The North Devon Mystery of half a century ago
The recent discovery of human bones in a field near Bideford, has revived an old story of a murder which is reported to have taken place in 1810.
Details:- The Western Morning News
Mr Alexander PUDDICOMBE a farmer of Eastleigh two and a half miles from Bideford, on a Friday morning previous to Christmas day, 1810, left his home for Barnstable market, riding a young colt. The night was dark and stormy and the rain poured down in torrents. From the moment he left Barnstable he was never seen again, and from that day to this no remains proved to have been his body have been discovered.
On the following morning the colt was found at home, with a broken bridle, standing by the barn door. Search was made on the road but no mark of a scuffle, nor any trace of the missing man was discovered. The only thing found was a piece of the bridle, which appeared to have been broken by the horse stepping on the dragging bridle. The river Taw was dragged, and every search made to discover the body, and £200 was offered by the Barnstable authorities for the recovery of the body. Three days afterwards the hat of the missing man was found in the river Taw, at Pottington Point, with his name marked within it in indelible ink.
A man named CARTER whose son now occupies a seat at the Bideford Town Council was arrested charged on suspicion of the murder of the missing man, on the grounds that he had been to Barnstable on the same day, and did not return home until the following morning. His explanation was that he could not return before in consequence of the heavy rain, he having walked all the distance. He also returned with another person. The case was dismissed by the magistrates.
In 1827, eight years after the circumstance, Mr CARTER drove a stage wagon between Bideford and Barnstable.
In returning home he was the worst for liquor. A master of a vessel and Mr NASH were in the wagon as passengers. CARTER lay down at the back of his wagon, and the master of the vessel took charge of the horse. On coming to Eastleigh, BARTON the man did not know the road, and woke CARTER up to ask him the way. CARTER, replied, “Eastleigh, where lived the fellow PUDDICOMBE, I murdered.” The man said, “You won’t say that again?” CARTER replied, “ The man they say I murdered.” The man asked what he did with the body. CARTER said, “We shall all be judged according to our deeds,” and said nothing more. On this statement he was again apprehended, and was again discharged.
He appeared always to court investigation. In 1830 the story was again renewed under rather romantic circumstances. A man named Frank PURCHASE, who drove a van between Bideford and Barnstable had a passenger in the van one night. The man said he had come all the way from Bristol in consequence of a dream which he had had that a man named PUDDICOMBE, was murdered eleven years ago on the Barnstable road and buried in a field in the parish of Fremington. The authorities issued a warrant for the apprehension of this man, but he had disappeared, and he has never since been heard of, although he had friends living in Water Tower near Barnstable. The spot at which he said the body was buried was dug up, but without result.
In 1841 the mystery was again brought up by the death of the alleged murderer, when all sorts of improbable stories with reference to his last moments were set afloat. One singular circumstance was brought up by the superstitious as strong presumptive proof of the guilt of the accused. It was stated that CARTER had said, at the time he was discharged as free from suspicion, “that if he had murdered PUDDICOMBE he hoped his arm might wither from his body.” His arm did wither and continued nearly useless up to the day of his death. But no one ever heard of this until the poor fellow had the misfortune to prick his hand with some thorns while at work, and his hand became disabled.