A 112-YEAR-OLD Worcester murder has at last been solved in 2018 thanks to an extraordinary coincidence.

Thomas Heeks, aged 44 and the father of four girls, was found dead in the River Severn at North Quay in October 1905. Despite severe bruising to his face, which question marked how Heeks had come to be in the water, an inquest by city coroner William Hulme recorded a verdict of death by drowning.

And that’s where matters would have rested had Worcester author Bob Blandford not received an out of the blue contact from Australia a few weeks ago.

By co-incidence, Bob had been working on the Heeks case as part of research for his second book on the history of Worcester City Police and the fortuitous call came from Thomas Heeks’ great-great-granddaughter Caroline Bennett, a former colleague on Berrow’s Worcester Journal, who now lives on Queensland’s Gold Coast and was looking into her family history.

Caroline, who was born in Worcester, wondered whether Bob had any information about how Thomas Heeks came to meet his death, because she had a “smoking gun” document that could help.

The hidden killer can now be revealed as local marine stores labourer Harry Bowen, the live-in lover of the murdered man’s wife Rosa, who was then 38. The couple continued their adulterous relationship for years afterwards, their secret intact. Or so they thought.

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

Arthur Smith, his son-in-law who’d been drinking with him for much of the previous Saturday 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) in The Butts, was immediately suspected, not least by PC Jauncey who’d known both men for several years.

Although his body wasn’t found until the Sunday morning, Tommy (originally christened Arthur) Heeks’ post-mortem revealed he’d been in the river for several hours. The estimated time of death was around midnight.

At the court hearing, Smith’s elder daughters both testified that Arthur had returned home at 10pm, and stayed in all night. It was a claim refuted by witnesses who insisted he’d been seen “with another man” on the Quay at least an hour afterwards, but no further action was taken against him.

According to the next week’s Journal: ‘...the jury, after retiring, returned a verdict of ‘Found Drowned’ adding that there was no evidence to show whether death was due to accident or violence’. The story had been headlined “Another mystery of the Severn. How came those bruises?”

And there it rested. Until quite by chance a few weeks later, Heeks’ third daughter Louisa, then aged 16, overheard her mother’s lover confess to a massive scrap on the river bank which had ended with him knocking her father senseless and then dragging him into the river.

Shocked, the very next morning Louisa walked to Evesham where she found work in service at a farm. She never spoke to her mother or her murderous fancy-man again, although she recorded the confession for a planned memoir that has remained under wraps until now.

It has come to light via Caroline’s unexpected call to say she'd found a letter by Louisa detailing what she'd heard Harry Bowen say regarding the death of Thomas Heeks.

“The coincidence was staggering,” said Bob. “It was only a week earlier I’d came across the cutting of the case and here was the victim’s great-great granddaughter, and an old friend at that, asking me if I knew of 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.

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

Tommy Heeks was buried in St Clement’s churchyard, Worcester and his daughter Louisa lived until 1969, keeping her secret.

To put the events in context, Bob Blandford, whose first book on Worcester City Police, The Spike, was a local best seller in 2016, said it’s just possible the police already had enough on their plate that weekend in October 1905 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 another flighty lady – Annie Yarnold, aka “Tippity Toe Nance” – had been stabbed to death by her spurned husband William. A case covered in the News’ Crime Files series in January.

William Yarnold was found guilty and hanged at the County Gaol in Castle Street at 7.30am on December 5, just eight weeks after the weekend of the two sordid Worcester murders. Harry Bowen remained undetected and the 1911 census shows him living in Lich Street, still with Rosa, who was initially described as his “wife”. Although this was later crossed-out to read “head”, with his entry confirmed as “lodger”.

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, which is due for publication in 2019. Copies of the first volume covering the formation of the force in 1833 to 1900 and detailing more than 120 murders, are available from Waterstones, Tourist Information Centre and the author at bob@the-whole-picture-publishing-company.co.uk