How John and Anne Darwin were exposed by mistake in the photo that proved the boatman was still alive

Canoe driver John Darwin, whose daring death plot is the focus of new ITV drama The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe, has been rumored by a photo obtained by The Mirror

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The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe series trailer from ITV

Canoe driver John Darwin tried to ‘die’ for 5 years before he simply walked into the police station.

The former teacher and correctional officer, now 71, was officially last seen paddling out from Seaton Carew beach near Hartlepool in his canoe in March 2002.

His disappearance sparked a major search and rescue operation when Anne Darwin reported her husband missing – and he is presumed dead after the wreckage of his canoe was found. .

A death certificate was issued and Anne claimed £250,000 for John’s life insurance policy, allowing her to pay off family debt and go on holiday abroad.

However, John appeared to have risen from the dead in December 2007 when he arrived at the London police station and claimed he had no recollection of the past five years because he had amnesia.

His remarkable comeback was hailed as a miracle at first, but the pair’s lies begin to unravel when a photo exposes their morbid plot.

John and Anne Darwin were exposed by this photo in Panama with a real estate agent

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What actually happened was that John came up with a plan to fake his own death because of their crippling debt, to cast Anne as the grieving widow.

John smashed his canoe and let it be found later hidden in a bed next to the family home the couple also owned.

They lied to the police, friends and even their two sons, Mark and Anthony, who believed that their father was indeed dead and devastated.

Anne raked in £250,000 from life insurance payments, while John wore a bushy beard to camouflage him so he could boldly make trips into town and even answer the front door.

They decided to move abroad and John obtained a fake passport under the false name ‘John Jones’, but notably still using his home address.

Using his ill-gotten gains, John traveled to Cyprus and Spain in search of possessions before eventually settling in Panama as the place to start their new lives.

The couple flew to Panama in July 2006 and were happily photographed by a Panamanian real estate agent after renting an apartment – an image that would come back to haunt them years later.

The photo is reimagined in the new ITV series with Monica Dolan as Anne Darwin and Eddie Marsan as John Darwin



In May 2007 they purchased a £200,000 tropical property in the village of Escobal, Colón, Panama, near the Panama Canal, where they planned to build a hotel.

However, the change in Panama’s law means that John will need to be identified by UK police to obtain an ‘investor visa’ and his alias ‘John Jones’ will not be granted. accept.

In a strange twist, John decides to go back and tell the police that he is suffering from amnesia, which sounds similar to the Harold Bishop plot in Neighborhood.

The plan might have worked if it weren’t for the photo at the property agents, which saw the couple lying next to Mario Vilar, the head of the company Move To Panama.

A police financial investigation began three months ago when John reappeared as they became suspicious of Anne, who was on holiday abroad and transferring a large sum of money abroad.

But they got the confirmation they needed when The Mirror published the incriminating photo alongside the headline ‘This canoe in Panama?’.

The photo was found simply by searching for the words ‘John’, ‘Anne’ and ‘Panama’ in Google Images.

When confronted with the photo, Anne broke down as she told reporters her life had become a “nightmare” and confessed: “Yes, that’s him. My sons never will. forgive me”.

ITV drama The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe re-enacts Panama couple



Former Daily Mirror journalist David Leigh, who found Anne in Panama after John returned to the UK in 2007, explained the photograph from Panama as proof of their lies.

“It’s clear evidence that Anne lied about her husband’s fake death to everyone she loved, not to mention the police and insurance companies.

“It’s a scoop and it’s unbelievable to be an integral part of an exciting story that is making front page headlines day in and day out. But it’s been emotional to witness. ​Someone’s life crumbled before my eyes.

“When I showed her the picture, Anne was sobbing. She kept repeating, ‘What have I done? Guys will never forgive me’.”

John was sentenced to six years and three months in prison for admitting fraud by faking her own death, while Anne received six and a half years behind bars for fraud.

He was released from prison in January 2011 after serving half of his sentence, while Anne was released from prison in March 2011.

The couple divorced while behind bars and John moved on to the Philippines and married his bride Filipina Mercidita, aka Mercy, 23 years younger than him.

The front page of the Daily Mirror



John with his new wife Mercy


Rowan Griffiths / Daily Mirror)

His new life is a far cry from the life he dreamed of when the scammer helped retrieve a wife’s one-time £4.35 t-shirt and panties from her stall in the market. a huge indoor market.

Last year it was reported that the couple had moved out of crowded Manila to a new home about 30 minutes away and that John was still receiving a UK state pension of around £134 a week.

Now, notable crime is the focus of the new four-part ITV series The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe, with both John and Anne reportedly refusing to work with the filmmakers.

Writer Chris Lang went through 50 press stories, 1000 pages of police interviews and 1000 other pages of court documents as well as the first draft of the journalist’s book that broke the story.

John, played by Hollywood actor Eddie Marsan, says the scammer lacks empathy and has “an illusion of greatness”.

“In a narcissistic way, he thinks he is smarter than everyone else,” explains Eddie. “That’s why he has a phone to try this. He thinks he might be smarter than everyone else.

“He views other people as only two-dimensional and thinks he is the only three-dimensional person in the world. But he underestimates people’s ability to see through.”

* The Thief, His Wife and the C Anoe airs on ITV at 9pm from Easter Sunday to Wednesday April 20

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