18th Jan, 2019

Former Worcester journalist solves 112-year-old murder mystery

Malvern Editorial 11th Feb, 2018

A MURDER mystery dating back 112 years has finally been solved thanks to the super sleuth skills of a former Worcester journalist and the ancestor of the fellow who met his death in the city in October 1905.

Bob Blandford spoke to Observer editor Rob George about his latest discovery and a case of deja-vu more than 11,000 miles apart.

THE HIDDEN killer of 44-year-old father of four girls Thomas Heeks, found drowned in the Severn at North Quay in October 1905, can now be revealed, overturning the inconclusive verdict recorded by city coroner Dr William Hulme 112 years ago.

He was Worcester-born marine stores labourer Harry Bowen, also 44 , the live-in lover of the murdered man’s wife Rosa. The couple then proceeded to continue their adulterous relationship for years afterwards, their secret intact. Or so they’d thought…

Just the day after boatman Ernie Bishop and Worcester City PC41 Ernie Jauncey had dragged the lifeless body of the powerfully-built farm labourer to the riverbank, his post-mortem – conducted by police doctor William Crowe assisted by the city’s Medical Officer of Health, Dr Mabyn Read – showed he’d drowned, although unanswered questions lingered over bruises to his face evidently caused by a fall or a fight immediately before his death.

Son-in-law Arthur Smith had been drinking with him for much of the previous evening, taking in The Bush in St Johns, The Green Dragon in Newport Street, The Red Lion next-door but one, and then The Ewe and Lamb, now the site of Virginia House at The Butts. He was immediately suspected, not least by PC Jauncey who’d known both men for several years.

Though he wasn’t found until the next morning, Tommy Heeks’ post-mortem revealed he’d been in the river for several hours with an estimated time of death around midnight.

At the court hearing, Arthur’s wife Agnes better known as Elizabeth, and Jessie, both testified he had returned home at 10pm and had stayed in all night. The claim was refuted by witnesses who insisted he’d been seen ‘with another man’ on the Quay at least an hour afterwards.

No further action was taken and the following week’s Journal reported the jury’s ‘Found Drowned’ verdict adding there was no evidence to show whether death was due to accident or violence.

And there it rested – until Heeks’ third daughter Louisa overheard her mother’s lover confess to a massive scrap on the riverbank which ended with him knocking her father senseless and then dragging him into the river.

She never spoke to her mother or her murderous fancy-man again although she recorded the confession for a planned memoir which remained under wraps until now.

One hundred and twelve years on, Louisa’s great-granddaughter Caroline Bennett – Worcester-born but now living on Queensland’s Gold Coast – contacted Bob wondering if he had any further information about the family scandal and the iffy way her drunken, but very genial ancestor Tommy Heeks had met his death.

Bob had been working on the story weeks before as part of the follow-up to ‘The Spike’ the sometimes violent history of Worcester City Police and the city’s 2017 best-seller.

“The coincidence was staggering – like a déjà-vu but nearly 11,000 miles apart! It was only a week earlier that I’d came across the cutting and here was the victim’s great-great granddaughter, and an old friend at that, asking me if I’d come across the incident and if I could shed any more any more light on it.”

Now, with photographs and a transcript of the victim’s daughter’s evidence, the case can finally be laid to rest and its overdue postscript made public for the first time in more than a century.

“Although the story has been passed around the family for four generations, we never thought that the truth would ever come to light. It feels as if finally we have some sort of justice for Thomas,” Caroline said.

As a further post-script to the tale, Bob revealed the police may have already had enough on their plate to carry-out the exhaustive enquiries they normally devoted to murder cases in the Faithful City.

On the day of Tommy Heeks’ mysterious death, they’d been called to The Moors where Annie Yarnold, aka ‘Tippity Toe Nance’ – had been stabbed to death by her spurned husband William.

Both murders will now be covered in-depth in ‘The Spike. Worcester City Police: The lives, the crimes and the violent times – Part II 1900 to 1967’, due for publication in 2019.

E-mail bob@the-whole-picture-publishing-company.co.uk for more information.

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