Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Leighton Buzzard Inquest Verdict of Wilful Murder

The Stag, Leighton Buzzard c.1906 [Z1306/72]

Thursday 22nd July 1915: The inquest into the death of Mrs. Harriet Reeve of Leighton Buzzard, which was adjourned on 6th July [LINK] was resumed yesterday in the Church Room at Leighton Buzzard. Thomas Major, a labourer of Chapel Path, Leighton Buzzard, said he had seen the victim’s husband on the day of the tragedy. They went together to Hockliffe to return a stray dog to Mr. Richardson, the owner of the White Hart. Reeve had told him that he had his double-barrelled gun loaded and standing in the corner of the house. Major told him “You --- fool, why don’t you go back and empty the gun, or do something with it; or else the children will get playing about with it, and shoot one another”. Reeve replied, “That’s all right; I’ve got that for something else”. When they returned the dog Mr. Richardson gave them two shillings and a pint of beer each; Mrs. Richardson gave them another two pints. On the way back to Leighton they stopped at the Plough in Eggington for a pint each, then at the Falcon in Stanbridge Road where they each had two more pints. After that they visited the Roebuck for half a pint each, followed later by another two pints between them. Nothing in Reeve’s manner seemed unusual to Major; when he left him Reeve was sober and could walk all right.

Annie Elizabeth Peasegood, the daughter of the licensee of the Stag Inn at Leighton, gave evidence that Reeve had been drinking and was not quite sober, but was not drunk. He had stayed in the Stag playing dominoes from about 4 to 6 o’clock, but drank only a half pint. David Chandler, age 18, a baker of Hockliffe Street had seen Reeve in the bar at the Stag and also thought that Reeve was not drunk; he was in control of himself and able to light a cigarette, which he felt a drunk man would be unable to do. Reeve’s 16 year old son, William Benjamin Reeve junior, stated that on July 5th he was living at home with his parents. His mother came home from work at about 6.30pm, and soon afterwards his father came home drunk. His mother whispered to him and another boy who was with him that they had better go away and gave them three pence each to go to the Picture Palace. He identified the gun as belonging to his father. He had not heard his father threaten his mother, but his mother had told him she had been threatened by him on several occasions. The boy’s friend, George Flemming described Reeve as looking very white; he looked “funny” ground his teeth and made a hissing noise between his teeth – he usually did this when drunk. He had heard Reeve threaten his wife several times.

Reeve’s neighbour, Eliza Barker, said Mrs Reeve left for work at Wing in the morning and was out all day. She herself had gone out in the afternoon taking Reeve’s four year old son with her. When she returned she saw the door open and Reeve sitting in a chair. A few minutes later she went to the North Street Fish Shop with the little boy. When she returned Mrs Reeve’s door was open and went in to speak to her, but found her dead and bleeding. Eliza Barker’s invalid sister, Martha Baines, had heard Reeve and his wife talking very loudly and thought they were quarrelling. It went quiet for a few minutes but then she heard a gun go off. She then heard Reeve in the yard making a groaning noise and heard someone tell him to wash himself. Other witnesses described how they found Reeve in the street, covered in blood. Harriet Reeve’s niece, Annie Toms saw him with his neck, hands and arms all red and thought at first he had put his arms into some paint. Reeve’s father, William Benjamin Reeve senior, said he had seen his son in the Stag Inn and asked him for half a pint of beer but Reeve refused. When he got home his son was there bleeding profusely, with several people around him. He recognised the double barrelled gun as an old one of his own which his son had had for 20 years. Dr. Percy Stedman of North Street said he had attended Reeve, who had cut his throat. He testified that the cause of Mrs. Reeve’s death was shock due to loss of blood and injury to the nerve in the neck. Her wounds were of a type which would have been caused by a gun at close quarters. The jury returned a verdict of “wilful murder” against William Benjamin Reeve.

Source: Leighton Buzzard Observer 27th July 1915; Bedfordshire Standard 23rd July 1915

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