Summary of Past Lives Forensic Files Case of Madison Rutherford, Rhynie and Brigitte Beck
|Date of Incident
|Region and Location
|Connecticut; Boston, Massachusetts (where Madison was arrested)
|Forensic Files Case
|Past Lives (Season 8, Episode 31)
|Brigitte Beck (financially victimized)
|Madison Rutherford (also known as John Patrick Sankey, Thomas Bay Hamilton)
|Madison Rutherford with accomplice Rhynie
|Type of Crime
|Financial fraud, faking one’s death, identity theft
|Tooth provided by Rhynie, skeletal remains from car, books on changing identity, travel brochures, note with goals for 1999-2000
|Forensic Techniques Used
|Dental record comparison, age estimation from bones, DNA and blood analysis
|Five years in a federal prison
In the bustling city of Monterrey, Mexico, in July 1998, a burnt car was discovered in a secluded ravine. The vehicle belonged to Madison Rutherford, a 34-year-old wealthy American executive. He was known for his lavish lifestyle and love for exotic dogs.
The initial scene painted a tragic picture: a successful man meeting an untimely end in a car accident.
It seems like a simple open-and-shut case. The car was burnt beyond recognition except for the medical alert bracelet and Rutherford’s watch.
But as investigators delved deeper, inconsistencies began to surface.
For starters, witnesses recalled seeing a bicycle on the back of Madison’s car earlier that day. However, no bicycle was found at the accident site.
This was just the tip of the iceberg. There is more to it.
Madison had life insurance that was worth $7 million. And as per the company’s policy, the claim was made only after confirming the identity.
Forensic experts were called for DNA testing using tooth pulp (a common way of getting DNA in a burnt case). However, DNA comparison was not possible.
Now, a division of forensic science called forensic anthropology came into play.
Forensic Anthropology expert, Dr. William M. Bass analyzed the skeletal remains. As per his dental findings:
- The teeth recovered from the car showed shovel-shaped incisors. This feature wasn’t typical for Caucasians like Madison.
- Teeth had large, unfilled cavities. It was odd for someone of Madison’s wealth. and access to dental care.
The skeletal remains further added to the mystery. As per the fusion of skull sutures, Dr. Bass suggested that the bones belonged to an older individual, maybe more than 50 years old, not a 34-year-old.
Meanwhile, the FBI also intruded the case.
Investigators soon get another lead from former friend and client, Brigitte Beck, a German immigrant. Beck gave Rutherford power of authority privilege, and he withdrew her entire life savings.
But where was Madison? If he wasn’t in the car, where had he gone? Who was in the car?
Clues emerged from books on changing identity and “travel brochures on Mexico” in an apartment in Massachusetts. He was living under the alias Thomas Bay Hamilton.
So, the man known as Madison Rutherford in Mexico was living as Thomas Bay Hamilton in Massachusetts.
Investigators also found a written note: “Collect $7 million” from insurance. As suspicions grew, Madison’s wife, Rhynie, came into focus. She was deeply involved in the fraud.
Another piece of evidence appeared from nowhere but nearly after a year.
A bag with blood-stained clothing was found near the car site. It seems like stabbed wounds and the DNA match confirmed it as Madison Rutherford.
But investigators weren’t buy it. They thought Madison again faking his death.
Soon investigators break a new to Rhynie and shattered her world. Investigators told her, “Madison has other relationships.”
Maybe it was bait by investigators, but anyhow it works. She spits out the whole story leading to the arrest of Madison Rutherford.
Meanwhile, the charred remains, once thought to be Madison’s, were sent for DNA comparison with blood. Result came out to be negative, further debunking the staged death.
The climax came on Election Day, November 7, 2000, in Boston. Madison Rutherford was arrested in his Boston apartment.
He pleaded guilty to fraud and was sentenced to 5 years in federal prison. As for Rhynie, her role in the attempted fraud earned her an 18-month prison time.
Who Was Madison Rutherford, his Previous Life and Arrest?
Madison Rutherford, a 34-year-old male, works as a financial advisor. He had a lavish lifestyle and had a criminal past in more than one state and that is why the FBI was looking for him for many years.
Here is more information about him:
- Lifestyle & Wealth: He lives like other riches live. His wealth allowed him to get all the privileges, enjoying the luxuries that life offered him.
- Marital Status: He was happily married to Rhynie. Together, they presented the image of a perfect couple.
- Love for Dog shows: Madison had a special fondness for exotic dogs. He even flies outside the US with them to attend dog shows and competitions.
- Alias Names: Thomas Hamilton, John Patrik Sankey
Previous Records of Madison:
- Six Months in Prison: Madison was arrested on larceny charges in 1993 and subsequently spent six months in prison.
- Name Change: Before adopting the name Madison Rutherford, he was known as John Patrick Sankey. He legally changed his name on May 23, 1996.
Madison Rutherford’s Arrest:
- Location of Arrest: Rutherford was ambushed by FBI agents in his apartment in Boston on November 7, 2000.
- Alias Used: At the time of his arrest, he was working under the name “Thomas Hamilton.“
- Reason for Arrest: Faked his own death in a car accident in Mexico in 1998 to fraudulently claim $7 million in insurance.
Charges Against Madison Rutherford:
- Main Charge: Charged with wire fraud for faking his own death to claim insurance money.
- Additional Charges (in 2001): Prosecutors presented evidence of defrauding his client-cum-friend of about $300,000. But, as per law, because she gave him power of attorney privilege, the charge was dislodged.
- Prison Sentence: Madison Rutherford was sentenced to five years in federal prison.
- Restitution: The court found that Beck’s defense did not allege any fraudulent actions on the part of the plaintiff. However, U.S. District Court Judge Stefan R. Underhill ordered Rutherford to pay restitution with some amount.
Who was Madison Rutherford’s wife and her role in the case?
Madison’s wife was Rhynie Jefferson, a fortune teller. She was deeply connected with this husband and away from Madison’s plan of faking his own death for months. Rhynie not only observed but also actively participated in the insurance fraud and faking his husband’s death.
Contribution to the Case:
- Provide Tooth for comparison: She was the one who provided a fake Madison’s tooth to aid in comparison DNA from the charred remains.
- Her emotional reactions and distress upon discovering Madison’s other relationships with other women make her speak all the plan and lead to the arrest of Madison.
Reasons Why Madison Rutherford and Rhynie Plotted the Plan
These are six reasons why Madison and Rhynie plan it all:
Reason 1: The Allure of Wealth and Luxury
A note found in Madison’s Boston apartment listed his goals for the year 1999-2000, with the topmost being “Collect $7 Million.” This clearly indicated his aspirations for wealth.
Reason 2: Financial Misdeeds and the Need to Escape
The Deception: Madison had embezzled significant amounts from Brigitte Beck, leaving her penniless. To escape the consequences of his actions, he needed a way out.
The Plan: Faking his death would not only allow him to escape potential legal repercussions but also enable him to start afresh, possibly in a new identity.
Reason 3: The Temptation of Insurance Money
Insurance Payout of $7 million: By faking his death, Madison aimed to claim the life insurance money, further fueling his and Rhynie’s luxurious lifestyle.
Reason 4: The Desire for a New Identity and Life
Investigators found books on changing one’s identity and travel brochures about Mexico in Madison’s apartment. These items hinted at his intentions to disappear and start a new life, possibly in Mexico.
Reason 5: The Complexity of Personal Relationships
Relationship Dynamics: While Madison was living in Boston under an alias, he was reportedly dating other women. This could have strained his relationship with Rhynie, pushing them further into their plot.
Reason 6: The Thrill of Deception
Psychological Thrill: For some, the act of deceiving and outsmarting others can be a thrill in itself. Madison’s intricate plan, from faking his death to assuming a new identity, indicates a certain enjoyment derived from the act of deception.
Forensic Evidence in Case of Past Lives of Madison Rutherford
|Significance in the Case
|A tooth provided by Rhynie Jefferson (Madison’s wife) to aid in the identification process of the charred remains from the supposed car accident.
|Age Estimation from Bones
|Skull sutures from bones from the car indicated that they belonged to an individual older than 50 years old.
|Recovered teeth had large, unfilled cavities, inconsistent with a wealthy man with access to the best dental care.
|Race from Teeth
|Teeth had shovel-shaped incisors, not typically associated with a Caucasian person.
|DNA from Blood
|Blood found on clothing near the site of Madison’s car fire matched Madison Rutherford’s DNA.
|Medic Alert Bracelet and Watch
|Madison’s Medic Alert bracelet and watch were found in the car after the fire. The back of the watch had an inscription: “To Madison, Love, Rhynie.” But they aren’t burnt that much.
|Books and Travel Brochures
|In Madison’s Boston apartment, the FBI found books on how to change one’s identity and travel brochures about Mexico.
|A note or list was found in Madison’s Boston apartment detailing his goals for the year 1999-2000. The top item on the list was “Collect $7 Million.”
Investigators and Experts in the Case of Past Lives Forensic Files
|Role in the Case
|Dr. William M. Bass
|Analyzed the skeletal remains from the accident site, determining they did not belong to Madison Rutherford and a case of staged scene.
|Conducted the investigation and the arrest of Madison Rutherford in Boston.
|Assisted in the initial stages of the investigation, especially after the car accident was reported.
|First suspect odd about how watch and bracelet (in open condition) survive the fire.
Forensic Evidence in the Madison Rutherford Case of Past Lives Forensic Files
1. DNA Extraction From Teeth
Forensic Technique (How it is done in forensics?): By drilling or cutting the enamel layer of the tooth to obtain pulp. Enamel is the hardest substance in the human body, preventing DNA destruction in the pulp region of the tooth root.
When used? Pulp is considered a good source of obtaining DNA in cases where other biological sampling is nearly impossible such as mass disasters, plane crashes, etc.
Significance in the Case: There were two instances when DNA was extracted and compared from the tooth.
- Comparison of DNA that Rhynie Jefferson provided to compare with ones that were found from a charred car.
- DNA from charred teeth with blood stained cloth found near the site of the accident. Suggested that both belong to different people.
2. Race Identification from Teeth Examination
Forensic Technique: Anthropological Comparative Analysis with researched data.
When Used? Identification of race based on tooth size and shape, primarily in terms of caucasoids, mongoloids, or negroids races.
Here is the table representing some of the differences between Caucasians (white skin), caucasoids (yellow skins), and negroids (black skins) races.
|Shape of Nasal Aperture
|Narrow and elongated
|Rounded or horseshoe shaped
|Shape of upper incisors
|Straight (no conconcavity)
|Straight (no concavity)
Here is the image representation of each of the teeth based on the above table.
Significance in the case: Dr. William Bass, a well-known and also authored some of the famous books in forensic anthropology books such as Beyond the Body Farm, Human Osteology, etc.
He concluded that the teeth recovered from charred bones were shovel-shaped incisors (a feature of Mongoloids). But because Madison was Caucasian, the bones couldn’t be his.
3. Age Estimation from Skull
Forensic Technique used: Ossification of skull sutures. (Sutures are the lines that fused as the person ages).
When used? Age estimation of the fully decomposed body with only skeletal remains.
The following table represents the fusion of the suture of the human skull and their respective. Here is the image representation.
|Start of Fusion
|End of Fusion
|Earliest to fuse
|Front minor suture
|Back minor suture
Significance to the case: As the body was placed upside down, the head touched the car surface leading to the clear unburnt region to analyze the suture.
Dr. Bass, by analyzing the sutures, states that the age of the deceased is more than 50 years. So, as per the table, the deceased skull must have completely fused sagittal and lambdoid sutures.
This further adds to the theory that Madison Rutherford fakes his own death.
Read Similar case where skull is used to determine the age of a person. John Boyer & Scarlett Wood [About Face] Forensic Files Case Study
4. DNA from Blood
Forensic Technique used: Typical PCR-based testing or DNA kits.
When Used? Nearly all cases where biological evidence is brought into question.
Significance to the case: Proves two facts:
- Blood on clothing belongs to Madison.
- Comparing DNA with charred teeth proves that the skeletal remains didn’t belong to Madison.
5. Note with Goals
Forensic Technique Used: Handwriting comparison by forensic document expert.
When Used? Document related to fraud and forgery, and who was the forger.
Significance in the case: In the notes, the handwriting analysis shows that it belongs to Madison Rutherford.
My Thoughts on Madison Rutherford Case of Past Lives
The Madison Rutherford case is a stark reminder of the lengths to which human greed can push an individual.
It’s a tale of deception, betrayal, and the profound emotional scars left on those entrap in Madison’s web of lies.
The Emotional Turmoil of Rhynie Jefferson: Rhynie wasn’t just Madison’s wife; she was an accomplice, a confidante, and ultimately, a victim.
Was she driven by love, fear, or the allure of wealth?
Her decision to aid the investigation, especially after discovering Madison’s affairs, paints a picture of a woman torn between loyalty and a longing for justice.
Brigitte Beck’s Trust Shattered: Beck’s story is heart-wrenching. Entrusting Madison with her finances, she saw her life’s savings vanish, leaving her on the brink of poverty.
The betrayal by someone she considered a friend is a chilling testament to the dangers of blind trust.
It’s a stark reminder that sometimes, those closest to us can inflict the deepest wounds.
The Impact of Fraud: Fraud isn’t just about money; it’s about the emotional and psychological toll it takes on its victims. Madison’s elaborate scam didn’t just rob Beck of her finances; it robbed her of her trust in humanity, her sense of security, and her peace of mind.
Were There Alternatives? Madison, with his intelligence and charisma, could have channeled his energies into legitimate ventures. Instead, he chose a path of deceit, gambling stocks, leaving a trail of shattered lives.
In conclusion, the Madison Rutherford case isn’t just about a man’s descent into crime; it’s about the ripple effects of his actions on those around him.
It’s a cautionary tale about trust, betrayal, and the emotional aftermath of deception.
As we reflect on this case, we must ask ourselves: How well do we truly know those around us? And are we sometimes blinded by our emotions, overlooking the glaring truths before us?
What are your thoughts on this? Do you agree with my perspective, or do you see things differently? I’d love to hear your insights in the comments below.
How did Madison Rutherford meet Brigitte Beck?
Madison Rutherford was introduced to Brigitte Beck through his wife, L. Rhynie Jefferson, who was a client at Beck’s massage studio. Over time, she entrusted Madison with her finances, a decision she’d come to regret deeply.
What was the significance of the tooth provided by Rhynie Jefferson?
Rhynie Jefferson handed over one of Madison’s tooth to the police, which she claimed was removed during a dental procedure. This tooth was used to match the DNA with that of the teeth from the burned-out vehicle in Mexico.
How did Madison Rutherford deceive Brigitte Beck financially?
Madison Rutherford swindled Brigitte Beck out of $782,000. He managed to spend her cash, mortgage her house, and left her with virtually nothing. Beck had given Rutherford power of attorney, which made it difficult to charge him with embezzling her money.
Where was Madison Rutherford found and arrested?
FBI agents located and arrested Madison Rutherford in Boston. He was traced through a car he owned, which was linked to a “Thomas Bey Hamilton” who worked as a comptroller for Double Decker Studios in Boston.
What was the outcome of Madison Rutherford’s trial?
Madison Rutherford pleaded guilty to fraud. U.S. District Judge Stefan R. Underhill sentenced him to five years in a federal prison for his fraudulent activities and the pain and loss he caused.
How did Rhynie Jefferson contribute to Madison’s scheme?
Rhynie Jefferson confided in Brigitte Beck that Madison was still alive after his supposed death. She also assisted Madison in laundering money through a checking account named B. Beck & Associates.
How did Madison Rutherford fake his death?
Madison Rutherford staged his death by leaving behind an inscribed wristwatch and a medical alert necklace at the scene of a car crash to mislead investigators into believing he had died in the accident. After a year, he also planted a bag of clothes stained with his blood in Mexico.
What happened to Brigitte Beck after the case?
After being swindled by Madison Rutherford, Brigitte Beck faced financial hardships. However, she received some financial assistance from friends and continued to live in Connecticut. She passed away on January 18, 2008, at the age of 78.
How did we know the body was placed upside down?
Dr. William Bass examined a small skull fragment and found something unusual: the top outside of the skull wasn’t burned. He concluded that the only way this could have happened was if the victim’s head had been on the floor of the car at the time of the fire. This indicated that the body had been placed in the car in a position it wasn’t in before the fire.
From where Madison gets the body to dump in the car?
Madison Rutherford went to a desolate graveyard in the Mexican countryside and removed a body from an above-ground tomb. He took off the top of a casket and took the corpse out of it.
What are the mistakes done by Madison and Rhynie that led them to arrest?
Some evidence such as (i) the medic alert bracelet in the car was unclasped, suggesting it wasn’t worn during death. (ii) Forensic analysis revealed the body was placed upside down, and (iii) the age characteristics didn’t match Madison’s. (iv) The teeth had large cavities, unusual for a wealthy individual. (v) Intact items in the burned car, like a watch, raised suspicion.
- Watch full episode of Forensic Files – Season 8, Episode 31 – Past Lives [YouTube]
- Beyond the Body Farm: A Legendary Bone Detective Explores Murders, Mysteries and the Revolution in Forensic Science by By Dr Bill Bass, Jefferson Bass, Jon Jefferson [Google Books]
- The Breaking Point: A Body Farm Novel by By Jefferson Bass
- CHASE MANHATTAN MORTGAGE CORP. v. BECK [Casetext]
- Michael Prozumenshikov & Zachary Persitz [Going for Broke] Forensic Files Case Study
FR Author Group at ForensicReader is a team of Forensic experts and scholars having B.Sc, M.Sc, or Doctorate( Ph.D.) degrees in Forensic Science. We published on topics on fingerprints, questioned documents, forensic medicine, toxicology, physical evidence, and related case studies. Know More.