WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. - A hedge-fund swindler who was supposed to be driving himself to prison abandoned his car on a bridge with the phrase "Suicide is Painless" scrawled on its hood, but no body has been found in the river below - and the victims of his fraud say they doubt he killed himself.

The FBI, too, is skeptical, saying it is "actively looking" for the missing man, Samuel Israel III.

Israel, 48, a co-founder and chief executive of the now-collapsed Bayou hedge funds, was sentenced in April to 20 years in federal prison for conspiracy and fraud, to begin Monday afternoon. He was also ordered to pay $300 million to his victims.

Ross Intelisano, who represents 20 investors who lost $25 million, said yesterday his clients are skeptical about any Israel suicide.

"Their comments to me are, 'Show me the body. I'll believe it when I see the body,' " he said. "My gut tells me he's not the type to jump off a bridge."

"It looks like it could be either a suicide or a staged suicide, a fake suicide," said Bruce Cuccia, a state police investigator. "Without a body, we don't have conclusive evidence either way." He said no one saw a jumper.

The car, a 2006 GMC Envoy, was found at 12:30 p.m. Monday, its key in the ignition, near the middle of the Bear Mountain Bridge, 150 feet above the Hudson River, 40 miles north of New York City.

On the SUV's hood, etched into the dust and pollen, were the words "Suicide is Painless," the name of the familiar theme song for the classic "MASH" television show. The song was sung during a fake suicide in the original movie.

No other note was found, Cuccia said. Police aircraft and boats searched the river Monday and yesterday.

"If he's down there, he'll come up," the investigator said. *