John Darwin disappearance case
14 August 1950 |
Hartlepool, County Durham, England
|Occupation||Former teacher and prison officer|
|Criminal status||Released on probation|
|Spouse(s)||Anne Darwin (née Stephenson)|
|Children||Mark Darwin, Anthony Darwin|
The John Darwin disappearance case was an investigation into the faked death of the British former teacher and prison officer John Darwin, who turned up alive in December 2007, five years after he was believed to have died in a canoeing accident.
John Darwin was arrested and charged with fraudulently obtaining a passport, and claiming money by deception. His wife—who was also arrested and charged, having claimed the money on his life insurance—alleged he had been secretly living in their house and the house next door, which allowed him to get the insurance money illegally for his own personal gain, and that the couple had planned to set up a hotel for canoeing holidays in Panama. On 23 July 2008 John and Anne Darwin were each sentenced to over six years imprisonment.
John Darwin was born on 14 August 1950, in Hartlepool, County Durham. He attended St Francis RC Grammar School and De La Salle College, Salford, Lancashire, where he studied biology and chemistry. On 22 December 1973, John Darwin married Anne Stephenson in Blackhall. Darwin then taught science and mathematics at Derwentside for 18 years before leaving to join Barclays Bank. He later became a prison officer. He and his wife, a doctor's receptionist, also ran a business renting bedsits in County Durham with 12 houses. They ran into debt after purchasing two houses in Seaton Carew in December 2000. The debts, amounting to "tens of thousands of pounds", caused Darwin to talk about faking his own death to claim the insurance by early 2002.
John Darwin was seen paddling out to sea in his canoe on 21 March 2002, at Seaton Carew, in Hartlepool. Later the same day, he was reported as "missing" after failing to report to work. A large-scale sea search took place, during which 62 square miles (160 km2) of coastline were searched. There was no sign of Darwin, though a double-ended paddle was retrieved from the sea near North Gare, Seaton Carew, the following day. Later on 22 March 2002, the wreckage of John Darwin's canoe was found. The North Sea was unusually calm and rescuers had been puzzled that Darwin could have got into trouble in such conditions.
During the years that Darwin was presumed dead, he lived for some time in a bedsit next door to the family home; he then moved back in with his wife Anne in February 2003. A death certificate was issued the following month, stating that John Darwin "probably encountered difficulties, as a result of which he died". This allowed his wife to claim on his life insurance; it is alleged that £25,000 was paid out from Unat Direct Insurance Management Limited (part of the AIG insurance group) as well as a much larger amount which paid off the £130,000 mortgage. Sometime that year, a tenant of the block of bedsit flats that the Darwins owned, Lee Wadrop, recognised Darwin and asked him "Aren't you supposed to be dead?" to which Darwin replied "Don't tell anyone about this". Wadrop later said that he had not told the police because he "did not want to get involved".
In 2004, the Darwins decided to move abroad, considering Cyprus. John Darwin applied for, and obtained a passport using the false name "John Jones", but using his true home address. In November 2004, the couple visited Cyprus to investigate buying property there.
In May 2005, an angler named Matt Autie claimed to have met John Darwin - who was going under the name "John Williams" - at a lake near Penzance, Cornwall. When back at home, Darwin is reported to have spent most of his time on the Internet where he encountered a woman from Kansas in the United States whom he flew out to meet. By November, Darwin was back in the UK and flew from Newcastle to Gibraltar, and then travelled to El Puerto de Santa María to view a £45,000 42 ft catamaran that he was considering buying from boat dealer Robert Hopkin.
On 9 March 2006, Darwin is reported to have signed a planning objection to a neighbour's building work using a false name. Darwin and his wife began to consider Panama as a possible destination. The couple flew from Newcastle to Panama on 14 July 2006, where they were photographed by a Panamanian property agent, and the resulting photograph was posted on the internet. In February 2007, they spent a further week in Panama. Newspapers from February 2007 were later found in the boarded-up gap between the Darwins' house and the bedsit where Darwin had hidden. In March 2007, the couple returned to Panama and formed a company called Jaguar Properties in order to buy a two-bedroom apartment in El Dorado for £50,000. The bedsit house next to the family home was sold under the name of the Darwin's son, Mark; the home had been transferred to Mark Darwin in 2006. The proceeds from the sale were then transferred to Panama.
The following month, Anne Darwin returned to the UK to sell her home while John Darwin remained in Panama. In May 2007, the couple purchased a £200,000 tropical estate in the village of Escobal, Colón, Panama, near the Panama Canal, with the intention of building a hotel from where canoeing holidays could be run. Anne Darwin visited Panama again in July 2007, staying for six weeks. A police investigation was then started in September when a colleague of Anne Darwin became suspicious upon overhearing a phone conversation between the couple. The Darwin family home was sold for £295,000 in October 2007 and Anne Darwin subsequently left for Panama. In the third week of November, the couple holidayed in Costa Rica before returning to Panama. On 30 November 2007, Mrs Darwin bought an airline ticket for her husband to England because "he was missing his sons". On the same day, their son Mark left his property firm after working his notice period.
Return and arrest
After a change in Panama's visa laws Darwin decided to return to the United Kingdom and fake amnesia. On 14 June 2007 he emailed Anne to say that in order to obtain the now-required Panamian "investors's visa" their identities would have to be verified by the UK police. He knew his John Jones alias would not pass such close scrutiny. So he decided to turn John Jones back into John Darwin. He thought he could convince the UK that he had lost his memory and rejoin Anne in Panama with his new passport, police check and driving licence.
On 1 December 2007, Darwin walked into West End Central police station in London, claiming to have no memory of the past five years. His wife Anne - who had sold up her British properties and moved to Panama three months before his re-appearance - expressed surprise, joy and elation at the return of her missing husband. The UK police by that time already suspected that Darwin might not be dead since Anne Darwin, who portrayed herself as a broken-hearted widow, took foreign holidays, planned to sell the family home in Hartlepool to move to Panama and transferred large sums of money abroad.
The story deepened on 5 December 2007, when the Daily Mirror published a photo of John and Anne Darwin taken in Panama in 2006. Anne reportedly confirmed that the photograph was of John, saying "Yes, that's him. My sons will never forgive me". The photograph had been discovered when a member of the public typed the words "John", "Anne" and "Panama" into Google Images. The photo was featured on the website movetopanama.com and brought to the attention of the Daily Mirror and Cleveland Police. The police then arrested Darwin at the house of his son Anthony in Basingstoke.
Police had begun inquiries into the financial circumstances of the case three months before Darwin's reappearance, following the report made by one of Anne Darwin's colleagues. Mrs. Darwin was known to have claimed on her husband's life insurance and then emigrated to Panama, so the possibility that she knew him to be alive suggested an irregularity.
John Darwin's two sons initially expressed elation at the return of their father but, as the story unfolded, they issued a joint statement stating they felt they had been victims of a scam, and implying that they wished to have no further contact with their parents. Both sons were reported to have changed their jobs prior to their father's re-appearance. On 6 December, one of John Darwin's sons allegedly disappeared after clearing out his North London flat and leaving a notebook reportedly containing coded messages for his girlfriend, as well as directions for her to get to London City Airport. Police emphasised that he was not suspected of any crime.
John Darwin had been using the name "John Jones" in a false passport and other documentation. Police examined the passport in order to piece together Darwin's movements in the previous five years; it reportedly showed several trips to Panama. Darwin used the identity of a deceased baby to obtain a false passport; the infant, John Jones, was born in Sunderland, County Durham, in March 1950 but died a few weeks later. This technique featured in the 1971 novel The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth.
On 8 December, the Daily Mail quoted Anne Darwin as saying that, although she initially thought her husband was dead, he turned up at their home in 2003 and lived there secretly, and in an adjacent bedsit that she owned, for about three years. He entered the home from the bedsit through a secret hole in the wall; the hole was hidden behind a wardrobe with a false back. The article stated that, two months after he had moved back in with Anne, she was persuaded to attend an inquest into his death so she could claim the life insurance. John was pronounced dead, and the life insurance company paid only half of the £50,000 policy total because no body had been found. Anne said he had faked his death to escape financial difficulties arising from properties they owned. She claimed that he had decided to return publicly because he missed his sons, who had not been aware he was still alive. Later that day Darwin was charged with obtaining life insurance money by deception and making an untrue statement to obtain a passport.
On 9 December, Anne Darwin was arrested at Manchester Airport upon returning to the UK. She was detained in connection with allegations of fraud. She appeared in court on 11 December in Hartlepool to face two charges of fraud - obtaining £25,000 and £137,000 by deception. She remained in custody until 14 December.
Darwin appeared at Hartlepool Magistrates' Court on 10 December, where he was also remanded in custody until 14 December.
On 9 January 2008, John and Anne Darwin returned to Hartlepool Magistrates' court to face further charges of deception. John faced an additional charge of obtaining £137,000 by deception (the same charge his wife was already facing) in addition to the existing life insurance charge against both of them for £25,000 and John's separate charge of obtaining a passport by deception. They were then both charged together from obtaining more money from a teachers' pension scheme (two separate amounts of £25,186 and £58,845), plus obtaining money from the Department for Work and Pensions (two separate amounts of £2,000 and £2,273). They were remanded in custody once more to appear in court again on 18 January 2008.
On 13 March, John Darwin admitted seven charges of obtaining cash by deception and a passport offence at Leeds Crown Court. He denied nine charges of using criminal property; these charges will remain on file, according to prosecutors. Anne Darwin denied six charges of deception and nine of using criminal property.
On 23 July 2008, John Darwin and Anne Darwin were both convicted of fraud. John Darwin faced an additional charge relating to his fake passport and was sentenced to six years and three months in prison. Anne Darwin, who was described by the police as a compulsive liar, was sentenced to six years and six months. Both appealed against their sentences and on 27 March 2009, both appeals were denied by the Court of Appeal.
The Crown Prosecution Service has vowed that all profits from the "callous and calculated" fraud committed by the couple will be confiscated. John Darwin was released on probation in January 2011 and Anne Darwin was released in March 2011.
On 14 February 2012, the CPS announced that the entire £501,641.39 in life insurance and pension payouts received by Anne Darwin had been recovered, part of which involved the sale of two properties in Panama. Kingsley Hyland, head of the North East CPS Complex Casework Unit, said: "It is important that fraudsters see that not only will we prosecute them wherever possible, but we will also make every effort to retrieve their ill-gotten gains to return them to those they have defrauded."
In April 2014, it was reported that Darwin had repaid just £121 from the £679,073 that the judge had ordered him to repay. However, this was because all the assets were in Anne Darwin's name. By July 2015, the pair no longer had any assets, having repaid a total of £541,762.39.
In popular culture
The story of John and Anne Darwin was dramatised in the BBC Four programme Canoe Man in 2010. The film starred Bernard Hill and Saskia Reeves as John and Anne Darwin respectively. Musician Martin Gordon documented the story with the song "Panama" from his 2009 release Time Gentlemen Please. In fiction, it inspired a 2009 novel by Adrian Gere called Return from the Dead, and a 2010 storyline in the ITV1 soap opera Coronation Street saw the character Joe McIntyre attempt the same thing. In 2015, it was mentioned in the BBC soap opera EastEnders when it was revealed that the character Kathy Beale and her husband faked their deaths in South Africa for insurance payouts.
Notes and references
- Clarke, Natalie; Leigh, David (2007-12-08). "Canoe widow's full confession". London: Daily Mail. Retrieved 2007-12-08.
- "Revealed: The document that shows Darwin was officially dead". London: Daily Mail. 2007-12-05. Retrieved 2007-12-09.
- "The Mystery of John Darwin". London: The Guardian. 2007-12-05. Retrieved 2007-12-08.
- "'Missing' man charged by police". BBC News. 2007-12-08. Retrieved 2007-12-08.
-  CNN
-  Daily Mail
-  Times Online
- "John & Anne Darwin sentenced to jail". BBC. 23 July 2008. Retrieved 24 July 2008.
- Jones, Aidan (2007-12-03). "Detectives to question long-lost canoeist". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2007-12-10.
- "An unexpected anniversary...". Hartlepool Mail. 2007-12-08. Retrieved 2007-12-11.
- Weaver, Matthew (2007-12-05). "Canoe mystery man arrested for fraud". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2007-12-10.
- Canoe widow's full confession Daily Mail 8 December 2007
- "Sea search for Missing Canoeist". BBC News. 2002-03-22. Retrieved 2007-12-09.
- "Missing Canoeist - Wreck is Found". Hartlepool Mail. 2002-05-08. Retrieved 2007-12-14.
- The 'dead' canoeist John Darwin, his wife and the Panama connection
- "Court remands canoeist in custody". BBC News. 2007-12-10. Retrieved 2007-12-10.
- "Darwin's bolt hole". News of The World. 2007-12-09. Retrieved 2007-12-09.[dead link]
- Copping, Jasper; Leach, Ben; Sawer, Patrick (2007-12-09). "Canoe man's wife lands back in Britain". London: Telegraph.co.uk. Retrieved 2007-12-09.
- Altman, Alex (2007-12-09). "Canoe Man and Canoe Wife — Sunk". Time / CNN. Retrieved 2007-12-09.
- Allen, Nick (2007-12-08). "'Dead' canoeist used a fake passport". London: Telegraph.co.uk. Retrieved 2007-12-09.
- John Darwin's fake passport trip Daily Mirror Stewart Maclean 07/12/2007
- "'Back from the dead' canoeist's son flees leaving 'coded' message for his girlfriend". London: Daily Mail. 2007-12-06. Retrieved 2007-12-09.
- "EXCLUSIVE: Overheard phone call led to investigation". Hartlepool Mail. 2007-12-06. Retrieved 2007-12-11.
- Why Darwin Came Back From Dead
- Richard Edwards, Paul Stokes and Tom Leonard. Wife of canoeist John Darwin admits she knew he was alive
- Glendinning, Lee (23 July 2008). "Detectives suspected Darwin was alive". The Guardian.
- "Wife confronted with Panama photo". London: Guardian Unlimited. 2007-12-06. Archived from the original on 2008-01-03. Retrieved 2007-12-08.
- Weaver, Matthew (2007-12-06). "Woman found canoeist photo via Google". London: Guardian Unlimited. Retrieved 2007-12-08.
- http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/tees/7130673.stm Canoeist sons 'victims of scam'
- Peck, Sally; Leonard, Tom (2007-12-07). "Canoeist mystery: new twist as son disappears". London: Telegraph.co.uk. Retrieved 2007-12-08.
- Allen, Nick (2007-12-08). "'Dead' canoeist used a fake passport". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 2007-12-08.
- Did Darwin Steal Dead Baby's Name? (Sky News)
- Police await canoeist wife move BBC, 2007-12-09
- Canoeist wife arrested back in UK BBC, 2007-12-09
- Canoeist wife remanded in custody BBC, 2007-12-11
- Darwins spend Christmas in jail
- Further Charges for Canoe couple
- Canoe couple remanded in custody
- Missing canoeist admits deception
- "Canoeist appeals against sentence". BBC Sport. 2008-09-05. Retrieved 2008-09-05.
- "Canoe pair lose jail term appeals". BBC News. 2009-03-27. Retrieved 2008-03-27.
- Booth, Jenny; Hines, Nico (23 July 2008). "John and Anne Darwin sentenced to total of more than 12 years in jail". The Times (London: News Corporation). Retrieved 4 December 2009.
Gale Gilchrist, a spokesman for the Crown Prosecution Service, said: "There is no doubt that this was a callous and calculated fraud..." Ms Gilchrist said that prosecutors would be working with the police to make sure that the Darwins were forced to repay the proceeds of their crimes.
- "Canoe man John Darwin walks free from jail". Daily Telegraph. 18 January 2011.
- "Anne Darwin released after serving time for canoe disappearance fraud". The Guardian. 2011-03-09. Retrieved 2011-03-09.
- "CPS recover £500k from canoe fraudster wife Anne Darwin". BBC News. 14 February 2012. Retrieved 2012-02-14.
- "Fake death conman John Darwin 'has repaid just £121'". BBC News. 8 April 2014. Retrieved 8 April 2014.
- "Canoe fraudsters John and Anne Darwin 'have no assets'". BBC News. 16 July 2015. Retrieved 16 July 2015.
- "Canoe Man". BBC Online. Retrieved 26 March 2010.
- "Novel no 2 for grandad". Croydon Post (Northcliffe Media). 2 December 2009. p. 13.
Adrian Gere, 70, was thrilled when he found out his new book Return from the Dead, inspired by John Darwin, aka the Canoe Man, was going to be printed by US Company Publish America... The names, locations and main storyline are completely different although there are some similarities with what really happened.