Why did more than two-thirds of all loss-of-limb accident claims in the United States in the late '50s and early '60s come from the Florida Panhandle? Well, in the words of insurance investigator John J. Healy: "Vernon's second-largest occupation was watching hound dogs mating in the town square, its largest was self-mutilation for monetary gain."
Yep, the good townsfolk of Vernon were deliberately maiming themselves in order to claim insurance policies they'd taken out on their limbs. Nearly 50 people in Vernon (population 780) had some kind of horrible "accident."
"I know you're full of shit."
L.W. Burdeshaw, an insurance agent, told the St. Petersburg Times in 1982 that his list of policyholders included a man who sawed off his left hand at work, a man who shot off his foot while protecting chickens, a man who lost his hand while supposedly trying to shoot a hawk, a man who somehow lost two limbs in an accident involving a rifle and a tractor, and a man who bought a policy and then, less than 12 hours later, shot off his foot while aiming at a squirrel.
Insurance agents, probably disillusioned by the whole Belle Gunness affair, were a little suspicious. Cutting your hand at work may be possible. Sawing off your entire hand at work really takes some amount of sustained effort. But that's the kind of can-do attitude that marks the people of Vernon (along with a disturbing lack of symmetry).
The Secretly Brilliant:
No one in the town was ever convicted of fraud, and it's not easy to find out just how much they got away with. What we know is that one farmer took out policies with 38 different companies before, in a no doubt comical accident, he lost his left foot.
Luckily, the particular day of the "accident" he happened to be driving his wife's automatic, since if he'd been driving his own stick shift, he would have needed the left foot to use the clutch. He also happened to have a tourniquet in his pocket (in case of snake bites, he insisted). He could be telling the truth, right?
Well, it turned out he'd taken out so much insurance that he was paying premiums that cost more than his total income. He collected more than $1 million from all the companies.
The insurance companies fought it, but conceded that "it was hard to make a jury believe a man would shoot off his own foot." Proof once again that there is good money to be made by being just a little crazier than the world thinks possible.