John 'canoe man' Darwin : The full story
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10 years ago, john darwin walked into a london police station and told an officer: "I think i'm a missing person"
This is his story...
March 21, 2002
With debts crowding in on him and bankruptcy proceedings only days away, John Darwin decided that Thursday, March 21, 2002, was the perfect day to disappear.
That morning, there were four calls between the Darwins' home number and the medical centre where his wife, Anne Darwin, worked. In one, John told Anne: "This is it ... pick me up later."
He finished his nightshift at Holme House Prison, in Stockton, and returned home to No 3, The Cliff, Seaton Carew. At about 4.30pm, he toojm his red kayak, the Orca, down to the beach in front of the house.
At about 6pm, Anne drove back from Durham and John returned to the shore. By now it was dark. She met him, as arranged, near the North Gare.
When Anne collected John in her Skoda, he was wearing jeans, a black jacket and a black hat, and he was carrying a rucksack containing his provisions. He gave the canoe a final push back out to sea.
From North Gare, Anne drove him the 40 minutes to Durham railway station to make his getaway. His last words to her were an order that when she reached The Cliff, she should phone the prison and ask to speak to him – as if everything was normal.
9.30pm March 21, 2002
Mr Darwin is reported missing by his wife, Anne. A massive search involving police and coastguard officers is launched. They scoured the coastline from Hartlepool down to Staithes, North Yorkshire. By the time it was called off on Friday evening, all that was found was a single paddle at North Gare.
John, who had now made his escape to the Lake District, phoned Anne regularly to check if the coast was clear for his return to Seaton Carew.
Anne drove to the Whitehaven area of Cumbria to pick him up, although she told her trial that she did not recognise him at first because he had grown a beard, was wearing different clothes, was walking with a limp and was using a walking stick.
With such a disguise, John was back at The Cliff – possibly as soon as a fortnight, definitely no longer than a month, after his disappearance.
Weeks after his 'disappearance', John Darwin's battered canoe was found washed up on a beach.
Back in Seaton Carew, John lived with Anne in No 3. He would scurry through a secret passage to No 4, the large house adjoining, when visitors arrived.
John concreted over floorboards in the secret passage so the creaking didn't give him away.
He didn't hide away, though, regularly limping down to the beach, and joining Seaton Carew library on April 22, 2002 – only a month and a day after he was lost at sea.
He was spending his time constructing a new identity, scouring graveyards and local newspapers, until he chanced upon the name of John Jones – a name he first used when he registered with the library and began borrowing books.
The real John Jones was born five months before Darwin, on March 27, 1950, at his gran's home in Sunderland, the son of river worker Alfred John Jones and his wife, Lily. He died after only five weeks from enteritis at the city's Hospital for Infectious Diseases, and was buried on May 3, 1950.
Darwin used John Jones' name to get a birth certificate.
He then used the birth certificate, accompanied by a black and white photo of himself sporting a long bushy beard – a photograph which a librarian signed to authenticate as he was such a regular customer – to get a passport.
Again, he was astonishingly brazen, even using the couple's home address to get the passport.
John Darwin is declared dead.
The financial institutions seem happy enough with the death certificate and the "strong evidence" of the battered canoe; the police seem convinced by the display Anne put on when they broke the news to her that a body washed up on the beach was not John. How she weeped and wailed that she wished it were, because then, with a body, she would be able to grieve properly and reach some closure.
Even the Darwins' two sons believe their father is dead.
Anne used the death certificate to claim her husband's £25,000 life insurance policy, his £25,000 teacher's pension, his £58,000 Prison Service pension, as well as £4,000 in payouts from the Department of Work and Pensions, and a further £137,000 from a Norwich Union mortgage insurance policy.
The total was £249,000.
Having created a new identity, he devoted his time to exploring the internet and playing an interactive roleplaying game called Asheron's Call.
According to the game's website, it is "where thousands of players inhabit a beautiful 3D fantasy world to make friends and seek out perilous adventure".
Anne told her fraud trial: "The people that played it became characters in this world.
They had money, they could buy and sell things, they could buy and sell property and they could cast spells on one another." John played a druid, and one of the people he came up against was Kelly Steele, a thrice-married woman, in her early 40s, living in Kansas City, in the US.
He communicated with her by email and then by internet telephone, jealously keeping his conversations from his wife by wearing headphones.
He transferred money to Mrs Steele and then, using a passport in the name of John Jones, flew out to meet her, telling Anne he needed a break.
Mrs Steele appears to have bought a derelict ten-acre farm to the south of Kansas City on John's behalf, but the relationship soon soured.
Anne told her trial that he slunk back to Seaton Carew having lost £30,000 on the venture and, once more, he was cooped up in the top bedsit in No 4, The Cliff.
But he liked to be active.
Colder weather was okay, as he could lurch around town on his stick with his hat pulled down and his face disguised by his beard.
The summer, though, was trying as he couldn't get out without looking suspicious.
He was spotted in 2003 by a former prison colleague, but Anne told police the colleague had made a mistake, having seen a "cousin who looked just like him".
Lee Wadrop, a tenant in No 4, also recognised him and asked him: "Aren't you supposed to be dead?" Mr Wadrop decided not to contact the police after John warned: "Don't tell anyone about this."
Only the Darwins knew whether their great canoe conspiracy had a greater goal than just paying off their debts.
Did they plan all along to fake the death and reinvent themselves in an exotic eldorado on the other side of the world, or did they only cast their eyes overseas when life became too hot for John holed up in No 4?
Their first attempt to escape came in 2004 when they visited Cyprus with the intention of buying some land.
"We only went for a week and we looked at quite a few properties, " Anne told a journalist once her cover had been blown. But it just seemed to take so long to do anything over there."
In 2005, John travelled to Spain and Gibraltar to view a 60ft catamaran worth £45,000 owned by dealer Robert Hopkin.
Mr Hopkin, 37, was astonished when police followed a paper trail to his office. He remembered a "Mr Jones" had approached him and had appeared willing to pay up to £50,000 to buy the boat using money held in his wife's name.
"The sort of boat he was looking at was definitely a boat you could happily go long-term cruising on – possibly round the world – and certainly disappear from society if you wanted to," said Mr Hopkin. "It's quite easy to do on a large boat like that. "
By the end of 2005, the Darwins appear to have decided that a life on the ocean waves was not for them, and they began preparing to buy some dry land abroad. Anne told the Daily Mirror in December as she flew home to face the music: "He was forever looking at new things and new places on the internet and one day he just came up with Panama."
He fired off emails in Anne's name to get property details and, in July 2006, they flew to Central America.
The fortnight was enough to convince them that Panama was the place to be – yet on this first trip, just as it must have seemed to them that their new life in paradise was within touching distance, they sowed the seeds of their downfall. They allowed a photograph to be taken of them standing smiling happily next to the owner and director of Move to Panama, Mario Vilar. Anne told her trial that they were horrified when Mario whipped out a camera to take a picture for his website.
DECEMBER 1, 2007
At 5.30pm John Darwin, now 57, walked into the West End Central police station in London. He told them: "I think I am a missing person."
December 4, 2007
Mr Darwin's sons announce that their father cannot remember anything since 2000. His wife Anne is traced to an apartment in Panama City, although the Foreign Office says she is not registered as living there. She tells reporters she is thrilled her husband is alive and is looking forward to seeing him again but fears she may have to pay back the life insurance payout which she received.
December 5, 2007
John Darwin is arrested in Hampshire on suspicion of fraud. He is charged with obtaining money by deception and using false information to claim a passport.
DECEMBER 9, 2007
Anne Darwin is arrested at Manchester Airport as she arrives into the UK
December 17, 2007
After police questioning, detectives conclude that the two sons of John and Anne Darwin, Mark (left) and Anthony (right), were not involved with Mr Darwin's disappearance.
The welcome sign of Seaton Carew was modified by pranksters in light of the case
March 13, 2008
John Darwin pleads guilty to seven charges of obtaining cash by deception and one passport offence.
Anne Darwin denies six charges of deception and nine of using criminal property.
July 23, 2008
Anne Darwin is convicted at Teesside crown court, found guilty of helping to fake her husband's own death.
John Darwin is sentenced to six years and three months at Moorland open prison in Doncaster, South Yorkshire. His wife, Anne, is sentenced to six years and six months at Askham Grange, in York.
JANUARY 18, 2011
John Darwin is released from prison. He returns to Seaton Carew, where he was pictured just days before on a day's release from prison.
March 9, 2011
Anne Darwin is released from prison.
John admits he wants his wife back. A source, friends with Mr Darwin, tells the Echo: "He would have her back tomorrow and he is quite concerned about what happens to her when she comes out of prison."
DECEMBER 16, 2013
John Darwin is arrested at Newcastle International Airport on his return from an unauthorised trip abroad to Ukraine to meet a woman he met over the internet.
April 8, 2014
Darwin appears at Teesside Crown Court after only paying back £122 of the £679,073 he owes from life insurance payouts.
His ex wife, Anne Darwin, had already repaid more than £500,000 under a separate Proceeds of Crime order.
Anne Darwin tells her story on ITV This Morning