Colonel's killer may still be in village, say detectives

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The Independent Online

One of the chief attractions of life in Furneux Pelham was its low crime rate. Police were last called in July last year, after a a trailer was stolen. The peace was shattered last week when the retired army colonel Robert Workman was shot at point-blank range on the steps of his cottage.

Police, convinced that the killer is still in the villagers' midst, will begin today interviewing local firearms owners, whose guns may be tested. All 250 residents of this Hertfordshire commuter village will be questioned over the murder.

Colonel Workman, known by his middle name, Riley, had no known enemies and had not been robbed. The shotgun used has not been recovered.

He had lived in the village for almost 40 years, and was admired for his dedication to his sick wife, Joanna, until she died last year. Since then he has faded from the village scene, and was known well by only a few neighbours. He was found by his carer on the doorstep of his £300,000 cottage on Thursday morning after being shot as he opened the door at 9pm the previous night.

Police have played down any suspicions that he may have been the victim of a professional hitman or robber.

Detective Superintendent Richard Mann of Hertfordshire Police, leading the inquiry, said: "This is a shocking and disturbing crime. A defenceless and elderly man was blasted with a shotgun after he opened the door to a caller. The shotgun is not the weapon of choice for professional assassins, nor is it the favourite of people who commit burglaries.''

Referring to local gun enthusiasts, farmers and followers of the popular Puckeridge Hunt, he said: "It's likely that a lot of local people may have access to shotguns and we are planning to talk to all of them as soon as possible.''

Residents were yesterday getting used to the incongruous sight of scores of reporters and police officers patrolling the country lanes of the village, known mainly for winning best-kept village in the county and as the home of the Liberal peer Dame Shirley Williams.

At a morning service at St Mary's Church in the centre of the village, a congregation including some 60 villagers and senior police officers held prayers for Colonel Workman.

The Rev Robert Noke said: "We asked that you will comfort us in our grief at the moment of Riley's death and that you will grant wisdom and skill to the police in the investigation and ask that thou will bring whoever is responsible for the crime to penance. We also pray for ourselves in our local community here.''

Asked about the police's assessment that the killer is in their midst, a churchgoer, Stella Welsh, 64, said: "I don't think we would dare think about it. I can't believe anyone from around here could be the killer. He [Colonel Workman] was such a popular person and was much admired for what he did for his wife. I just hope whoever did this is caught quickly.''

David Pigg, a local farmer, said: "It's very mysterious as there doesn't seem to be a motive. It's very hard to think of any reason why someone would want to kill him.''

Police are trying to trace whoever made a 999 call from a telephone box at 5am, 90 minutes before the body was found, in the neighbouring village of Braughing, alerting them to an incident in Furneux Pelham. Yesterday officers removed the kiosk for forensic tests and searched the three-mile route between the two villages.

Det SuptMann said: "It is not beyond the realm of possibility that it was the person who shot Mr Workman who made that call. That person should decide whether or not they can live with what happened.''

Colonel Workman retired to the village in 1965 after a military career with the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry and then the Green Jackets. His closest family, his elder brother Cecil and his son and daughter, live in Australia. They have been informed of the murder but Cecil is too frail to come to Britain.

Colonel Workman would occasionally visit the village pub, the Brewery Tap, to collect fish and chips and cigars, sometimes stopping for a glass of whisky. The landlord, Ron Stringer, said: "At first we thought he had died of natural causes and then the other theories started. There is an element of fear in the village because no one knows what really happened.''