For anyone who spotted the trailer for ITV’s upcoming drama The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe, which details the elaborate fake death scam (with a canoe) of prison officer John Darwin, aided by his wife, Anne, (played by Eddie Marsan and Monica Dolan respectively), you might be wondering what the real story is – and where John and Anne Darwin are today.
In a nutshell: The couple first came to public attention after being convicted of fraud in 2008, after they hatched a scheme that saw John fake his own death in an apparent canoeing accident. The reality, however, was that the Darwins had found themselves massively in debt and were looking for a way to recover money from John’s life insurance.
Eventually, after moving to Panama, John hit a wall with VISA rules and decided the best thing to do was turn himself in to the police and pretend he had been struck with amnesia.
Speaking about the new Darwin-inspired four-part series, series writer Chris Lang said during a recent Q&A that neither John, Anne nor any of their two sons, Anthony and Mark, were not involved in the program.
“[However] David Leigh, who was the reporter who broke the story, still speaks with Anne and has a good relationship with her,” Lang said. “So, you know, I think [he] I hope I was able to reassure her that this is as sympathetic an account of her story as possible, considering what she has done. But no, they didn’t want to get involved. You know, they told their story a lot in public [but] none of them wanted.”
So what’s the real story behind The Thief, His Wife, and the Canoe?
What happened to John Darwin?
In 2002, father-of-two John Darwin was leading a seemingly normal life. he resided in Hartlepool and worked as a prison officer. But in reality, he and his wife, receptionist Anne, had managed to rack up debts of nearly £700,000, leaving them on the brink of bankruptcy. Seeing no other solution to their financial problems, the couple hatched a plan that would make it look like John had died in a tragic canoeing accident, the idea being that Anne would then claim her life insurance and erase their debts.
It all came to a head on March 21, 2002, when John was reported missing after not showing up for work. A day later, the paddle he had apparently used on a canoe trip in the North Sea turned up, along with a wrecked canoe – shortly afterwards he was presumed dead and Anne was given the death certificate required to cash in his insurance policy.
The couple’s sons, Anthony and Mark, are said to have been completely naive to their parents’ scheme and were told – and believed – that their father had died.
How did John and Anne Darwin get caught?
For the next four years John remained to live in the UK in secret, settling in a studio apartment next to the family home; he used a hidden door connecting the two properties (which he and Anne owned) to visit his wife.
Eventually, the couple decided to flee to Panama (with John using a fake identity to get a new passport) to start their lives over. At first, it looked like the Darwins got away with it unscathed, when the couple purchased property in the Central American country. However, upon arrival, they soon discovered that in order to live and work in Panama as expats, they would need a character reference from the British police – which of course they could not get. .
It was decided, four years after he faked his death, that John would walk into a random police station in London and claim he had amnesia from an accident. When, in 2007, he did just that, he had no idea that the police had been investigating Anne for some time and after reading about John’s reappearance in a local newspaper, a savvy reader Googled the words “John, Anne, Panama” and found a photo. of the couple caught together in 2006 with a relocation agent – evidence that threw a gigantic spanner in the works of Anne, who claimed she was just as surprised as anyone when her husband apparently rose from the dead.
In July 2008, the couple were arrested and tried, later found guilty of fraud and sentenced to six years in prison each (they were both released in early 2011). Their sons were required to testify after Anne said she was coerced into accepting the scam, and later made it public that they had no interest in continuing a relationship with either. other of their parents.
Speaking to the press, Mark described Anne as ‘a hideous liar who went to outrageous lengths to scam us’ while Anthony said [via the Daily Mail] of her parents, “They’re both as bad as each other. Dad told a nasty lie and disappeared and said he was dead, but she lied for six years, she was the face of the lies, she continued to lie even when the evidence was so overwhelmingly against her, she dragged us into hell by forcing a trial.
Where is John Darwin now?
Halfway through their time in prison, John and Anne separated and divorced (at Anne’s request). John then embarked on a new life in the Philippines and has since remarried a woman named Mercy Mae (who is 23 years his junior). According to the Daily Mail, speaking recently about the new ITV drama, Mercy Mae said: “I know what he did, he knows it, and he paid a fine, he doesn’t need anyone reminds him.”
Where is Anne Darwin now?
After a period of estrangement, it is believed that Anne has managed to reunite with her sons, Anthony and Mark. While in prison, Anne collaborated again with journalist David Leigh on a book called Out Of My Depth and has since spoken publicly about her involvement in the scam on several occasions, claiming she was controlled by her husband John. all along. It is believed that she now lives in Middlesborough.
Read more about Anne’s story here:
The four-part drama The Thief, His Wife And The Canoe airs April 17 on ITV
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