The Passions of the British Court: John Stonehouse's Great Scam

On November 20, 1974, the news reported the disappearance of the former Minister of Post and the current member of the British Parliament John Stonehouse. He left behind only a handful of clothes on the shore of one of the beaches of Miami, as well as huge debts. A few days later, despite the fact that the body was not found, it was decided that Stonehouse either drowned, or eaten by a shark, or killed by the mafia - but, in any case, is dead forever. But a month later, quite a living and healthy 49-year-old Stonehouse was discovered on the other side of the world, in Australia, by coincidence. “Why did the former minister fake his own death, and why nothing came of it,” says Daria Alexandrova.

John Stonehouse began his political career very early - at 16 he became a member of the Labor Party. Probably, there was an example of his mother in front of the boy's eyes - she was the mayor of Southampton and was on the city council. After graduating from a prestigious college, he enrolled in the London School of Economics, and then gained a place in the office of the British company London Co-operative Society in Uganda. In 1956, he became the director of the company, and after another 6 years - its president.

John Stonehouse

Stonehouse was ambitious. Even in his youth, he told friends that he was going to reach unprecedented heights - to become a millionaire and, moreover, the Prime Minister of Great Britain. His political career was quite successful: in 1957, he was elected to Parliament and soon received the post of Minister of Aviation, and in 1967, the portfolio of the Minister of Technology and then the Minister of Post (now his position was abolished).

Stonehouse assured friends that he would become a millionaire and prime minister

In 1969, Stonehouse was suspected of espionage: ostensibly, being the Minister of Aviation, he had leaked the secret information of Czechoslovakia since 1962. He really took an active part in establishing a negotiation process on cooperation between the two states in the field of aircraft manufacturing, but, of course, denied the espionage charges. British intelligence questioned Stonehouse, but failed to identify any evidence of his illegal activities. Despite the fact that the government was aware of suspicions about one of its ministers, Stonehouse did not lose his chair. Later, already in the 80s, a certain “source” surfaced, confirming information that the politician was actually spying for Czechoslovakia, but it was decided not to disclose the information and not to initiate legal proceedings for lack of really weighty evidence.

With wife Barbara

Anyway, in 1970, the Labor Party was defeated in the elections, and Stonehouse lost its ministerial portfolio. The dream of being the prime minister is in the past, but the other - to become a millionaire - could still be tried. Stonehouse, being a good economist, decided to engage in a serious business. He founded several enterprises, some of which turned operations with risky investments. Former minister, and now - a businessman, he did not lose confidence in himself and convinced friends that he would make a million in seven years. Despite the fact that the business at Stonehouse was unimportant, he managed to find new investors, which, as a result, only led to an increase in debts. By 1974, the network of its enterprises had grown to 23 firms, and its debt to investors was about 800 thousand pounds (about 10 million today).

It turned out that the former aviation minister was a Czechoslovak spy

By this time, a plan had already matured in Stonehouse’s head — how to get rid of all the problems that had piled in at once and do away with debts in one fell swoop. To do this, it was necessary only to stage my death, because there is no demand from the dead man. But first it was necessary to ensure a comfortable existence and acquire documents in another name. Stonehouse was lucky - he was not alone. His ally and assistant in this difficult operation was Sheila Buckley, mistress, secretary and, concurrently, director of several companies founded by him. The legitimate spouse, Barbara, who became his wife back in 1948, probably suspected John’s intrigue, but, of course, she did not even guess about the treachery of such a grand scale.

Press release on the disappearance of Stonehouse

On November 20, 1974, Stonehouse, who at that time was in Miami, went for a swim. Having undressed on the shore, he put his clothes in a pile, and entered the water. An hour passed, another, but John was not there. Soon rescuers set off in search of the missing businessman, but found nothing. When the news of the likely death of her husband reached Barbara, she fell into a real tantrum. Versions were different: they said that Stonehouse could commit suicide because of debts, someone claimed that the mafia was involved, some believed that he was completely eaten by a shark. One way or another, no one had any doubts that the businessman died. Stonehouse itself was on its way to Australia at that time. He crossed several borders with fake documents and finally reached Melbourne, where Sheila was waiting for him.

Dramatization of suicide allowed Stonehouse to end the problems

Even before arriving in Australia, he transferred funds on behalf of Clive Muldoon to Joseph Markham. Stonehouse appropriated two new names at once. One of the bank employees, who seemed suspicious of manipulating the transfer of large sums, reported this to the local police. Stonehouse was monitored. Law enforcement authorities suspected that he was not the one for whom he claims to be. In November 1974, the British aristocrat, John Bingham, known as Lord Lucan, disappeared without a trace. He was suspected of killing the nanny of his children, as well as beating his wife. Lucan managed to leave the UK, and his further whereabouts were never discovered. The police have suggested that the mysterious man who pretends to be Joseph Markham is actually Lord Lucan who escaped. During the surveillance, it was established that the suspect regularly reads British newspapers, and he was especially interested in the news about the disappearance of the former minister John Stonehouse.

Australian police requested photographs of Stonehouse and Lord Lucan from their British colleagues, soon their suspicions were confirmed. The hapless swindler was arrested on Christmas Eve, 1974, but he was extradited back to his homeland only after 6 months. After being exposed, Stonehouse himself explained the decision to stage his own death: “My greatest desire was to free myself from the incredible pressure that had come over me, especially business and blackmail attempts. I thought, mistakenly, however, that the best solution would be to create a new personality and try to start life from scratch, away from this pressure. I suppose all this indicates that I had a breakdown and a nervous breakdown. ” At the conclusion of psychiatrists, "at some point he no longer liked his self, and he decided that his wife, colleagues and friends would be better off without him." Some believed that the former minister really “moved in phase,” while others saw in his actions an exceptionally cold calculation.

Sheila Buckley

He arrived in the UK in June 1975 and was held for some time in the Brixton prison. The trial, which began in April 1976, lasted 68 days. Stonehouse himself was a defender. He was sentenced to seven years in prison for fraud. Sheila Buckley was convicted of assistance - she had to spend two years in prison.

Someone really believed that the former minister was mad

In prison, Stonehouse undermined his health - in 1978, he had three heart attacks in a row, after which he underwent a heart surgery. He was released early, after serving three years out of seven. In 1981, she and Sheila finally got married (the first spouse gave him a divorce in 1978). Soon they had a son.

After his release, Stonehouse was engaged in charity, and also wrote three novels. He died on April 14, 1988 at the age of 62.