A helping hand: Right to the grave

By James Quiggle
June 1, 2001
Jimmie and Isom Turquitt saw dozens of impoverished alcoholics and drug addicts on the streets of Alabama cities, living aimless lives in a boozy haze.

The addicts knew only squalor and defeat, but Jimmie and Isom saw opportunity and a fresh start. The Turquitts started a bricklaying company on their property in Bessemer, Ala. and hired the addicts. They even made one aimless soul the company president.

Jimmie and Isom wanted only to give these addicts a helping hand.

Right to their graves.

Far from giving the addicts a new lease, Jimmie and Isom tried to end it, prosecutors say.

The brothers got addicts to drink themselves to death fast so they could cash in at least $500,000 in life insurance policies they'd taken out on the addicts' lives.

The Turquitts lured 40 alcoholics, drug users and others to their property by giving them a roof over their heads and jobs at a supposed bricklaying company. The company turned out to be a fake. Instead, Jimmie and Isom gave them odd jobs such as yard work or taking care of horses and chickens.

Then the Turquitts plied the addicts with free drugs and booze, often withholding food so the addicts would die even faster, prosecutors say.

"I'd go out there and there wasn't just a bottle, but there would be cases of whiskey," the daughter of one alcoholic told the court.

With the help of a retired insurance agent, Jimmie and Isom also took out more than 100 life insurance policies on the victims. Most were smaller policies under $50,000, for which insurers generally don't require medical exams.

They allegedly hid the ruse from insurers by erecting a web of fake beneficiaries and forged health records, and had the agent pay for many of the policies himself with money orders.

They also took out a fraudulent life policy on Isom's own son Phillip, who was HIV-positive. Because the $100,000 policy did require a medical exam, someone posing as Philip showed up and provided virus-free blood. Phillip later was beaten to death in jail.

Seven addicts have died, four of natural causes. To speed up their deadly assembly line, the Turquitts allegedly even hired acquaintances to kill several addicts outright.

Jimmie sits in the slammer, convicted of trying to get a witness to lie to the court. He's also up for murder and other charges that could keep him off the streets for good.

"I never got a policy on anyone," Jimmie told the court. "I don't know anything about insurance. I don't care about any insurance."

Maybe so. Jimmie could have perfectly good explanation for all the insurance policies and boozy deaths. The trial will reveal all.

As for Isom, many of the victims have ironically outlasted him. Isom killed himself in jail in February.

One impoverished worker name John Guthrie had nine life policies taken out on his life, worth $125,000. Guthrie died on the Turquitts' property of chronic alcohol abuse.

His sister is trying to deal with her rage. It wasn't enough that John died. His family couldn't even afford to buy him a headstone.

View previous "Fraud Cases of the Month"

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