The partially deaf and blind pensioner chased the intruder down the stairs after he shone a torch in her face
A burglar stole “60 years of memories” from a 96-year-old Gloucestershire war hero.
The man broke into Molly Luke’s home in Pelham Crescent, Churchdown, then took jewellery valuing more than £100,000.
Molly, who built munitions at the Dowty factory in Cheltenham Road East during the Second World War, was victim to the brazen theft just three days before Remembrance Sunday.
The partially deaf and blind pensioner, described as a “force of nature” by family, chased the intruder down the stairs, but he managed to flee.
The family says it is offering a substantial reward to anyone who can reunite Molly with her jewellery.
“That jewellery was her way of remembering her late husband and nephew,” Molly’s great niece Kelly Denham-Reid said.
“I can’t tell you how awful this is. This man has taken away 60 years of memories.”
How the burglary unfolded
The burglar levered open the property’s garden gate and back door at around 8pm on Thursday night, before smashing down another door into the property.
Molly, originally from Ruardean, said:
I was lying down in my bedroom because my back was in pain. I could hear some banging but I didn’t think it was anything. I just thought it was something outside. Then there were some noises inside but I thought it was my neighbour, who has a key.
The man went into Molly’s guest bedroom and picked up three decorative boxes filled with jewellery, as well as some other jewellery loose on the dressing table.
He then went into Molly’s bedroom and shone a torch in her face while she lay in bed.
I couldn’t see him, I was dazzled and I didn’t know what was happening. I said, ‘Do I know you?’ I wasn’t frightened. I kept asking him if I knew him and he was just mumbling something. I couldn’t tell what he was saying.
The burglar ran down the stairs and out of the home. Molly pursued the man and started shouting out of the back door after him.
Kelly said: “He must have panicked when he realised she was awake and chasing him. He ran back and gave her one of the boxes, but he’d taken the valuable jewellery out.”
Molly walked to a neighbour’s house in her dressing gown and stayed the night there.
Kelly was informed of the offence early this morning and came straight from her home in Silverton, Devon, with her husband Richard.
She said: “It’s horrendous, just disgusting. This is a woman who worked in a munitions factory – an incredible, formidable woman. She is shaken up but she hasn’t let it beat her. She is from that generation. She went through the Blitz. We’ve asked her if she wants to come back to Devon with us but she will not give up her independence. She won’t leave the house.”
Molly has insurance on the jewellery but Kelly described it as “irreplaceable”.
Some of it was given to her by her husband Vic, who died in 1994, and others by her nephew Kim Walter-Hughes, who passed away in 2006.
“Molly never had children and Kim was like her son, She was saying all through this morning that the jewellery was how she remembered him. Everybody who ever loved her was tied up with that jewellery. She won’t stop playing with her fingers because she always used to play with her jewellery.”
Kelly revealed there is a touching story behind one of the ruby rings stolen last night.
She said: “Just after the war ended, while Molly and Vic were still building their business, she was walking past a shop in Gloucester.
“She saw a beautiful ring. They didn’t have anything back then, and the price was £80, a fortune in those days. The ring must be worth about £20,000 now.
“But Vic said, ‘If you want it you must have it’. They literally didn’t have a roof over their heads at the time – they had a tarpaulin.
“But he bought her that ruby and she wore it every day for the next 60 years. For it to be taken is devastating.”
Kelly believes the burglar had been watching Molly for some time before committing the offence, a thought she finds “terrifying”.
She said Molly enjoys dressing “like the queen” and wearing her jewellery while doing her shopping in Parton Road. Kelly thinks the culprit may have seen her valuables then.
“He didn’t ransack the house,” she added. “He knew where to look.
“He didn’t just grab stuff – he took specific pieces of valuable jewellery and left costume jewellery.”
Kelly’s husband Richard, 48, added: “We had worried someone might mug her while she walked to the shops. We never thought anyone would come into the house.”
What was stolen?
- Pair of black sapphire and diamond earrings
- 18-karat gold necklace with black sapphire cross
- 18-karat gold bracelet with locket containing picture of Vic
- Six or seven rings, some including rubies, diamonds and sapphires
- The ruby ring bought by Vic just after the war was a large, pear-cut piece surrounded by seven large diamonds, each around three or four carats
- Two decorative boxes.
- Remembrance Day usually a special time
- Many of Molly’s family served in the military and did crucial work for the country during wartime, which means Remembrance Day is usually a special time for her, Kelly said.
What police say about the burglary
A Gloucestershire police spokesman said:
I can confirm that police were called at 8.20pm on November 8 by a neighbour of an elderly woman living in Pelham Crescent, Churchdown. The woman was at home when an unknown male entered her property via a downstairs back door while she was upstairs. The man has stolen her jewellery box containing jewellery of great sentimental value. The lady was not injured in the incident but is very shocked and upset. She has been cared for by the neighbour and relatives.
Molly expressed her gratitude to her family and neighbours for their support. She hopes the family’s appeal will see the items returned.
If you heard or saw anything suspicious in the area please call 101 quoting incident number 422 of November 8.