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Last Updated: Saturday, 5 July, 2003, 09:26 GMT 10:26 UK
Murder hunt after pensioner dies
Thelma Avis
Thelma Avis died at her home in Barn Hall Avenue, Colchester
Detectives are treating the death of a 90-year-old widow who died hours after being conned out of more than 1,000 by a thief as murder.

Thelma Avis, died at her home in Barn Hall Avenue, Colchester, Essex, after confronting a man who walked into her home pretending to be a gas worker investigating a leak.

Post-mortem tests showed Mrs Avis was suffering from heart disease and police believe that the trauma of the incident caused her death.

Detective Superintendent Kevin Macey said: "Had the burglary not taken place there is every likelihood that Mrs Avis would be alive today.

Associates of the bogus caller may know about the theft but are probably unaware of the tragic aftermath and may now want to come forward
Detective Superintendent Kevin Macey

"For that reason the case is being treated as a murder enquiry."

An Essex Police spokeswoman said the conman posed as a gas company employee investigating a leak to trick his way into the woman's house in Barn Hall Avenue, Colchester, between 1730 and 1800 BST on Friday.

The woman, a widow who lived alone, became suspicious and called one of her sons.

When the conman left she found more than 1,000 was missing.

Collapsed and died

The woman appeared well when police visited her home to take a statement, but collapsed and died shortly before 2120 BST, said the spokeswoman.

Detectives hope that members of the criminal community may point the finger at the burglar because of the appalling nature of the crime.

"It is a tragic change of events and I am appealing for anyone with any information whatsoever about this man to contact police immediately," added Detective Superintendent Macey.

"Associates of the bogus caller may know about the theft but are probably unaware of the tragic aftermath and may now want to come forward."

Red Ford Escort van

Police said the thief was: "White, aged between 20 and 30, slim and about 5 ft 7 in tall. He had dark brown short hair, was clean shaven and had a sallow complexion.

"He was wearing a navy blue long sleeve top, blue jeans and grey training shoes.

"He spoke with a Colchester accent and may have been driving a red Ford Escort van."

Anyone with information was asked to call the incident room at Colchester police station on 01206 762212 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

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