John Stonehouse: A Fascinating Story of Faked Identity

John Stonehouse is one of the strangest cases of faked identity. Before a judge, he claimed that there are crises in life in which there are no other options than to relinquish one identity and take on another. Here's his fascinating story.
John Stonehouse: A Fascinating Story of Faked Identity
Sergio De Dios González

Reviewed and approved by the psychologist Sergio De Dios González.

Written by Edith Sánchez

Last update: 21 May, 2024

John Stonehouse was a British parliamentarian who was involved in one of the most curious stories of faked identity. In fact, he staged his own death and then was ‘reborn’ twice, under two different identities. When he was discovered, he argued that his schemes had been a form of psychiatric suicide due to an existential crisis.

So, who was John Stonehouse? He was a British politician who discovered his passion for politics at an early age. In fact, he was a member of the British Labor Party from when he was 16 years old. He became an MP in 1957, launching a successful career that eventually led to him serving in the British Cabinet.

However, things didn’t go as smoothly as Stonehouse had hoped. Although he excelled as a parliamentarian, his contributions were far from brilliant. Furthermore, several of his initiatives turned into scandals. This precipitated his plan to adopt multiple identities.

The identity of a person is not the name they have, the place where they were born, nor the date they came into the world. A person’s identity consists simply in being, and being cannot be denied.”

-José Saramago-

Shadow of a standing man
John Stonehouse coldly calculated two alternate identities for himself.

John Stonehouse, an MP under suspicion

The first major difficulty John Stonehouse faced was an accusation of espionage. It was made against him by a former Czech intelligence officer named Josef Frolik. He alleged that the parliamentarian had provided information on the plans of the British government along with sensitive data on military technology. In return, he was to receive the sum of £5,000 in total from the Czech government.

The accusation gained strength and it began to be rumored that the politician had acted under the secret name of Agent Kolon. However, Stonehouse always denied that this was true. Even the prime minister at the time publicly denied the accusations. Yet, documents declassified years later seem to confirm that he was, indeed, a spy.

Once this problem was resolved, Stonehouse became an entrepreneur. He created a company called British Bangladesh Trust (BBT), an import and export business operating in the United Kingdom and Bangladesh. But, he was soon accused of fraud. This left him in debt and feeling deeply frustrated. Presumably, it was these circumstances that motivated him to adopt a new identity.

A journey of no return

At the age of 49, John Stonehouse began to gather information on two recently deceased middle-aged men, Joseph Markham, and Donald Mildoon. He spoke to their widows and extracted enough information from them to obtain the birth certificates of the two men. With this information, he obtained a false passport in the name of Markham. He also used both identities to open bank accounts and start siphoning money into them.

On November 19, 1974, Stonehouse left the UK for Miami, in the United States. Before he left, he purchased £125,000 worth of life insurance. Arriving at his destination, he entered first with his real name, then walked out and re-entered, this time as Joseph Markham.

He booked into a hotel and said he was going for a swim. He went to the beach, undressed, and left his clothes neatly folded. However, he’d left another set of clothes in a phone booth. He went for a swim and then changed into his other clothes. When he didn’t turn up for dinner with the friend he was meeting, he reported his absence to the police.

But, by this time Stonehouse was on his way to Australia, hoping that his long-term mistress, Sheila Buckley would later join him for a new life together. One of his parliamentary colleagues claimed that he’d been assassinated by the enemies of democracy. In fact,  it was even suggested that the mafia was involved. They didn’t know that they were victims of a case of stolen identity.

An unexpected outcome

Once he arrived in Australia, Stonehouse resolved to stop being Joseph Markham and become Donald Mildoon. So, he withdrew the money he had in the account in Markham’s name to put in the account in Mildoon’s name. But, unfortunately for him, the two bank tellers who dealt with him had lunch together and swapped stories and noticed the anomaly. They realized the same person was using two different names.

Consequently, the parliamentarian was discovered. In 1975, he was sent back to the United Kingdom to be tried for various crimes. He sacked his counsel and represented himself in the trial, which meant it dragged on for longer than necessary. In fact, the trial lasted for sixty-eight days.

Stonehouse argued that he’d faked his identity due to ‘psychiatric suicide’ caused by the pressure to which he’d been subjected. But the judge didn’t believe him. Stonehouse ended up in prison for three years. He divorced his wife, married his lover, and passed away in 1988, after several years of happiness.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

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  • Rodríguez, D. G., & Doval, A. I. (2009). Amigos imaginarios, psicosis e identidad múltiple. Psicoloxía clínica: anuario, (3), 1204-1210.

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