How Canoe Man John Darwin was exposed while gardening by locals

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ITV is currently airing The Thief, His Wife and The Canoe which has led to a renewed interest in its subject John Darwin and his then wife Anne.

The four-part TV drama tells the true story of the couple, portrayed by actors Eddie Marsan and Monica Dolan.

John faked his own death after going out to sea in his red canoe to claim life insurance and avoid bankruptcy, the drama focuses on how Anne became complicit in her husband’s deception.

Anne received £250,000 life insurance while keeping the truth from John’s friends and family, including their two sons.

John faked his own death after going out to sea in his red canoe
John faked his own death after going out to sea in his red canoe

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But twenty years later after faking his own death, John’s colleagues shared how he was almost caught while gardening outside his home.

He was jailed in 2007 for six years for the fraud, but how was he found?

How was ‘Canoe Man’ exposed?

In 2002, a large search took place covering 62 miles to try and find him, after use a paddle and kayak was discovered.

His sons were understandably distraught and mourned the loss of their father, meanwhile he’d disguised himself with a hat and a beard.

Just 14 months in the same, his colleague said he’d seen Darwin pottering around outside his home.

“He had a long shaggy beard and looked like a caveman, but I knew it was him,” he told the Mirror.

The four-part TV drama tells the true story of the couple
The four-part TV drama tells the true story of the couple

The ‘Canoe Man’ managed to hide for five years before he was discovered and there were three sightings of him after his ‘death.’

One person drove past his house and was convinced they’d seen him in the front driveway but his wife told him not to be “daft.”

But he was “100% sure” it was him, so pulled up outside the house then ended up telling the police.

Some people had even claimed to have seen him around his home town following the disappearance.

He sported a beard and grew his hair in disguise, and colleagues claimed he’d taken all of his belongings from his locker before the fake drowning.

He’d been living in his own home for the five years he was thought missing, in Seaton Carew with his wife.

He’d then hide in a bedsit when his sons or friends visited, which he’d access through the door of a fake cupboard.

The couple were eventually rumbled when John turned himself in at a London police station, during which he claimed to have amnesia.

Then a photo of him and Anne in Panama emerged, and rumbled the couple.

A photo of him and Anne in Panama emerged, and rumbled the couple
A photo of him and Anne in Panama emerged, and rumbled the couple

The couple eventually decided to leave Seaton Carew and move to Panama City to start a new life together before their secret was exposed by the discovery of an infamous photo of them posing in a Panama real estate office in July 2006.

At her trial Anne pleaded not guilty, claiming that she had been coerced into the plot by her husband, but the jury didn’t believe her. She and her husband were both sentenced to more than six years in prison. They were both released in 2011.

Since 2011, John, who is now 71, now lives in South East Asia with his second wife Mercy.

He is funded by his state pension from the UK which he still receives despite living abroad.

After being released from prison halfway through his sentence, John divorced Anne after she refused to rekindle their relationship.

The four-part ITV series begins this month
The four-part ITV series begins this month

After refusing to help with the writing of the ITV drama, John is reportedly planning his own tell-all book.

Sources close to the couple have said the couple are happier than ever, telling the Mirror: “John and Mercy are really happy together. He feels like he’s been given a second chance at life and he’s grabbing it with both hands.”

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