Marcus Schrenker Faked Death to Escape Financial Trouble

Wealthy Money Manager Jumped From a Plane, Faked Death, to Escape Fraud Charges

Marcus Schrenker
Marcus Schrenker. Mug Shot

Wealthy business owner and money manager Marcus Schrenker made headlines in January 2009, when he attempted to escape the consequences of frauding investors by parachuting out of his small one-engine prop plane in an attempt to fake his death.

At one time, Marcus Schrenker had everything. He owned three investment consulting firms, lived with his wife and children in the exclusive Indianapolis suburb of Geist, in a $3 million dollar waterfront home that had a dock and a large swimming pool.

Flying was a hobby of his and he owned two aircraft which he used to go on lavish vacations. But in January 2009, it all came crashing down.

Idyllic Life on the Outside

Marcus Schrenker was born on November 22, 1970.  He grew up in Merrillville, Indiana which is located in the Chicago metropolitan area. In 1989 Schrenker graduated from Merrillville High School, and then went to college at Purdue University. It was at Purdue that he met (former wife) Michelle, married and together they had three children together.

As idyllic as the Schrenker's life appeared, there was also a dark side that those who lived with Marcus or around him were very aware of to the point of feeling discomfort when he was around.

Schrenker would go from being friendly and charismatic to angry, unreasonable and combative. And, according to his neighbor Tom Britt in an interview with abcnews.go.com, episodes of this type of erratic behavior became more frequent as he grew older.

Diagnosed with bipolar disorder, Schrenker did what many with this disorder do, he would often stop taking his medication, and Michelle, their children and investers, would end up paying the price.

Savvy Financial Investor Turned Crook

Schrenker owned three financial companies: Heritage Wealth Management, Heritage Insurance Services and Icon Wealth Management.

 

His wife Michelle was paid $11,600 as the chief financial officer of the three companies and bookkeeper. She was also on the bank account of Heritage Insurance Services, which gave her the authority to write checks and withdraw money.

But in 2008 Schrenker was under investigation in Indiana after several complaints were lodged by some of his investors, upset with how he was handling their money. Friends, the parents of friends and neighbors were among the investors that filed complaints.

Michelle had also filed for divorce on December 20, 2008, after learning of her husband's infidelities with a woman who worked at the airport.

Investors Supported Lavish Lifestyle

Unknown to Schrenker, he had been under investigation for 10 years for various lawsuits that had been filed against him. Then on December 31, 2008, state investigators armed with a search warrant, seized computers, several plastic tubs filled with paperwork, the Schrenker's passports, over $6,000 in cash, and the title to a Lexus, from the Schrenker's home.

On January 6, 2009, Schrenker was charged with unlawful acts by a compensated adviser and unlawful transaction by an investment adviser. Bail was set at $4 million. 

According to Jim Atterholt, who was the State Insurance Commissioner, Schrenker charged investors exorbitant "surrender charges" after he moved them out of one annuity and into another.

The investors were not told in advance about the fees. 

Three days later, on January 9, Schrenker's company Heritage Wealth Management Inc. was issued a $533,500 judgment after a federal court in Maryland ruled in favor of OM Financial Life Insurance Co. The lawsuit contended that Heritage Wealth Management was involved in insurance irregularities and should have returned commissions of more than $230,000.

Plane Crash 

On Sunday, January 11, 2009, Schrenker flew off from an airfield in Anderson, Indiana in his single-engine Piper. He listed his destination as Destin, Florida.

As he neared Birmingham, Alabama, he put out a fake mayday signal and told air traffic controllers that he had been badly injured and was "bleeding profusely" after the windshield of the plane imploded.
Afterward, he put the plane on autopilot and parachuted out.

Military jets attempting to intercept the plane reported that the door of the plane was opened, and the cockpit was dark and appeared empty. The jets followed the unmanned plane which crashed over 200 miles later in a swamp in Santa Rosa County, Florida, around 50 yards from a residential area. 

After the crash, the plane was found somewhat intact. Investigators searched the plane and reported that there was no blood inside of it and the windshield was completely intact. Authorities put out a warrant for Schrenker arrest.

On the Run

Schrenker plan was to fake his death and make a run for it. On January 10, the day before he parachuted out of his plane, he drove to Harpersville, Alabama and stashed a motorcycle, money and other supplies in a storage facility. He informed the owner of the facility that he would return Monday.

Once Schrenker parachuted to the ground, he made it to Childersburg, Alabama, where at 2:30 a.m. he asked for help from a private resident. He told the resident that he had been in a canoeing accident. He was given a ride to the nearest town and went to the local police station. 

He gave the police the same story about being in a canoe accident, and after producing his (surprisingly) real identification, the police drove him to a hotel where he registered under a fake name and paid cash for the room.

The following morning, after hearing about the plane crash and that Schrenker was on the run, the police returned to the hotel, but he was gone. Schrenker managed to walk undetected to Harpersville and retrieved his motorcycle then rode it a KOA Campground in Quincy, Florida.

There he bought a tent site for one night, wood, a six-pack of Bud Light Lime and was given access to the campground's wireless access.

Embarrassed and Scared

On January 12, Schrenker emailed his friend, Tom Britt, and wrote that the crash was a misunderstanding and that he was too "embarrassed and scared" to return home, so instead checked into the hotel. He went on to say that he would "soon be dead." 

On the same day, a Hamilton County Superior Court judge froze both Marcus and Michelle's assets.

Capture

The campground owners were contacted by the sheriff, who wanted to know if there was anything unusual going on there. They told the sheriff about the man who had checked in the previous day, but had not checked out. Soon afterward, U.S. marshals swarmed the campground and found Schrenker, barely conscious and incoherent, lying inside the tent. He had lost a lot of blood from a self-inflicted cut on his wrist and an area near his elbow. He was flown to Tallahassee Memorial Hospital.

On January 13, Schrenker was arrested and charged in federal court in Pensacola, Florida, with deliberately crashing his plane and making a fake distress call. 

Trials and Sentencing

February 5, 2009
A man in Dothan, Alabama was granted $12 million after an Alabama judge ruled in his favor that Schrenker had sold him a defective airplane.

June 5, 2009 
Schrenker pleaded guilty to intentionally crashing his plane as a way to escape his mounting financial and legal problems. He was sentenced two months later to four years and three months in prison, $34,000 in restitution to the Coast Guard for its search and rescue efforts and $871,000 in restitution to Harley-Davidson, the lien-holder of the plane.

Schrenker later pleaded guilty to three counts of securities fraud and two counts of working as an investment banker without being registered. He was given a 10-year prison sentence to run consecutively with the previous sentence for the fake plane crash, and he also had to pay $633,781 in restitution.

Six Years Later

Schrenker was released from prison on September 18, 2015.