HARTLEPOOL, England – Police released a photograph Monday of an ex-prison officer accused of faking his own death in an insurance scam, and urged the public to help detectives piece together his whereabouts for the past five years.
John Darwin, 57, used the black-and-white photograph — depicting him with long hair and a beard — to get a passport in 2003 under an assumed name, Deputy Superintendent Tony Hutchinson of Cleveland police said.
Hutchinson asked anyone in Britain, Europe or North and Central America who recognized him from the photo to contact police.
Darwin, who had disappeared from his home in Hartlepool in northeast England and was presumed dead after his wrecked canoe was found in 2002, turned up at a London police station on Dec. 1 claiming he had amnesia.
On Monday, he was ordered held on charges of fraud and acquiring a passport under a false name until his next court appearance by video link Friday.
Dressed in a maroon sweat shirt and red sweat pants, Darwin appeared disheveled and confused. He spoke twice during the four-minute hearing, responding "That's correct" when the court read him his full name and saying his date of birth.
Darwin did not enter a plea on the two charges he faces: dishonestly obtaining an insurance claim of 25,000 pounds — now worth about $50,000 — in May 2003 by falsely claiming he had been killed, and obtaining a passport under a false name in October 2003.
His wife, Anne, 55, was arrested Sunday on suspicion of fraud moments after arriving on a flight from Atlanta. She had been living in Panama in recent months.
She was being questioned by detectives about how her husband allegedly hid himself for five years; whether the couple maintained contact after his reported death, and how they apparently came to be photographed together recently in Panama.
Hutchinson said police were stunned when Darwin came back from the dead.
"We weren't following him," he said at a news conference. "Three months ago, there was some financial transactions we were having a look at, but I must stress that the day John Darwin actually walked into the police station, we had no idea whatsoever that he was alive."
According to British news reports, the couple had tens of thousands of pounds (dollars, euros) in debt when he disappeared five years ago.
"To John and Anne Darwin, we are talking about a huge amount of money," Hutchinson said of the alleged insurance scam. "Whilst they may have taken some risks, they have been fairly successful for five years."
Hutchinson criticized the couple for hiding their alleged crime from their two sons, who believed their father had died.
"There is nothing to suggest the two sons were anything but victims. Quite clearly they have been duped in what can only describe as a despicable fashion," he said. "Our hearts go out to them." Hutchinson said.