Missing canoeist John Darwin came back from the dead because he missed his sons


Last updated at 09:49 08 December 2007

He had been missing presumed dead for five years.

But after living the life of a fugitive - and even beginning a new life in Panama - there was one thing that finally persuaded John Darwin he had to return from the grave and hand himself in to police.

The simple answer for his miraculous appearance was, according to his wife Anne, his two boys.

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Anthony and Mark desperately missed their father and Mrs Darwin admits the worst thing about the incredible situation was deceiving the family.

"I said to John many times, "You know I can't lie, I hate to lie," and I so wish I hadn't because I would not have got myself into the mess I did.

"You tell one lie and you had to tell another one to cover up for the first one and it all just snowballed.

"I absolutely hate myself for having done it. There were many times I was tempted to come clean, many times.

"The boys missed their Dad and I know deep down he missed them as well and he always wanted to find a way back so he could be reunited with them.

"I am sure both boys did believe he was dead. But there was never a body.

"They used to look at newspapers and the internet and scour the reports of missing persons and reports of bodies that were found.

"They were tortured. And yes, it was hard to keep up the front. I so wanted to tell them but I was in too deep, how could I possibly explain to them that I'd known their father was alive?

"Sometimes the boys would ring up wanting to talk about all manner of things and they would say, 'If only dad was here to advise us'.

"Sometimes John was sitting there next to me and I would put the telephone on to loudspeaker so that he could hear them. If I did not have an answer to one of their questions, John used to write it down.

"When one of them would call and ask me something and I didn't know the answer to the question and John did, he would write it down on a piece of paper and pass it to me, and I would tell my son what he'd said."

Mrs Darwin insists that neither she nor husband told a single soul, not her parents, not his father, or her brother and sister.

"I'm so sorry for deceiving my family," she said.

But she managed to put up a convincing enough front that nobody suspected a thing. Inside, though, she says she was going through a "living hell", constantly plagued by guilt and the fear of discovery.

"Most of the time I just used to be terrified. I think John probably was too.

"I sometimes used to dread coming home, worrying myself sick that John might have been seen, or maybe even that the police would be there, that he had fallen and broken a leg, or even that he had actually died, then what would I do?"


In 2004, the couple decided it might be better if they moved abroad.

"I never wanted to move, but John had been restless throughout our marriage, always talking about moving abroad.

"Not long after we were married, he wanted to move to Australia. Then he wanted to go to the Falklands, then it was Canada, I think.

"He changed his mind so many times I lost count. So I guess Panama was really just the next step."

They discussed moving to Cyprus and in the November they went on a week-long jaunt to the island to check out some properties. It is not possible for a deceased person to hold a passport, but Darwin somehow managed to procure one in the name John Jones.

"He used our home address and sent off an application and he got one. It was as simple as that," said his wife.

In Cyprus, they found a piece of land they liked and went to see an architect about building a property, but Mrs Darwin said her husband became disillusioned after the architect was slow producing plans and the idea was shelved.


There began to be tensions in the marriage because of the gargantuan deception both were carrying out. The physical side of the relationship petered out.

Darwin, having so much spare time on his hands, began to spent hours playing interactive internet games with opponents from all over the world. Among them was a lady from Kansas whom he began to be rather friendly with.

At one point, his wife says, he jetted off to America to visit her - presumablyin the name John Jones. "As time when by, the physical side of our relationship had died. When you are so cross and angry with someone, you can hardly leap into bed with them at every opportunity.

"There were lots of times I just wanted to walk out of the house and turn him in.

"But I just couldn't do that because I was in too deep. I just felt like I couldn't confide in anybody. No one.

"On a few occasions I threatened him. But overall I just used to try not to get angry or upset.

"I would go out. Sometimes I would just drive off in the car and pull over somewhere and start to cry. I eventually found out that he had gone to the States to buy some land, or a piece of property.

"I think he was looking for an escape route. I don't really know whether it was the woman or the property or what but anyway, it didn't work out.

"I don't know if they had an affair, I don't know the details. Part of me wished he had just gone - disappeared for good.

"By now, the money had been paid out. He asked me whenever he needed money and I gave it to him. Of course, he couldn't do any banking transactions but he had all my passwords which, foolishly, I had never changed.

"Sometimes things at home were OK, but then all of a sudden they'd just come crashing down again on top of me.

"I used to think about John and wonder to myself, 'Well, what else has he got?' He was a prisoner within four walls. I pitied him.

"He didn't have a life. It was just an existence.

"Sometimes he would go storming off to his bedsit and I would bolt the door behind him so he could not get back in. But then I would feel guilty."


There was more jet-setting when Darwin flew out to Spain to view a catamaran he was thinking of buying.

"He didn't buy it because he didn't like it," said Mrs Darwin.

Then last year, Darwin took a fancy to Panama. There has been much speculation as to the Panama connection, but Mrs Darwin says her husband simply liked the look of it.

"He did a lot of research on the internet and suggested we go out and look at some properties. He would send out emails in my name requesting particulars of properties. The idea was for us to make a fresh start there, where John would have more freedom.

"I was very worried we might bump into someone we know at Newcastle Airport but it was fine. We stayed with a host family who were looking for people to relocate to Panama and had a really nice time, although we didn't see any properties we liked."

They returned in March this year and this time they found a two-bedroom apartment in a suburb of Panama City called El Dorado.

They paid £50,000 for it and bought it in the name of a corporation - Jaguar Properties, a title dreamed up by Darwin, a practice which Mrs Darwin says is entirely legal in Panama.

She returned to England in April to try to sell the house and tie up other loose ends, while her husband remained in Panama.

In July she rejoined him there.They had six weeks together, during which she says their marriage was reborn.

"It was a lovely time," she said. "John had changed back into the person I'd married. Out there I didn't feel I was living a lie, we had freedom to go about the place as a couple and I felt normal for the first time in years.

"It was as if our marriage was reborn - as if a huge weight had been lifted off our shoulders.

"It was the first time I had felt normal in a long time: not having to look over my shoulder the whole time."

In October the family house was sold for £295,000 (all the other properties have been sold in the past few years, with no profit, she says) and days later she flew back out to Panama.

"I spent the last weekend with the boys. Everyone was excited for me as I was about to embark on my new life.

"They all said they wanted to come and visit."

Darwin insisted that the money from the sale of the house be broken down into smaller sums and deposited in a number of Panamanian banks. "He said we'd get more interest that way. The idea was to live off the interest," Mrs Darwin said.

"The plan was then to pay back the life insurance money because I said there was no way I could go along with that unless we paid the money back.

"I told him we should not have done this in the first place, it should not have happened, but if it was to be a fresh start, it had to be a clean fresh start."


In the third week of November, the couple enjoyed a romantic holiday in Costa Rica before returning to Panama. They had apparently got away with their utterly audacious scam.

A life of easy living in the sunshine beckoned. So how did it all go so very wrong?

This week there has been frenzied speculation that Darwin had another woman, or that his wife had a boyfriend. It was even suggested that he turned himself in as revenge on his wife for kicking him out of the apartment.

What she says is more prosaic. He missed his sons. He told his wife he was going to go back to England and claim he'd had amnesia for five years, thereby enabling him to see Mark, 32, and Anthony, 29.

She said: "He had had enough of 'being dead'. So I bought him an airline ticket and took him to the airport, it was Friday November 30.

"I had a worried feeling inside me as I drove him to the airport and when he left it was quite emotional, I was being left here on my own and he was going home with this story which I didn't think anyone would believe.

"But John desperately wanted contact with the boys again and thought he could pick up the pieces of his life.

"We talked about what he was going to say, he wasn't quite sure what he would say other than he had decided that he could remember nothing after a holiday we had in Norway in


"I think he thought he would get away with it, and he would come back and we would live happily ever after."

Exactly a week ago Darwin walked into a police station and announced that he thought he was a "missing person", saying he had amnesia and could remember nothing of the past five years. It didn't wash and his glowing suntan looked suspicious.

But his astonished sons were called in to the station for a reunion with their father. They excitedly telephoned their mother to tell her the amazing news and handed their father the receiver so he could speak to his wife.

The couple had to go through a staged enactment of astonishment and joy. "I suppose it was a bit stilted," she said. "I didn't think John was convincing. He said 'Hello Anne, is that really you, are you all right?' and I replied 'Yes it's me, I'm OK, how are you?'


Three days later, Darwin was sensationally arrested and he remains in custody. After the arrest the couple's story began to unravel at a phenomenal speed.

A photograph surfaced of them taken by an estate agent in Panama last year, and the game was up.

Mrs Darwin has no idea what the future holds for them, or even if they have one. She is thinking primarily about her boys.

"I am really, really sorry and I hope that one day they will realise what I did wasn't easy. I was misguided but I did it out of love for their father.

"Boys, please believe your Mam when I say 'I am truly very sorry and I still love you and hope you can find it in your hearts to one day forgive me'."

This weekend Mrs Darwin is planning to return to Britain to 'face the music'. It is going to be very loud indeed, and will no doubt play for some time to come.

• Anne Darwin did not seek nor receive payment for this interview.

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