When recluse Mary Loraine died in a fire in 1973 she was about to be evicted from her Brighton flat because she could not afford to pay her £55 rent.

But more than 30 years later shocked members of her distant family have shared her £100,000 fortune.

Now some of the secrets of her mysterious life have been untangled by a probate research company.

Despite dying in poverty Ms Loraine was unknowingly in possession of £2,600 worth of British government bonds that her mother, who died in 1953, had left for her.

By the time Hoopers International Probate Genealogists investigated the case their value had soared to more than £100,000.

After months of work the team discovered that Ms Loraine had only one son called Richard Thomas, who had been born in Cairo a year after her first marriage in 1935 at the age of 21 to 53-year-old Welsh-born Richard Emrys Thomas who was the general manager of the Egyptian State Railways.

Unfortunately Richard Thomas had died by the time the researchers identified him.

So instead they turned to his father’s birthplace near Pontypool, Gwent.

Using documents from 1901 they traced his legal heirs, his five cousins.

The family were shocked to hear the news, which was filmed for the Heir Hunters programme which is shown on BBC One.

One member of the family Paul Thomas said: “I’m sorry that we came into this money at our cousin Richard’s expense. It would have made quite a difference to his life.”

Most of Ms Loraine’s life remains a mystery. It is known that her mother was Mabel Love, one of Edwardian London’s most beautiful and highest-paid stars. Even the young Winston Churchill wrote to her for a signed photograph.

After divorcing her first husband Ms Loraine married Anthony Loraine in Montreal, Canada, in 1948.

Between the two weddings she served in the Special Operations Executive (SOE), working with World War Two Belgian and Dutch resistance fighters.

It is believed that like many other SOE operatives she found civilian life difficult after what had been an exciting and practically criminal life.

Michael Tringham, chairman of Hoopers, said: “This was an unusual and tragic case.”