Did gamekeeper tell all at murdered bailiff's inquest?
THE murder of a Tiverton water bailiff, who was found with his throat cut "from ear to ear" on the banks of the Exe, remains unsolved to this day.
Archibald Reed, 37, who became a bailiff after a 25-year stint in the Army, was found face down at the waterside in Rag Field, in the Westexe area of the town, in 1887 only three years after he married Mary Ann Elliott, with whom he lived at Water Lane.
His great-grandnephew Michael Beer, from Weston-super-Mare, is researching the murder of Archibald, which was believed to have occurred while he was carrying out his duties for the Tiverton Fishing Association.
"A number of people were detained and interviewed by the police over subsequent years, but no evidence to connect anyone to the murder was ever found," he said.
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In the course of his employment as a water bailiff, Archibald had been "having problems" with poachers on the River Exe and during the latter part of July, he had kept watch over the area of the Exe opposite the Walronds known as The Rag.
Intelligence was gathered which suggested serious attempts were made by poachers to steal fish by netting the river.
This was causing Archibald great concern, and he met gamekeeper George Davey at 9pm on Friday, July 29, 1887, at the Country House Inn, in St Andrew Street, Tiverton. They discussed their suspicions and Archibald told George that he had heard that men known to them both were poaching near Lock's Pit that night. Archibald asked George, who had agreed to support him, if any other men were available for assistance – but he could not trust any of those suggested.
Archibald returned home at 11pm that evening and he told his wife he suspected a man named Gillam and others would be netting the river that night, and how he felt he should have some help.
His wife said that he had received threats during the course of his work, but never had any fear.
When he left for work he was wearing dark corduroy trousers, a dark coat and a waistcoat, a black and white woollen scarf and a peaked cap. He carried a knife and his wooden tobacco pipe.
It is not yet clear how Archibald went about his business that night and whether he patrolled or merely laid in wait in the area of The Rag.
George Davey was employed as a gamekeeper on the Collipriest Estate and during that night he was patrolling the area between Collipriest and Pitt Farm.
Mr Beer added: "He (George) said it was a bright moonlit night until about 2am when the moon went down and it became much darker. George said that at about 3.45am he was on his beat opposite The Rag and the area that turned out to be the murder scene, and saw nothing. He was sure there was no body there at this time."
At about 5.45am on July 30, George passed the scene of the murder on the Collipriest side of the river. He saw a body lying down in the river very close to the bank. He did not cross the river to check but went for assistance. He was shortly joined by Constable Raymond and together they recovered the body.
Mr Beer said: "In the field they recovered various items of a personal nature, some of which were identified by Mary as belonging to her husband. There were pools of blood in the field some distance from the river and markings on the grass which indicated that the body had been dragged to the river, probably after death.
"There was a feeling in the town that George knew more about the murder than he had disclosed to the police and that his evidence to the inquest left something to be desired."