The team investigates the case of Grace Woods, who died leaving an estate worth £150,000. They are stunned to learn that Grace was Britain's first bona fide supermodel.
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Welcome to Heir Hunters, where we search for living family of people who've died
without leaving a will, hoping to unite them with a fortune.
Today the heir hunters are looking into
a spectacular six figure state.
We've actually heard the value of this estate is three-times
what might top hope was really.
Teams across the country will be hunting for relatives who
have no idea they are in line for a windfall.
Could they be knocking at your door?
Coming up on today's programme...
Wow, that's amazing!
The heir hunters uncover the case of Britain's
first international supermodel.
It appears that the deceased was indeed a really famous model in her day.
Who graced the catwalk in the 1940s.
And the team unravels the story of a wartime exile
whose life was secret, even to his family.
I think it was so traumatic for him, that's why he was a loner
and didn't divulge very much to anybody.
And I meet up with the heir hunters to see
if a complex case is any closer to closure.
So how do you feel now? Do you feel...
Very emotional. Just couldn't believe it.
Plus, how you could be entitled to unclaimed estates
where beneficiaries still need to be found.
Could you be in line for an unexpected windfall?
Every year in the UK an estimated 300,000 people
die without leaving a will. If no relatives are found,
then any money that's left behind will go to the government.
And last year they made £14 million from unclaimed estates.
But there are over 30 specialist firms competing
to stop this happening.
They are called heir hunters, and they make it their business to track
down missing relatives and help them claim their rightful inheritance.
I bring about a change
so that the rightful assets
go to the rightful family members and not to the state.
In our first case today, the heir hunter's tackle the case
of a woman with a glamorous past who left a valuable legacy.
But did she have any living relatives?
It's Thursday morning
and the Treasury list was released just hours ago.
It shows the names of people who've died without leaving a will.
And staff at Fraser and Fraser, Britain's largest heir hunting
firm, are scouring the entries.
Today it's unusually lengthy.
25, 13th June.
The team is trying to make an early breakthrough to get an edge
on the competition.
We've got one here aged 101, the deceased,
and got possible near kin on it.
Partner, Neil, has got the lead on one name.
So one of the cases we are going to start today is this
Grace Charlotte Woods, her maiden name is Cook,
and neither Woods nor Cook are good names.
It's going to be tricky, but Grace Charlotte is certainly a good combination.
We found a marriage in Hampstead.
The husband dies, it looks like he was born in 1908.
We haven't really been able to get a good date for her birth
because it's too recent to get her death.
The heir hunters need to discover a date
and place of birth for Grace to build a family tree.
Which may lead them to heirs.
There is a birth in 1908,
which makes husband and wife a very similar age.
Marriage in Hampstead and the birth is in Bethnal Green.
So that all looks quite good, so we will run with that
and hopefully get it confirmed up at some later time.
They've found a marriage for a Grace Cook and Lester Woods in 1939.
According to Lester's death certificate, he was born in 1908.
So there's a fair chance that the Grace Woods
who was also born in 1908 is the same one.
It looks like she had quite a few brothers and sisters,
I'm just putting them on the tree.
If the birth's right, Grace's family was from Bethnal Green
and she was the youngest of seven siblings.
But although the team have a good lead,
they don't yet know if it's a case worth pursuing.
Estates on the Treasury list can range from a jackpot of many
millions to as little as £5,000.
As they tend to work on a commission basis,
deciding which to follow is a risky business.
As far as value goes on this,
it's pretty hard to tell.
I haven't got a great address.
It's the Oxford bit we are trying to concentrate on.
It's hard to ascertain what sort of value we are going to look at.
The value is important. It dictates how much manpower and resources
the team should throw at a case.
Get this wrong and they could easily lose money.
Grace Woods died
on 23rd December, 2009 in Oxford.
She lived alone in her flat for over 20 years,
having originally moved to the city with her husband, Lester, who sadly died in 1986.
I can't remember whether she invited me to her flat
or I just took it upon myself to visit her.
I discovered that she was very isolated there.
Grace was plagued by ill-health for most of her life,
and became increasingly reclusive in her later years.
She gradually became more and more housebound.
I didn't realise then that she was well over 70.
It must have been very difficult to let everything go
and gradually become alone
and have all these health problems to cope with by herself.
Back in London, the heir hunters are trying to work out
the value of Grace Woods' estate.
They are keen to know if she owned her own flat in Oxford.
And case manager Dave Slee is on the phone to neighbours to
see what he can find out.
A Mrs Grace Woods, I wondered if you knew the lady at all.
She's just touched the 100 mark so...
No. Did she own her own property?
You think it might have been council, rent.
No, you have been most helpful. Thank you very much indeed, bye bye.
It's bad news.
Grace didn't own her own property,
although it seems that she may have had an interesting career.
The neighbour had known the deceased for 24 years
but didn't know much about her really. She might have been a model
at one time, the deceased, very tall and elegant.
A bit like my good self! Right, let's pass the information over.
There's no obvious value to the estate but the research team have made good progress.
Looking into Grace's siblings,
they've managed to find a possible niece and nephew.
I think that they will still be alive, and one of them is themselves
well in their 80s and they live in Ongar.
So we've got one of our researchers, David Hadley,
he's hopefully going to go to Ongar to interview
this elderly nephew of the elderly deceased.
The company employs a network of regional heir hunters
who are on standby every day. Whether the researchers are speaking to neighbours
or picking up certificates from register offices,
they leave no stone unturned in the race
to find and sign up heirs.
Dave Hadley, who works the Southeast region,
is sent to sign up the first heir.
It would appear that we've got a possible nephew
living in Chipping Ongar, who's 83 years of age,
and he wants me to go and try and locate him, speak to him,
and see if we can confirm
that he is in fact a nephew and a possible heir.
-'Um... Just a minute.'
But back at the office, alarm bells are starting to ring.
Have they jumped the gun with this case?
Although we've heard little bits of information,
about how the deceased used to be a model
and along those sort of lines, personal information about her,
no-one mentioned her age.
Now, if you're talking about a deceased person
and she's 101 years old,
the first thing I would expect to come out of someone's mouth
is she celebrated her 100th birthday last year, or something like that.
Dave Slee has managed to track down the funeral home in Oxford
where Grace was cremated.
Good afternoon. Sorry to trouble you.
It's a long shot,
but can they confirm that Grace was 101 when she died?
OK. Is there any record to show on your records
her date of birth? Is that something that would be shown on your records?
Said that she was age 89.
It's just as they feared.
The 1908 birth is wrong.
Well, the crematorium tell me that she was age 89,
which makes her born, if my maths is right, 1920.
Have we got a birth in 1920?
I don't know. You've got a birth in 1908,
which I don't think is the right one.
Funeral home are going to come back to me.
So in theory, according to the...
That would still make that marriage right. She'd only be 19.
It means the potential heirs are also wrong,
and travelling researcher Dave Hadley is pulled off the job.
Here's a tree that I made earlier that's all wrong.
-Here you are. All that's wrong.
While the team still thinks Grace's marriage is right,
and she had no children, they now have to begin a totally new line of research
for a likely birth in 1920.
Can you try and find the marriage on the '11 census?
-Um... And then... And then let me know. All right?
Starting from scratch is frustrating
when they don't even know the value of the estate.
Did you get it?
But it's not long before Dave gets a phone call that changes everything.
Oh, so she was... A top model?
The phone call is from the bereavement officer
who handled Grace's affairs. He's been asked by the funeral home
to see if he can help the heir hunters' enquiries.
I presume she was going to America, to New York, to model there.
Suddenly the estate of Grace Woods is looking a lot more interesting.
Wow, that's amazing!
It appears that the deceased was a really famous model in her day.
She was married very young, to a much older man.
We now know we've got the right family,
so the original research was all wrong,
and now we're on the right tracks.
And it just shows you, sometimes you make these phone calls,
nine out of ten of them will go nowhere.
Something like this today has helped us piece together
the starting of this estate, which I'm really pleased about.
It's a major breakthrough. Not only is the team back on track,
they've discovered that Grace Woods was a top model in her day.
The news has been given to them by the bereavement officer
at the Oxford hospital where Grace died.
Philip Sutton had the job of visiting her flat to sort out her belongings.
It was almost to the end of an hour and a half's search
through many pieces of paper that I came across two folders,
and these two folders revealed her early story,
the story that is most fascinating.
And in a third folder, tucked at the back of the sideboard,
was a collection of about 15 or 20 photographs,
and these revealed a lady
of great elegance and beauty,
oh, probably from about
the age of 15 to early 20s.
Grace Woods began her modelling career
at the tender age of 15.
Her stunning beauty and natural elegance
soon attracted the attention
of the Lucie Clayton Modelling School.
The agency was probably London's top model agency in the 1940s.
You had to be certain height - over 5'9".
There was a specific model walk from the 1940s,
far more straight,
but to flow at the same time.
Grace certainly would have had training
in making sure she didn't use her hands too much
and her head didn't dip. She would have been told how to maintain
a very still figure.
By the 1940s, Grace was a well-known face on the fashion scene,
and was photographed and filmed at prestigious events.
The British fashion industry was starting to boom,
as designers shrugged off the drudgery of war
in search of exciting new styles,
and this design revolution required a new breed of model.
Grace must have had the similar training to me
at her modelling school.
She would have learnt how to walk, how to wear the clothes,
how to promote herself, in other words, really.
And generally learn all the ins and outs
of how to behave in front of a camera,
and as a model. I mean, there was a lot more to it in those days.
Well, Grace certainly was a beautifully elegant model back in the day.
I'm here at the Museum of London to find out more about the world she inhabited.
I've come to meet Beatrice Behlen, fashion curator
and an expert in post-war fashion.
-So tell me,
what happened to the global fashion industry during the war?
Paris was occupied by the Germans for about four years,
so they were still producing fashion, but only for people in Paris and France.
Normally, they would have dominated fashion, leading fashion.
Now the British and the Americans, they were developing their own styles
-and they were hoping Paris could be kept down after the war.
-What did people wear at the time?
I'll show you some things over here.
I've got three dresses here.
All three are worn about sort of '44, '45.
I think they maybe look a little bit like that. But this one, I think, you could definitely wear now.
So they are different, slightly different.
This one is a utility dress, and you can see the CC41 sign here.
-It's made by a company called Bijou.
Utility means it was made out of a fabric
that was controlled by regulations.
-So even fashion and material was regulated at the time?
-Yes, it was.
In wartime Britain, clothes and materials to make them
were as strictly rationed as food.
The Government had taken control of all imported cloth,
and in 1941 brought in utility clothes for the general public.
They set up a coupon system to ration how many new clothes people could actually buy.
The utility label meant when consumers used their coupons
and saw that mark, they'd know the clothes would be well-made,
hard-wearing and affordable.
Unfortunately, clothes rationing didn't stop there.
There were all sorts of austerity regulations.
They governed how many buttons you could have, how many pleats.
It makes you think there was one style. That's not true -
-you can make quite a lot of different styles, despite the regulations.
Austerity measures aside, the public found ways around them,
using what they already had at home.
This one here is made out of bedding material.
She could do whatever she liked, so she got a pattern, she made this dress, and she thought,
"No, I'll not just have four buttons, I'll have whatever - ten, nine, or whatever she has here.
-She used as many as she could get her hands on.
-It's amazing how bright they are.
I imagine war clothing, because of regulations, to be dark and drab.
No, I think the state was quite worried that people would hate it
so they did their best to have different patterns and things like that.
It's amazing to see first-hand just how inventive
and resourceful people were in times of such austerity.
Putting clothes made of bedding to one side for a moment,
I want to find out more about how Grace became the superstar she was in her day.
So, the UK, was that a good place for Grace to be modelling after the war?
After the war, it would have been. There were still regulations for everyone else,
but the designers were made exempt from the regulations so they could make beautiful things for export
so that money would come into the country.
So, of course, they would have needed models to show these new fashions.
It sounds as if Grace was in the right place at the right time.
But what about the clothes she would have been wearing on the catwalks of America and Europe?
From the silhouette,
this would have been the kind of thing she would have modelled in 1946.
This is another utility garment, so what she would have worn for a designer
would probably have been a bit more luxurious.
But it would have had these wide shoulders
-and been quite straight, quite a boxy look.
-Amazing detail on here.
Yeah, but also, this is a fake.
Because again, you have to not use that much fabric
so you don't put in proper pockets, you just have sort of fake pockets.
-Were the public happy with the new styles?
-The big thing that changed was
when Dior had his first fashion show on 12th February 1947
and what he introduced was this new style, which you can see here.
This is a beautiful suit by Hardy Amies,
-one of the big designers in London.
-I love it.
Yeah, I think you could wear this now.
So this is much more detailed, you have different pockets,
more of the detail here than on the others.
You can see how much fabric these pleats would have needed.
You couldn't have done that under austerity regulations.
Some people liked it, some people absolutely hated it.
There were debates in the Commons about this, because it was using a lot of fabric.
You can't really fight fashion. It was going up that way and there was nothing people could do.
It appears Grace was walking the catwalks
during a fashion revolution,
and subsequently became one of the world's first supermodels.
Coming up - the team learn that Grace Woods was rich
as well as famous.
We've actually heard that the value of this estate
is three times what my top hope was, really.
Our next case today proves a real puzzle for the probate researchers,
as the hunt for missing heirs leads to some of the darkest moments in 20th century history.
Heir hunters can spend years trying to solve complex cases,
but sometimes there's a reason why people's lives
are shrouded in mystery.
That was the story when one company looked for heirs
for Leons Grinbergs. His friends and family knew surprisingly little
of the dramatic events which had shaped his life.
Leons died in Seaford, West Sussex, in 2009,
He was a popular man who Paul Allery had known for over 30 years.
When I first think of Leo, what I remember is his smile,
his laugh, a pipe and a pint.
I've never known him unhappy.
No. Not in all my life. He's never been unhappy.
He'd make you laugh.
Leons died without leaving a will,
and his £13,000 estate was published on the Bona Vacantia list in 2009.
Hector Birchwood, who runs heir-hunting firm Celtic Research
with his father Peter, began to investigate.
We started the case when it was first advertised
with the Treasury solicitor last year.
We didn't get the death certificate immediately,
but we had established a number of different facts
by the time that we had the death certificate.
We knew that he was married.
We... Or at least I guessed that perhaps he may have been divorced
and that there would have been some previous in-law family
still residing here in the UK,
and so that then led us down a research avenue
by which we could possibly maybe find the deceased's family.
Dawn Marian Moor was married to Leons Grinbergs.
They met while she was working at Hastings railway station in 1972.
When I met Leo, I had been separated from my husband
for a few years,
and Leo was a great comfort to me.
He was about 6'2",
Always had a little goatee beard and moustache.
Used to laugh at his own jokes.
One of his best points was that he was very good to my children,
and he was very reliable and loving.
At the time, Dawn was living with her 11-year-old son Paul,
when Leons, or Leo as he was known, moved into the family home.
I first met Leo when I was 11 years old,
which would have been about 37 years ago.
I thought, "What's this stranger doing in my house?"
But literally within hours, I loved him straight away.
Made me laugh. Made me feel much, much better.
Dawn and Leo got married in June 1975,
and they settled into family life with Paul and his elder sisters.
It was very good, you know, very happy.
Everybody jogged on fine, you know.
It was like having Leo and I's family, you know,
because he was really good with the kids.
Dawn and Leo decided to get divorced in 1983,
but the split was amicable.
Paul always kept in touch with him, and if ever I saw him,
because he moved to Seaford,
we used to perhaps go for a drink together.
No animosity. It was very good. Remained friends for a long time.
As Dawn and Leo had divorced, she wasn't an heir to his estate.
Nor was stepson Paul, as he wasn't a blood relative.
So if Hector was going to find any living relatives,
he needed to look further into Leo's past.
But that's where it would get tricky.
He'd only tell you what he wanted you to know.
He never elaborated on anything.
It was as though he'd done it, he'd been there,
and he wanted a fresh beginning.
He had his private side, which he wouldn't talk about,
and we never worried about him, about it.
If he'd wanted to talk about it, he could,
but he kept himself to himself in that respect, his private life.
In order to find heirs to Leo's estate,
Hector would have to delve into his mysterious past.
He was quickly able to establish that Leo was from Latvia,
and that he'd been born in 1926.
But frustratingly, he couldn't find any other details of his birth.
Once you go to places in Eastern Europe,
the former Soviet union, because of historical reasons,
namely lots of armies conquering back and forth
and destroying records in churches,
you begin to see that there's real trouble
in being able to get any form of record
to prove that somebody's related to another person.
And trying to find records in Latvia was especially difficult.
In 1939, the country was turned upside down
when Russian troops invaded and seized control.
Within a one-week period,
around 15,000 Latvians were given 24 hours' notice
to collect 100 kilograms of their possessions.
They weren't allowed to take any more.
They were then taken to the main railway stations.
Families were split into men and women and children,
and they were transported to Siberia.
13-year-old Leo was lucky to avoid this fate.
But like the rest of the Latvian population,
he was now at the mercy of violent Russian oppressors.
Salvation seemed to come two years later
when German troops arrived in Latvia and forced the Russians out.
Initially, a lot of the Latvians welcomed them on the street,
with flowers in some cases,
because they were seen as at least not being as bad as the Soviets.
But their relief was short-lived.
The arrival of the Nazis brought a new threat to many Latvian people,
and one which would directly affect Leo, who was half-Jewish.
Very soon the Nazis set up ghettos and concentration camps
for the Latvian Jews.
In Latvia, there were around 90,000 to 95,000 Jews,
about 90%of which died by the end of the war.
Sarmite Janovskis was a young girl
living in the Latvian capital city in 1941.
Jewish ghettos in Riga were terrible. They were rounded up.
You weren't allowed to give them a piece of bread.
You did that on the quiet, but not while they were in the road.
You couldn't do anything, and it must have been awful.
They had lived there all their lives,
a peaceful, normal life.
And I suppose the only place they could run
was Sweden, but there was no way to get there.
If they ran to Germany, they would have run into fire.
The same into Poland or Lithuania,
Russia, everything. They had nowhere to run,
and they were very quickly rounded up and shot, and it was terrible.
As a young Jew, Leo was in imminent danger.
And his ex-wife Dawn remembers a rare revelation
about this period in his life.
Leo one day sort of sat down, and, talking about the past,
he told me that...um...
he had to leave Riga
when he was 15, because...
the Jewish part of his family - his father was a Jew -
he feels his parents were murdered anyway,
and his only escape was to make way to a different country to survive.
It took him two years to get to Switzerland,
by sleeping during the day,
travelling at night,
surviving on whatever he could...
um...which made him, today, not leave anything on his plate
because he'd suffered so much hunger in those days.
But it took him two years to get to Switzerland.
The news of Leo's extraordinary wartime journey
and the loss of his parents explained a lot to Dawn.
I think it was so traumatic for him
that each episode of his life he shuts away,
and doesn't want to relive it.
And I think that's the secret of his life.
That's why he was a loner,
you know, and didn't divulge very much to anybody.
But was Leo hiding a secret
that would help the heir hunters find relatives who could inherit his estate?
They'd been able to establish that after the war ended,
Leo somehow made his way to a military hospital near Cologne.
From here, records show Leo was moved
to a displaced-persons' camp in Western Europe.
These camps housed 150,000 Latvian refugees,
who'd fled their country when it fell under the Iron Curtain.
Hundreds of camps formed in Germany,
both in the English zone and in the American zone,
and as soon as the camps opened, we started forming schools
and choirs and our own social life,
and life was very, very difficult.
The Latvians were free to leave the camps,
but with little prospect of jobs, they survived on rations,
and in sometimes squalid conditions.
We were seven in a room,
with one tap to about 16 families.
The toilets weren't usable. They were full of...
faeces and worms.
But there were always the woods.
Yes. It was...
That part of my life was horrible.
No-one seems to know what happened to Leo when he left the displaced-persons' camp.
But his stepson Paul was about to make a dramatic revelation.
He believed that Leon had an illegitimate daughter.
Heir hunters solve thousands of cases a year,
and millions of pounds are paid out to rightful heirs.
But not every case can be cracked.
The Treasury has a database of over 2,000 names
that have baffled the heir hunters and remain unsolved.
This is known as the Bona Vacantia list.
Bona Vacantia is Latin for "ownerless goods".
And we deal with the estates of people
who die intestate and without known kin.
And this unclaimed money could belong to you, not the Government,
but you'll have to show them you're the rightful heir.
If they write to us enclosing a simple family tree,
just showing how they're actually related to the deceased person,
then we can have a look at it, make sure we're talking about the same family,
before we go off and ask them to supply various certificates
of birth, death and marriage
to actually substantiate the claim.
The estate could be worth as little as a few hundred pounds
or as much as many millions.
Today we're focussing on three names from the list.
Are they relatives of yours?
Could you be in line for an unexpected windfall?
Edna Youle died in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, in September 2006.
The surname Youle is medieval,
and was traditionally taken by people born on Christmas day.
Did you know Edna? So far, all efforts to trace her entitled relatives have failed.
Did you know Robert William Walker-Hesp?
He died on the 7th of October 2008 in Bideford, Devon.
Do you recognise Robert's distinctive double-barrelled surname?
Can you help solve this case?
Also on our list is John Francis Christopher Fleming,
who died in Coventry on the 4th of August 2006.
The name Fleming is commonly associated
with people from Flanders.
Was John a friend or neighbour or yours?
Someone out there must remember him.
But these estates won't be around for ever.
It'll stay on the list as long as it's claimable.
Actually, under the Limitation Act,
people have 12 years to come forward and claim.
A reminder of those names again.
Edna Youle, Robert Walker-Hesp, and John Christopher Fleming.
So if you're a relative of someone on today's list,
you could have a fortune coming your way.
Still to come - the heir hunters know about Grace Woods' fame,
but what about her fortune?
Now, though, it's back to the difficult search for heirs
to the estate of Latvian exile Leons Grinbergs.
'Later, I've some more news about the case.'
-So do you have any updates for us?
-Well, I do have some updates.
But first, it's back to the investigation.
The heir hunters at Celtic Research
have been looking into Leon's case.
He was born in Eastern Europe, and died in West Sussex,
leaving an estate worth around £13,000.
But uncovering the tracks of someone who wanted their past left behind was proving very difficult.
A lot of people who left Latvia they live in the past,
and they think of what was in Latvia,
but they can't tell people in England about it
because they wouldn't understand. It was a different world.
And the war experiences -
I mean, they were just so horrendous.
I think they like to bury them.
After the Second World War,
the only evidence of what happened to Leo next
are photographs which show him living in North America.
I would think, obviously, in Canada.
It looks like he's studying for something.
These are the sort of things I wish he'd told me about.
What was he, 25, 30?
What was he doing and why?
In 1947, Canada adopted emergency measures
to assist the resettlement of refugees,
many of whom were from Eastern Europe.
It's likely Leo was part of this programme.
After 1945, 150,000 Latvian refugees were unable to return home,
because Latvia was controlled by the Soviet Union until 1991.
The majority of the Latvian refugees moved to North America,
to the United States and to Canada.
Toronto has one of the largest Latvian communities,
and is the second-largest Latvian city outside of Latvia.
But none of these movements were making Hector's task of finding an heir any easier.
The only tangible record that we have
is the Merchant Marine record that we have for Leon,
which states that he was here first in 1953.
We don't have any records of Leon having resided in Canada,
or coming back and forth from Canada,
or having any form of family
that you could say was related to him in Canada,
It really has led nowhere.
So they were left with a black hole in Leo's life.
For a period of almost ten years,
the heir hunters had no idea of Leo's whereabouts,
or what was going on in his personal life.
And then stepson Paul dropped a bombshell.
The last tantalising clue that we got from Paul
is that he believed that Leon had an illegitimate daughter,
that during his travels to and from Canada
as a Merchant Marine man,
he'd fathered a girl.
Perhaps she resides in Canada, speculatively.
Shortly after Leo passed away, the council got in touch with me
and left me all his personal possessions,
and I was pretty much talking to my mother,
and we were going through things,
and she just suddenly says, like, "Oh, he had a daughter in Canada."
I thought, "What's this?" I didn't know anything about this.
He paid for her college, I believe.
He mentioned paying for her college.
But that's all he said about his daughter.
I think his past... He didn't want to dwell on it.
Leo's daughter is likely to be the sole heir to his £13,000 estate.
But in order to find her, they need his name on the birth certificate.
For us, it's exceptionally hard
to try and find that needle in a haystack
without knowing a name. If somebody's born illegitimately,
normally they would take on their mother's surname,
so without knowing who the relationship was with,
or where it even took place,
we have no way of being able to find out who this person is.
The ongoing search for Leo's daughter
is being championed by his stepson Paul.
Well, I know I'm not entitled to anything,
and because he died intestate,
I thought I didn't want his money going to the Government.
I'll try my damnedest, if he has got a daughter,
to make sure it goes to her.
Despite searching every record available to him,
Hector has so far been unable locate any trace of Leo's missing daughter,
who may be in Canada, or even in the UK.
Without having the luxury of a birth certificate
or a baptismal record,
or the name of a potential illegitimate daughter,
or even the name of the person with whom he may have had a relationship
and then had an illegitimate daughter,
it really leaves us in a very difficult spot,
and, on the face of it,
I don't really think that there's any resolution to this case,
so eventually the Crown will be quite happy
to obtain the deceased's assets,
and this will all go to Her Majesty's Government.
But Paul hasn't given up hope of finding his stepsister,
Leo's long-lost daughter.
I think Leo would have wanted me to do it.
He would have liked me to do it.
Last thing I can do for him.
Are you Leo's daughter, or do you know someone that could be?
Do you hold the key to solving this £13,000 case?
'Well, there's been a dramatic twist in the hunt for Leon's heirs.
'I've come to London to meet heir hunter Hector Birchwood and Leon's stepson Paul.
'Both men have been working for years to solve the riddle of Leon's life.'
-Paul, it's lovely to meet you.
-Lovely to meet you.
-You're obviously really fond of Leon?
-And what are your favourite memories of him?
-Hmm, good Lord, loads.
I suppose when I first met him, he used to look after me,
treat me well...
When I left school he got me my first job.
-And taking me to the pub.
-So, Hector, I'm glad you could join us.
Did you know from the start this was going to be a difficult case?
Yes, I knew it was going to be very hard.
There were a number of reasons why this case was going to be hard from the outset.
Latvia, because of its history, has had a number of its records destroyed.
So we knew that even if we found anyone,
it would have been very difficult to document any form of claim.
We've not had a lot of success in Latvia before.
And in addition to that,
we could not find a birth for Leon where he said he was.
So the initial research that we did
didn't prove very fruitful at all.
And it was at that point that I decided to research
in the family that Leon married into.
That's when I contacted Paul.
And Paul was himself doing a lot of research,
trying to find Leon's family.
So we effectively traded information.
He gave me papers that he had in his possession and I gave him
papers that I had found in the National Archives.
We traded information, we put it all together,
and we still didn't really get anywhere!
'Hector's main problem in this case was trying to locate the potential illegitimate daughter.
'It had been suggested Leons had her whilst living abroad.'
So where did the trail ran cold?
Well, the trail ran cold in Canada, because, as you knew,
he came to the UK as a Merchant Mariner.
So we thought that perhaps maybe he had a daughter there,
and that was our idea.
-You gave me pictures of Leon in his time in Canada.
-Canada, that's right.
He was a young man, so we thought perhaps maybe
he might have had an illegitimate child there.
We got some help from the Latvian community in Canada
and we managed to trace down the daughter of his landlord
-who rented his apartment.
Sadly, no-one could confirm, A, he had any relationship,
and B, and he had any daughter. No-one knew of any daughter, no-one knew of any children.
So it seems unlikely that Leons did have a daughter after all.'
So, Hector, have you got an update for us?
Well, I do have some updates. We managed to find...
a farmhouse, which is where Leon was born.
The farmland - we found his family still reside there.
-How do you feel?
I wasn't expecting that at all.
We found the descendants of a paternal aunt of the deceased.
Anna Grinbergs. She was the sister of his father Fricis.
She died in the late 1970s.
She was born in 1894.
Two years younger than his father.
And she had two children - Krishus and Ilma -
both of whom married and are now deceased.
And so we found their children -
one of them who is still living in the farmhouse Where Leons was born.
-I really wasn't expecting it.
-It's really amazing.
So all those years, a good few years of working this case,
but finally Hector has cracked it.
-Have you been in touch with them?
We've been in touch, we've submitted their claim, it's been accepted,
and the money will be distributed actually this week.
-What a result.
-Cor, absolutely fantastic.
Wait till I tell everybody.
I think it's so lovely that you've been trying to find out
-and working so hard to crack this...
If it wasn't for Hector,
I would have got nowhere. I was just going round and round in circles.
By the way, they did confirm he didn't have any daughter either,
I did ask!
-So where that came from...
-I don't know.
At least we haven't been able to verify that.
So, Paul, where would you like to go from here, would you like to get in touch with the heirs?
Now I know, I would love to,
if Hector would be good enough to give them their address.
-If I could meet her, better still.
-A whole new journey to go on.
And after it's all over with. I just can't wait.
One chapter comes to an end in the hunt for Leon's rightful heirs.
But another begins in reuniting his long-lost family
and it's all thanks to the heir hunters.
Now, do you have long-lost family? Here's some more names of unclaimed estates
from the Treasury Solicitor's list.
Could you be in line for a forgotten fortune?
The list of unclaimed estates
is money that is owed to members of the public
and new names are added all the time.
The unclaimed list is a list of cases that we haven't found kin for.
The list goes back to 1997
because that's when our case management system came on line.
The idea is to produce a list of all those solvent cases
so there should be a few pounds in there, possibly many thousands.
So how is the Bona Vacantia Division working on your behalf?
The Bona Vacantia Division doesn't employ genealogists or agents
we work very hard to find kin ourselves. We advertise in local and national newspapers
and ultimately put the names on our website.
Do the names on the list mean anything to you?
Could they be relatives of yours?
Christopher Michael O'Riordan died in Fulham, London,
on 18th August 2010.
O'Riordan is a Celtic Irish name
and originally derived from words meaning Royal poet.
Do you remember Christopher, does his Irish surname ring a bell with you?
Alexander Clark Molyneux died in Corby on 3rd August 2010.
The name Molyneux derives from Moulins,
a town on the River Allier in France, famous for its water mills.
Moulin is the French for mill.
Were you a friend or neighbour of Alexander's?
So far, all efforts to find his heirs have drawn a blank.
John Samuel Earnshaw died on 11th October 1997
in the district hospital in York.
I've got John's death certificate here
and it shows he used to work in a canteen. Did you used to work in a kitchen or a cafe in the York area
and maybe know a John Earnshaw?
Maybe you could crack this case.
The death certificate also shows
that John was born on 26 December 1919 in Putney, London.
Were you part of the Earnshaw family living in a Putney at that time?
A reminder of those names again.
Christopher O'Riordan, Alexander Molyneux and John Earnshaw.
If today's names are relatives of yours, you could have a windfall coming your way.
Finally today, let's rejoin the heir hunters
as they search for heirs to the estate of former model, Grace Woods.
The team are investigating Grace's case.
She died in Oxford in 2009 without leaving a will
and her name was advertised on the Treasury Solicitor's list.
But one wrong step in their search has sent that team wildly off course.
I've made a mistake on this case and run with the birth in 1908
and it looks as though the birth is in 1920.
Knowing that Grace was a famous model,
the team is now working flat out to find relatives for the 1920 birth.
Trawling through records, they make another exciting discovery.
Apparently she went over to the US of A.
It seems Grace Woods was so sought after as a model,
she travelled to America on the Queen Elizabeth in 1946.
There she is... A mannequin.
Let's get stuff in on priority on that
because there could be value on this.
The team is now certain it's an estate worth working.
We have a little bit of information which is from a shipping record
where the deceased is travelling to America in a first class cabin.
That first class cabin is on the Queen Elizabeth,
which is a very, very luxury liner.
Certainly a very expensive cabin to be travelling to America on.
So indications like that sort of gear us to the line
that we're dealing with a person who certainly had wealth at one stage.
In fact, Grace Woods wasn't just any model
but Britain's top model after the war.
Now for British mannequins going to the States,
Georgie Clifford, Grace Woods, Jane Lynch...
in 1946, she led a team of models on a famous trip
which showcased British style in America.
The tour was set up by Grace's modelling agency.
The trip of the mannequins to New York
was a very important part of Lucy Clayton's involvement.
She saw on opportunity to take her girls over
as ambassadors for British fashion.
The idea of this glamorous Englishwoman
travelling abroad with her girls, hand selected,
brought immediate American media attention.
Grace's glamorous look was so in vogue,
it made her the British supermodel of her day.
I think the English market was very influenced
by Hollywood in the 1930s.
If we think of those wonderful 1930s movies
that were coming out of Hollywood,
it was the beginning of platinum blonde,
it was the beginning of quite curvy women.
Records show that all of Lucie Clayton's original models
had a life-changing experience when she scouted them out.
I should imagine she loved every moment of it.
At the office, the race is now on
to find heirs to the estate ahead of the competition.
We know it's about £5,000.
Our indication is we think it may be up to about £20,000 or £30,000
or possibly higher.
We've done a lot more digging into this life.
The team now believes Grace was born
to William John Cooke and Gertrude Johnson
and they're hoping the 1911 census will reveal her wider family.
Johnson and Cooke is a surname that's difficult for us
because it's hard to identify.
It's a case of putting the name in and seeing if we come up lucky
but it doesn't seem to be happening.
The team urgently needs to find a marriage certificate
that will identify the right parents.
-Anything you can get would be most appreciated.
Birmingham based researcher Paul Matthews
is sent to nearby West Bromwich to get the proof.
-Can we have that marriage, please?
Can we have it on the express service? I know there's an extra charge, but that's fine.
OK. No problem, sir.
If it's held here, the certificate will be a vital link
that will speed up the heir hunt.
OK. Thank you very much indeed. I suppose you want my money as well.
Thank you very much.
This is the marriage of the deceased's parents.
The mother was Gertrude Johnson and the dad was William John Cook.
He was 29, she was 22. Bachelor to spinster.
Um... Yeah. Everything fits into place,
so all we've got to do now is find Gertrude's brothers and sisters.
At the office, the team's now making progress
finding heirs through Grace's mother, Gertrude Johnson.
There were seven children born,
so the deceased's mother had six siblings.
They're finally starting to build an accurate family tree.
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven.
The team's got names of Grace's six aunts and uncles.
If they have living descendants, they'll be heirs.
We're making good progress. The tree's gone from a single page
out to five, six pages long. We've come down at least one generation.
We're dealing with cousins of the deceased.
One of Grace's uncles, Thomas Richard Johnson,
married an Amy, and the couple lived in Birmingham.
Paul Matthews is sent to another register office
to find out if Thomas and Amy have any living descendants,
who would be heirs.
We've now got the deaths of Richard Johnson, an uncle of the deceased,
but the actual informant on the second death,
which was Amy,
The informant was an Elizabeth Millicent Hill.
Elizabeth Millicent was actually Thomas and Amy's daughter,
and Grace's cousin. Elizabeth died in 1991,
but she had two children, a son called Martin and a daughter Sharron.
Paul's managed to find an address for Sharron in nearby Solihull.
She would have been born 1947, so she's retirement age,
so hopefully she'll be in and we can get a hold of her,
and tell her all about this and get her signed up.
The team have invested many man-hours into this case,
and it looks like they've finally found their first heir.
The pressure's now on Paul to sign her up
ahead of the competition.
Good afternoon. Paul Matthews, Fraser & Fraser.
Basically it's an estate we're dealing with,
coming down through your late mother.
-We think you're entitled. Can you spare me half an hour?
OK, that's great. Thank you very much indeed.
A visit from the heir hunters has taken Sharron by surprise.
I bet you never thought we'd knock on your door!
I didn't! None of our relatives have had any money. Most of them have died paupers.
We don't know the value. You might get a few bob out of it.
Well, you know, even 50 pence is better than nothing.
Paul needs to make sure that Sharron is, in fact,
Grace Woods' first cousin once removed
before she can make a claim.
Right. Your dad's forenames.
William Charles Kendall.
Luckily, Sharron's able to provide the names of her relatives
to help the heir hunt, and she recalls her distant cousin.
-Was she very famous, or...
-I think so.
I don't know whether they used to call her Grace Darling
or something like that, because she was a darling of Vogue magazine.
Sharron signs with the company, and in return for an agreed percentage,
they'll help her claim her share of Grace's estate,
currently estimated at £30,000.
First heir signed up. No sign of any competition so far,
so obviously they all think there's no value to it,
but we hope that our educated guesswork
A few weeks later, the heir hunters learn their hard work and the gamble have paid off.
A sample claim has been accepted by the Treasury solicitor,
and it's only at this time we get to find the real value of the estate.
We were hoping for a value of between £30,000 and £50,000.
Fingers crossed, it may have been a bit more.
We've actually heard that the value of this estate
is 153,000, so three times what my top hope was, really.
It's a substantial estate,
and in total it will be shared amongst 18 heirs.
That was the car he had when we were there.
For Sharron and her brother Martin, who's also an heir,
the experience has stirred up memories of their famous relative.
The last time I saw Grace, I think I was about seven years old.
I remember her coming to my grandmother's house,
and being in the lounge,
but I can remember looking at her, thinking how beautiful she was.
I mean, I was in awe of her,
because she wore the most beautiful clothes,
and she was absolutely beautiful, and I made my mind up
I wanted to be a fashion model, too.
Martin also recalls that Grace had suffered from an illness.
I was told that during the war,
she'd had TB of the throat,
and she had to have an operation to have the windpipe removed
and replaced with a stainless-steel tube. When I saw her last,
she had a big necklace round, hiding her throat part.
In fact, Grace contracted TB
while she was on her famous trip to New York.
She was gravely ill, and although she recovered,
it seems the tracheotomy put paid to her illustrious career.
But for those who knew her, she remains an inspirational figure.
She was just a sweet lady, and she WAS a lady.
You couldn't say she was a woman. She was a lady. She was elegant.
The thing that pleased me most was,
when she was telling me about her happy days as a model,
to reminisce about those days,
I could see the pleasure in her face,
and the happiness it gave her to reflect on.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
Series dedicated to finding the heirs of people who have died without leaving a will.
Grace Woods died in Oxford aged 89 leaving an estate worth £150,000. The heir hunters are stunned to learn that Grace was Britain's first bona fide supermodel and in 1946 led a troupe of Britain's finest models on a glamorous trip to New York.
The heir hunters also look at the case of Leons Grinbergs, a Latvian who was forced from his homeland by the bloody battle between the Germans and the Russians.
Plus details of three more unclaimed estates - could you be an heir?