The Law: Dead or Alive?

On a calm spring evening seven years ago, Edward Michaels, 68, a retired caterer in the Chicago suburb of Northlake, Ill., finished his chop suey dinner and told his family he was going out for a walk. He never returned.

The police could not find him, and neither could a private-detective agency. Helen Michaels, who has two teenage children, eventually went to the Social Security Administration to collect her husband's back social security payments. But the SSA told Mrs. Michaels that the money could not be transferred until her husband was accounted for. If there was still no sign of him seven...

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