How a Black Country MP tipped to be Prime Minister faked his own death and disappeared - Part 4: Man down under
It was the disappearance of another famous face a couple of weeks earlier that had scuppered John Stonehouse' plans.
John Bingham, the 7th Earl of Lucan, had gone missing on November 7, the night the nanny of his children Sandra Rivett was bludgeoned to death at his former family home. Lady Lucan was also attacked.
Lucan, who was assumed to be the perpetrator, was an incredibly high-profile figure in the UK at the time, known for his lavish lifestyle and expensive taste. The interest in finding him was astronomical.
So when police in Melbourne were tipped off about a handsome, well-spoken Englishman shuttling large sums of money into a bank account from abroad, alarm bells rang.
On the morning of Christmas Eve, 1974 – 34 days after his disappearance – Stonehouse went first to the bank to pick up a new chequebook, and then to the Regal Hotel in the suburb of St Kilda, where his mail was being sent. At 10.40am he headed for the railway station, and ran to catch a waiting train, where he was seized by three armed police officers and ushered off the train.
One of the officers, Det Senior Sgt Morris, lifted Stonehouse’s trouser leg – Lucan had a six-inch scar on his right inside thigh – but found nothing. Yet there was still something about Stonehouse that didn’t ring true, not least the fact that he was carrying a suspiciously large amount of money. Police said it took 51 minutes for Stonehouse to confess to his true identity, blaming tensions and pressures at home, and complaining about a report in the Sunday Times.
He had been living at Melbourne’s City Centre Club, a 10-storey luxury apartment run by Rod and Joan Wilcocks, having checked in without a booking on December 12.
Mr Wilcocks described Stonehouse as ‘a theatrical sort of man in tweeds’.
Describing the moment police arrived, he said: “The first we knew anything happened was about noon when four detectives arrived with this gentleman we knew as Donald Clive Mildoon.
“All the police said was: ‘You have had quite a celebrity staying with you. You’ll read about it in the newspaper’.”