Canoeist John Darwin tracked down the aptly named Wilcon shop in the Philippines


Con artist John Darwin, who plotted with his first wife Anne to fake his own death by canoe in the North Sea in 2002, could now be making money as a TV series chronicles his crime

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Teaser trailer for ITV’s The Thief, His Wife and The Canoe

Out in the Philippine sun, a scruffy shopper loads goods into his car from a shop with a name that must have put a smile on someone’s face behind the mask.

This is infamous con artist John Darwin who, with his first wife Anne, plotted to swindle almost £700,000 – including life insurance and pensions – by faking his death in the North Sea in a canoe in 2002.

Now, 20 years after an outrageous scam that made headlines around the world, Darwin, 71, goes shopping at a store called WILCON.

The former teacher and prison officer may be hoping to cash in on his crime again as his story is turned into a major ITV drama about to hit our screens – and he’s writing a full-length book about his story.

We met the canoeman in the 90-degree Pacific heat of the Philippines — far from the chilly Seaton Carew, County Durham, where he faked his death.

The Mirror has tracked down John Darwin in a shop in the Philippines


Humphrey Nemar)

Eddie Marsen plays Darwin in the ITV drama


Jordan Crosby)

The crook refused to answer questions as he got into a £25,000 SUV and sped away from the parking lot of the Wilcon store in Antipolo, 10 miles from the capital Manila.

Later his Mercy, Darwin’s 48-year-old second wife, told us: “The book is about his life, but it’s not finished yet. You have to wait.”

It follows her husband’s autobiography, The Canoe Man: Panama and Back, which he wrote while serving three and a half years in prison before his 2011 release.

Mercy is furious that the four-part ITV drama The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe, starring Eddie Marsan as Darwin, was filmed without her husband’s permission.

The Wilcon store in Manila


Humphrey Nemar)

In real life, Darwin and Anne carried out the scam in 2002. He was seen paddling out from the beach at Seaton Carew, near Hartlepool. Anne then reported him missing while he was hiding in a tent on the shore.

He then moved into a bedroom next to the family home, built a door into Anne’s bedroom behind a wardrobe, and grew a bushy beard to disguise himself for trips around town.

The couple’s grieving two sons never knew what really happened.

Four years later, the couple went to Panama to start a new life with their ill-gotten gains.

Darwin infamously attempted to fake his own death on a canoe


Humphrey Nemar)

But they were caught after he came home to get papers from the police needed for a change to Panama’s immigration laws – giving them his real name and saying he had amnesia.

At first it was hailed as a miracle that the missing canoeist had somehow survived. But his lies were unraveled when the Mirror ran an article headlined ‘Is that canoe in Panama?’ in December 2007 with a snap of the couple in a real estate agent’s office.

Both he and Anne got just over six years for getting cash through deception. It turned out they staged his disappearance as part of a pension, mortgage and insurance scam to avoid bankruptcy. They were asked to pay back £679,073.

The mirror when Darwin was found in 2007



Anne Darwin was also convicted



The couple were worth £592,000 – £501,641 had been repaid by 2012. Anne divorced him after 38 years of marriage.

Now, nearly 7,000 miles from the scene of the crime, life is looking far rosier for Darwin, who is still on a state pension.

A friend said: “John and Mercy are really happy together. He feels like he’s been given a second chance at life and he’s grabbing it with both hands.”

A Mercy staffer said: “I always thought John was a rich guy. He still appears to be in good health.”

Darwin and Mercy, who have businesses including a clothes stand, are said to own three properties in the area. The couple reportedly met online in 2015.

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Fry Electronics Team

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