People who faked their own deaths – including MP that left his clothes on beach

In the 1970s TV’s Reggie Perrin tried to escape his humdrum life by faking his own death and leaving his clothes on a beach.

But the behaviour of Leonard Rossiter’s hilarious BBC character echoed the strange real-life case of the British Member of Parliament John Stonehouse who pretended to have died off the coast of Miami in Florida.

Now two new books by family members are being published with different theories about the truth behind the bizarre episode.

Here JAMES MOORE reveals what happened and looks at other infamous cases of people who tried to disappear without a trace.

Canoe believe it?

When the wreckage of a red kayak was found off the coast of County Durham in March 2002 it was presumed that prison officer John Darwin, last seen paddling into the North Sea, had perished – despite the lack of a body.

But he and his wife Anne were in financial trouble and the disappearance was all part of a £679,000 insurance scam.

Darwin hid for years in a house next to their home in Seaton Carew, with Anne playing the grieving widow, and their sons were initially led to believe that their father had died.

The couple had planned to lie low and then start a new life in Panama. But when they ran into visa problems John returned to the UK in 2007 and suddenly walked into a police station in London, claiming to have amnesia.

Suspicious detectives uncovered the truth and a photo posted online of the couple in the Central American nation helped expose their subterfuge.

In 2008 the Darwins were sentenced to six years behind bars for fraud. They later split, with John, now 70, moving to the Philippines with new wife Mercy May.

Wily Double agent

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During World War Two, Juan Pujol Garcia was recruited as a Nazi agent codenamed Garbo.

But the Spaniard was secretly anti-fascist and actually fed them false information while creating a network of fake spies.

Eventually, Britain’s MI5 offered him a job, giving him the new codename Bovril.

As part of Pujol’s counter-espionage efforts, he managed to convince the Germans that the D-Day invasion of 1944 would not take place in Normandy.

After the war, Pujol feared reprisals from surviving Nazis, so MI5 helped fake his death by making it appear in documents that he had died from malaria in Angola in 1949.

Instead, Pujol moved to Venezuela, where he ran a bookstore and died, aged 76, in 1988.

What the devil

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Known as "The Great Beast", British-born Aleister Crowley was once described as "the wickedest man in the world" and became notorious for a life of depraved sex, drugs, and dark Satanic rituals.

Founder of the Thelema religion, the occultist taught that dying by orgasm was the best way to go.

In 1930 he faked his own death on a trip to Portugal, allegedly to escape a relationship with the female companion he was travelling with, after becoming bored with her. With the help of poet pal Fernando Pessoa, Crowley made it look as if he had jumped off a cliff near Lisbon.

But the black magic fan didn’t do a very good job of vanishing – he was spotted in Berlin three weeks later. Crowley died in 1947, aged 72, from bronchitis, in a Hastings boarding house.

Life's a beach

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On November 20, 1974, a pile of clothes was left on a Miami beach in Florida by a man who had apparently gone swimming only to have drowned or been killed by a shark.

But handsome ex-RAF pilot and former government minister John Stonehouse had just pretended to disappear, leaving distraught wife Barbara back in the UK.

Heavily in debt and having got the idea from Frederick Forsyth’s novel Day Of The Jackal, the Labour MP planned to set up a new life with his secretary, Sheila Buckley, flying to Australia using new identities in the names of dead constituents.

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But, alerted by his suspicious bank dealings, Aussie police began to investigate – initially believing that he might be the elusive Lord Lucan, linked to the murder of nanny Sandra Rivett earlier that year.

When they discovered Stonehouse’s true identity, he returned to the UK and was eventually sentenced to seven years in jail for fraud.

Evidence later suggested he had also been a spy for the Czech communist government, a claim supported in the new book by great-nephew Julian Hayes but denied by his daughter Julia in hers. Stonehouse died for real in 1988, aged 62, from a heart attack.

Just cuckoo

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US author Ken Kesey achieved fame with his 1960 book One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which was later made into a hit film with Jack Nicholson, right.

But in 1965 he was arrested for the possession of marijuana. Fearing a prison sentence, he faked his death by leaving a truck on the edge of a cliff near Eureka, California, with a suicide note.

He then fled to Mexico in the boot of a friend’s car. But the authorities weren’t convinced and Kesey eventually tired of life on the run, returning to the US eight months later.

The writer was sentenced to six months behind bars. He died, aged 66, in 2001.

A song and dance

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Many of us have imagined what it would be like to be at our own funeral – and what people would say after our death.

In 1999, eccentric Austrian musician Friedrich Gulda took the idea one step further, sending a fax announcing his death from a stroke, apparently hoping to read his own obituaries.

The plan unravelled within days when he was seen alive. Known as the "terrorist pianist" for his unconventional style, many believed the hoax was also a PR ploy to boost his next performance, called "Resurrection Party".

Ironically, Gulda died just nine months later in January 2000, aged 69. And, so far, there’s been no comeback concert!

Russian ruse

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As a fierce critic of Vladimir Putin’s regime in Russia, when journalist Arkady Babchenko was apparently shot dead at his home in Kyiv, Ukraine, back in May 2018 his demise made headlines around the world.

But a bigger shock was to come – when he turned up at a press conference 24 hours later, saying: "I’m still alive."

Even his wife was shocked. It turned out the 41-year-old, who had fled Russia in 2017, had plotted with Ukrainian security services to pull off an elaborate bluff.

The idea was apparently to flush out Russian-backed assassins, who really were planning to kill the reporter.

But he and the authorities received criticism for the stunt and Babchenko later relocated.

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