What drives someone to fake their own death? From a medieval nun fed up with her life of poverty and chastity to a suspected bomber living in the suburbs of Sydney, Poppy Damon and Alice Fiennes examine famous cases of death fraud in their podcast series Pseudocide. One episode tells the story of British Labour MP John Stonehouse, who pretended to drown off the coast of Miami in 1974, only to be discovered a few weeks later, “alive and kicking” in Melbourne.
Stonehouse had in fact swum to a nearby beach, where a new set of clothes and a fake passport in the name of one of his dead constituents awaited him. He flew to Australia via Hawaii, where he spent time “drinking piña coladas and reading his own obituaries”. Not long after he was arrested and extradited to the UK, where he was sentenced to seven years in prison.
Stonehouse had many reasons to fake his death. His businesses in Bangladesh and Africa had run into huge debts, and he had stolen from one to finance the others. He was also having an affair with his secretary, Sheila Buckley, “the Madonna of the typing pool”, with whom he wanted to start a new life. Later it emerged he had been spying for Czechoslovakia’s Communist regime while in Harold Wilson’s cabinet. Wilson remarked: “I never thought he was a spy, but I always thought he was a crook.”
Listen to the episode here.