James Landick - the Tedburn St Mary Murderer - 1848

76 year old widow Grace Holman was found dead in her bed in her house, “West Water Cottage” in Tedburn St Mary on the morning of Sunday 3 December 1848.

She lived alone in an area then named Taphouse after the King's Arms Inn. 

Mrs Holman lived at West Water Cottage, on the road out of Tedburn towards Okehampton

Born Grace Watson in Halberton near Totnes, she married John Holberton there in 1794 and had one son before she was widowed in 1820. Then she moved to Dunsford and was employed for many years as nurse and housekeeper to the Fulford family. Indeed four members of the Fulford family (including Col Baldwin Fulford JP) were the witnesses at her second wedding, to Daniel Holman in Dunsford Church in 1825. Daniel Holman had three children from his first marriage to Agnes Hodge. He died in 1834 in Tedburn.


A coroner’s inquest into Grace Holman’s death was held at the Red Lion Inn in Tedburn on 5th December. Dr Herman Boerhaave Holman (no relation) from Crediton who had been her doctor was in attendance. His opinion was that death was due to pressure on the neck. A verdict of “wilful murder against some person or persons unknown” was made.

 

The principal policeman who investigated the murder was John Hele of Alphington. He recounted the story in his memoirs.

He rode to Tedburn on the morning of the inquest, first going to where Mrs Holman had lived. He interviewed her neighbour, Grace Collings who told him that on the morning after the murder she awoke to find that her front door had been fastened shut from the outside. She had to shout to a girl working in a field opposite to let her out. She then called at Mrs Holman’s cottage but got no response. She noted that an apple-tree prop, normally kept in the orchard, was leaning against the side of the house. She then told Nathaniel Beer the local constable who climbed a ladder to get in her bedroom window. He saw a box and a chair on the bed. Underneath was Mrs Holman’s dead body. He called Col Fulford who came immediately. They found a chest of drawers had been broken open and some silver spoons and £2 10s in cash were missing. When Hele arrived he found one remaining silver spoon in the clock case and discovered two sets of footprints in the orchard.

After the inquest, Hele returned to Exeter. Next evening, disguised as a horse dealer, he went to Mr Sherman’s Inn in West Street. There by coincidence he got talking to a man who asked Hele whether he had heard about the Tedburn murder. This was “the Moreton Tinker”, James Landick, also known as “Haldon Grey”. His suspicions aroused, Hele went and searched the Moreton Tinker’s lodgings in Exeter where he found a tool that he thought might have been used to break into Mrs Holman’s chest of drawers. Landick had been staying in lodgings with “Cockney Harry”. When Landick found that Hele had been to his lodgings, he fled with all his belongings. Hele later obtained a warrant for the arrest of the two men. He went to Crediton and stopped at the White Hart (now The Crown Restaurant). There he was met by Mr Pring, the constable, who informed Hele that Cockney Harry was a shoemaker, working nearby in Bowden Hill. Pring arrested him and brought him to Hele who charged him with the murder, and took him to the gaol in Exeter. There he confessed to being involved with the robbery but denied the charge of murder. His real name was Henry Woods, a Londoner about 30 years of age. He turned Queen’s evidence and in return was promised a free pardon. He implicated James Landick, the Moreton Tinker, as the murderer.

Hele proceeded to Moretonhampstead with his warrant. There he was informed that Landick had left his lodging house there, heading for Cornwall. Hele sent a message to Thomas Hext, the constable at Ashburton, who detained Landick and took him to Exeter.

Hele interviewed Cockney Harry who told him what he knew about Landick and James Mills, Landick’s brother-in-law, and how the three of them had broken into Mrs Holman’s cottage.

Hele wanted to arrest Mills. Cockney Harry told him that Mills had recently enrolled as a soldier in Exeter. Hele found he had joined the 83rd Regiment, under the name of Somers but was already in Kilkenny, Ireland awaiting orders to proceed to India. With a warrant to arrest Mills, Hele went by train to Bangor changing at Bristol, Birmingham, and Chester before getting the steamer to Kingston. He stayed the night in Dublin and proceeded to Kilkenny via Tipperary by coach. The 83rd Regiment had already moved on to Fermoy where he tracked down and arrested James Mills alias Somers. They returned to Exeter via Dublin where Mills was detained overnight in Kilmartin Gaol, while Hele enjoyed a quart of Guiness’s porter for 5d. The pair returned on the Holyhead steamer, then took the train to Exeter via Bristol. He had travelled 1172 miles in four and a half days.

 

According to Woods, he originally met Landick in Crediton where he first tried to get him to join him in robbing Mrs Holman. Later in November 1848 he stayed in Landick’s lodging house in Moretonhampstead at the time of the fair; Landick asked him again, his common law wife Mary Ann Mills encouraged him and he agreed. Landick obtained a gimlet to fasten the neighbours’ door.


They walked from Moretonhampstead, to the part of Tedburn St Mary known as Taphouse, a journey of three hours. Just outside the village was Westwater where Mrs Holman lived; they arrived there at about 11pm.

First with the gimlet and some string they secured the neighbour’s door. They couldn’t get in Holman’s front door but Landick climbed a wooden pole and broke in through an upstairs window, then let the other two in through the door. They blackened their faces with soot that Lambick had brought in an envelope, and crept upstairs with a candle.

They went into her bedroom. Mrs Holman woke and Landrick smothered her with the bedclothes. Mills restrained her while Landick went looking for valuables. He broke open several boxes but found nothing worth stealing. He demanded that Holman should tell him where her money was – she said that she had none. In the spare bedroom he found several silver spoons and two gold rings in a chest of drawers and gave them to Woods. He also found her bank book which showed a balance of about seventy pounds. They went back to her bedroom, and found her purse containing only about two pounds.