To his family Maxwell Naesmith Wilcock was a real life giant with an air of mystery about him.
Little did they know that after his death secrets would emerge which would point to the near certainty of him being a spy.
Robin Maudsley, 61, of Meadow Street, Deepdale, was stunned when a team of heir hunters contacted him to tell him his cousin, Max, as he was known, had died in hospital with £13,000 cash stuffed in his pyjamas.
Wilcock, a 6ft 8in giant with size 19 feet, lived in Fishwick Parade and Deepdale Road in Preston in the 1930s and 1940s before embarking on a life of mystery and intrigue, travelling to far flung places and never telling anyone what he did.
Dr Wilcock, who was also known as Dr Fenshaw, Mr Fetherstonehaugh, and Mr Wilcox amongst other variations of his name, spoke eight languages, and had nine degrees, including four with a religious sect in America called the Universal Life church.
Other certificates show him rising through the ranks of the Knights Templar masonic and religious organisation, while his various passports show stamps from hundreds of countries he had visited.
He had listed various professions on professional documents including a barrister (though he was never called to the Bar), a hunter, and his death certificate stated he was an antiques dealer.
Social workers who helped empty his flat handed over a cache of old photographs taken in various exotic places - including some from his wedding day in 1982.
Max was 61 when he married his 73-year-old bride Moira Fetherstonehaugh, who has since passed away - but the family had not known he married.
However his sweetheart is pictured on various photographs in locations around the world throughout Max’s life, leading relatives to suspect she was his very own “Bond girl”.
He went to Germany, Ethiopia, Jordan, Belgrade, Greece and Syria amongst other countries in the 1950s and his family say he carried a green diplomat card.
Despite his remarkable life he spent the final months of his life in a humble, dingy London flat and died of pneumonia in a London hospital, leaving a fiancee in San Francisco that no-one knew about.
Medical staff found £13,000 cash in his pyjamas, and a further £60,000 sterling and £6,000 American dollars was found in his flat.
Heir hunters also traced another woman in Preston who sands to inherit some of his estate.
Robin recalls: “Max was of an aggressive stature. I always remember literally looking up to him when I was younger. He was the sort of person that would walk into a room and everyone would shut up, probably because of his sheer size.
“ He was different, he went to places we would never dream of. Whenever I asked him what he did he replied: “I’ve got diplomatic immunity. He didn’t smile much. He was a stern person. He always started his phone conversations by saying ‘Hello this is Dr Wilcock’.”
Robin says he began to suspect there was more to his Uncle Max’s lifestyle on the very last time they saw each other in 1997. He added: “He turned up at my home at 10.30pm one night. He told my wife Pat to leave the room as it was ‘man’s talk’. My young children were playing on the floor and my son, who was three, started pulling at his walking stick. We heard a click and the top of it came off – it was a sword.
“I asked him what on earth he was doing with something like that. He never gave straight answers. He stayed for a drink and then asked me to drop him off in the middle of Moor Park Avenue, just after midnight. It was the last time I ever saw him alive.”
The pair kept in touch with sporadic phone calls.
Robin says: “His last phone call to me was bizarre, it was 11.30pm when he called.
“He said ‘I need to speak to your dad’ and I said I was sorry, he had died four years earlier. He said ‘I’m going to Brazil.’ He said he was coming back in six months and that he would come to see me and Pat because he needed to sort a wrong and to speak to somebody.”
But he never got chance to come back to Preston and died in January 2009.
The next contact Robin had was in December 2011 from the heir hunters saying his uncle had passed away.
Robin started delving into his uncle’s fascinating affairs, contacting universities across the world and tracing people who knew Max, including his American Chinese fiancee Lily Dong.
He learned Max had told his care workers that he had been a foreign diplomat.
He added: “I have a document from the 1960s showing he had £9.5m to buy some machinery from Germany - which would be the equivalent of £90m today. What was he doing? One picture shows him dressed as an Arab.
“Another picture taken in 1949, shows him next to a tank in Russia - how on earth had he got close to a Russian tank just after the war? Other documents show he was a member of the Knights Templar. He has studied at universities all over the world, and had lied about his exams to get into courses. Even more surprising is his education was paid for by his mother - we have no idea how she could have afforded it.
“The University of Cambridge has said that where he was living was where many spies were trained in previous years.
“We did not know he had married or that he had another wife to be, she arranged his funeral over here but is elderly and ill herself.
“In recent years he had been living in a rented mansion in London but then suddenly one day moved to a flat in Camden. He never told anyone he had any family.
Wilcock was born in Middleton, Manchester but lied on documents that he was born in Lancaster.
He served in the Second World War but was deemed “mentally unfit” whilst stationed in Africa and discharged - a story his family believe was a cover for his other activities.
His fascinating tale will be screened on the BBC’s Heir Hunters programme today.
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