Police attempt to solve mystery of the canoeist who came back from the dead

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The Independent Online

John Darwin, the Hartlepool canoeist who went missing five years ago and reappeared at the weekend to declare himself a missing person, was due to face questioning by detectives today as speculation mounted over the circumstances of his disappearance.

Mr Darwin, 57, who was last seen preparing to set out to sea in his canoe in March 2002, walked into West Central police station in London on Saturday, telling officers: "I think I am a missing person."

His family remained behind closed doors yesterday at the home of his son Anthony in Hampshire. Cleveland Police said they remained as baffled as anyone else and would be looking for an explanation when they started interviewing the former prison officer today. All avenues of inquiry would be explored, the force said.

Mr Darwin's elderly father, Ronald, said he had always believed that his son would turn up one day. Blaming a head injury that his son had suffered when he was knocked down by a car in his youth, Mr Darwin Snr, 91, from Blackhall Colliery, County Durham, said he was convinced that John had suffered some form of amnesia. "Now he's got his memory back," he said. "When I speak to him, I will ask him where he has been these last few years and I'll ask 'Why didn't you make arrangements to see me before now?' I'll tell him a lot more too, but I'm extremely happy now."

His brother David, 54, added: "It is the best Christmas present any family could wish for."

Mr Darwin was last seen preparing his canoe for the water near his home in Seaton Carew, Hartlepool, at 9am on 21 March 2002. He had appeared in high spirits only the day before, according to a friend, Bill Rodriguez, who had lived near Mr Darwin and his wife Anne since they moved from the Durham area two years earlier.

Just weeks before he vanished the former science teacher wrote on the Friends Reunited website: "Taught in Derwentside for 18 years before leaving teaching to join Barclays Bank. At present work for Prison Service and have portfolio of properties. Married to a convent girl Anne Stephenson, we have two grown-up sons and two dogs. Recently moved to Seaton Carew where I hope to retire soon."

An oar believed to belong to Mr Darwin's canoe was washed up just off Seal Sands a day after he vanished. Weeks later, the smashed remains of his canoe were found. His wife of 28 years watched from her living-room window as the police and Humber Coastguard searched the area to no avail. They described it as "looking for a needle in a haystack".

Six months after her husband vanished, Anne Darwin, a doctor's receptionist, said: "I think John has met with an unfortunate accident in the sea and has died. That's the only way I have been able to cope with it. I have no reason to think he would have left and stage-managed this.

"All I want is to bury his body. It would enable me to move on. It's difficult to grieve without bringing things to a close, but as it is I'm in limbo and there's nothing I can do."

But at 5.30pm on Saturday Mr Darwin walked into the police station. Inspector Helen Eustace said he had been checked over and was "showing no signs of any illness". "It is very infrequent that a case like this happens," she said. "It's quite a shock really, more of a shock for the family."

He was able to give his name, date of birth and details of members of his family. His son Mark, 31, who moved to north London, and Anthony, 29, who now lives in Basingstoke, were reunited with him though his wife was said to have moved to Panama last year after selling the two properties that the couple owned.

Mr Darwin's reappearance was the main topic of conversation among former friends and neighbours. Alec Dixon, a neighbour, said Mrs Darwin had returned from a summer holiday, talking of moving abroad. He added: "A few weeks later the furniture removals men came and she was gone. She didn't say goodbye or leave a forwarding address. She just seemed to vanish."

Another former neighbour, David Young, a Seaton councillor, said he was not surprised that Mr Darwin had reappeared.

Local fisherman had insisted at the time that if the tides in the area did not wash up a body, "We will either never see him again or he wasn't in the water".

Others, however, were stunned and were speculating as to what he had been doing for five years. Bruce Caswell, 44, said: "It's absolutely astonishing, I remember when it happened."

Thomas Sutcliffe, page 30

By Terri Judd

John Darwin, the Hartlepool canoeist who went missing five years ago and reappeared at the weekend to declare himself a missing person, was due to face questioning by detectives today as speculation mounted over the circumstances of his disappearance.

Mr Darwin, 57, who was last seen preparing to set out to sea in his canoe in March 2002, walked into West Central police station in London on Saturday, telling officers: "I think I am a missing person."

His family remained behind closed doors yesterday at the home of his son Anthony in Hampshire. Cleveland Police said they remained as baffled as anyone else and would be looking for an explanation when they started interviewing the former prison officer today. All avenues of inquiry would be explored, the force said.

Mr Darwin's elderly father, Ronald, said he had always believed that his son would turn up one day. Blaming a head injury that his son had suffered when he was knocked down by a car in his youth, Mr Darwin Snr, 91, from Blackhall Colliery, County Durham, said he was convinced that John had suffered some form of amnesia. "Now he's got his memory back," he said. "When I speak to him, I will ask him where he has been these last few years and I'll ask 'Why didn't you make arrangements to see me before now?' I'll tell him a lot more too, but I'm extremely happy now."

His brother David, 54, added: "It is the best Christmas present any family could wish for."

Mr Darwin was last seen preparing his canoe for the water near his home in Seaton Carew, Hartlepool, at 9am on 21 March 2002. He had appeared in high spirits only the day before, according to a friend, Bill Rodriguez, who had lived near Mr Darwin and his wife Anne since they moved from the Durham area two years earlier.

Just weeks before he vanished the former science teacher wrote on the Friends Reunited website: "Taught in Derwentside for 18 years before leaving teaching to join Barclays Bank. At present work for Prison Service and have portfolio of properties. Married to a convent girl Anne Stephenson, we have two grown-up sons and two dogs. Recently moved to Seaton Carew where I hope to retire soon."

An oar believed to belong to Mr Darwin's canoe was washed up just off Seal Sands a day after he vanished. Weeks later, the smashed remains of his canoe were found. His wife of 28 years watched from her living-room window as the police and Humber Coastguard searched the area to no avail. They described it as "looking for a needle in a haystack".

Six months after her husband vanished, Anne Darwin, a doctor's receptionist, said: "I think John has met with an unfortunate accident in the sea and has died. That's the only way I have been able to cope with it. I have no reason to think he would have left and stage-managed this.

"All I want is to bury his body. It would enable me to move on. It's difficult to grieve without bringing things to a close, but as it is I'm in limbo and there's nothing I can do."

But at 5.30pm on Saturday Mr Darwin walked into the police station. Inspector Helen Eustace said he had been checked over and was "showing no signs of any illness". "It is very infrequent that a case like this happens," she said. "It's quite a shock really, more of a shock for the family."

He was able to give his name, date of birth and details of members of his family. His son Mark, 31, who moved to north London, and Anthony, 29, who now lives in Basingstoke, were reunited with him though his wife was said to have moved to Panama last year after selling the two properties that the couple owned.

Mr Darwin's reappearance was the main topic of conversation among former friends and neighbours. Alec Dixon, a neighbour, said Mrs Darwin had returned from a summer holiday, talking of moving abroad. He added: "A few weeks later the furniture removals men came and she was gone. She didn't say goodbye or leave a forwarding address. She just seemed to vanish."

Another former neighbour, David Young, a Seaton councillor, said he was not surprised that Mr Darwin had reappeared.

Local fisherman had insisted at the time that if the tides in the area did not wash up a body, "We will either never see him again or he wasn't in the water".

Others, however, were stunned and were speculating as to what he had been doing for five years. Bruce Caswell, 44, said: "It's absolutely astonishing, I remember when it happened."

Thomas Sutcliffe, page 30

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