TO those who lived in Malvern Link in the early 1900s, Arthur Deveraux was a popular local dentist, easy with the chat and ever ready to solve their painful problems as best he could. In fact Arthur was good like that, because he also ran a chemists shop and could knock up a soothing potion at the drop of a hat.

Deveraux also had a home for a while in Middle Street in Worcester's Arboretum district, where he similarly impressed the neighbours. Aged 34, he was remembered as a flash operator with an engaging personality which he used to great effect, wheedling his way into society circles way beyond his own humble station in life.

But behind his respectable Edwardian gent façade and seemingly impeccable credentials, the reality was the self-styled "Yankee Millionaire" was little more than a sly, smooth-talking con-man and shyster and was as good as bankrupt.

And he became a murderer too, featuring in one of the most shocking crimes of the era, a macabre affair the national press was to report under the banner headline "The Tin Trunk Tragedy". It was particularly tragic, since it involved the death of a mother and her crippled twin sons, who were only two years old.

The chain of events began in March 1905 with news of the discovery of the bodies in a tin trunk at a furniture removers' depository not far from Wormwood Scrubs prison in west London. A local police sergeant prised open the trunk at the request of Mrs Ellen Gregory, who had heard nothing from her 30-year-old daughter Beatrice Maud and two rickety grandsons Evelyn and Laurence – or, for that matter, her son-in-law Arthur – since the middle of January.

The family had moved from Worcester to London two years before and Mrs Gregory had gone round to their rented house in Milton Avenue, Harlesden, only to find it empty and the furniture allegedly sold. A neighbour had seen it carted away by a removals firm called Banister's and that was where the grisly find was made. The ledger said the trunk contained chemicals and books.

According to the local Divisional Police surgeon, assisted by Home Office pathologist Professor Pepper, the three deaths had been caused by a volatile quick-acting poison. None of the bodies showed any outward sign of physical violence. 

Top of the suspect list was Beatrice Maud's chemist husband Arthur Deveraux , who, as well as being father of the twins, was also father to another boy. Fit, healthy and his father's favourite, Stanley, aged six, was living away at a Kenilworth boarding school. In fact Deveraux had returned to the Midlands himself and was found in lodgings at Coventry, arrested and taken back to London for questioning.

The trunk containing the bodies of his wife and twin sons had been very professionally strapped, padlocked, screwed-down and hermetically sealed with fungi-depressing boric acid glue to prevent give-away decomposition. The police surgeon said it could have existed for years without revealing  any sign of its grisly contents.

Under intense questioning, Deveraux claimed his wife had been morbidly depressed and had murdered the boys using poisons from his chemical stock before killing herself. He had put their bodies in the tin trunk before doing a runner in fear of being implicated in the triple murder.  All along, he claimed to be entirely innocent of the crime, about which he protested to know nothing.

The reality was that three weeks before he'd murdered them, he had successfully applied for a chemist's assistant job in Coventry and had no plans to take his wife and their sickly sons. That he'd put his status as "widower" on his application letter was just one more damning element of the murder case rapidly being built up against him.

At his day-long trial at the Old Bailey at the end of July 1905 he pleaded not guilty, putting the blame entirely on Beatrice and fully expecting to get away with it. The jury took just ten minutes to disagree. The weight of evidence was too  great and the sentence was death by hanging.

During the statutory three weeks between sentencing and execution, Devereux's only real concern seemed to be for the future of his son Stanley, and during that period he also jotted down a list of the addresses he'd lived at since 1898, including Middle Street, Worcester and Richmond Road in Malvern Link.

Arthur Deveraux went to the gallows – seemingly resigned to his fate although still restive about his remaining son's welfare – at Pentonville Prison on August 15, 1905 and was executed "without incident" by Henry Pierrepoint and his assistant John Ellis.

• Extracted from Bob Blandford's upcoming book 'Worcestershire Bird' telling the story of Worcester Jail, its inmates and their lives and crimes, due for publication at the end of the year.

Bob's recently-created FB site 'Bob Backenforth's Worcester Secrets', which includes accounts of local murders and causes célèbres as well as other little-known Worcester facts, now has 2,300 members after just four weeks.