But there's more to this story than how a smitten woman was literally conned to death. The Apelt case allows a chilling look inside the usually inscrutable life-insurance industry.

A bona fide probe of Michael Apelt's background by the insurance companies would have exposed him as a dangerous fraud and con man. If a proper investigation had been done, the life-insurance policies never would have been issued.

And an innocent woman would not have died.
But the insurance companies--especially Banner Life--chose to ignore glaring warning signs and rushed to approve the Apelts' policies.

In fact, Michael didn't have a $500,000 estate. His most recent job in Germany had been as a laborer, not, as he'd indicated, as an employee of IBM. His checkered past included a burglary conviction, reduced through plea bargain from armed robbery. (Rudi Apelt had done time in a German prison for rape.)

Surety and Banner also neglected to do cursory checks of Doug Ramsey, the Phoenix insurance agent. One phone call would have revealed that the Kansas Department of Insurance in September 1988 had revoked Ramsey's license, upholding what amounted to allegations of theft. His Kansas license revocation occurred just six weeks before the newlyweds walked into his new office in Phoenix.

In a different world, companies faced with the errors of their ways would pay Cindy's estate $400,000 in death benefits--the value of the two policies on Cindy's life--and put the tragic episode behind them.

But Surety and Banner steadfastly have refused to do so.
Both firms say Michael Apelt obtained the policies fraudulently, which by law voided the contract. Banner also alleges the policy never took effect because Banner didn't cash the first premium check before the woman's murder.

In 1991, the dispute became a federal lawsuit filed by Cindy's parents, Jack and Marjorie Monkman of Champaign, Illinois, against the insurance companies and other parties.

Last year, United States District Judge Roger Strand narrowed the Monkmans' claim from a wrongful-death tort to a simple contract case. He then heard testimony this past summer at a two-day trial.

Strand is expected to rule soon on the one question before him: Do the insurance companies have to pay the Monkmans?

"There are things that insurance companies shouldn't get away with," says Jack Monkman, a psychologist. "If they had done an appropriate job of checking into some quite obvious facts about Michael Apelt, my daughter would be alive today."

But attorneys for Surety and Banner argue that the companies weren't compelled legally to investigate Michael Apelt before they approved the policies. It would be incorrect to punish Surety and Banner, they say, even if the insurers could have exposed Michael's fraudulent intent before they okayed the policies.

Remarkably, the insurance companies seem to have Arizona law in their favor. The odds are great that the firms will prevail in their legal fight with the Monkmans.

If Judge Strand does the expected, Cindy's survivors will be left to ponder this concept: Cindy died violently in a plot expedited by a powerful industry's institutional greed. But as for holding that industry legally culpable, tough luck.

Says Cindy's sister, Mesa resident Kathy Monkman-Nimon: "People need to know that insurance companies do everything in their power to make the sale, then do everything in their power not to have to pay. That's what this is all about."

It was a bustling Saturday night at Bobby McGee's restaurant and bar in Mesa. Dozens of young singles floated around the popular nightspot, checking out the scenery and hitting the dance floor.

Cindy Monkman was there with her sister, Kathy, and another friend, Annette Clay.

Cindy was 14 months older than Kathy, but it wasn't just their closeness in age that had bound them. Their mother had died when the sisters were little girls in Illinois.

Their father remarried several years later, long after the two had learned to take special care of each other and their younger brother, John. The bond would last a lifetime.

In their teens, friends of the girls referred to them as one entity--the "Monkman Sisters Syndrome." Cindy was the more outgoing of the two, poised in public, a friend to everyone. Kathy was more cerebral, less impetuous.

Cindy had moved to the Valley first, attracted by the sun and a program in dietics at Arizona State University. Kathy, now a registered nurse and massage therapist, joined her later.

Neither Monkman had a boyfriend when they went to Bobby McGee's on October 8, 1988. But Cindy's friend, Annette Clay, had met a pair of intriguing German brothers at the restaurant a few nights earlier, and planned to again hook up with them.

Annette had been taken with the older brother, 28-year-old Rudi Apelt. In halting English, he'd explained that he and Michael were investment bankers/computer experts who'd recently emigrated. That night, Rudi had asked Annette to marry him. He seemed serious about his proposal.

Annette knew that Cindy fancied tall, well-groomed, blond men. The Apelts' foreign mystique was an added bonus. Michael and Rudi Apelt arrived at Bobby McGee's in a limo, bedecked in rented tuxedos and gold chains. Their grand entrance charmed Cindy and Annette. But Kathy Monkman, the odd woman out in this moment of intercontinental infatuation, was not favorably impressed.

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