John Walsh: Have I read this story somewhere else...?

Click to follow

Last week, a businessman called Jenaro Jiminez Hernandez flew from Sao Paulo to Madrid and handed himself over to police, just 16 months after he faked his own death in order to escape heavy debts. In April last year, he persuaded his wife and associates that he'd been killed in an accident while scuba-fishing off the Costa de la Luz. Now we read the as-told-from-prison diaries of John Darwin, the British prison warder who faked his own death (heavy debts again) in 2002, leading everyone, except his wife, to believe he'd drowned while paddling his canoe off the North Sea coast.

He might have been inspired by the example of the Australian millionaire Harry Gordon who, in June 2000, rang the police from his speedboat to say he was being attacked by gangsters, then left his mobile phone, along with his wallet and several empty champagne bottles, in an empty boat drifting off Sydney harbour. He himself rowed back to shore, collected his clothes and £42,000 in cash and set out for a new life in Europe (but ended up getting a job at a crisp factory in Wigan).

All of which fake disappearances remind us of John Stonehouse, the Labour MP and Postmaster General who, after fiddling the accounts of several of his own companies, pretended to have drowned in November 1974 by leaving a pile of his clothes on a Miami beach and legging it to Australia with his beautiful mistress, Sheila Buckley.

He was, unfortunately, nabbed a month later by Melbourne police, who arrested him on suspicion that he was the homicidal runaway peer, Lord Lucan. As older readers will recall, Stonehouse's fake demise was spoofed in a famous series of novels, later televised, called The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, in which Reginald (Leonard Rossiter) escapes the mundaneity of office life by heading for the beach to fake his drowning, before setting up a new life.

Amazing to see how popular the vogue for dramatic self-disappearance still appears to be – and that it always involves water. Remember – if anyone dies, owing six-figure debts, in tragic but mysterious circumstances that involve water, the sea, rivers, boats, fish or swimming trunks, don't believe a word of it.