Wiltshire Murders

Wiltshire Murders

by Nicola Sly


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Wiltshire Murders by Nicola Sly

Wiltshire Murders brings together numerous murderous tales, some which were little known outside the county, and others which made national headlines. 

Contained within the pages of this book are the stories behind some of the most heinous crimes ever committed in Wiltshire. They include the murder of Eliza Jones, stabbed to death by her common-law husband in 1836; the shooting of a policeman in 1892; Mary Ann Nash, who disposed of her illegitimate son in 1907 by dropping him into a disused well; and Edward Richards, who died in Trowbridge during an attempted robbery in 1925. Nicola Sly’s carefully researched, well-illustrated, and enthralling text will appeal to anyone interested in the shady side of Wiltshire’s history.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780752448961
Publisher: The History Press
Publication date: 05/01/2009
Series: Sutton True Crime History Series
Pages: 128
Product dimensions: 6.70(w) x 9.70(h) x 0.30(d)

About the Author

Nicolas Sly has a Masters Degree in forensic and legal psychology and currently teaches criminology to adult learners. She is the author of Bristol Murders, Dorset Murders, and Hampshire Murders, and the coauthor of Cornish Murders and Somerset Murders.

Read an Excerpt

Wiltshire Murders

By Nicola Sly

The History Press

Copyright © 2012 Nicola Sly
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7524-8397-9



Bradford-on-Avon, 1811

Samuel Tucker of Bradford-on-Avon had originally worked as a weaver, but by 1811 he had been practising medicine and calling himself Dr Tucker for some time.

Samuel was married to Ann, a widow with children, who was twenty-five years his senior. It is not known whether he simply tired of living with his wife or whether he found another, possibly younger, woman, but at the end of 1810 Samuel Tucker devised a fiendish plan to rid himself of Ann forever, while making it seem as though she had actually died from natural causes.

From New Year's Day 1811, Tucker kept Ann confined to her bedroom. She was not allowed to receive any visitors and was fed only occasionally by her husband on small quantities of half-boiled potatoes, barley bread and sips of water. Tucker intended not to starve Ann to death but to keep her alive, although in such a severely weakened condition that she would fall prey to the slightest illness.

Several times, Tucker's work took him away from home for a couple of days. Whenever that happened, he would simply lock the door and windows of his wife's bedroom, forcing her to lie in her own urine and excrement, in the closed, airless room. A broadsheet published at the time described the atmosphere in the room as 'nearly sufficient to create putridity'.

Ann slowly became weaker and more emaciated until 8 March, when she finally succumbed to the effects of the starvation diet enforced on her by her husband. A surgeon who examined her shortly after her death described her body as 'nothing but skin and bone'.

Tucker stood trial for the wilful murder of his wife at the Wiltshire Assizes held at Salisbury on 31 July 1811. The trial lasted for seven hours in total and the main witnesses for the prosecution were Ann's children from her previous marriage.

In his defence, Samuel Tucker claimed that his wife suffered from a serious disease of the bowels, which prevented him from sleeping with her or associating with her in any way. He ridiculed the idea that he had starved her to death, telling the court that Ann had a voracious appetite and ate insatiably. Her death, he maintained, was entirely down to the medical problem with her bowels.

The jury chose to disbelieve him and, having heard all the evidence against him, almost immediately returned a verdict of 'Guilty of wilful murder'. The judge ordered his execution, stating that his body should afterwards be passed to the surgeons for dissection.

Samuel Tucker received the verdict with the same lack of emotion that he had displayed throughout the trial. However, while at chapel on the day before his scheduled execution, he apparently prepared for his death by making a full confession to the murder of his wife.

He was executed at Fisherton Anger Gaol in Salisbury on Friday 2 August 1811.



Purton Stoke, 1819

In 2007, the villagers of Purton Stoke in Wiltshire held their first ever Hang Day Fayre, to commemorate the day in 1819 when between 10,000 and 15,000 people descended on the village from far and wide to witness the public hanging of a local ruffian, Robert Watkins.

Stephen Rodway was a successful coal and salt merchant who lived in Cricklade with his wife Mary. His son-in-law, John Habgood, managed his business for him and, between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. on 7 May 1819, he watched as his father-in-law set off to ride towards Wootton Bassett. Rodway was carrying a good deal of money, including a £5 note and two £1 notes and, as a precaution, Habgood had not only marked the notes for identification, but had also made a note of their serial numbers.

Rodway arrived at Wootton Bassett safely and, having conducted his business there, began his ride home that evening. As he neared the village of Purton Stoke at about 9.30 p.m., a gunshot rang out and, soon afterwards, a man was seen by several witnesses riding through the village on a black horse and turning down Bentham Lane.

About thirty minutes later, Phoebe Grimes was riding along the turnpike road between Purton and Wootton Bassett towards her home in Purton Stoke, when her horse suddenly shied near Moor Stone. Phoebe realised that there was a man lying on the road, apparently dead. She rode as fast as she could to Stoke, where she roused several inhabitants of the village who accompanied her back to the place where she had seen the body. There they found a well-dressed gentleman lying across the road on his back, his arms and legs outstretched. The body was still warm.

One of the men, William Bathe, a solicitor, immediately took charge. He sent for a surgeon and, while waiting for him to arrive, made a quick search of the dead man's pockets to see if anything could be found that might identify him. All that was found was some small change in the pocket of his waistcoat.

William Wells, the surgeon from Cricklade, arrived on the scene at about 11 p.m. and, having pronounced life extinct, ordered the body to be removed to the Bell public house at Purton Stoke. There he was able to examine the body more closely and found that the man had been shot in the chest, which had one large wound, with two smaller ones at each side. At a post-mortem examination, Wells found that a shirt buckle had been driven into the man's chest with such force that it had ruptured an artery, which Wells believed would have caused instant death. Three horseshoe nails were also found in the body, one lodged in a rib, a second in one of the lungs and the third in the man's spine. From the position of the wounds, Wells surmised that the man had been on horseback when he was shot, but would have been leaning forward, since the bullet had passed obliquely through his body, exiting his back just below his right shoulder blade. The bullet had perforated the man's spine, which also seemed to have been pierced; possibly by two more nail heads.

On the morning after the murder, William Simpkins of Bentham had found a loose horse, which was quickly identified as belonging to Stephen Rodway. The local police called for the assistance of John Vickery, a Bow Street runner, and began to follow up descriptions of the horseman and, before long, they were focusing their attention on twenty-five-year-old Robert Watkins, who lived at Wootton Bassett with his father and sixteen-year-old brother, Edward.

Watkins not only matched the description of the rider but had also been spending money much more freely than normal since the murder. His house was searched, but no incriminating evidence was found there.

Watkins was questioned at Cricklade on 11 and 12 May by John Vickery and members of the local constabulary, in the presence of solicitor Nathaniel Wells, who was later to act as prosecuting counsel at Watkins's trial. Watkins told the police that on the evening of the murder he had been drinking in the White Hart until about 8.20 p.m. He had planned to visit his mother, but had changed his mind. He had passed the scene of the murder at about 9 p.m., cutting across a field towards Purton Stoke and going straight home. He had met a man riding a horse by the blacksmith's shop in Purton and the man had a great coat rolled up and secured behind his saddle, as had Stephen Rodway when his son-in-law last saw him. Watkins said that he had met nobody that he knew that night, although he had seen two strangers walking near the school on Purton Hill. He had arrived home just after 10 p.m., having heard the church clock striking moments before he reached his door. He had not heard any gunshots.

Questioned about the money he had been spending, he maintained that it was the remains of the wages he had received for a period of work on the canals near Chichester. When Vickery asked him if he had ever had a pistol in his possession, Watkins said that he had had one, but that he had sold it four or five years previously to a man from Wootton Bassett named Mr Blanchett. Vickery went straight to see Mr Blanchett who told him that, rather than buying a pistol from Watkins, he had sold him one. Confronted with this information, Watkins insisted that the man was mistaken and that he had sold Blanchett his pistol for 4s and a pair of shoes.

Watkins then changed his story and went on to tell Vickery that he had actually heard the gunshot and that he had been near enough to the scene of the murder to see a man riding away on a horse. Although he didn't know the man, he gave the police a description and swore that he would be able to recognise him straight away if he ever saw him again.

The police rounded up three men who fitted the description that Watkins had given them – Thomas Ockwell, Henry Packer and Henry Ockwell – and brought them before Watkins. Watkins unhesitatingly picked out Thomas Ockwell as the man that he had seen on the night of 7 May. Thomas Ockwell immediately protested that he had been nowhere near the scene of the murder, but had in fact been at Oxford at the time that Stephen Rodway met his death. Vickery was later to take Ockwell to Oxford and came back satisfied that he had a cast-iron alibi.

Robert Watkins was eventually charged with the wilful murder of Stephen Rodway and committed for trial at the next Wiltshire Assizes by the local magistrates. His younger brother, Edward, who was believed to have buried the murder weapon in a ditch, was charged with being an accessory after the fact.

The trial opened at Salisbury before Mr Justice Best at the end of July 1819. There was no direct proof that Edward Watkins had been involved in the murder, so the case against him was dismissed and he was released. Mr Casberd, for the prosecution, then focused on trying Robert Watkins, who pleaded 'Not Guilty' to the charge.

The prosecution produced numerous witnesses who had seen Watkins in the area both immediately before and after the murder was committed and several who had seen him in possession of a pistol, one of whom, James Smith, had actually repaired a pistol for Watkins on 5 May. Henry Cox, a local stonemason, testified to having talked to Watkins at the White Hart Inn at Cricklade at about 8 p.m. Watkins had with him a greatcoat, which he kept rolled up on his knees all evening. William Hicks and Thomas Eagles had been driving sheep on Purton Hill, when a man wearing a greatcoat similar to the one described by Cox had passed them, averting his face as though he wished to avoid being identified.

Ann Seymour testified to hearing the gunshot and seeing a man resembling Watkins riding through the village shortly afterwards, and Phoebe Grimes, William Bathe, William Wells, John Habgood and John Vickery were all called as witnesses for the prosecution, as was James Kibblewhite, who was able to corroborate Thomas Ockwell's alibi.

Mr Casberd then dealt with the money that had been stolen from the victim. He called Mr Edward Belcher, the draper from Wootton Bassett, who produced two £1 notes that the accused had spent at his premises. Thanks to John Habgood having marked the notes and written down their serial numbers, Mr Belcher's notes were indisputably proven to have been among the money carried by Stephen Rodway on the day of his death.

Next, Sophia Cozens took the stand. The daughter of Watkins's landlady at Hunston, where he had lodged while working on the canals at Chichester, she testified to having received two letters from Watkins, both arriving on 12 May. The first letter, dated 8 May, contained a £5 note and instructions for her to buy a sow and pig. The second letter, dated 10 May, told her that there was a problem with the £5 note and asked her to return it to him as soon as possible. Miss Cozens had returned the money to Watkins immediately. The police had intercepted her letter, and found the £5 note to be Rodway's.

The only defence that Watkins could muster was that he knew nothing about the murder, he had not written the notes to Sophia Cozens, and he had never had the £5 note in his possession. The evidence against him was so overwhelming that it took the jury just one minute to return a verdict of 'Guilty', leaving the judge to sentence him to be hanged on the spot where the crime was committed and his body given for dissection.

On 30 July 1819, just two days after the conclusion of his trial, Robert Watkins was transported to Purton Stoke, where a gallows had been erected at Moor Stone. Two hundred special constables had been deputised to control the huge crowd that had assembled to watch the proceedings.

Watkins walked bravely to the gallows, pausing only to shake hands with his mother. He protested his innocence and declined an offer from the Revd Mr Harrison, the prison chaplain, to unburden his soul by confessing his sins. Having mounted the scaffold, he read aloud Psalm 108 then said 'God bless you all!' to the crowd.

It is said that, at the very moment that Robert Watkins met his death on the gallows, a violent clap of thunder exploded and the heavens opened, drenching the crowd with torrential rain. Ironically, Purton Stoke's Hang Day Fayre, originally scheduled to be held on 28 July, near the anniversary of the hanging, was also a victim of the torrential rain and flooding of 2007 and had to be rescheduled to the end of September.



Sutton Benger, 1820

Nobody objected to the gypsies who regularly used Sutton Lane, near Sutton Benger, as their camping ground. Yet one of the gypsies, Edward Buckland – or Buckley as he was sometimes known – was so universally reviled that his own tribe had disowned him because of his evil behaviour. Thus Ted tended to travel the area alone, sleeping under hedges or occasionally in barns when the local farmers took pity on him.

By 1820, Ted was sixty-six years old. A swarthy man, with black hair, grey whiskers and a long beard, he was usually dressed in a dirty old blanket, which he tied around his waist with string.

In the late spring of that year, Ted knocked on the door of Brookside Cottage. The owner, fifty-eight-year-old widow Judith Pearce, who worked at nearby Church Farm, had been known to give Ted a crust of bread in the past. However, on that day, Ted wanted more than just food and asked if he could come into the cottage and warm himself in front of the fire. Not surprisingly, Mrs Pearce refused. Ted went away angry and, later that evening, the thatched roof of the cottage caught fire.

The flames were thankfully extinguished before too much damage was done and it was widely believed that Ted Buckland had started the fire to get his own back on Mrs Pearce for refusing to let him inside her cottage. Ted was quickly apprehended, but he managed to escape his captors and prudently left the area.

Ted was not seen around Sutton Benger again until mid-November 1820. On 12 November, he knocked on the door of a cottage owned by Mrs Ann Flowers, begging for clothes. Mrs Flowers found him a coat and some breeches that had belonged to her husband.

The argument with Buckland earlier in the year had thoroughly unnerved Judith Pearce, hence her twelve-year-old granddaughter, Elizabeth Cottle, had moved in with her to keep her company. In the early hours of the morning of 13 November, Judith and Elizabeth were asleep in Brookside Cottage when they were disturbed by the sound of somebody trying to get into the house.

The frightened woman and child barred the kitchen door then watched in terror as the intruder began to hack through it with an axe. In desperation, Judith Pearce managed to break through the thin lath wall of the cottage and the two escaped through the hole in the wall, into the garden. The intruder followed. He knocked Mrs Pearce down and grabbed Elizabeth, who somehow managed to wriggle free from his grasp. The girl ran as fast as she could through the darkness to her great-uncle's house in the village and roused the occupants. As she was blurting out her story, the church clock struck three.


Excerpted from Wiltshire Murders by Nicola Sly. Copyright © 2012 Nicola Sly. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


Author's Note & Acknowledgements,
1. 'Nothing but skin and bone' Bradford-on-Avon, 1811,
2. 'God bless you all!' Purton Stoke, 1819,
3. 'May I be damned to everlasting if I had anything to do with the hatchet' Sutton Benger, 1820,
4. 'I did it in a passion, seeing my wife and children ill-used' Littleton Drew, 1828,
5. 'Thee will be hanged if thee hast a hundred necks' Lacock, 1828,
6. 'You may as well let me poison it' Warminster, 1830,
7. 'Oh, my God! I am a ruined woman!' Highworth, 1835,
8. 'Damn your eyes, get up, or I'll kill you directly' Box, 1841,
9. 'They say I murdered my baby?' Westbury, 1849,
10. 'Beat the old bastard's brains out!' Trowbridge, 1854,
11. 'Pardon me' Tollard Royal, 1859,
12. 'I have done it. You had better lock me up' Devizes, 1881,
13. 'I intended no harm to my old father' Lower Westbrook, 1885,
14. 'What was the dispute as to the child about?' Devizes, 1889,
15. 'Do you want me, Sir?' Melksham, 1892,
16. 'The curse of my life' Swindon, 1903,
17. 'I have told you the truth. He is where I have taken him to' Burbage, 1907,
18. 'Stop that man; he has murdered my Teddy' Salisbury, 1908,
19. 'I will make this county ring!' Enford, 1913,
20. 'Diagnosis: alcoholism' Sutton Veny, 1917,
21. 'I done the job and am prepared to stand the consequences' Long Newnton, 1924,
22. 'You have got me, you rotter' Trowbridge, 1925,
23. 'I'll see she shan't live to have the laugh over me' Durrington, 1939,
24. 'Either you do what I want you to do or you die' Marlborough, 1943,
25. 'She made Chris go away' Swindon, 1953,
26. 'Everyone said she was too perfect to live' Salisbury, 1953,
Bibliography & References,

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