Fact vs Fiction: The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe — where is John Darwin now?

Where is John Darwin now - Eddie Marsan and Monica Dolan as John and Anne Darwin.
Eddie Marsan and Monica Dolan star as John and Anne Darwin. (Image credit: ITV)

True crime drama The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe sees John and Anne Darwin's real-life £679,000 insurance scam play out — but while the four-part series is based on a true story, how is real? 

The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe sees Eddie Marsan and Monica Dolan take on the roles of John and Anne Darwin and tells the bizarre true story of the infamous canoe conman.

The ITV drama explores John Darwin's big scam and how it was carried out. It also shows how his wife Anne became complicit in her husband’s bizarre deception to avoid bankruptcy, as she played the grieving widow and tried to convince the world, their friends, the police and insurance companies that John had gone missing while canoeing off the North East coast. 

Even their sons, Mark and Anthony, were none the wiser for five years, as their father secretly lived hidden in a bedsit next door to the home he shared with Anne.

But where is John Darwin now, did he really hide in plain sight by living next door to his family home? And did the couple's two sons really have no idea their parents were lying to them for so many years? 

Here we take a look at the fact vs fiction in John Darwin's incredible story...

Is The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe a true story?

Yes, the whole incredible story of John and Anne Darwin's attempts to scam thousands of pounds worth of insurance money is true. 

Trouble for the couple started when their business renting bedsits in County Durham racked up serious debts, with their purchase of two adjoining houses in Seaton Carew during December 2000 proving to be the straw that broke the camel's back. 

With thousands of pounds worth of debt piling up, John became desperate to avoid bankruptcy and came up with the elaborate plan of faking his own death and claiming on his life insurance 

While John went out into the sea on the North East coast in his canoe in a bid to vanish into thin air, Anne was then left to face the music at home, where she ended up claiming £679,000 in pensions and insurance payouts.  

Did John Darwin really hide in the house next door? 

Yes, bizarrely John thought the best place to hide from the police, media and their friends and family was in the house next door to the couple's property. Amazingly, while hiding just meters from his family home, John never got caught, despite visiting his wife through adjoining doors between the properties.

Eddie Marsan and Monica Dolan star as insurance scammer John Darwin and his wife Anne in The Thief, His Wife And The Canoe.

Eddie Marsan and Monica Dolan star as insurance scammer John Darwin and his wife Anne in The Thief, His Wife And The Canoe. (Image credit: ITV)

Did John and Anne's sons really have no idea their dad was alive? 

No, Anthony and Mark has no idea that their parents were lying to them and completely believed that their father had died in a canoeing accident. The couple's sons had to give evidence after Anne said she was coerced into going along with John's plan, but they later made it very clear that they didn't want anything more to do with their parents. 

Speaking to The Daily Mail Anthony said: "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 a court case."

How did John Darwin get caught? 

After fleeing to Panama City in 2006, the couple tried to make a new life, but their lie came crashing down around them when a photograph of them with a real estate agent was taken and ended up on the internet. John spent his time in Panama trying to build a new property empire, before he got fed up of playing dead and headed back to the UK and handed himself into the police in December 2007, pretending to have amnesia.

But what John didn't realize is that the police were already suspicious of the pair, with UK investigators digging into the unusual circumstances of his death. John and Anne's elaborate double life came crashing down when the Daily Mirror published the now-infamous picture of the pair in Panama. John was arrested shortly after and Anne followed suit the following day when she returned from Panama with a count of fraud.

Anne Darwin mourning husband Join's fake death with her sons Mark and Anthony who were oblivious to the scam.

Anthony and Mark were oblivious to the scam. (Image credit: ITV)

Did John and Anne Darwin go to prison? 

Yes, both John and Anne ended up in prison for their crimes in 2008. Anne pleaded not guilty, arguing that she’d been coerced into the plot by her husband, but the jury didn’t believe her and she was sentenced to six years and six months. Meawhile, John was ordered to serve six years and three months in prison. John was released from prison in January 2011, and Anne two months later.

Are John and Anne Darwin divorced?

Yes, during their time in prison, Anne called time on their marriage and filed for divorce. By the time they were both released from jail their divorce was finalized. 

The scamming pair in Panama.

A photo of the pair in Panama ended up being the undoing of their lies.  (Image credit: ITV)

Where is John Darwin now?

After being released from prison, John started a new life in the Philippines and has gone on to remarry. He is now married to a woman named Mercy Mae, who is 23 years his junior.

What happened to Anne Darwin?

While in prison Anne collborated with journalist David Leigh and together they wrote a book about the scandal called Out of my Depth. She now lives a quiet life in York and has reconciled with her sons. 

The four-part drama The Thief, His Wife And The Canoe originally aired in the UK in April 2022 on ITV. This 2023 repeat of the drama starts on ITV on Monday, June 12 at 9 pm and then runs over consecutive nights on ITV at the same time until Thursday, June 15, 2023. 

All episodes are now available on BritBox in the US and on ITVX in the UK. 

Claire Crick
Assistant Managing Editor at What To Watch

Claire is Assistant Managing Editor at What To Watch and has been a journalist for over 15 years, writing about everything from soaps and TV to beauty, entertainment, and even the Royal Family. After starting her career at a soap magazine, she ended up staying for 13 years, and over that time she’s pulled pints in the Rovers Return, sung karaoke in the Emmerdale village hall, taken a stroll around Albert Square, and visited Summer Bay Surf Club in sunny Australia. 

After learning some tricks of the trade at websites Digital Spy, Entertainment Daily, and Woman & Home, Claire landed a role at What’s On TV and whattowatch.com writing about all things TV and film, with a particular love for Aussie soaps, Strictly Come Dancing and Bake Off

She’s interviewed everyone from June Brown — AKA Dot Cotton — to Michelle Keegan, swapped cooking tips with baking legend Mary Berry backstage at the NTAs, and danced the night away with soap stars at countless awards bashes. There’s not a lot she doesn’t know about soaps and TV and can be very handy when a soapy question comes up in a pub quiz! 

As well as all things soap-related, Claire also loves running, spa breaks, days out with her kids, and getting lost in a good book.