This is a chilling story. Samuel Collis was the youngest
son of John Collis who farmed Brompton's Farm. John had died five
years previously, leaving his widow living at the farm
along with his son in law and daughter. The Collis family had farmed
in Pebmarsh for generations and Samuel, the youngest of five children,
evidently harboured a grudge against his brother-in-law, who was appointed
executor and who had hired a farm bailiff to run the farm . Samuel became
unhinged and set out, with a gun, a carving knife and a revolver, to
slaughter his family. After he had attacked his sister, who barricaded
herself and her mother in the house, he met the unlucky farm-bailiff
who he shot and decapitated. The family and farm-workers sensibly hid whilst the crazed murderer padded around looking for
them. The inmates had been able to alert the local police, who arrived in
the form of PC Cook......
The story is one of immense courage and ingenuity in tackling the madman. The hearing before magistrates was recorded in great detail, and it is fascinating to read. Was Samuel Collis really mad or was he pretending? Why were the magistrates so aggressive in their questioning of Mark Rust? What had finally induced Samuel to a murderous frenzy?
Foxearth & District Local History Society
Halstead & Colne Valley Gazette
3rd September 1896
Early on Wednesday morning, the inhabitants of the quiet village of Pebmarsh were put in a great state of excitement, by the report that a shocking murder had been committed in their midst. The report only proved too true, and the particulars are of a shocking nature.
It appears that a young farmer named Samuel Bentall Collis, well known in the neighbourhood, had for some time past been in a queer state of mind. He lived in a house on the Garlands Farm Road, about a quarter of a mile from Bromptons Farm, where his mother and sister reside, his father being dead.
Early on Wednesday morning Mrs Ellen Turpiu, the married sister of Collis, got up about a quarter to six, and on going out to feed the chickens, she saw her brother in the yard. Without any warning he rushed at her and knocked her down, and said he meant to do for the whole lot of them. Mrs Collis saw what was happening and rushed out. She shouted and he let go his sister, and both women ran into the house and barricaded the doors. Collis then began to break the kitchen window with the butt end of a double barrelled gun, but the inmates saw no more of him for some time afterwards.
A little before six o'clock the farm bailiff, Robert John Cockerill, who lives about five hundred yards away from the farm, came to the farm, and it appears that he was met in the yard by Collis and the two were seen by a lad named Warren to be conversing together. The lad was ordered to go and feed the pigs by Cockerill, but just before leaving saw Collis hit the farm bailiff with his open hand on the face. Shortly afterwards the lad heard the report of a firearm but did not go back and look, but ran away. From all appearances it is evident Collis pulled out a revolver and fired at Cockerill, the bullet coming out of the roof of the head. Death must have been instantaneous, as the firearm was of exceptionally large bore. After shooting him, Collis must have severed the head from the body with a large carving knife, and placing it in a bowl, he proceeded down the road towards his own residence.
In the meantime, the inmates of the farmhouse had sent down for PC Cook, and the constable immediately hastened to the scene on his bicycle. Between the two houses he met Collis and asked him what he had been doing. Collis, who still had the bowl under his arm said "I have been killing a sheep and here's its head," producing the head of the murdered man, whom the constable recognised as Cockerill. PC Cook was completely taken aback, and told Collis he would have to go back to the farm with him. They both went to the farm and while the constable was trying to get the inmates to come out, Collis escaped and running through the farmyard, climbed a wall and got into the fields. PC Cook followed and while doing so he saw the headless body of a man lying in the yard.
He overtook Collis after a hard run and just before he got up to his man, Collis turned round and presenting a revolver at Cook threatened to shoot him if he came too near. PC Cook, with the remarkable pluck that characterised his action all through, drew his truncheon and threatened to split Collis's head open if he didn't lower the revolver. The man was evidently scared for he put his revolver in his pocket. Cook then closed with Collis and notwithstanding the immense strength of his opponent, he managed to get him down and take the revolver out of his pocket. He then called for help and the man Warren came to his assistance. Another man named Rust also came up and between them they securely bound Collis and conveyed him in a trap to Halstead.
Some five years ago the father of Collis died, and the murdered man was appointed as farm bailiff. Although the two men seemed to be on fairly friendly terms, it could be seen that there was a spirit of jealousy in Collis's remarks, as he thought he ought to have been appointed bailiff.
When searched by PC Cook among other things found on Collis were the revolver, carving knife stained with blood, the bent barrels of a doubled barrelled gun with a broken stock, a baby's bib, powder flask, razor, cork screw, scissors, cigar case, old empty cartridges, matches, tooth brush, screw driver, pocket book, and other things. On the road to Halstead he made some very queer remarks and said that he was Napoleon, and kept on exclaiming "Vive I'Anarchie". The deceased man leaves a widow and eight children, only two of the latter being at home. Collis is a very large man, weighing nearly 16 stone, and standing some good bit over six foot, and is about 35 years of age. He has acted very queerly on several occasions lately, and it was intended to put him under restraint today.
Our reporter, in company with PC Cook and PC Theobald visited the scene yesterday afternoon, and was shown the body of the murdered man. The head had been severed just below the chin, and so sharp was the knife that the deceased's whiskers were also severed. There didn't seem to be any struggle where he fell, but there was a lot of blood on the straw. Every pane of glass in the kitchen window was smashed as was the frame, several panes of glass were also broken in the parlour window. The garden around the house showed signs as if Collis had been trampling about all night as flower beds were broken.
A visit was then made to the residence of Collis. He lives by himself, about, as previously stated, four hundred yards away from the scene of the murder. His house was in good order and clean as he employed a woman to do his house work. An evidence of his insanity will be found in the fact that in the kitchen from a large beam, a dried up sheep's head was suspended from a beam, a very mouldy rabbit and a dead hen. There was also a large quantity of broken ginger beer bottle glass. In his living room there was nothing of particular note except an apple which was tied to a string which hung from the ceiling, and on one side of the room in the wall there appeared to be a lot of small holes apparently made by bullets.
The bedroom was in comparatively good order, but the bed a large wooden one, had not been slept in that night and there were two or three dirty foot marks on the counterpane as though he had got on the bed to put something on the top. Only two or three old cartridges were, however found there.
It was generally known that Collis had a splendid brown Spaniel dog, of which he made a great pet, and for which he had often said he would not take a hundred pounds for. This dog had not been seen for several days and it was supposed that he had shot it. Search was made all over his premises and at last PC Cook discovered a large box locked up and tied with a piece of rope, concealed under a lot of faggots. The box was broken open and the dead body of the dog was seen, evidently having been shot.
Great praise is due to PC Cook for the exceedingly plucky way in which he secured Collis for he too might have lost his life in carrying out his duty. There is no doubt had he not been stopped as he was further murder would have been committed as Collis also had a grudge against Mr Turpin, the executor of the late Mr John Collis.
The following versions of the murder were given:-
Mrs Ellen Turpin, said she was sister to Samuel Bentall Collis, and lived with her mother at Brompton's Farm.
Mrs Ellen Turpin
'About 5.45 am this morning, I went down stairs and into the yard to let the chickens out. I saw my brother Sam Collis, in the yard. Without any warning he got hold of me and knocked me down and said "I mean to clear the lot of you." 1 screamed for help and Mrs Collis came. He then let me go and I got up and ran into the house and told Warren to go for PC Cook. I never saw any more of my brother until PC Cook came to the gate and handed me a broken gun and a carving knife. He has been very curious in his behaviour during the last few weeks, and previous to the murder my brother was walking about the farm on wooden stilts.'
Mrs Susannah Collis, mother of Samuel Collis said
Mrs Susannah Collis
"about 5 am this morning I was at the bedroom window and saw my son in the yard. I went back to bed again, and about six o'clock I heard my daughter scream out in the yard, and saw my daughter on the ground, and her brother standing over her. I said, 'You shan't touch my daughter', and he held up his fist at me. My daughter then got up, and we ran indoors and locked the doors."
Alice Hicks, domestic servant to Mrs Collis, said
"At about 6 am I was looking through the kitchen window and saw Mrs Turpin, lying on the ground and Samuel Collis standing over her. I heard Mrs Turpin call out "Alice open the door" and she immediately came in. Directly afterwards I heard a great smashing row at the kitchen window I was frightened and ran up stairs, and immediately afterwards I heard the report of firearms. I never went to see what it was as I was frightened."
John Warren, a youth of 18 said
"I work for Mrs Collis. About 6.10 am on Wednesday morning 1 saw Mr Cockerill in the yard and also Samuel Collis there. They were talking together but I could not hear what they said. Mr Cockerill told me to go and feed the pigs. Just as I was leaving I saw Collis hit Cockerill aside of the head with his hand. I went on to feed the pigs and immediately afterwards I heard the report of firearms. I was frightened and ran away."
P.C. H Cook said
"about 6.10 this morning, Walter Warren came to my house and asked me to go up to Brompton's Farm, immediately. I went and met Samuel Collis coming out the farm yard into the road. He had two dead chickens in one hand, a bowl under his arm containing something and the barrels of a gun in the other hand.
I stopped him and said 'What have you been up to Sam?'
He said 'I have killed a sheep and here's its head.' I took the bowl from him, and saw it was the head of a man, whom I recognised as Cockerill.
He leaned towards me and said 'I want to kiss you,' and his coat came open and I saw a long knife sticking out of his inside pocket. I took that out of his pocket and took the barrels of the gun away from him.
He got hold of me and said, 'I am going to have that knife, you are not' I said 'you have killed poor old Cockerill and you'll have to come back to the back door', meaning the farm house.
He went back with me and I knocked at the door and tried to make the inmates hear and whilst doing so he got away from me. He went over the fence into the field at the back of the premises, and as I went through the yard after him, I saw the headless body of Cockerill lying there.
I followed Collis across the field and overtook him. Just before I got to him I noticed a revolver in his right hand.
I said 'Sam, stop its no good, you won't get away.' He turned round, and pointing the revolver at me, said, 'You b I'll shoot you if you touch me.'
I drew my truncheon and said 'I'll split your head open.'
he said 'Don't do that for God's sake.' He put the revolver in his pocket and I closed on him and threw him down and took the revolver out of his pocket. It was a five chambered one and loaded in two chambers the other three contained cartridge cases which appeared to have been fired off recently.
In the struggle I dropped my truncheon and he seized hold of it but I held him down and called loudly for help. Walter Warren came to my assistance and shortly afterwards a man named Rurt (Rust?). I procured some ropes, bound him securely and brought him to Halstead.
When he laid on the ground he said 'I want my razor and I'll do for you.' I afterwards examined the body of Cockerill and found what appeared to be bullet wounds in the face and head.
About mid day yesterday prisoner was brought before Charles Portway Esq. charged with the wilful murder of John Robert Cockerill at Pebmarsh. Prisoner who is a tall powerful looking man remained in a bent crouching attitude during the proceedings, and made no remark whatever. Mr R Morton, who has just returned from his visit to Norway acted as Clerk. Inspector William Barnard said prisoner was brought to the police station that morning about half past eight by Police Constable Cook.
Witness asked him what was the charge against prisoner, and he said in prisoner's presence killing a man named Cockerill at Pebmarsh by shooting him and cutting his head off Cook then handed him the barrels of a gun, carving knife, a revolver and some cartridges. Witness then cautioned prisoner in the usual manner, and he made no reply.
Supt. Elsey asked for a remand till Monday next at twelve o'clock, and prisoner was then remanded and taken off under charge of Supt Elsey and constables in a fly to Braintree and thence to Springfield. The revolver, carving knife and gun were produced in court; the latter had the barrels bent and the stock broken off.
At the Colchester Bankruptcy Court last week, Samuel Bentall.Collis, farmer and dealer, of Valiants Farm, Pebmarsh, was to have been examined, but he did not appear. The Official Receiver stated that the debtor was entitled to £500 under his mother's will, and there was every probability that the creditors would be paid in full, seeing that the deficiency was only £3.15s.2d.
Halstead & Colne Valley Gazette
10th September 1896
The trial of Samuel Bentall Collis, the Pebmarsh farmer, who last week brutally murdered a farm bailiff named Robert John Cockrill of the same place, took place on Monday at Halstead before the following magistrates L Horner Esq. (in the chair), Harris Hills, C Portway, C W Gray, C W Start, C E Brewster and R Hunt Esqrs.
Long before the time for the sitting of the Bench, the road outside the Police Station was lined with a large crowd of persons who had assembled to obtain, if possible, a view of the murderer. Instead of coming by train, prisoner was brought direct from Chelmsford by road by Det-Insp Dale and PC Waltham, arriving at Halstead about 11.40. He was still wearing the same clothes as when brought before Mr C Portway last week, and throughout the hearing he maintained the same stolid indifference as he shewed (sic) last week. Once or twice he raised his eyes and gave a sharp look round, and once was observed to smile during a passage in the police constable's evidence.
The Court was filled mostly with reporters and officials, although a few of the public obtained entrance. Amongst the officials present were Capt. Shower (chief constable), Dr Harrison (coroner), Supt Elsey, and Insp. Barnard. The magistrates took their seats at twelve noon, but before any evidence was taken the Chief Constable addressing the Bench:
"I propose with your sanction to take such evidence now as will enable you to grant a remand, as I have communicated with the Treasury, and they are acting in the matter. I am awaiting their instructions."
'So we shall take all the evidence to day, and leave the case open so that the Treasury may add anything that they may desire.'
The first witness was Mrs Ellen Turpin, sister of the prisoner, and wife of Thomas Turpin, who said:
'I live with my mother, Mrs Collis, at Old Hill Farm, Pebmarsh, and have resided there six years. On the morning of September 2nd the first thing I saw on getting up about 5 o'clock was my brother, walking on stilts in the front garden. This was a surprising thing for him to do. The stilts were a pair that had been made for him when he was a boy at school. I had not seen the stilts used for years. (The stilts were produced in court). I stayed in my room till about 6 o'clock when I came down and went out into the yard to let the fowls out. When I was returning to the house I saw my brother standing at the garden gate. He threw some sticks at the chickens.'
'Did he say anything?' -
'1 don't remember. I did not take any notice of him, but as soon as I turned my back upon him he seized me and knocked me down. I called out "Walter" and Warren came down up to my assistance, and after a time I got away from my brother.'-
'do I understand that prisoner made no remarks at all?'
'She says she does not remember. When did you see your brother next?'
'When I got away I ran indoors, and about twenty minutes afterwards I saw him coming along with PC Cook. Cook came round to the back door and when I came down he handed me the carving knife (produced) and the barrels and broken stock of a double barrelled gun. I kept the articles until Cook came.' -
'During the time you were in the house did you hear any report of firearms?' -
'Was he in your house on the night of the 1st, and did he go out apparently all right?'
'As a matter of fact, when you got up that morning, did you find two doors secured in some way, one with a nail and the other with a stone? '-
'Did you hear the breaking of any glass?'
'You were not aware of any ill felling or a quarrel existing between your brother and Cockerill?'
'No jealousy or anything; apparently they were on good terms?'
'You said your brother left all right the night before. Had there been any quarrel or words between you or your mother and him?'
'Oh no, none at all'
'Do you know of your own knowledge whether there was any ill feeling between your brother and the man who was the executor, Cockerill being the bailiff?' -
'1 don't know that'.
The Chairman to prisoner
'have you any questions to ask the witness?' -
The prisoner answered
"Don't know her sir."
Walter Warren said:
'I am a farm labourer, living at Pebmarsh, and in the employ of Mrs Collis, of Old Hill Farm. I remember Wednesday morning, September 2nd, I went to work at a quarter to six, and was driving in my horses when I saw the prisoner. I had opened the gate from the road into the chase, and saw the prisoner come through the door below - that dividing the yard from the coach drive - and I said "Please open the door, Master Sam,", and he did so; and I drove my horses through. After I had put the horses into the stable, 1 met Collis by the edge of the pond, and he said "Don't you tell old Ted Turpin anything about this." '-
'At that time so far as you saw he had no firearms with him?'
'Nothing at all'. -
'Do you know Ted Turpin?' -
'Yes, but I didn't know what he meant'.
'Is Ted Turpin the husband of Ellen Turpin?'
'No, sir he is another person altogether.'
'Where did you go then?' -
'1 went towards the stables and prisoner turned in another direction. I had not been in the stable more than two minutes when I heard a scream, and someone called out "Walter".
I went out of the stable and saw that prisoner had got Mrs Turpin down on the bricks near the back door, and standing over her. 1 said "Let her get up." Her mother then came and said "Let Mrs Turpin get up." He then let her get up, and she went into the house and bolted the doors.
In consequence of what Mrs Turpin said I went for PC Cook. Prisoner went into the garden. I ran off as fast as I could.
I had got about 20 rod from the house when I heard the report of a gun; the sound came from the direction of the house. I ran on, and found PC Cook, but did not return at once. When I did get back I saw the dead body of Cockerill lying in the farmyard headless.
I have known Cockerill for four years.
I have worked on the farm for 14 years.' -
'You never saw him walk on stilts before?' -
'How long have you known Cockerill?' -
'Four years, and have never heard any dispute between them'. -
'have you any questions to ask the witness?' -
"Don't know him."
Alice Hicks, a domestic servant employed at Mrs Collis's said:
'I remember Wednesday, September 2nd. I was in the kitchen about 6 o'clock and heard a scream. I went to the door and saw prisoner standing over Mrs Turpin, who was on the ground. Walter Warren then came up, and Collis walked away to the farm yard, and Mrs Turpin came in the house and bolted the door. Prisoner went into the farmyard'.
The Clerk said there seemed to be a little inaccuracy there, and recalled John Warren who said when he left, Mrs Collis and Mrs Turpin ran indoors and prisoner went into the garden. -
'Perhaps I have made a little mistake. He went into the garden first, and in about two minutes came back and went into the farmyard. I was watching from the window. Soon after I heard a smashing of glass, which proved to be the kitchen window.
About five minutes after the window was smashed I heard the report of a gun; the sound appeared to come from the shed where Cockrill's dead body was afterwards found. I did not hear any words '
prisoner gave the same answer that he did not know witness when asked if he had any questions to put.
Mark Rust, who gave his evidence in a somewhat wandering manner, said:
'I am a horseman employed at Old Hill Farm, Pebmarsh. I remember Wednesday, September 2nd. Immediately I got to the farm at 6 o'clock in the morning I went into the stable to look after my horses. In a minute or two on looking out I saw the prisoner in the yard; he was in the act of coming from the garden.' -
'Had he got anything with him?' -
I' could not see, there was a low wall between him and me.' -
'Had he got anything in his hand?'
'Not to my knowledge.' -
'What did he then do?'
'He commenced to break the kitchen windows.' -
'What with?' -
'I thought it was a piece of iron.' -
'What took place then?' -
'I went up into the hay loft' -
'When you were there did you hear anything?' -
'I heard Mr Cockerill call out "Walter".' -
'Had you seen Cockrill that morning?' -
'No. - Yes? -I didn't hear anything more until I came down from the hay loft.' -
'Why did you go up there?' -
'Because I was afraid of him.' -
'When you were up there did you hear the report of a gun?' -
'Do you recollect what you said before the coroner?'
'What did you tell him you heard?' -
'I can't say.' -
'Did you tell him you heard the report of a gun?' -
'I believe I did.' -
'Well, then, why didn't you say so?' -
'Was that before you heard Cockrill call "Walter" or afterwards?' -
'Before. He (prisoner) shot something in the brick yard I could not see what it was. I have since heard it was fowls.'
'You say you heard this report of a gun before Cockrill called out?' -
'How many reports was it you heard?' -
'One on the brick yard and and one on the farm yard after I got into the loft'. -
'Was this before you got up into the loft?' -
'You must be careful in giving your evidence, you know. You have contradicted yourself twice.' -
The Clerk cautioned witness to state only what he saw and heard himself and not what others might have told him. -
'Was it before the smashing of the windows that you heard the first report?'
'Did you see the smoke?' -
'Did you see any fowls about just then?' -
'No I didn't go on to the brick yard'. -
Then you went to hide yourself in the loft? -
'Because I was afraid of him'. -
'You got up into the loft from inside of the stable?'
'Then you heard Cockerill call "Walter"'
'How long had you been in the loft before that?' -
'About three minutes.' -
'Of course you know Cockerill's voice very well?' -
'Oh yes'. -
'How long was it before you heard the next report?' -
'Not more than five minutes.' -
'You lay quite still all the time, I suppose?' -
'What was it that went off then?' -
'I can't say whether it was a gun or a revolver.' -
'From what direction did the sound come?' -
'From the farm yard'. -
'Did it come from the spot where Cockrill's body was afterwards found?' -
'Yes, I believe it did.' -
'And you remained hid up there till the police came?' -
'You first began by saying you did not hear any reports at all. Now you admit that you heard two. Did you hear any more?'
'You say you went into the loft because you were afraid of him. What made you afraid?' -
'Because he had got those firearms about him.' -
'How did you know?' -
'I saw him with one.' -
'You have not told us that. Which was it, a gun or a pistol?' -
'He had got a gun when he shot in the yard' -
'Where was he standing?' -
'Near the window.' -
'Had he got the gun up against his shoulder?' -
'Yes, partly' (showing how). -
'What way was the muzzle pointing?' -
'Towards the farm yard.' -
'did you see anything in the farm yard that he might have been shooting at?' -
'No, there was nothing at all there'.
'Was the muzzle pointed up in the air or down to the ground?' -
'Well, it is a great pity you did not tell us all that before, you know'. -
'Have you ever been frightened before by Collis?' -
'Why should you be frightened at a man who merely fired off his gun?' -
'I thought perhaps he might have hurt somebody.' -
'Why? Are you afraid of anybody who has a gun?' -
'No, or I should be frightened at a good many'. -
'Why were you afraid of that man?' -
'Because he looked wild that morning.' -
'Have you been afraid of him before?' -
'Was there anything that caused you to be afraid of him?' -
'No, he never used any threats to me'. -
'Have you ever heard him use threats to other people?'-
'not to my knowledge'. -
'He has contradicted himself about ten times already.' -
'The evidence is hardly worth putting on paper.
Did you see Cockerill alive at all that morning?' -
'Didn't you see him in company with the prisoner that morning?'-
'Are you quite sure about that?' -
'Not when you were hiding behind the hay?
Didn't you peep out and see him?' -
The Chairman put the same question to prisoner who said he did not know witness.
John Warren, 17 years of age, in the employ of Mrs Collis at Old Hill Farm, was next called. He stated:
'I went into the yard about 10 minutes past 6. The master and Mr Cockerill came through the barn. Cockerill told me to go and feed the pigs. After that I happened to look round and saw the master hit Mr Cockerill with his hand. They had been having words before that. They did not appear to be high words.'
'Had Collis got anything with him?' -
'He had got a gun.' -
'How was he carrying it?' -
'On his shoulder in the usual way'. -
'Was it broken?' -
'It was whole when I saw him'. -
'Were you frightened?' -
'What were you frightened for, are you afraid of him generally?' -
'How far had you got before you heard anything?' -
'A few yards; the brick wall was between me and them.'-
'You afterwards saw the body?' -
'Was it lying where you saw them talking together?' -
'Yes, I ran away as quick as I could to stop the cows and about two minutes afterwards I heard two shots, one directly after the other from the direction of where the two were talking.' -
'Did you hear anyone scream out?' -
'No only Mrs Collis called me. I didn't go to see what had happened.' -Prisoner on being asked if he wished to ask the witness any questions said "None whatever."
The Clerk recalled Mark Rust and asked him how long he was in the loft? -
POLICE CONSTABLE HARRY COOK, who was the next witness, deposed:
PC Harry Cook
'About 10 minutes past 6 on the morning of the 2nd inst. I was called up by a man named Walter Warren. In consequence of what he said 1 immediately got up, dressed, and jumped on my bicycle, and rode as fast as I could to Hill Farm. I saw the prisoner coming up from the yard gate to the front gate. I put my bicycle up and by that time he had got up to the road gate. I said to him "What have you been up to this morning, Sam?" I saw he had a bowl containing something under his left arm and two dead fowls in his left hand and he had the barrels of the gun in his right hand.' -
'It was in that condition (broken)?' -
PC Harry Cook
'In the same condition as it is now, sir.' -
(The gun and the old basin were here produced.) -
Witness, continuing said:
PC Harry Cook
'In reply to my question prisoner said, "I have shot a sheep and here's the head, mate," at the same time handing me the bowl. At first I thought it was a sheep's head, but on looking at it 1 saw it was the head of the deceased, whom I knew very well.
I said "Sam, whatever have you been doing? You have killed poor old Cockerill." He said "I shot a cock pheasant and he came down with it." They sometimes called the deceased "cock pheasant" as a nick name. I said, "Oh dear, what shall I do?" and he said "Let me kiss you and forgive me." He stooped down over me, but I kept him off, and as he leant forward I noticed this knife (producing the carving knife) sticking out of his inside coat pocket. I immediately snatched it out of his pocket and took the barrels out of his hand.
He got hold of me saying "You are not going to have that knife."
I said "I am going to keep it now I have got it, and if you come near me I shall knock you down."
He said "Is that what you mean?"
I replied it was, I told him to come down with me to the back door.
He said "All right I'll go just where you like." I went and knocked at the back door and called for help as hard as I could, for I could not see a soul about anywhere. No one came and I knocked again. Then Mrs Turpin put her head out of the bedroom window.
I said "For God's sake send some help; Sam has killed poor old Cockerill." She came down and I handed the gun and the knife to her.
While I was at the door the prisoner had disappeared, running through the yard and making off across the field. As I followed him through the yard I saw the headless body of Cockerill lying on his stomach. I didn't stop but followed Collis, and when I saw Warren, who told me where he had gone, I jumped over the fence and ran after him across the field as hard as I could, at the same telling Warren to follow up.
Collis crossed the road, ran down it a few yards, and then turned in at the gate of another field close to Crick's farm. I came up with him just inside that field. I said "Sam, its no good you running, you won't get away from me."
Just before I got up to him I noticed he had a revolver in his right hand. The moment I discovered that I drew my truncheon. He turned round and pointed the revolver at me saying "1'll shoot you, you b if you touch me."
I rushed at him with my truncheon and threatened to split his head open. He put his hand up and said "For God's sake, Cook, don't hit me with that."
I said "Drop the revolver or I'll strike you" and I had got hold of his arm by that time.
He tried to put the revolver in his left side pocket, but I threw him down and took the revolver from him. I threw my truncheon about two yards away, not having time to put it in my pocket, but he knocked me to one side and got hold of the truncheon. I got on top of him and seized the truncheon with the other hand.
Knowing that Warren was close behind me I called out for help, and Warren came up in two or three minutes. We both sat on the top of him, and kept him down, as he is a very strong man, but we could not get the truncheon from him. Samuel Rayment, John Whiting, and Mark Rust then came up, and having sent for cords we bound him and put him in a cart. The first cords that were brought were not strong enough; he broke them and again got loose, but we got stronger ones.
While the man was gone for cords prisoner tried to put his hand into his trousers pockets saying he wanted his razor, but I prevented him getting it and took it away. We first brought him to the farm, where I picked up the head of deceased and the bowl that had been left lying against the gate. I also raised Cockerill's body and put it in a manger in the shed.
I afterwards took prisoner to Halstead police station. On the way the prisoner said "I am Prince Napoleon and Pitt," and also said "I killed a girl about a week or two ago" and added "I have been to hell, but I would not stop, because I had no one to keep me company." and he kept on making rambling remarks like that all the way. I may add that while I was holding him on the ground he said he meant to "settle the whole b****y lot here this morning," and asked, "Where is old Turpin? I'll have him next." When I took the revolver from him there were three empty cartridges in it and two full ones.
I handed prisoner over to Insp. Barnard and charged him with the wilful murder of Robert John Cockerill.' -
Prisoner this time varied his reply to the Chairman On being asked if he had any questions to ask the witness, he said "I have swallowed an egg that's all I know".
Dr T E Pallett said he was a fully qualified medical practitioner living at Earls Colne. On Wednesday morning said the doctor:
Dr T E Pallett
'I was called about half-past seven and arrived on the scene of the murder about eight o'clock, I saw the body of Cockerill lying in a manger with the head in a bowl beside it.
I made a casual examination of the head that day and found three bullet wounds in it. 1 afterwards opened the head and found the bones of the skull smashed in all directions. There was a great effusion of blood on the top of the head showing he had been shot there when alive At the base of the brain I found this bullet. There was a bullet wound about two inches behind the right ear and a corresponding one on the left side being the exit of one of the shots.'
'you are sure he was dead before the head was taken off?'
Dr T E Pallett
'Yes. Death must have been instantaneous.'
He had no means of saying how far the deceased had been off when the bullets were fire; there was no singeing of the hair, but from the way the bones were smashed it must have been about a yard.
The prisoner returned his usual answer "Don't know him, sir," when asked if he had anything to say to the doctor.
PC Cook re-called, was asked by the clerk if the knife had any marks on it? -
PC Harry Cook
'I noticed one or two spots of blood on the handle of the knife'. -
'Has it been touched since it has been in your possession?' -
PC Harry Cook
'No sir, there were no stains on the blade. It was clean and dry as though he had wiped it.'
At this juncture the Chief Constable said he did not propose to carry the case any further that day, and would ask the Bench to grant a remand until that day week, when he would receive instructions from the Treasury - The Bench acceded to the request, and the case stands adjourned until Monday next. Prisoner was then removed from the court, and very shortly afterwards was driven back to Chelmsford.
The remains of the murdered man were interred in the Parish Churchyard, Pebmarsh on Monday afternoon. There were a large number of persons present, many coming from the villages surrounding. The service was conducted by the Rev A G Kirby. The chief mourners present were Mrs Cockerill, three sons and four daughters, Mrs Aspinall and four daughters and Mr H Cockerill (brother). Mr John Turpin was also present. The coffin which contained a shell, was of oak and bore the following inscription Robert John Cockerill, Born 3rd Nov. 1841, Died Sept. 2nd 1896.
The coffin which was supplied by Mr Sturgeon, was covered with beautiful wreaths sent by the following: A token of greatest sympathy from Mr and Mrs Jury, and Harry Willoughby (Stratford) "In loving memory of our dear father" "With heartfelt sympathy from William and Mary Hughes and family; With loving sympathy from Ada and Bennington" "With Mr and Mrs Howe's deepest sympathy; With love and heartfelt sympathy from Mrs Collier and family; Mr and Mrs Harvey Cockerill and family; With deepest sympathy from brother Craske and family. The brickwork to the grave was done by Mr Richbell of Little Maplestead.
Bury Free Press
12th September 1896
On Monday Samuel Bentall Collis who has been apprehended in connection with the murder of Robert John Cockrill, farm bailiff at Pebmarsh near Halstead, was brought up at a special sitting of the Magistrates at Halstead and charged with the capital offence. He had been conveyed from the county prison at Springfield in the custody of two detectives. The journey was uneventful, the prisoner maintaining a quiet demeanour all the way.
The Chief Constable of Essex intimated that he would propose to take only the evidence as would justify the Magistrates in granting a remand. He had communicated with the Treasury and they had the matter in hand. This course the Bench agreed to and the evidence of witnesses was proceeded with. Mrs Turpin, sister of the prisoner again gave testimony. Police Constable Cook stated that while struggling with the prisoner on the ground, the latter said "I meant to settle the whole lot this morning", alluding to the inmates of the house in which his mother resides. Witness had no handcuffs with him but even if he had they would not have fitted the prisoner's wrists which were very large. While being conveyed to Halstead Police station in a cart, to which he was bound with a ropes, Collis exclaimed, "I am Prince Napoleon" and declared he had killed a girl and an angel. Dr . Pallett of Earl's Colne, who made the post mortem examination of Cockrill's body said he had no doubt that the man was quite dead before his head was cut off.
P.C.Cook was recalled and in answer to Mr Portway said there were no marks on the carving knife, the murderer having no doubt wiped it on straw after his ghastly work was completed.
The knife, a formidable weapon was handed round the Bench for inspection.
On the application of the Chief Constable the prisoner was remanded till Monday next by which time he said instructions from the Treasury would have been received.
The prisoner who still wore his usual sullen look preserved an attitude of absolute indifference throughout the hearing and apparently took little of what the witnesses said.
The funeral of the murdered man took place in the afternoon immediately after the return of the witnesses from the Court and was numerously attended. The mourners included the widow and the eight children, Ada (Mrs Aspland, London), Percy and Frank (with their wives), Lillian, Horace, Rupert, Annie and Kathleen; the three brothers, William M. (Akenham), Craske, (Hornchurch) and Harry, (Bury St Edmunds); Mrs Kemball, (Brundish) sister of the widow, her brother Mr Robert Treen (Wicken, Cambs), and Mr Hughes, father of the wives of the two married sons).
Some very handsome floral tributes had placed on the coffin. That from the widow and family was magnificent specimen of the florists art in the shape of a harp with a golden chord broken, the flowers consisting principally of the choicest lilies. Other wreaths were-"With and heartfelt sympathy from Mrs Collier and family", "Mr and Mrs Henry Cockrill and family, Bury St Edmunds", "With loving sympathy from Ada and Bennington" (deceased eldest daughter and her husband), "With deep sympathy from his brother Craske and family", "With heartfelt sympathy from his brother from William and Mary Hughes and family, Gone but not forgotten", "A token of deepest sympathy from Mr and Mrs Harry Jury and Harry and Harry Willoughby (Stratford)" "With Mr and Mrs Howe's (Edmonton) deepest sympathy" and others. The service was conducted by the Rev. A.G.Kirby, Rector.
The following particulars are going the round of the papers. Inquiries into the history of events at Pebmarsh, particularly relating to the career of the murderer Collis throw additional light on the circumstances leading up to the ghastly tragedy at Hill Farm. It transpires that from his youth up the accused man has been a desperate character, his father who died three years ago went in fear of him and the villagers always regarded him with awe. About eleven years ago he began to show signs of insanity and at that time he deliberately maimed himself by firing a gun at his feet. Soon after that occurrence he had an illness and on his recovery he had to be removed to the lunatic asylum in which he remained for eleven months. He was discharged as "cured" about eight years ago. On regaining his liberty he took a farm at Pebmarsh which he held for two years and giving it up when he went to reside in a cottage on his mother's estate for twelve months.
His next step was the taking of an another farm in the parish which he held up to the time of his arrest. He was to have appeared at Colchester Bankruptcy Court last week for examination, he having filed his petition, but he did not present himself. His solicitor however stated that the Official Receiver has satisfied himself that the bankrupt was solvent, he having had a legacy left him which was more than sufficient to pay all his creditors in full.
The house in which lived alone was found to be in a well kept condition, a woman having been engaged by him to do the housework.
They were however not wanting for proof of his eccentricity or the prisoner's character for in the kitchen there hung from a beam, a sheep's head, a rabbit and a hen, all in the state of putrefaction.
The prisoner's bed was made ready for his reception and had not been slept in the night previous to the tragedy at the farm. In the living room an apple hung from the ceiling on a piece of string and bullet marks on the opposite wall suggested that Collis had aimed at the swinging apple for revolver practice.
Since his capture the accused has maintained a stolid indifference and shows very few if any symptoms of insanity. It has been suggested that the motive for the crime was jealously of his victim, Collis thinking that he ought to have been made steward on the death of his father but it does not appear that the men ever quarrelled or that or that was any bad feeling between them. The prisoner's family are all well connected.
the terrible events have severely affected the health of the wife of the plucky constable Cook. Mrs Cook is a native of Prittlewell, near Southend and is about twenty seven years of age and has two children. She is naturally of an excitable temperament and the circumstances of the murder had a distressing effect upon her health. A medical attendant allayed all fears of serious consequences and a visit which she intends to make to her mother at Southend, with the consequent change of air and surroundings will undoubtedly have the effect of restoring her to her usual self. The constable is two years the senior of his wife. It is reported that he has been suffering from insomnia since his ghastly encounter.
Halstead & Colne Valley Gazette
17th September 1896
The prisoner Samuel Bentall Collis, 34, farmer, by whom John Robert Cockrill, 54, farm steward, was so mercilessly done to death, at Pebmarsh, has been examined by doctors and specialists from the Home Office, whilst lying in HM Prison, Chelmsford, with the result that he has been certified to be mad, and, upon the order of the Secretary of State, he will be removed to Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum. No one will be surprised at this. From the first it has been evident that the unfortunate man was out of his mind. No person in possession of his reason could possibly have done what he did, nor have said what he has said.
In prison, Collis has taken his meals heartily, and has slept soundly, and behaved himself well. He has been and is exceedingly quiet, and gives the gaol officials very little trouble. There is, of course, great anxiety attaching to the prisoner's presence and Major W H Darnell, the very courteous governor of the goal (sic), will doubtless feel much relieved when he is rid of the responsibility of keeping the madman. When the prisoner will be removed has not yet been decided, but it will be one day next week. In view of what has taken place all further magisterial and other proceedings against the prisoner will naturally cease.
Mr F H Bright, solicitor, of Maldon, who had been instructed by the Treasury to prosecute, will therefore be spared an arduous duty.
Halstead & Colne Valley Gazette
8th October 1896
At the Colchester Bankruptcy Court on Friday, Mr Asher Prior, said that in reference to the unfortunate man, Samuel Bentall Collis, of Valiant's Farm, Pebmarsh, he only knew what he had seen in the papers - that the man was now confined as a lunatic. He thought that the Official Receiver might wish to make an application. - The Registrar said it was a very unfortunate affair. - The Official Receiver (Mr Frederick Messent) asked that the matter be adjourned sine die and this course was adopted.
Pc Cook of Pebmarsh has been made Acting Sergeant in recognition of his bravery in apprehending Collis, the Pebmarsh murderer, on Sept. 2.