It was a bizarre true story that shocked and gripped the nation. After amassing crippling debts of £700,000 and on the verge of bankruptcy, former teacher and prison officer John Darwin decided to fake his own death in a canoeing accident in the North Sea.
He asked his wife Anne to cement the lie and claim £250,000 in life insurance. Then John lived in secret for years in a bedsit that adjoined the couple’s home near Hartlepool-visiting his wife through a door that connected the two old properties.
After five years, the couple decided to start a new life in Panama. But when it emerged he could not live or work there decided without having his identity confirmed by British authorities, he turned up at a London police station, feigning amnesia, hoping he could return to his normal life.
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Police were already suspicious, however, due to Anne’s trips to Panama. Their ruse was finally confirmed when a photograph was found on the internet showing the smiling couple posing in a Panama estate agents’ office. The pair were arrested and found guilty of fraud – each receiving a six-year jail sentence.
Their story is now being retold in new ITV drama The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe. And if you’re wondering what happened to the couple after their imprisonment, then read on…
What happened to John Darwin?
John was released from prison in January 2011 – and Anne two months later. Before their release, Anne decided that she wanted to separate from him and they later divorced.
It has been reported that John Darwin, now 71, lives in the Philippines with his new wife, Mercy May, aged 47. According to The Mirror, the couple moved out of the crowded capital city Manila last year to a property around 30 minutes away .
Mercy May, a mum-of-three, is a hardworking business owner who works in retail. John, meanwhile, is reportedly still receiving his UK state pension.
Where is Anne Darwin now?
Soon after she got out of jail, Anne co-authored a book called Out of My Depth. In an interview with The Guardian at the time of the book’s release, she spoke of the controlling and coercive nature of her marriage with John.
She said: “I hadn’t realized how much John manipulated me until I was in prison. I had to see a psychologist to finally help me see things in a different light.
“Until then I’d always had his voice in my head. Finally, when it faded away, I could then make decisions for myself and I realized that I didn’t have to depend on him.
“I could cope on my own. The last spark of love faded when I was removed from his influence. ”
She has also spoken about the effect the fraud had on her two grown-up sons, Mark and Anthony. Both of them disowned their parents when the con came to light, although Anne is now reconciled with them.
After her release, Anne, a former doctor’s receptionist, found a job at the RSPCA in York and lived in a nearby village. According to the Daily Mail, the 70-year-old now lives in sheltered housing accommodation in a village near Middlesbrough.
Where can I watch The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe?
The new four-part drama based on John and Anne’s swindle will begin on ITV tonight (Sunday 17 April) at 9pm. It will also be available to watch on the ITV Hub.