Express & Star

How a Black Country MP tipped to be Prime Minister faked his own death and disappeared - Part 3: Miami Vice

On November 19, 1974, Stonehouse and his business associate Jim Charlton took flight BA 661 to Miami. The pair checked in to the luxury Fontainebleau Hotel, and the following day – November 20 – they enjoyed a swim before attending a business lunch with banking executives.

The story of John Stonehouse is unbelievable - but true.

After eating, Stonehouse turned to his colleague and casually said he planned going for another swim, and then possibly a spot of shopping for the wife and children. He arranged to meet Charlton at 7.30pm in the hotel bar, but never showed up.

At about 4pm, he strolled over to the hotel’s private beach, stripped down to his trunks and handed over his clothes to an attendant.

He remarked how the water looked good, paused briefly to greet a passer-by, and then ran across the beach into the sea.

Charlton became concerned when Stonehouse failed to show up in the evening, and failed to respond to repeated calls to his room. A maid went up to check his room, and everything was as he would have left it: his suits were still hanging in the wardrobe, his watch, briefcase and return air tickets still in the room. His hire car had not moved from the hotel car park.

By this stage, Charlton was increasingly alarmed, and persuaded a security guard from the hotel to go with him to the beach. He remembered how, when they went to the beach in the morning, Stonehouse had neatly folded his clothes and handed them in to the cabana office. By this time it was dark, and the cabana had been closed for some time, but they shone a torch through the glass to reveal that Stonehouse’s clothes were still on a shelf inside.

Charlton phoned the police before searching the beach with the security guard. The search proved fruitless, and Charlton went to the police station to report Stonehouse missing. An officer told him nothing could be done until the following morning, and advised him not to contact Barbara as missing persons often turned up shortly after disappearing.

The following morning, Charlton returned to the beach cabana to confirm the clothes were still there and, accompanied by a police officer, he went back to the hotel room for a second search. He telephoned Stonehouse’s personal assistant, Philip Gay, who had the task of informing Mrs Stonehouse that her husband had vanished, presumed drowned.