true crime-drama The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe sees John and Anne Darwin’s real-life £679,000 insurance scam play out — but while the four-part series is based on a true story, how much of what we have been watching is real?
The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe sees Eddie Marsan and Monica Dolan take on the roles of John and Anne Darwin and tells the bizarre true story of the infamous canoe conman.
The ITV drama explores John Darwin’s big scam and how it was carried out. It also shows how his wife Anne became complicit in her husband’s bizarre deception to avoid bankruptcy, as she played the grieving widow and tried to convince the world, their friends, the police and insurance companies that John had gone missing while canoeing off the North East coast.
Even their sons, Mark and Anthony, were none the wiser for five years, as their father secretly lived hidden in a bedsit next door to the home he shared with Anne.
But where is John Darwin now, did he really hide in plain sight by living next door to his family home? And did the couple’s two sons really have no idea their parents were lying to them for so many years?
Here we take a look at the fact vs fiction in John Darwin’s incredible story…
Is The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe a true story?
Yes, the whole incredible story of John and Anne Darwin’s attempts to scam thousands of pounds worth of insurance money is true.
Trouble for the couple started when their business renting bedsits in County Durham racked up serious debts, with their purchase of two adjoining houses in Seaton Carew during December 2000 proving to be the straw that broke the camel’s back.
With thousands of pounds worth of debt piling up, John became desperate to avoid bankruptcy and came up with the elaborate plan of faking his own death and claiming on his life insurance
While John went out into the sea on the North East coast in his canoe in a bid to vanish into thin air, Anne was then left to face the music at home, where she ended up claiming £679,000 in pensions and insurance payouts.
Did John Darwin really hide in the house next door?
Yes, bizarrely John thought the best place to hide from the police, media and their friends and family was in the house next door to the couple’s property. Amazingly, while hiding just meters from his family home, John never got caught, despite him visiting his wife through adjoining doors between the properties.
Did John and Anne’s son’s really have no idea their dad was alive?
No, Anthony and Mark have no idea that their parents were lying to them and completely believed that their father had died in a canoeing accident. The couple’s sons had to give evidence after Anne said she was coerced into going along with John’s plan, but they later made it very clear that they didn’t want anything more to do with their parents.
Speaking to The Daily Mail Anthony said: “They’re as bad as each other. Dad told one nasty lie and disappeared and said he was dead, but she lied for six years, she was the face of the lies, she kept on lying.” even when the evidence was so overwhelmingly against her.
How did John Darwin get caught?
After fleeing to Panama City in 2006, the couple tried to make a new life, but their lie came crashing down around them when a photograph of them with a real estate agent was taken and ended up on the internet. John spent his time in Panama trying to build a new property empire, before he got fed up of playing dead and headed back to the UK and handed himself into the police in December 2007, pretending to have amnesia.
But what John didn’t realize is that the police were already suspicious of the pair, with UK investigators digging into the unusual circumstances of his death. John and Anne’s elaborate double life came crashing down when the Daily Mirror published the now-infamous picture of the pair in Panama. John was arrested shortly after and Anne followed suit the following day when she returned from Panama with a count of fraud.
Did John and Anne Darwin go to prison?
Yes, both John and Anne ended up in prison for their crimes in 2008. Anne pleaded not guilty, arguing that she’d been coerced into the plot by her husband, but the jury didn’t believe her and she was sentenced to six years and six months. Meawhile, John was ordered to serve six years and three months in prison. John was released from prison in January 2011, and Anne two months later.
Are John and Anne Darwin divorced?
Yes, during their time in prison, Anne called time on their marriage and filed for divorce. By the time they were both released from jail their divorce was finalized.
Where is John Darwin now?
After being released from prison, John started a new life in the Philippines and has gone on to remarry. He is now married to a woman named Mercy Mae, who is 23 years his junior.
What happened to Anne Darwin?
While in prison Anne collaborated with journalist David Leigh and together they wrote a book about the scandal called Out of my Depth. She now lives a quiet life in York and has reconciled with her sons de ella.
The four part drama The Thief, His Wife And The Canoe will arrive on ITV in the UK on Easter Sunday, April 17 at 9 pm, then runs over consecutive nights on ITV at the same time until Wednesday, April 20.
It will be followed by the documentary The Thief, His Wife And The Canoe: The Real Story on Thursday, April 21 at 9 pm, also on ITV.