By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
The brothers would track the scent of a vulnerable, lonely woman. One of them would con her into giving up her heart--and then her pocketbook.
That vulnerable, lonely woman was Cindy Monkman.
"Here I am, a married woman from the Candlelight Chapel of Lost Wages!" Cindy wrote on Sahara Hotel stationery the morning after she married Michael Apelt.
"I'm VERY happy to be married to Michael. . . . For some reason we have been brought together. Now, I've made my decision. Where do I go from here?"
Insurance agent Doug Ramsey had fallen on hard times.
A veteran of almost a quarter-century in the business, he'd migrated to Arizona as the State of Kansas was taking steps to revoke his license to sell insurance there. Ramsey had stolen $2,200 from a client and had gotten caught. Somehow, he'd escaped criminal charges, but his insurance career in Kansas was finished.
The State of Arizona, however, apparently hadn't yet been notified of Ramsey's wrongdoing. He found work in Phoenix as an agent at an independent firm on East Thomas Road.
Ramsey was on duty when a neat, polite couple named Cindy and Michael Apelt walked in unannounced on November 7, 1988. Cindy did most of the talking, Ramsey said in interviews with police and prosecutors after her murder, while Michael pored over his German-English dictionary.
The couple knew exactly what they wanted: $1 million each in life insurance, with a double-indemnity clause that would increase the payoff if one of them died accidentally.
Apparently coached by Michael, Cindy told Ramsey that life insurance is the norm in Germany for newlyweds. Michael had gobs of money coming to him from an estate, she continued, but planned to find work in the computer industry--he'd worked for IBM in Germany--as his English improved.
"Cindy was a tremendous personality," Ramsey later told police. "She was very easy to talk to. But I very seldom had a young couple come in and talk about that much insurance. I said, 'Cindy, for $1 million of life insurance, you usually have to have assets of some kind. I don't see how we can get $1 million insurance. I will check out what I can do.'"
Ramsey had done business with Surety Life, a highly rated firm based in Salt Lake City. He asked Surety to provide $400,000 on both Cindy and Michael Apelt. (Ramsey never told anyone at Surety--or later at Banner--that the newlyweds had wanted at least $2 million in life insurance.)
The file went to Surety's underwriting department, eventually landing on the desk of vice president Lynn Patterson. His task was to determine how much "risk" the Apelts posed for the company.
Risk in the insurance world means many things, including the ability of policy applicants to make premium payments; health concerns; and whether someone has applied truthfully.
A prime underwriting component normally is a background investigation of applicants. In the Apelts' case, it was conducted by Equifax Services of Atlanta, Georgia.
The Equifax report indicated Michael had been an IBM computer programmer and Air Force pilot in West Germany. It also cited the Apelts' net worth at a whopping $540,000, which included Michael's alleged $500,000 "estate" in Germany.
Cindy's earned annual income was listed as $15,200, Michael's as zero.
"The purpose of insurance is to protect the family," Patterson testified in a 1992 deposition. "I had every reason to believe that the need and the reason for purchase was valid."
The Equifax report was at the core of his belief.
However, Equifax based its glowing report solely on one phone interview conducted with Cindy Apelt. That's because agent Doug Ramsey had instructed the firm "to submit this [report] to your underwriting department without benefit of outside sources."
In other words, please don't do any digging into Michael Apelt's background.
"The underwriting investigation performed for Surety was unusually inconclusive," Equifax's Jon Allen said in a 1992 affidavit. "In particular, Equifax would not ordinarily have submitted a report in which a spouse was the only source of information."
Allen conducted a thorough investigation of Michael Apelt only after Cindy's slaying, and concluded, "It appeared that Mr. Ramsey, the local agent, was rushing the insurance applications to Surety and Banner. Mr. Ramsey stood to make a significant commission on the policies."
Despite Doug Ramsey's instructions, an Equifax investigator advised Surety that his firm's Foreign Department could easily investigate Michael Apelt in Germany. Surety and, later, Banner Life declined the offers.
But Lynn Patterson still had serious concerns. One was over whether the Apelts could afford the premium payments on a $400,000 policy--more than $3,500 a year, more than a quarter of the couple's true income.
"400K excessive for both," Surety's Patterson concluded in an internal memo dated November 23, 1988. "Told [Ramsey] I have concerns here. Recent immigrant. Just married after one month. Lots of stated unverified assets in foreign country--[medical] exam and everything else looks good. Will reconsider increased coverage in a year."
Patterson informed Ramsey that he'd write a life-insurance policy on the Apelts for $100,000 each, not $400,000 each.
(For arcane technical reasons, neither Surety nor, later, Banner Life approved the Apelts' application for double-indemnity coverage in case of accidental death.)