Thursday, April 25, 2024

The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe

ITV1’s ‘The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe’ is a must watch; it recasts the narrative of the 2002 disappearance of John Darwin and shows his wife as an under the thumb woman manipulated into fraud – just as said 71-year-old fraudster has supposedly headed off to Ukraine to fight

Whilst the disappearance of Lord Lucan on 8th November 1974 and the disappearance of Madeleine McCann on 3rd May 2007 are perhaps the two best known examples of disappearances of British citizens, the story of how the fraudster John Darwin went missing on 21st March 2002 is certainly up there in the league of “most famous British missing persons’ cases.”


Highlighted again now after the first two episodes of ITV1’s The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe aired on Sunday and Monday is an example of a modern-day Walter Mitty. John Darwin, the primary subject of the series, was a father of two, former teacher, prison officer and a wannabe business tycoon and he was someone with a penchant for living well and truly beyond his means.


After accumulating vast debts after buying up 12 houses to run as bedsits and a Range Rover with a personalised numberplate also, Mr Darwin concocted a plan to make it appear he’d drowned at sea and then have his wife, Anne, claim life insurance policies to clear their debts and help them start a new life free of their financial shackles.


The four-hour ITV drama – written by Unforgotten creator Chris Lang and starring Eddie Marsan and Monica Dolan as John and Anne Darwin – whilst slammed by some for having accents “insulting” to people from Hartlepool is truly worth watching.


In it, whilst John Darwin is rightly portrayed as a true deviant and all-round nasty piece of toerag, his wife is shown to be an under-the-thumb and bullied woman who goes along with the plan because she has a genuine fear of what would happen to her if she doesn’t.


Controlled totally by a man who once supposedly told her only friend that he only allowed her out on voting day, here is a woman who clearly did wrong and clearly orchestrated much of their fraud because her husband was supposedly dead. Here also, ironically, is a woman whose jail sentence was 3 months longer than that of her then husband.


Whilst the real Anne Darwin served her time and is said to be making amends with her two sons, in March, the MailOnline reported that her now ex-husband’s new wife, Mercy Mae Avila Darwin, 48, had told the press that he was “on his way to Ukraine” to fight and ironically had “good life insurance.” The second Mrs Darwin, who runs clothing businesses in Manila, bizarrely remarked of the danger the now 71-year-old will face: “He will have a bullet proof vest… Dangerous for the Russian when he shoot them.”


Of her husband, Anne Darwin once remarked: “He’s got such a good memory. The problem is he was never satisfied with what he had. He always had ideas above his station. He wanted to be grander than he was.” She sums him up perfectly and after watching this show, I, for one, will say that whilst the rotter John Darwin deserves to go down in history as a truly awful specimen, his now ex-wife is a prime example of why second chances should be allowed.


To watch the full four-hour, four episode series, click here.


Pictured top – The then supposedly dead John and his then still wife Anne in Panama in 2006. The photograph had been discovered when a member of the public searched for the words ‘John,’ ‘Anne’ and ‘Panama’ in Google Images. The photo had been featured on the website and was brought to the attention of the ‘Daily Mirror’ and the Cleveland Police.


TV drama
Eddie Marsan and Monica Dolan star as the conman and his wife in the ITV drama.
John Darwin
Mercy May is said to be bankrolling her husband by sub-letting her market stall and running another shop in Manilla. The conman is supposedly living off his British state pension.
Anne Darwin
Of Anne Darwin (pictured recently above), ‘The Guardian’s’ Stuart Jeffries remarked: “’John was the sort of man,’ Anne Darwin tells us in voiceover early in this drama, ‘who would buy a Range Rover we couldn’t afford and then spend £3,000 on a personalised number plate.’ We all know that sort of man. Perhaps you’re married to him. If so – and while I’m not a professional marriage counsellor – my advice is: pack a bag and never look back. Instead, like a more tragicomic Tammy Wynette, Anne stood by her man. Until she could stand him no more, that is. The big question asked… is why it took her so long.”
Matthew Steeples
Matthew Steeples
A graduate of the London School of Economics, Matthew Steeples is a writer and marketing consultant. He conceived The Steeple Times as a media arena to fill the void between the Mail Online, The Huffington Post and such organs as the New York Social Diary in 2012.


  1. Oh Wow!
    An internet Filipino bride, formerly “for sale”. Better off with a Russian, and at least you can learn the language while in Ukraine. I guess insurance has a few disclaimers in it, which includes not going to a war zone and getting hit by rocket. Bullet proof vests do not protect against forcible disassembly of body parts


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