£1,000 reward to find Thelma's killers

EXCLUSIVEBy Rachel Ricks and James HoreTWO businessmen put up a £1,000 reward last night in the hunt for the two conmen blamed by police for a pensioner's death.

EXCLUSIVE

By Rachel Ricks and James Hore

TWO businessmen put up a £1,000 reward last night in the hunt for the two conmen blamed by police for a pensioner's death.

Robert Godfrey, 31, who runs the Old Heath Post Office and convenience store in Colchester, said he was disgusted by the death of Thelma Avis, who died less than four hours after conmen stole £1,000 from her.


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Detectives have launched a murder inquiry because they believe the trauma of

the theft could have triggered the heart failure that caused the 90-year-old's death.

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Now Mr Godfrey and the sub-postmaster at the store, Riaz Maghoo, also 31, have each put forward £500 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the people responsible for her death.

Mr Godfrey said he believed the two conmen had come into his Old Heath Road store at about 6pm last Friday - about 30 minutes after they had struck at Mrs Avis's home in Barn Hall Avenue.

“There are a lot of elderly people in this area that need protection. There is a lot of strong feeling in this area about what has happened,” he added.

Mr Godfrey said he had become suspicious when a man, aged between 20 and 30, came to the counter wanting to change up two £20 notes into £10 and £5 notes.

Staff at the shop watched as the man then returned to a red Renault 19 car, which was parked on the kerb opposite.

They spotted three other men inside and saw one of the occupants enter the Co-op store opposite - possibly to carry out a similar transaction.

As the car screeched off towards town with a small wheel spin, Mr Godfrey noted its registration number and called the police immediately.

A spokesman for Essex Police said: “As with every other aspect of this inquiry we're looking at this very carefully.

“We would explore any avenue that would lead to the arrest of those responsible for this crime and it is certainly an offer that we will consider.”

Mr Godfrey was speaking after Mrs Avis's two sons - who have backed the East Anglian Daily Times' Safe in Your Home campaign, which aims to crack down on bogus callers - issued a fresh plea to the public.

Neil Avis, 56, said his frail mother had been left distressed by the theft and added: “In my opinion had it not taken place, my mother would still be here.”

His brother, John, 59, appealed to the public to give any information they had to the police, not only for his own family's peace of mind, but also to stop the conmen from doing it again.

Earlier yesterday Detective Superintendent Kevin Macey, leading the investigation, revealed he had received reports the conmen had knocked on other doors in Barn Hall Avenue on the day Mrs Avis died.

“They seemed to specifically target the elderly in that area. We know that they called at two other houses next-door-but-one to each other and probably deliberately left out the one in the middle because they knew a young family lived there,” he said.

The man who knocked on Mrs Avis's door, claiming to be from the gas board, is described as white, between 5ft 7in and 5ft 11in tall and of slim to medium build.

He spoke quickly with a Colchester accent, had short, straight, dark-brown hair, a sallow complexion, was clean-shaven and was wearing a navy-blue, long-sleeved top, blue jeans and grey trainers.

He was able to distract Mrs Avis while an accomplice got into the house and stole £1,000.

The accomplice is described as white, aged between 22 and 24, 5ft tall and of small build. He spoke with an Irish accent and has short, dishevelled hair and a tanned complexion.

Det Supt Macey also asked for anyone with information about a small red van-type vehicle that was parked in Barn Hall Avenue at about 5.30pm on July 4 to come forward.

Anyone with information should contact Essex police on 01277 262220 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.

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