the facts of the reanimation because it’s covered up most of the time, and even if the facts are known, they can still claim they were Miraculously Resurrected some moments before the completion of the arcane ritual.

      As difficult as it is to prove in court that a reanimation took place, it’s even harder to prove that the dead man himself is complicit in it. So, the dead person is highly stigmatized, but legally is almost never found guilty of any wrongdoing. Death has occurred, and yet he is “apparently alive” with the true cause not anywhere in evidence.

      Comparing the reanimated-rights cases with Lawrence v. Texas has parallels but is not exactly the same basis. The court held that the individual has a right to privacy and the needs of the state were not compelling enough to trump that. The reanimated dead don’t really have a right to privacy, but there is a huge veil over the facts of their cases because of the secrecy and cover-up by the government and others.

      There is a valid comparison between gay and lesbian rights… but there’s also a corrolary to rape cases where there is a child. The child is innocent in the events leading to its conception and birth, and some extreme anti-abortion positions are that the life must be protected even if the pregnancy is the result of a rape, based on the child being innocent. So when reanimation happens, the corpse is held innocent of its own reanimation unless proved complicit, which rarely happens.

      2. The Supremes probably acted intentionally when they declined to even hear the case, since that effectively leaves the status of the dead in limbo (forgive the pun). They knew that if they took up Jensen for review they would have to take a position one way or the other – either Jensen was defined as an abomination by law (and therefore serious doubt was cast on whether Christ was really resurrected) or he was affirmed as having a valid claim (which would further establish both the rights of the dead and the rights to carry out such rituals). So, limbo it is.

      Even if the dead have rights, this wouldn’t establish the right to carry out the ritual. Arcane rituals are still off-limits, and as much as the government likes to cover up cases, there are still enough cases where they make an example of someone (usually an amateur grave robber who attempted a reanimation but was unsuccessful) to support that the laws forbidding access to lore and rituals are well-supported by law.

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