The Thief, His Wife and The Canoe is the ITV dramatization that everyone is talking right now, after the four parter about John and Anne Darwin started airing on Sunday [17 April]. But how accurate is the adaptation of the true story, which saw a man fake his own death in a canoeing accident in a bid to claim his life insurance from him, to what actually happened?
The true story of The Thief, His Wife and The Canoe saw John and Anne convicted of fraud in 2008, after hatching a scheme that saw John fake his own death in an apparent canoeing accident in 2002.
fiction- In real life, prison officer John and his wife, receptionist Anne, had managed to accrue debts close to £700,000, leaving them on the edge of bankruptcy. In the adaptation, the debts are portrayed as £60,000.
fact- John and Anne lived in Seaton Crew in a house right on the seafront, and after John had faked his own death, he did hide in the bedsit that they owned next door. The properties were connected by a small doorway that he would use to travel between their houses.
fiction – The Thief, His Wife and The Canoe suggest the police were quite accepting of John’s disappearance and attempted to support Anne through the hard time. In reality, reports suggest their suspicions around John’s disappearance from the get-go, particularly because it was such a calm day at sea. David Young, a ward council member in Seaton Carew, told TIME that it “didn’t add up”.
fiction- In the ITV show, it’s suggested that John is briefly spotted by someone who knew him after faking his own death, out and about in Seaton Crew. In reality, John actually admitted to seeing many people he knew, including colleagues from the prison, and even walking past his brother and father at one point. His colleagues of him also claim to have seen him “brazenly” gardening in their front garden, using a fake beard and hat as a disguise.
fact- The pair eventually ran away to Panama (John used a fake passport), but were unable to live there legally when they realized they’d need character references from the British police. A member of the public found a photo of them with an estate agent dated 2006, which is when their lives began to unravel.
fiction- The couple didn’t just move to Panama to live a quiet life – Crown Prosecution Service reports from the time recovered multiple assets worth £500k, including an apartment and a dense patch of jungle by Lake Gatun which they brought with a view to opening a bed and breakfast after they fled to the central American state in 2007.
fact- John and Anne’s two sons Mark and Anthony had no idea of their scheme, and were kept in the dark for the whole six years. Speaking to the press at the time, Mark described Anne as “a hideous lying b***h who had gone to outrageous lengths to con us” while Anthony said [via the Daily Mail] of his parents, “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. She dragged us through hell by forcing to court case.”
The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe continue on ITV at 9pm.
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