Canoe man John Darwin tracked down to aptly named ‘Wilcon’ store in Philippines


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Fraudster John Darwin, who plotted with first wife Anne to fake his own death in the North Sea using a canoe in 2002, may now cash in as a TV series depicts his crime

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Teaser trailer for ITV’s The Thief, His Wife and The Canoe

Out in the Philippines sunshine, a scruffy shopper loads goods into his car – from a store with a name that must have brought a smile to the face behind the mask.

This is notorious fraudster John Darwin who plotted with his first wife Anne to swindle nearly £700,000 – including life insurance and pensions – by faking his death in the North Sea in a canoe in 2002.

Now, 20 years on from an outrageous con-trick that made headlines around the world, 71-year-old Darwin does a spot of shopping at a store called WILCON.

The former teacher and prison officer may be hoping to cash in on his crime again as his story is turned into a major ITV drama about to hit our screens – and he is writing a tell-all book about his story.

We caught up with the Canoe Man in the 34C Pacific heat of the Philippines – a far cry from chilly Seaton Carew in County Durham where he faked his demise.







The Mirror tracked down John Darwin to a shop in the Philippines
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Image:

Humphrey Nemar)







Eddie Marsen playing Darwin in the ITV drama
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Image:

Jordan Crosby)

The crook refused to answer questions as he hopped into a £25,000 SUV and sped away from the Wilcon store car park in Antipolo, 10 miles from capital Manila.

Later his Mercy, Darwin’s 48-year-old second wife, told us: “The book’s about his life, but it’s not yet finished. You have to 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 jail before his 2011 release.

Mercy is angry the four-part ITV drama The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe, starring Eddie Marsan as Darwin, has been made without her husband’s permission.







The Wilcon store in Manila
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Image:

Humphrey Nemar)

In real life, Darwin and Anne carried out the fraud in 2002. He was seen paddling out from Seaton Carew beach near Hartlepool. Then Anne reported him missing while he hid in a tent down the coast.

He then moved to a bedsit next door to the family home, making a door behind a wardrobe into Anne’s bedroom and growing a bushy beard as a disguise for trips into town.

The couple’s grieving two sons were never aware of what had really happened.

Four years later the couple headed to Panama to start a new life with their ill-gotten gains.







Darwin infamously tried to fake his own death on a canoe
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Image:

Humphrey Nemar)

But they were caught after he came home to get papers from police needed for a change in Panama’s immigration laws – and gave them his real name, saying he had amnesia.

At first it was hailed by a miracle that the missing canoeist had somehow survived. But his lies about him unraveled when the Mirror ran a story under the headline “Canoe’s this in Panama?” in December 2007, with a snap of the pair in an estate agent’s office.

Both he and Anne got just over six years for obtaining cash by deception. It emerged they had staged his disappearance from him as part of a pension, mortgage and insurance scam to avoid bankruptcy. They were ordered to repay £679,073.







The Mirror when Darwin was found in 2007
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Image:

PA)







Anne Darwin was also convicted
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Image:

PA)

The couple had £592,000 of assets – £501,641 had been repaid by 2012. Anne divorced him after 38 years of marriage.

Now almost 7,000 miles away from the scene of his crime, life appears far rosier for Darwin, who still receives 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’s grabbing it with both hands.”

One associate of Mercy’s said: “I have always believed John to be a rich guy. He still seems in good health.”

Darwin and Mercy, who have businesses including a clothes stall, are said to own three properties in the area. The couple are understood to have met online in 2015.

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www.mirror.co.uk

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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