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A most unusual crime took place, not actually in Tavistock, but in the neighbouring village of Peter Tavy on November 13th 1893.


This area was not a violent place but was, rather, notable for the peace and beauty of its pastoral calm and dare it be said, dullness. For months and even years on end, the residents went about their  agricultural life - a timeless round of ploughing, reaping and milking.


This rural idyll came abruptly to an end for William Williams,  Emma Doidge and William Rowe of Peter Tavy on that November Sunday in 1893 when Emma and William Rowe were shot by William Williams as they returned from church with a group of friends.


Several local young people were caught up in this event which had a lot to do with teen-age romance, jealousy and frustration. William Williams was definitely what we would today describe as "Special Needs" and besides, was genetically challenged by his family history. He had had  epileptic fits earlier in his life but this was never mentioned at his brief trial. An Aunt and Uncle were confined in Lunatic Asylums also not mentioned in the trial. Today, a good lawyer, expert witnesses, and a trial before a compassionate jury might have saved his life, and he would have been detained in an institution where he could have been treated. Instead he was persuaded to plead guilty at the local assize where the judge pronounced it the most wicked and violent crime he had ever come across, sentenced him to death and so he was taken to Exeter and hanged.


Emma Doidge was 17 when she was killed, William Rowe nearly 22. On that fateful Sunday they arranged to walk to Peter Tavy church, along with Emma's sister Elizabeth and other friends to attend choir practice at the church. As they came out, they were met by Emma's brother William, who no longer lived at home. They walked towards Longford and the two girls stopped to have a chat with him. William Rowe, who was the official organ blower at the church and who was hoping to become a closer friend of Emma's, stood around and hung about the little group, hoping to catch Emma's attention. By this time William Doidge had noticed that William Williams had also stopped and that an angry altercation had started up between the 18-year-old Williams and Emma. He heard him swear and then shout at her "If you don't mind, I'll knock your head off." Emma's brother turned and said to him "You will not do that while I am here" upon which, Williams expressed a wish to fight him. William Doidge closed the conversation by saying that such an idea was not suitable for the Sabbath Day but instead, invited him down to his place on the next day so that they could have it out.


At the trial it was revealed that William Williams was desperately in love with Emma, that he had written to tell her so and that everyone knew and taunted him as he went about the village.


As William Doidge left to join up and stay behind with a Miss Mudge with whom he was "walking out"   a very sullen  William Williams called after him  "I have finished with you, Bill, but someone will be floored tonight."  He too then left,  walking  ahead of the others, no doubt with their whispers and taunts ringing in his ears and the rest of the group decided to accompany Emma and her younger sister Elizabeth safely down the lane to her home.  But Emma had other ideas and hung back to join up with William Rowe to walk those last few yards. Then everyone heard shots ring out. and Elizabeth Doidge broke away to run to her home where she alerted her father and mother and told them she had seen a man run across the road near Sourton Farm. Mr Doidge ran off in pursuit and, as he got near the spot described by Elizabeth, was horrified to find the body of William Rowe. But two or three paces further on, he came across the body of his daughter Emma who he could see was quite dead and had blood running from a head wound and close to her body he saw a 6-chambered revolver.  Somebody ran to Mr Mudge's house and with his help the two men managed to get William Rowe's body back to his home.


(This was a very remote area and although some of the villages had a policeman by this time, there was no murder squad to send for and no forensics to support detection.)


As it turned out, William Williams had shot Emma and young Rowe and then attempted his own destruction but perhaps the means he chose reveals a lot about William Williams' mental state. He began by shooting himself in the right eye but the ball passed into his head and lodged at the base of his brain. He had then staggered down the road to a bridge and attempted to drown himself by jumping off into the stream. He landed horizontally and got his clothes completely wet but when he stood up, the water came only to his boots. He dragged himself out and managed to run to a nearby cottage, bang on the door and ask for help. By now he was in a terrible state - confused, hysterical, blind in one eye, drenched in blood  and wet through - he was far too confused to answer questions so the householder (who knew full well who he was) gave him a hot drink and went and fetched William's father to whom, William (perhaps unwisely as it turned out) confessed everything and expressed regret at the death of William Rowe but not at that of Emma Doidge, He told his father that she had begged for her life and that he loved her dearly. He was angry because he had written several notes telling her of his love but she had always treated him  just as a casual acquaintance.


Upon his arrest and removal to Exeter, William had bravely submitted to an operation to remove the bullet from his brain (no light matter in 1893) and had conducted himself sensibly throughout the very brief court case in which his father was the chief witness. It was not until the Appeal Stage to the Home Secretary that anyone mentioned the fact of there being insanity in his family or that he was epileptic or that he was a not-very-bright  teen-ager who had been subject to great provocation or that his botched suicide attempt betrayed the effect all the pressure had had on his mind. All to no avail. The judge's summing up  with the words "Worst crime ever" ringing in his ears and ensured the prompt carrying out of the death sentence which he faced very bravely at 8.0 am on March 28th 1893.

After an inquest, he was buried in quicklime within the precinct of the prison. He was just 19 years old.


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