The Cucumber Bed Murder in Morchard

Between as far back as 1650 and the 1800s members of several Devon families were known by either of two surnames – Godbear and Tapp. The earliest records of this family are (probably) four brothers and one sister named James, Hugh, John, Edward and Catharine “Godbear or Tapp” who lived in Poughill. (Godbear alternatively being written Godbeer or Godbeare.)

 

George Godbear Tapp. Baptised plain George Godbear in Morchard Bishop in 1779, he was descended from this family. He was the eldest son of William and Thomazin Godbear who had six other children. He doesn’t seem to use the “Tapp” alias until he was apprehended in Morchard Bishop on 1st May 1808.

 

The newspapers then took up the story. (Exeter Flying Post – 5th May 1808)


On Sunday last, George Tapp, alias Godbeare, was committed to the Devon county gaol, for the wilful murder of Robert Leach. The following circumstances which attended the commission of this crime, as singularly premeditated as it was inhuman, have been confirmed by Tapp since his apprehension. It appears, that the prisoner and the deceased, (the former a tailor, the latter a butcher) were both inhabitants of the parish of Morchard-bishop, about 13 miles from this city, and lived on terms of the greatest intimacy. On Sunday the 24th of April, they were seen at a public-house in the village, and were observed to quit it together; after which time Leach was missing. Various enquiries were made respecting him; but on the Friday following, his friends being alarmed at his continued absence, investigated more diligently the events which preceded his sudden departure, when a strong suspicion fell on Tapp, from his having been the last person in whose company he was noticed, and from his being observed to have more money than usual: added to which, information was given by a neighbour, that on the Saturday preceding the 24th of April, Tapp was observed, very late at night, digging a pit in his garden; and, on being questioned, at the time, his reason for working there at so late an hour, he replied, it was merely for the purpose of burying some dung, to make a cucumber bed. On these grounds, search was made in the garden, when, shocking to relate, the mangled body of Leach was found, thrown into the very pit which appears to have been previously designed for its reception. Tapp was immediately apprehended, and, when in custody, voluntarily confessed his crime, which he stated to have committed in the following manner:-That they walked together from the public-house to that of the prisoner, and, on going into the garden, Leach complained of a pain in his head, and sat himself down on a fallen tree; that while he was in the act of tying a handkerchief round his head, Tapp came behind and struck him a violent blow with an old axe, which he had fitted up for the purpose, repeating his blows till he had finished his bloody deed: -that after taking from the pockets of the deceased cash and bills to the amount of about sixty pounds, he threw the body into the pit he had prepared for it:-that he afterwards burnt the handle of the axe and put the iron part into a running stream to wash off the blood. He also burnt his hat, and cut off the marks of blood from the tree with a hook. -On being asked how long he had premeditated the murder, he replied, about a week. It does not appear that there had been any quarrel whatever between the parties; on the contrary, the strictest intimacy existed between them. There had been some money transactions, in which the prisoner was considerably indebted to the deceased. These, added to a knowledge of his having property about him, are supposed to have instigated him to the commission of this atrocious murder. Tapp's mother has since been committed as an accomplice. (She was found innocent.)

 

George Godbear was found guilty of murder at the Devon Lammas Assizes and sentenced to death.

 

On Tuesday [16 August 1808] George Godbear was executed at the Devon Gaol Drop, pursuant to his sentence; the particulars of the horrid murder were given in our paper of the 5th May last; his behaviour since his confinement has been uniformly penitent: a few minutes before life was turned off, he caused two written papers to be thrown amongst the spectators, both to the same purport, in which he throws some reflections on the character of a female, to whom he attributes his untimely fate.

The son of John and Dinah Leach, Robert Leach was just 23 when he was killed. He was buried in Morchard Bishop on 2nd May 1808. The burial record is annotated “murder’d by his intimate friend Geo Tapp”. In his will Leach had appointed as executor the same George Godbeer (Tapp) who, according to the Registry of the Exeter Consistory Court, “killed testator in hopes of possessing his property, consisting of a freehold estate, and was hung at Exeter, administration with will assigned granted to William Leach, brother.”



Godbear, 29, when he was executed, died intestate and his effects valued at £100 went to his mother Thomazin, who remained in Morchard until her death in 1824.