1. The unremarkable John Darwin

There was nothing particularly remarkable or indeed notable about the life of John Darwin as was shown by the entry he posted on the Friends Reunited website in January 2002, which briefly described his life history to date;

"Taught in Derwentside (County Durham) for 18 years before leaving teaching to join Barclays Bank. At present work for Prison Service and have portfolio of properties. Married to a convent girl, Anne Stephenson, we have two grown-up sons and two dogs. Recently moved to Seaton Carew (near Hartlepool) where I hope to retire soon."

Everything however changed a few months later, as John Darwin was last seen at 8.00 am on the 21st March when he paddled out to sea in his red kayak, or canoe as later reports insisted. The alarm was not raised until 9.30 pm that evening when he had failed to arrive for work at Holme House Prison for the night shift. That night five RNLI lifeboats, the coastguard rescue teams from both Hartlepool and Redcar, and a police fixed-wing aircraft with heat-seeking equipment were involved in the search of 62 square mile area sea between Hartlepool and Staithes, whilst Cleveland Police officers carried out a shoreline search. All they found was a double-ended paddle floating in the sea near North Gare, and it wasn't until some weeks later that the shattered remains of Mr Darwin's red kayak were found washed up on a beach in Seaton Carew.

On the 20th September Cleveland Police made a renewed appeal for missing canoeist whilst Darwin's wife, Anne also appealed for more information and stated that she believed that her husband had died after an accident at sea; "I have no reason to think he would have left and stage-managed this. All I want is to bury his body." It appears however that little further information was forthcoming and an inquest held into John Darwin's death in Hartlepool in April 2003 confirmed his death and recorded an open verdict. The widowed Anne Darwin carried on with life and eventually moved to Panama in October 2007.

2. Back from the dead

It was at 5.30pm on the 1st December 2007 that John Darwin walked into the West End Central police station in London and announced, "I think I am a missing person". Although he was able to give police his name, date of birth and personal details, he claimed to have no recollection whatsoever of events since going on holiday to Norway in 2000. According to Detective Superintendent Tony Hutchinson "He was in apparent good health, tanned, well nourished and dressed."

His two sons Mark and Anthony were naturally pleased at the news that their father was alive, and according to The Sun, Anne Darwin was similarly overjoyed by the news that her husband was alive, "the day I had always dreamed about but never really believed would happen". John then went to stay at the home of his son Anthony Darwin at Basingstoke in Hampshire. It was there that two police cars arrived at around midnight on the 4th December and arrested John Darwin. According to the official statement; "A 57-year-old man has been arrested by Hampshire Police at the request of Cleveland Police in relation to their ongoing investigation surrounding the disappearance of John Darwin from Hartlepool in March 2002."

The reason for this dramatic turn of events became apparent with the appearance of the 2am edition of the Daily Mirror on on the 5th December, which included a genuine exclusive story under the headline 'Canoe's this in Panama?'. It appeared that a friend of the Darwin family (utilising that sophisticated intelligence source known as Google search) had found the website of relocation business known as Move to Panama, which featured a photograph of John Darwin and his wife Anne smiling happily in the company of the business owner Mario Vilar. Since the photograph was dated the 14th July 2006, the friend in question believed that this showed that John Darwin may not have been exactly truthful in his account of events and contacted Cleveland Police.

3. The evolving family drama

Thus was born what the The Independent called "an evolving family drama that captivated the nation". As it turned out, Cleveland Police had suspected that something was amiss with John Darwin's mysterious disappearance for some months. As Detective Superintendent Tony Hutchinson put it; "There was some information which was reported to us three months ago to suggest that perhaps there was something suspicious with regards to his disappearance, and as a result of that information we then began to conduct some inquiries on a financial basis." Some newspapers claimed that this information resulted from a tip-off from the banks when Anne Darwin began transferring money to Panama. The truth was however rather more prosaic; it was simply that Anne Darwin had been employed as a doctor's receptionist at the Gilesgate Medical Centre in County Durham, and it seems that a colleague there had overheard some telephone conversations and believed that the calls were to Mrs Darwin's long-lost husband and therefore contacted the police.

There were repeated suggestions in the press that Anne Darwin would soon be returning home to Britain, however she decided to leave Panama for the United States where she gave several interviews, and provided an account of events that appeared in the press on the 8th December with such headlines as the 'Liar, witch and the wardrobe' in The Sun and 'Canoe wife exclusive: Why we did it' in the Daily Mirror. What emerged from these accounts was the tale that John Darwin had been inspired to fake his own death due to his "massive debts", but that his wife Anne had known nothing about it, and genuinely believed him to be dead until he had turned up at her door in February 2003 looking "an absolute mess, all dishevelled" as if he "had been living rough". At the time the Darwins owned two adjacent properties at Seaton Carew; they lived at No 3 The Cliff, whilst No 1 was divided into flats. They therefore hit upon the idea of knocking a hole in an upstairs airing cupboard, and put together a makeshift "door shaped like half a coffin", so that John could hide away in one of the flats next door whenever anyone who might recognise him, such as their two sons Mark and Anthony, visited.

John Darwin then followed the basic procedure outlined in the The Day of the Jackal, and having come across the details of one John Jones, who had been born in Sunderland in 1950 and died a few months later, and simply assumed his identity. A 'John Jones' duly appeared on the electoral register at Flat 4, No 1 The Cliff, whilst Darwin obtained a passport in the name John Jones which he used to fly to Gibraltar to inspect a 60ft yacht two years ago. as John Jones that he appeared in Panama. According to Anne Darwin, her husband had planned the "whole disappearance thing", but had eventually become "sick of being dead" and increasingly desperate to see his sons again. He then cooked up what she referred to as the "harebrained" scheme to return from the dead by flying home and claiming amnesia. According to his wife "I didn't think he would get away with it but he had had enough of being dead."

In any event early that evening on the 8th December 2007 John Darwin was charged with obtaining a money transfer by deception and making an untrue statement to obtain a passport.

Not everyone was entirely convinced by the explanations provided by Anne Darwin. The Sunday Telegraph spoke to a Detective Inspector Andy Greenwood, from Cleveland Police's Major Incident Team, who told them that as far as Anne Darwin was concerned; "We can't take what she is saying at face value and we are treating it with the caution it deserves." While the Sunday Mirror traced down John's "appalled father" Ronald Darwin, who informed them that; "She's been lying since the start. She's still lying now. She has been in on it since the beginning. John wouldn't be capable of doing this on his own." The Northern Echo also came up with a 'police source' to provide a different version of events. Apparently John Darwin was now claiming that he could now remember taking his canoe out to sea, although the next few months were a blank, before "coming to" and making his way back to his home in Seaton Carew. It was then that Darwin discovered that his wife had already cashed in his life insurance policy, which they couldn't afford repay, so they came up with a plan for him to disappear for good. It was also suggested that since moving to Panama, Anne Darwin had found another man, and so decided to split from her husband. Since John Darwin was legally dead, all 'his' assets were in her name, and thus the only way he could recover any share of the money was to bring himself back to life, so to speak.

As far as the money was concerned, although the Darwins were hardly multi-millionaires, there was a fair bit of money involved. Both the Darwin's two houses in Seaton Carew were sold for £455,000, and there was the proceeds of the life insurance policy (believed to be around £100,000) together with the death in service benefit received from the Prison Service amounting to a lump sum of £60,000 and a pension of £8,000 a year. According to the Mail on Sunday the Darwins had recently formed their own company, Jaguar Properties Corporation which had used this money to acquire a penthouse apartment in Panama City together with 194 hectares of land on the shores of Lake Gatun, some fifty miles from Panama City, where the Darwins planned to open an eco-tourist resort offering kayak trips. It also appeared that both of the Darwin's sons were shareholders in Jaguar Properties, but although both were aware of their shareholding, they were apparently unaware of their father's involvement or indeed that he was alive.

4. The boys feel betrayed. The whole family does.

In a world exclusive on Dunday 9th December the Mail on Sunday reported that Anne Darwin had arrived at Manchester Airport at 9.25am that morning after taking an overnight flight from Atlanta, Georgia where she was arrested on arrival. (The Mail even claimed the credit for bringing her back to Britain.) On the following day, the 10th December, Anne Darwin was charged with dishonestly obtaining £25,000 by money transfer and of similarly dishonestly obtaining £137,000 by money transfer.

Both Darwins later appeared separately via video link before Hartlepool Magistrates' Court on the 14th December where they were remanded in custody and so spent Christmas in prison. They next met each other in person when they reappeared in court on the 9th January, and studiously avoided looking at each other as a further four more offences of obtaining a money transfer by deception were added to the charge sheet. The couple were again remanded in custody until the 18th January. The couple's sons Mark and Anthony were both interviewed by Cleveland Police, although there had been some suggestions that they were at least aware of the 'disappearance plot', Cleveland Police announced that the "result of these lengthy interviews was that there was nothing to suggest they are anything other than witnesses and, of course, victims in the case." The two brothers also released a statement saying they wanted no more contact with their parents.


Sourced from various reports in the British media including BBC News, The Guardian, The Times, The Daily and Sunday Telegraph, The Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday, The Independent and Independent on Sunday, The Sun, The Daily Mirror, and The Daily and Sunday Express; and including.

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