Man who faked his own canoe death spotted in the Philippines ahead of ITV drama
It was one of the most notorious fraud stories of its time, fascinating the British public. Most will remember when John Darwin conspired with his first wife, Anne, to swindle almost £700,000 out of life insurance and pensions by faking his own death in a canoe in the North Sea.
Now, 20 years later, the story is set to reenter our lives in an ITV drama detailing the plan. As viewers prepare to relive the story, the man at the center of it has been spotted carrying out mundane activities in the Philippines.
Darwin, now 71, is pictured shopping at the aptly named Wilcon hardware store, reports The Mirror. Alongside the TV drama about the former teacher and prison officer, he is writing a book about his story himself.
The 34C heat of the Philippines is a far cry from the cold Seaton Carew in County Durham where he faked his demise. The scammer refused to answer questions as he jumped into a £25,000 SUV and drove away from the car park of the Wilcon store in Antipolo, 10 miles from the capital Manila.
Later, Mercy, Darwin’s 48-year-old second wife, told the Mirror: “The book is about his life, but it’s not finished yet. You must wait.”
It will follow her husband’s autobiography The Canoe Man: Panama and Back, which he wrote while serving three and a half years in prison before his release in 2011. Mercy would be angry that the four-part drama of ITV’s The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe, starring Eddie Marsan as Darwin, was made without her husband’s permission.
In real life, Darwin and Anne committed the fraud in 2002. He was seen paddling from Seaton Carew beach near Hartlepool before Anne reported him missing while hiding in a tent on the side.
He then moved to a studio apartment next to the family home, making a door behind a cupboard in Anne’s bedroom and growing a bushy beard as a disguise for city trips. The couple’s two grieving sons never found out what really happened.
Four years later, the couple traveled to Panama to start a new life with their ill-gotten gains. However, they were arrested after he returned home to get the police paperwork needed for a change in Panama’s immigration laws – and gave them his real name, saying he had amnesia.
At first it was hailed as a miracle that the missing canoeist somehow survived. But his lies were unraveled when the Mirror published an article under the headline “Is Canoe in Panama?” in December 2007, with a photo of the couple in a real estate agent’s office.
He and Anne were given just over six years for deceiving the money. It emerged that they staged his disappearance as part of a pension, mortgage and insurance scam to avoid bankruptcy. They were ordered to repay £679,073.
The couple had £592,000 in assets – £501,641 had been repaid in 2012. Anne divorced after 38 years of marriage. Now nearly 7,000 miles from the scene of his crime, life looks a lot rosier for Darwin, who is still receiving 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 grabs it with both hands.
A Mercy associate said, “I always thought John was a rich man. He still seems healthy.
Darwin and Mercy, who have businesses including a clothing stand, reportedly own three properties in the area. The couple reportedly met online in 2015.