I know some screenwriter is already hard at work on this story. It has everything it needs to be a Lifetime movie - except the happy ending.
A middle-aged man of the world sweeps a blond, somewhat naïve woman off her feet and whisks her away on romantic five-day trip to Aruba. Along the way he purchases insurance coverage on her with an American Express travel accident protection policy containing the ominous words, "We will pay the applicable benefit if the Covered Person suffers an Accidental Death or Dismemberment." He is the beneficiary.
Once in Aruba, the pair is supposed to go snorkeling. But according to witnesses, they never leave the beach. The lady vanishes about 4:15 p.m.; the man doesn't inform anyone that she's missing until 6 p.m. This is the tale of 51-year-old Gary Giordano, the only suspect in the Aug. 2, 2011, disappearance of his traveling companion, Robyn Gardner.
Unheeded red flag
According to press accounts, Giordano took out a travel accident protection policy from American Express on Gardner that pays off the beneficiary if something happens to the person who's traveling, provided the trip doesn't last more than a year. The usual amount of such travel policies is $50,000, insurance experts say, but you can up the amount to $3.5 million, according to the Amex policy.
Two days after Gardner's disappearance, the grieving Giordano filed a policy claim, but his request was delayed because he was considered a suspect in her disappearance, and possible murder. In fact, he was held in an Aruban jail for four months while police conducted a fruitless investigation. Aruba is an island which seems to have a history of missing women. One example: Natalee Holloway.
When Giordano took out the policy, it should have caused concern for Gardner. But I guess it didn't, because she signed the policy. (Although I am sure her signature is being scrutinized.) American Express Co. spokeswoman Gail Wasserman won't confirm that her company's policy is the one in question - even though it is made clear in Giordano's lawsuit - but Wasserman says that if it was an Amex policy, Gardner would have had to sign it and name Giordano her beneficiary. Note: If you are traveling with someone you don't know well, it's a good idea to double-check what you are signing.
Freed from his shackles and back in the U.S., Giordano has since made news twice. First, he sued American Express to get his $3.5 million. Then, he was arrested by police for indecent exposure after allegedly getting caught having sex with a woman in the back of his SUV. Obviously, his grief over Gardner is not interfering with his life.
Signing her own death warrant?
Giordano certainly found an insurance loophole wide enough to drive his SUV through, assuming he's behind the wheel and not in the back seat. Life insurance is a tricky business. In order to take out a million-dollar policy on someone, you've got to have a "vested interest" in his or her welfare, such as you would with a spouse, child or parent.
In other words, you should have an interest in their staying alive. Otherwise, the law assumes that you might kill them for the money. Giordano had no vested interest in Gardner; in fact, he wasn't even her boyfriend. Gardner's actual boyfriend showed up later and accused Giordano of killing her.
So did Gardner sign her own death warrant? And will Giordano collect? When someone takes an insurance policy out on a person just before that individual meets a mysterious end, both the police and insurance company take a hard look.
But Gardner's body has never been found and Giordano has hired attorney Jose Baez, who successfully defended Casey Anthony. After one year, Giordano can file his claim to collect. Since Gardner disappeared a year ago Aug. 2, Giordano has an anniversary coming up. And he may have up to 3.5 million reasons to celebrate.