The already-acclaimed drama series The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe premiered on Easter Sunday 2022.


Starring Eddie Marsan and Monica Dolan, the four-part ITV drama follows former prisoner officer John Darwin (Marsan) and his wife Anne Darwin (Dolan) as they struggle with financial issues.

In response, John suggests what will become one of the most bizarre criminal cases in recent memory.

Many will remember the story of the "Canoe Man" who faked his own disappearance in a bid to obtain life insurance money.

A remarkable true story with a brilliant cast, The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe makes for a fascinating watch – but who are the real-life couple behind this drama and where are they now?

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Here's everything you need to know about where Anne and John Darwin are now.

Who are Anne and John Darwin?

Anne Darwin (née Stephenston) first met her future husband John Darwin in 1973 and the pair married two years later. The pair shared two sons - Mark and Anthony.

Anne had a full-time job as a doctor's receptionist while John was a prison officer at HM Prison Holme House, Stockton-on-Tees. The pair also had 12 bedsits across County Durham but ran into a large amount of debt after buying two houses right next to each other in Seaton Carew, Hartlepool, in December 2000.

Just two years later, John, who was on the verge of being declared bankrupt with debts of over £700,000, decided to fake his own death to claim life insurance money. Anne went along with the harebrained scheme.

Speaking to The Guardian in 2016, Anne explained: “John could also be persuasive. He told me, ‘I’ll only need to vanish for a couple of weeks and we’ll have the money.’ It got out of control.

“The deeper you get into these situations, the harder it is to get out. If I had any inkling it would have lasted more than few a weeks, there’s no way I could have gone along with it and put myself through years of torture. But once it was done, and he got me to lie that he’d disappeared, I couldn’t get out of it.”

Anne and John Darwin's police pictures (GETTY)
Anne and John Darwin's police pictures Getty

And so, on 21st March 2002, John left his Seaton Carew home armed with his canoe and paddled out into the North Sea. Later that day, he was reported as missing when he failed to turn up to his job at the prison.

The following day, the paddle John had thrown out to sea was discovered and the wreckage of his destroyed kayak was found. As his body was never discovered, Anne was able to obtain a crucial death certificate which stated he was presumed dead - this was then used to claim his life insurance.

Meanwhile, John was living next door to Anne, in one of the rooms they rented out. He would pay Anne a visit by sneaking through old connecting doors between the terraced houses.

The pair collected the insurance money and decided to start a new life together in Panama. John was able to apply for a new passport using the false name of "John Jones".

Anne and John flew to Panama on 14th July 2006 where they met with a Panamanian property agent who took a now infamous photograph of the pair - they were simply adding to their client roster, but it would turn out to be a photograph that would make the front pages of the British tabloid press.

Speaking on This Morning in 2016, Anne said of the photo: "I wished that had never been taken, but it was done in an instant - there was no forewarning that it was going to happen. I knew it would all come out eventually - going to Panama, it wasn't to escape [the truth], it was just another section of John's scheme."

In May 2007, Anne and John purchased a £200,000 property in Panama, with the hope of running a centre of holiday activities, including canoeing - though their true intention has often been debated, with John telling Elizabeth Greenwood in her book Playing Dead that they had never intended to set up a canoe business. Anne sold their Seaton Carew home in October 2007 and subsequently moved to start her new life in Panama with her husband.

However, their life in paradise wasn't meant to be, as a change in Panama's visa laws meant that those who wished to live and work in the country would have to have their identities confirmed by the UK police - a big problem for John who was legally missing and dead.

The fake passport photo of John Darwin.
The fake passport photo of John Darwin. Getty

He decided the game was over and enough time had passed that he could return to the UK under his real name and claim to have suffered from amnesia. On 1st December 2007, John went to the West End Central police station in London to hand himself in - much to Anne's relief, as she explained to This Morning: "He was convinced he would get away with this story of amnesia, I never expected him to get away with it. I was just relieved the lies would be over."

The police were already suspicious of the pair, with UK investigators digging into the unusual circumstances of his death, and Anne's movements afterwards three months before he reappeared in London.

Their world came crashing down when the Daily Mirror published the now-infamous picture of the pair in Panama. John was arrested shortly after on a count of obtaining life insurance money by deception and making untrue statements and Anne followed suit the following day when she returned from Panama with a count of fraud.

Anthony and Mark Darwin leave Teesside Crown Court (GETTY)
Anthony and Mark Darwin leave Teesside Crown Court (Getty)

Anne and John's two sons publicly denounced their parents, wishing to have no further contact with them. Anne said of their decision: “After the truth came out that we’d been living in Panama together, I continually wrote to Mark and Anthony to say, ‘I am so sorry. I really do love you.’"

She added to The Guardian: “But they refused to see or talk to me. The first time I set eyes on them [afterwards] was at my trial when Mark was the first to testify against me. After he left the witness box, he only lifted his eyes fleetingly to meet mine. I was totally shocked by how dark and full of anger they were. To see that was absolutely horrendous.”

The pair were both convicted of fraud on 23rd July 2008. John received six years and three months, while Anne was given six years and six months - both had their appeals rejected. John was released in January 2011, and Anne two months later.

Where is Anne Darwin now?

Anne Darwin on This Morning
Anne Darwin on This Morning in 2016 ITV

Following her prison stint, Anne decided to separate from John. She spoke to The Guardian about her life with him, and how she realised that some of his behaviour towards her was unacceptable - some might say coercive.

“I hadn’t realised how much John manipulated me until I was in prison. I had to see a psychologist to finally help me see things in a different light," she said.

“Until then I’d always had his voice in my head. Finally, when it faded away, I could then make decisions for myself and I realised that I didn’t have to depend on him. I could cope on my own.”

Anne last had communication with John while they were in prison, where she finally plucked up the courage to end things - John didn't take it well.

When she left prison in 2011, John was reported to have sent Anne a photograph of herself which had a copyright brand on it, seemingly implying she was his property. The pair eventually divorced, with John citing "unreasonable behaviour".

She found a job with the RSPCA using the qualifications she gained in prison and moved to a village outside of York, according to YorkshireLive. Anne also wrote a book about her experiences, called Out of My Depth, with proceeds going to the RNLI and the RSPCA.

Speaking on This Morning in 2016, Anne said: "I came through that [depression in prison] with help and I've managed to turn my life around. I made the best of the opportunity that I could with all that was on offer in prison as far as education. I equipped myself with up-to-date qualifications so I could find a job and give myself the best chance to start a new life."

Anne has since reconciled with her sons.

In March 2022, the Daily Mail placed Anne in "a village outside Middlesborough" and when asked about The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe's imminent release, Anne said she had "nothing to say".

Where is John Darwin now?

John, now 71, struck up a romance online with his second wife, Mercy May, 48, in 2015. He now lives in the Philippines with her.

Mercy sublets a clothes stall in Manilla among other fashion ventures. The pair also sublet the property next door to their new home, according to The Mirror.

It's currently unknown whether John speaks to his sons. Anne said to The Guardian in 2016: “That’s a private matter for them.”

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The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe continues tonight on ITV, with all episodes available to stream on ITV Hub. Check out our Drama hub for more news, interviews and features or find something to watch with our TV guide.


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