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Remarkable true story of canoeman John Darwin, whose wife helped him fake his own death in a £700,000 insurance scam

AS a former prison officer, John Darwin knew only too well the miserable fate that awaited him if his daring £700,000 insurance scam went awry.

But always the Hartlepool Man who, with the help of his wife, faked his own death in a canoeing accident in March 2002 risked being caught.

This photo of John and Anne Darwin in Panama after he was officially declared dead should help prove their guilt

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This photo of John and Anne Darwin in Panama after he was officially declared dead should help prove their guiltCredit: Rex Features

The remarkable tale of deception is filled with drama and suspense, so it’s no surprise that it’s now the subject of one new prime time ITV drama.

Darwin, 70, had racked up massive debts from failed purchase plans and decided £670,000 in insurance and pension money was the solution to his woes.

The catch was that he had to die before it was paid off.

On the property

On March 21, John paddled out to sea in a red kayak at Seaton Carew, County Durham, and was not seen returning to shore.

John Darwin: I told police the canoe man wasn't dead, a former colleague reveals
Canoe Man John Darwin
John's kayak was discovered the day after he disappeared in March 2002

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John’s kayak was discovered the day after he disappeared in March 2002

When his wife Anne reported him missing, a heat-seeking police aircraft, five RNLI lifeboats, two coastguard teams and an RAF helicopter searched for John.

They couldn’t find John out at sea because he was safe in a tent further up shore.

The next day his canoe was discovered wrecked and Anne was tasked with breaking the news that he was dead to her sons Anthony, 42, and Mark, 45.

Only she knew it wasn’t true because Anne was in on the conspiracy all along.

John Darwin's story of cheating is told in new ITV drama The Thief, The Wife, The Canoe

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John Darwin’s story of cheating is told in new ITV drama The Thief, The Wife, The CanoeCredit: PA

Anne would later admit that her sons’ lying was “something I will regret for the rest of my time.”

She has also convincingly lied to the general public, telling the local newspaper: “All I want is to bury his body. It would allow me to continue.

“It’s difficult to grieve without bringing things to an end, but as it is, I’m in limbo.”

Tired from camping out in the cold, John decided to hide out in one of the beds next to the family home in Seaton Carew.

Anne told her two sons that their father was dead, even though she knew he was alive

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Anne told her two sons that their father was dead, even though she knew he was alivePhoto credit: Getty Images – Getty

But he didn’t stop.

Under the identity of a dead child named John Jones, he walked around town doing odd jobs in the houses rented by his tenants.

A former colleague of a prison officer said he was “100 percent sure” that he had seen John, with a long beard, walking by the sea.

Anne feared being caught and the couple fell out.

The Darwin family home in Seaton Carew and the house next door where he was hiding

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The Darwin family home in Seaton Carew and the house next door where he was hidingCredit: PA:Press Association

She revealed, “I lost all interest in our sex life, leaving John – who never seemed to stop thinking about sex – angry and frustrated.”

In April 2003, a coroner pronounced John dead, and in August, Anne received huge sums of money.

I lost all interest in our sex life, leaving John – who never stopped thinking about sex – angry and frustrated

Anne Darwin

There was a £91,000 pension and life insurance policy and a £137,000 mortgage protection policy.

Then, after living next door for four years and visiting his wife through a secret door, John finally materialized his plan to live in the Central American country of Panama.

John and Anne Darwin on their wedding day

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John and Anne Darwin on their wedding dayPhoto credit: The Mega Agency

The crucial mistake

But when looking for an apartment, the couple made a stupid mistake that would later prove their guilt.

Mario Vilar, from a moving agency, asked his wife to take a picture of herself with the couple and before they could object, it was done.

While John stayed in Panama, Anne returned to the UK to finalize the details of her move.

He bombarded her with emails, telling her he wrote them while sitting naked on his balcony.

John grew a long beard to disguise himself

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John grew a long beard to disguise himselfCredit: Handout

Anne said, “My husband seemed to be getting crazier by the day.”

The dreamer John wanted to buy a huge piece of land to build his own house and eco-resort.

But his plans fell through when changes to Panama’s immigration laws meant he needed a letter from the UK police declaring he was a “person of good character” in order to gain permanent residency.

Rather than leave Panama for safer countries, John decided to take a ridiculous gamble – return to the UK.

His plan was to come back as John Darwin and claim he had had amnesia for five years.

Anne said: “I told him he was crazy. But as usual, he wasn’t listening. He was sure he knew best.”

I think I’m a missing person

John Darwin

On December 1, 2007, he entered a police station in central London and said: “I think I’m a missing person”.

The police, of course, were suspicious and the photo taken in Panama was the downfall of the couple.

It proved that Anne knew her husband wasn’t dead.

John was arrested after returning to Britain from his exile in Panama

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John was arrested after returning to Britain from his exile in PanamaPhoto credit: Neil Jones – News Group Newspapers Ltd

pay the price

In March 2008, John pleaded guilty to seven counts of obtaining cash by deception and Anne was found guilty of similar offenses after a trial.

Four months later he was imprisoned for six years and three months and Anne’s sentence was three months longer.

When John was released from prison in 2011, he tried to downplay the scale of his crimes, saying, “I took money from an insurance company, but I didn’t kill anyone.”

Anne was given a longer prison sentence than her husband because she chose to go to court

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Anne was given a longer prison sentence than her husband because she chose to go to courtPhoto credit: AFP

The couple later repaid £540,000 of the money owed, but the couple’s sons were deeply hurt by their parents’ lies.

When it was revealed that John had written to a 43-year-old woman from prison that he had a “high sex drive,” Anne finally had enough of his deception.

After 38 years of marriage, John and Anne divorced and she moved to York to live a quiet life. care for animals.

But he broke the terms of his parole in 2013 when he flew to meet potential “foreign bride” Anna Avramenko in Ukraine.

John's adventures, including meeting a young blonde from Ukraine while on probation

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John’s adventures, including meeting a young blonde from Ukraine while on probationPhoto credit: Louis Wood – The Sun

In February 2015, John got married Mercy May Avila47, in the Philippines, where he lives now.

John wrote a book about his life, appeared on television and didn’t seem to mind his notoriety.

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So he’ll probably try to watch the ITV drama when it airs to see Eddie Marsan play him.

Whether the much more shy Anne will do the same remains to be seen.

https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/14779112/canoe-man-john-darwin-itv-real-story-now/ Remarkable true story of canoeman John Darwin, whose wife helped him fake his own death in a £700,000 insurance scam

Bobby Allyn

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