By Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, December 9, 2007
LONDON, Dec. 8 -- British police filed fraud charges Saturday against a man who was declared dead after he disappeared on a canoeing trip in 2002 but last week walked into a police station claiming amnesia.
Police in Cleveland, in northern England, charged John Darwin, 57, with making false statements to obtain a passport and using deception to make money transfers. Police said that Darwin would be held until a court appearance Monday and that they wanted to interview his wife, Anne, 55, who recently moved to Panama.
Police provided no other details of Darwin's five-year odyssey, but his wife laid out an extraordinary tale in a lengthy interview published Saturday in two British newspapers, the Mirror and the Daily Mail. The newspapers said Anne Darwin spoke to a reporter in Miami during a stopover on her return trip to Britain.
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.
She said the couple decided in 2004 to move abroad and start a new life. Her husband obtained a passport in the name of John Jones, and they traveled to Cyprus that year to look at properties, and later to Spain, she said. The newspapers reported that he flew to Gibraltar in 2005 to look at a $90,000 catamaran he wanted to buy.
She said her husband also traveled to the United States to meet a woman from Kansas with whom he had been chatting on the Internet. Anne Darwin said she did not know whether they had an affair. She said she was angry but felt sorry for him: "He didn't have a life; it was just an existence."
John Darwin began researching properties in Panama last year, she said, and they traveled there for a visit. In March, they went to Panama again and paid about $100,000 for a two-bedroom apartment in a suburb of Panama City. She returned to England a month later to sell their home, and he remained in Central America.
While in Panama, Darwin decided he missed his sons "desperately" and could no longer go on without seeing them. "He had had enough of being dead," she said.
John Darwin told her that he wanted to return to England and claim amnesia, and she said he thought that "we would live happily ever after." Within days of his arrival in England, a photograph of the Darwins in Panama surfaced on the Internet and his story unraveled into a sensational saga that has dominated British headlines and airwaves.
The Darwins' sons, Mark, 32, and Anthony, 29, issued a statement this week saying they wanted no further contact with their parents.
Asked in the interview what she would say to her sons now, Anne Darwin said, "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."