Canoe conman John Darwin’s new Filipina wife has slammed the makers of an ITV drama for ‘dredging up’ the details of his extraordinary plot to fake his own death 20 years ago.

Speaking exclusively to MailOnline, Mercy Mae Darwin, 48, says her husband is ‘happy, healthy’ and just wants to be left alone to get on with his life.

She said: ‘My husband is happy and healthy and I’m looking after him. We don’t want his past life all dredged up again on TV and in newspapers. ‘I know what he did, he knows, and he paid penalty for that, he doesn’t need to be reminded.’

Darwin, 71, has made a new life in the Philippines with mother-of-three Mercy, who is 23 years his junior, after his release from prison over his £679,000 life insurance scam.

MailOnline tracked the couple down to Mercy’s hometown in Antipolo, an hour’s drive from the capital, where they own a £30,000 three-storey house with grilled windows in the relatively affluent gated community of Louiseville.

Canoe conman John Darwin’s new Filipina wife has slammed the makers of an ITV drama for ‘dredging up’ the details of his extraordinary plot to fake his own death 20 years ago. Speaking exclusively to MailOnline, Mercy Mae Darwin (pictured), 48, says her husband is ‘happy, healthy’ and just wants to be left alone to get on with his life

Darwin, 71, has made a new life in the Philippines with mother-of-three Mercy, who is 23 years his junior, after his release from prison over his £679,000 life insurance scam

Darwin, 71, has made a new life in the Philippines with mother-of-three Mercy, who is 23 years his junior, after his release from prison over his £679,000 life insurance scam 

Mercy, 48, spoke for the first time about her husband’s fraud and blasted the new TV series ‘The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe’, which starts this month.

She is angry that the ITV drama, starring Eddie Marsan and Monica Dolan, chronicling Darwin’s great deception, will once again put her husband under the spotlight.

Darwin was a prison offer who was heavily in debt when he staged an accident and faked his own drowning in the sea near Hartlepool in 2002 to get his hands on a life insurance payout.

His ex-wife Anne lied to their two sons and said Darwin was dead while he hid in a bedsit next door and listened through a partition in the wall as Anne’s two sons comforted their bereaved mother.

The couple later moved to Panama and bought property with the cash.

But Darwin had visa trouble and returned to the UK. He pretended his disappearance had been due to memory loss.

Mercy is angry that the ITV drama, starring Eddie Marsan and Monica Dolan (both pictured), chronicling Darwin's great deception, will once again put her husband under the spotlight

Mercy is angry that the ITV drama, starring Eddie Marsan and Monica Dolan (both pictured), chronicling Darwin’s great deception, will once again put her husband under the spotlight

He and Anne were nailed by a photo showing them together in Panama.

They were both jailed for six years for fraud in 2008 as the extent of their deception shocked the world. They later divorced.

In Antipolo where Darwin is living, neighbours said even now, two decades on from his great deception, Darwin is proving elusive and difficult to pin down.

He and Mercy left the property during the lockdown and they had boasted of living in a larger house in the area which had full air-conditioning against the sweltering 35C tropical heat of the city.

Oddly though, no-one knows where the fraudster is staying as he hasn’t been seen at the marital home for months.

Ludicrously, Mercy even told one newspaper last week that her husband had gone to fight in Ukraine, saying: ‘Yes, dangerous for the Russian when he shoot them.’

She added, in reference to Darwin’s life insurance scam: ‘He will have a bullet proof vest and good life insurance… good for me.’

When father-of-two John Darwin (pictured with his wife Anne in Panama) went missing in his canoe in the sea outside his home in County Durham in 2002, his own sons believed he was dead

Darwin was a prison offer who was heavily in debt when he staged an accident and faked his own drowning in the sea near Hartlepool in 2002 to get his hands on a life insurance payout. He and his wife Anne later moved to Panama but were caught when this photo of them emerged

Mercy (pictured in the Philippines) told one newspaper last week that her husband had gone to fight in Ukraine, saying: 'Yes, dangerous for the Russian when he shoot them'

Mercy (pictured in the Philippines) told one newspaper last week that her husband had gone to fight in Ukraine, saying: ‘Yes, dangerous for the Russian when he shoot them’

At the same time neighbours said one of Mercy’s sons from a previous relationship is still living in the house while Darwin is keeping a low profile.

Mercy, who owns a clothing business and a storage firm, clearly does not relish her own life coming under the microscope either.

She spoke to MailOnline after we made enquiries at the nearby Barangay office of the local council, where officer-in-charge Regina Vergara Jebulan offered to help us reach the Darwins.

Having contacted Mercy on the phone Ms Vergara announced that the new Mrs Darwin wanted to meet our reporter to ‘speak her mind’.

An hour later, she burst into the room wearing denim shorts, sandals and a tee-shirt, her striking and surprisingly youthful features largely concealed under a blue headscarf and a surgical facemask. She was accompanied by an older man, believed to be her uncle.

Agitated, Mercy refused to shake hands and launched almost immediately into a tirade against the media in general.

MailOnline tracked the couple down to Mercy's hometown in Antipolo, an hour's drive from the capital, where they own a £30,000 three-storey house with grilled windows in the relatively affluent gated community of Louiseville

MailOnline tracked the couple down to Mercy’s hometown in Antipolo, an hour’s drive from the capital, where they own a £30,000 three-storey house with grilled windows in the relatively affluent gated community of Louiseville

She said local journalists had suggested her family were part of the huge ‘squatter’ community which makes up part of Manila’s urban poor, which she vehemently denied.

‘They told neighbours I was squatter, it’s not true, they have no right!’ she shouted.

‘They published photos of my siblings, which broke their hearts. We are private people, not celebrities. We have rights. We work hard, we have property, we’re not squatters.’

According to one of the few British ex-pats in Antipolo, Darwin has chosen the perfect place to ‘disappear’ again, if that was his intention.

Ian Rudkin, 64, owner of the popular Outrigger bar and restaurant which commands spectacular views over Manila, has never seen Darwin, despite living nearby.

‘This isn’t one of those places full of retired Brits,’ said Ian, who moved here with his Filipina wife Rowena, 60, about a decade ago.

‘You can be completely anonymous here without having to try. There are only a handful of Brits in the city and they don’t tend to mix with each other much.

Darwin and Mercy Mae couple lived until recently in the white house pictured above

Darwin and Mercy Mae couple lived until recently in the white house pictured above

Ian Rudkin, 64, owner of the popular Outrigger bar and restaurant which commands spectacular views over Manila, has never seen Darwin, despite living nearby

Ian Rudkin, 64, owner of the popular Outrigger bar and restaurant which commands spectacular views over Manila, has never seen Darwin, despite living nearby

‘I remember John Darwin’s story, but he’s never been here – maybe the union jack on our sign put him off!

‘It seems odd to me that he and his Filipina wife would just give over a property to her children when they could be getting a proper rent from it – I bet he’s still living in there.

‘After all, if anyone knows how to disappear from the world, it’s him!’

Since his release in 2011, Darwin has offered little explanation for his actions.

Instead, he seemed to devote much of his energy into looking for younger women online, signing himself off as ‘John from England with blue eyes’. 

He even got himself rearrested in Ukraine for a breach of his probation by travelling abroad to meet a potential sweetheart.

He first surfaced in the Philippines in 2015 after meeting Mercy online. Less than two months after their first encounter, the couple were married.

Mercy, who owns a clothing business and a storage firm, clearly does not relish her own life coming under the microscope. Above: The couple together

Darwin in 2007

Mercy, who owns a clothing business and a storage firm, clearly does not relish her own life coming under the microscope. Above left: The couple together. Above right: Darwin in 2007

The wreckage of the canoe in which Darwin paddled out to sea to fake his own death is seen above

The wreckage of the canoe in which Darwin paddled out to sea to fake his own death is seen above 

But however happy he is with Mercy, Darwin is said to have little or no relationship with his sons, Mark and Anthony.

The boys mourned his passing for years before learning he had been alive all along in what the judge at his trial called ‘the grossest form of betrayal.’

This week it emerged that one of the sons secretly watched the ITV drama being filmed at Seaton Carew, where it all began.

None of the Darwin family members was involved in the production of the drama, which is partially inspired by journalist David Leigh and Anne’s account of the story in 2016 book Out of My Depth.

Marsan said one of Darwin’s sons turned up ‘in disguise’ on the first day of filming and that the cast and crew didn’t find out until later.

Darwin with his second wife on their wedding day

Darwin and Mercy left the property during the coronavirus lockdown and they had boasted of living in a larger house in the area which had full air-conditioning against the sweltering 35C tropical heat of the city. Above: The couple on their wedding day

Her comments come ahead of an ITV drama, 'The Thief, His Wife And The Canoe', airing next month, exploring the culpability of John's first wife, Anne (pictured near Middlesbrough

After her release from prison, Anne Darwin (pictured left in March) moved to a village near York and was able to get a job with the RSCPA thanks to qualifications she gained in prison. Right: Darwin with his second wife on their wedding day

He explained that one of the sons watched the filming, concealing his identity with a baseball cap and a COVID mask.

Marsan said he didn’t feel the need to contact John Darwin in person before taking on the role, instead drawing from his interviews in the media and public persona.

He added: ‘I think if John had the self-awareness to be able to give me some kind of insight into himself, he wouldn’t have done [the crime].

‘So I’d rather not [meet him]. I don’t need to sit and listen to someone like that.’

When John Darwin himself was once asked by a US journalist if he had regrets, he said: ‘Don’t do the crime, and if you do, don’t come back. It’s easy to fake your own death. It’s damn difficult to come back.’

From coast to coast: How canoe man John Darwin who was jailed with wife for faking his own death in elaborate insurance scam found new love in Manila after gaining his freedom

By Harry Howard, History Correspondent for MailOnline 

When father-of-two John Darwin went missing in his canoe in the sea outside his home in County Durham in 2002, his own sons believed he was dead. Five years later, a bedraggled Darwin turned up at a police station in London, claiming to have amnesia. Very quickly, it emerged that the he had carried out a £680,000 fraud with his wife Anne that ultimately saw the couple live together in Panama. Above: How Darwin looked after faking his death

When father-of-two John Darwin went missing in his canoe in the sea outside his home in County Durham in 2002, his own sons believed he was dead. Five years later, a bedraggled Darwin turned up at a police station in London, claiming to have amnesia. Very quickly, it emerged that the he had carried out a £680,000 fraud with his wife Anne that ultimately saw the couple live together in Panama. Above: How Darwin looked after faking his death

When father-of-two John Darwin went missing in his canoe in the sea outside his home in County Durham in 2002, his own sons believed he was dead.

A large-scale search involving the scouring of 62 square miles of coastline looked to have confirmed the worst, as only a single paddle and then the wreckage of his kayak was discovered.

But five years later, a bedraggled Darwin turned up at a police station in London, claiming to have no memory of anything that had happened to him.

Very quickly, it emerged that the former prison officer had engaged in a web of deceit with his wife Anne to carry out a £680,000 fraud that ultimately saw the couple live together in Panama. 

After they had served half of the six-year jail sentences they were handed for their crimes, the couple divorced – with Darwin remarrying and moving to the Philippines and his ex-wife getting a job with the RSPCA. 

The Darwins’ plot was exposed after a photo emerged online of them in the office of an estate agent in Panama, where they had gone to run an eco-resort

For much of Darwin’s missing five years, he had been living in secret in his own home in the seaside resort of Seaton Carew, where he shared a bed with his wife.

And when family and friends visited – and his sons returned from the inquest into his alleged death – Darwin hid in a bedsit next door that was accessed through a passageway hidden behind the door of a fake cupboard.

Darwin later admitted that he would carry out DIY on the front of his family home and even walked around his area disguised as an old man – even as his two now grown-up sons Anthony and Mark continued to grieve for him thinking he was dead. 

Last week, Darwin’s second wife, Filipino woman Mercy Mae Avila Darwin, 48, said her husband, who is now 71, is ‘on his way’ to fight in Ukraine and has ‘good life insurance’ in case it all goes wrong. 

The couple live outside Manila, with Darwin continuing to receive the UK state pension. His wife is said make a living running clothes stalls in the capital. 

After her release from prison, Anne Darwin moved to a village near York and was able to get her new job thanks to qualifications she gained in prison. She was also able to reconcile with her two sons – after one had branded her a ‘hideous, lying b***h’ – and has been on holidays with them. 

Speaking in a tell-all interview with the Daily Mail in 2007 after their plot had emerged, Mrs Darwin said her husband began to plan his disappearing act in early 2002.

She said the couple had been tens of thousands of pounds in debt brought on in part by problems with the bedsit rental business that they ran.

Darwin also had ‘lots of credit cards’ and the couple were ‘crippled’ by late payment fees and bank charges.

‘John said there was only one way out of the situation, and that was to fake his own death,’ she said.

‘I pleaded with him not to do it, I said it was a wrong thing to do. I honestly didn’t know what he’d planned or for when.’

When Darwin disappeared after taking his canoe out to sea, there was bafflement that he could have got into difficulty because the sea was said to be ‘like a millpond’.

Her comments come ahead of an ITV drama, 'The Thief, His Wife And The Canoe', airing next month, exploring the culpability of John's first wife, Anne (pictured near Middlesbrough

Darwin with his second wife on their wedding day

After her release from prison, Anne Darwin (pictured left last week) moved to a village near York and was able to get a job with the RSCPA thanks to qualifications she gained in prison. Right: Darwin with his second wife on their wedding day

The former prison officer paddled out to sea in a canoe near his family home at Seaton Carew, near Hartlepool, before ditching the vessel to give the impression that he drowned. Pictured: The wreckage of the canoe that was discovered in the days following his disappearance

The former prison officer paddled out to sea in a canoe near his family home at Seaton Carew, near Hartlepool, before ditching the vessel to give the impression that he drowned. Pictured: The wreckage of the canoe that was discovered in the days following his disappearance

For much of Darwin's missing five years, he had been living in secret in his own home (pictured), where he shared a bed with his wife. And when family and friends visited – and his sons returned from the inquest into his alleged death – Darwin hid in a bedsit next door that was accessed through a passageway hidden behind the door of a fake cupboard

For much of Darwin’s missing five years, he had been living in secret in his own home (pictured), where he shared a bed with his wife. And when family and friends visited – and his sons returned from the inquest into his alleged death – Darwin hid in a bedsit next door that was accessed through a passageway hidden behind the door of a fake cupboard

Just under a year after he disappeared, Darwin turned up at his family home looking ‘an absolute mess’, his wife said.

She claimed that she had really believed he was dead before he turned up.

In 2016, Mrs Darwin penned a tell-all book (pictured) about her life with her husband

In 2016, Mrs Darwin penned a tell-all book (pictured) about her life with her husband

‘Although I was pleased he was still alive, I think deep down a part of me was always angry,’ she said.

‘To think of what he put us all through. He had basically come back expecting me to forgive him.’

She claimed that she wanted to report what he had done but he then threatened to say she had been involved from the start, so she was ‘trapped’.

Mrs Darwin then agreed to become complicit in the scam and even agreed not to tell their two sons that their father was alive.

At the inquest into his disappearance in April 2003, Mrs Darwin was able to have her husband declared dead, even though the seven years that is usually needed after someone has gone missing had not yet passed.

Once their life insurance money was paid out and their mortgage paid off, Darwin spent time either with his wife in their family home or next door in the property they also owned that was split into several bedsits.

The couple then decided to move abroad, with Darwin, who had stolen the identity of a dead baby named John Jones, opting for Panama as their destination.

The family home was sold and the couple spent several months together in Panama after they had bought a £50,000 two-bed apartment in a suburb of Panama City. 

They also hoped to open a canoeing centre for eco-tourists.

But Darwin then wanted to return to the UK because, Mrs Darwin said, he missed his sons. He said he would claim to have suffered amnesia.

Darwin walked into a police station in December 2007 and said he thought he was a ‘missing person’ but said he could not remember anything that had happened in the past five years.

When their two sons were called to the police station to be reunited with their father, the couple had to pretend to be astonished as they too saw each other again.

Anthony (left) and Mark Darwin leave Teesside Crown Court after giving evidence against their mother at her 2008 trial

Anthony (left) and Mark Darwin leave Teesside Crown Court after giving evidence against their mother at her 2008 trial

Mrs Darwin said that her husband told her: ‘Hello Anne, is that really you, are you all right?’

After the couple’s fraud was exposed and they were released from prison in 2011 after serving half of their sentences, their marriage came to an end.

Mrs Darwin attempted to justify her actions in a book that was released in 2016.

She said in an interview with The Guardian that year that deceiving her sons was ‘unforgiveable’.

She said her sons initially refused to see or talk to her, after one had testified against her at her trial.

‘I was totally shocked by how dark and full of anger they were. To see that was absolutely horrendous. It jolted me. I could easily have buckled then and there,’ she said.

She said she is now reconciled with both of her sons and has been on holidays with them and their families.

Asked if her sons were in touch with their father, she said ‘that’s a private matter for them’.

Mrs Darwin was said to live in a ‘small but comfortable flat’ in a village outside York.

Canoe fraudster John Darwin leaves Teesside Crown Court in 2014. A judge previously ordered he should repay £679,073

Canoe fraudster John Darwin leaves Teesside Crown Court in 2014. A judge previously ordered he should repay £679,073

For much of Darwin's missing five years, he had been living in secret in his own home, where he shared a bed with his wife.

For much of Darwin’s missing five years, he had been living in secret in his own home, where he shared a bed with his wife. 

Undated handout photo issued by Cleveland Police of CCTV from Kirkleatham Police station when John Darwin was taken into custody

Undated handout photo issued by Cleveland Police of CCTV from Kirkleatham Police station when John Darwin was taken into custody

Undated handout photo issued by Cleveland Police of CCTV from Hartlepool Police station when Anne Darwin was taken into custody

Undated handout photo issued by Cleveland Police of CCTV from Hartlepool Police station when Anne Darwin was taken into custody

Mrs Darwin is pictured above in 2007, after she had been arrested following her return to Britain

The mother-of-two is seen this week

Mrs Darwin is pictured left in 2007, after she had been arrested following her return to Britain. Right: The mother-of-two is seen this week

John and Anne Darwin are seen in a family photograph with their sons Mark and Anthony. The couple deceived their sons when they colluded to gain life insurance and pensions payouts

John and Anne Darwin are seen in a family photograph with their sons Mark and Anthony. The couple deceived their sons when they colluded to gain life insurance and pensions payouts

She works for the RSPCA after getting IT and business qualifications while in prison.

Darwin and his second wife moved last year from Manila to a property around 30 minutes away.

Mrs Avila Darwin sub-lets a clothing stall in Manila’s market and also runs another retail business, while Darwin lives off his state pension.

She told The Mirror last year: ‘I have a new business. I’ve had it for three years now. Boom. Making money.

Mrs Avila Darwin told the newspaper last week about her husband allegedly going to Ukraine to join troops fighting against Russian forces.    

When questioned about the danger, she said: ‘Yes, dangerous for the Russian when he shoot them.

‘He will have a bullet proof vest and good life insurance, good for me.’ 



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