Here’s a heartwarming family story for the holiday season.
John Darwin, a British man, worried about debts from a failed career in rental properties, fakes death by drowning on a canoe trip. His wife Anne knew he was thinking about going on the lam, but when he disappeared, she claims she thought he was really dead.
According to her account, Darwin began planning to fake his death in early 2002 because he believed it was the only way the couple could escape growing debts related to their apartment rental business.
She said she doubted he would go through with the plan and initially believed he had died when he disappeared in March 2002. But she said he returned to their family home in northern England in February 2003, looking dirty, thin and “disheveled.”
For the next three years, she told the newspapers, Darwin lived with her in their family home, spending most of his time in a small room in an apartment building they owned next door. She said his secret room was connected to their bedroom by a passageway that was knocked into the wall and hidden behind a large wardrobe.
“I was always on eggshells when friends and family came to stay in case someone wandered into John’s room and saw him,” she said, adding that he would often take walks disguised in a woolly hat and faking a limp.
He was hiding in his secret room, she said, on the day in April 2003 that she and their two grown sons returned home from the coroner’s inquest at which John Darwin was officially declared dead, she said.
The declaration allowed her to collect life insurance payouts of about $50,000 in cash and an additional $260,000 to pay off the mortgage on their house, she told the newspapers.
Anne Darwin said her husband insisted that their sons not be told that he was alive. But he said he missed the boys and would have her put them on speakerphone when they called so he could hear their voices, she said. Sometimes, when they asked her a question that she could not answer, she said he would write down an answer for her to read to them.
Little side stories are coming out in the British press about this time in hiding. I especially liked this one, which has a very L.A. feel about it. Even a dead man can be a NIMBY:
And this one, which shows that despite being in hiding, Darwin was in touch with tourism fashions:
The secret tropical estate to which John and Anne Darwin planned to disappear has been tracked down by The Times.
Bought six months ago it lies between the Caribbean Sea and the Panama Canal and was discovered at the end of a complex paper trail designed to conceal the identities of its new owners. The site, located on the shores of a freshwater lake, is popular with adventure canoeists and seems like the ultimate hideaway in a country renowned for what may politely be described as financial discretion.
While police in Cleveland were granted a further 36 hours yesterday to question the former prison officer who was believed drowned five years ago, The Times can reveal that he and his “widow” were planning to develop an eco-tourism resort. They had promised to bring jobs and prosperity to a backward region of this Central American republic.
The collapse of the fantasy world of the Darwins, however, has dealt a heavy blow to the village of Escobal, where their grandiose hotel scheme is known by all simply as “el Proyecto” — the Project.
A whole village dealt a heavy blow. But what about the family of this couple? This story has their sons devasted:
How could this ordinary, middle-class couple have become such cynical tricksters?
Anne, 55, has claimed she and her husband had kept the news that Mr Darwin was still alive from them, saying that he hid in a bedsit next door whenever their sons visited their home in Cleveland.
But police, who are in contact with Mark and Anthony, remained tight-lipped when asked about their status in the probe.
The missing man’s father’s take is that his daughter-in-law is really at fault.
Speaking from his home in Blackhall Colliery, near Hartlepool, Mr Darwin raged: “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.
“I’ve said to myself a million times that she knew more about it than she let on. Every day she changes her story. She’s telling more and more lies to get herself out of bother.”
He also crushed Anne’s claim that she was a weak woman duped by a strong, persuasive husband.
“She dominated the family and was very stuck-up,” he said.
“She made John dance to her tune.
“She was always very secretive. I told her that. She is easily capable of keeping secrets. When she and John moved to Seaton Carew, she never even told me where they were living or what their address was.
“She says John came back from the dead but she didn’t say anything about it.
“I don’t believe her. I reckon he could have been hiding in the house all along and this is just another lie. She has told that many lies, when will she stop?
“The truth will come out, I hope. I think Anne was behind this all along. She is blaming John – she’s in it up to her neck.”
In the inevitable movie — which of course I am available to write — who is the protagonist?