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Mystery China Makes its Way Home After Three Decades

BY MELANIE BUCK –

A multi-decade mystery was solved when Dr. Herbert Rogers asked his son-in-law, Joel Hinton, to track down the owner of a set of china that was found inside an old hot water heater in the 1980’s. Thinking it was a longshot, Hinton decided to research it anyway, as Dr. Rogers is 94, and he wanted to try to find the answer for him.

It was on March 7, 2017 when Dr. Rogers asked Hinton to investigate the matter. “The subject of the mystery china came up, just as it had many times over the past 20 or more years. This was a mystery that had baffled the Rogers and Hinton families ever since the improbable discovery of the china,” Hinton said.

He went on to explain that around 1995 or 1996, Dr. Rogers was called by a friend, Dr. Louis Stubbs, to remove some honey bees from a home in DeQueen, Arkansas.  Dr. Rogers had been a beekeeper since the age of 12.

The bees were in an old water heater that set behind a barn on the property. The water heater needed to be taken apart to clear the bees and honey out, so Dr. Stubbs told Dr. Rogers to just take it home.

After hauling it home, Dr. Rogers opened it up and discovered a full set of Royal Doulton China and a large kitchen knife. Between being stacked with clothing, and the protection of the bees, the set was in perfect condition. After several years, the dishes were placed in a cabinet for Dr. Rogers’ wife.

“We are not certain whether the men ever discussed the discovery of the dishes, but it would make sense that some sort of conversation took place,” said Hinton.

Around 2012, the set was passed down to Joel and his wife, Sharon, who proudly displayed the immaculate set in their own cabinet.

After Dr. Rogers asked Hinton to research the set, he dug in the next day, checking obituaries and genealogy databases, finding Dr. Stubb’s daughter, Chris Womack, who lives in Flower Mound, Texas. She didn’t know of any missing fine china, but when she called her mother, Louise Rachel, and said a man was inquiring about a set of Sherborne made by Royal Doulton, Louise immediately said, “Sherborne is my mother’s pattern!” Upon seeing pictures of the set, Louise said, “Oh my God, those are my mother’s dishes!” And sure enough, her mother’s china that had been missing since 1985 was found.

But how did those dishes get inside of that hot water heater? And, why? Those questions were on everyone’s minds and when they all got together and matched clues and facts, the story developed.

In 1983, Louise had to take her mother, Lela Rowell, from the home Lela shared with her husband, Allen. Lela needed cancer treatment in Louisiana. Allen was “enraged” at Lela’s leaving and “decided to punish Lela by taking two of her prized possessions, her family photo albums and her Royal Doulton China, and hiding them,” Hinton explained. From that time until his death, he would never tell where he hid them. Some time after his death the family was able to find the photo albums inside his residence. In 1987, one platter from the china set was found in the Rowell barn, lodged between two bales of hay, but the rest were never recovered, having been secretly hidden in the old hot water heater.

Hinton decided the only thing to do was the right thing to do – return the china to its rightful owner, three decades after last being seen. While on the phone with Louise, Hinton said she was “sobbing” and “so thankful” that he was willing to return them. Hinton did not want to mail the precious set, so the two families made arrangements to meet. On March 10, just three days after the initial conversation, Hinton, Dr. Rogers, and the china set off to Texarkana where they met with Louise and her daughter, Chris. “It was a joyous day for both families and Louise was overcome with tears and happiness when she held her mother’s china again, almost 34 years after it had last been seen,” smiled Hinton. “Two families had two different mysteries, both involving the same set of china. What a joy that the mystery has been solved,” he ended.

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