Double Death on the Avon

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I noticed this plaque while I was walking in Wiltshire last week.  It’s quite new and a local woman walking her dog told me replaces an older memorial.

Here is the story culled from the Wiltshire Police website.

One of the few murders committed by a police officer against another fellow police officer took place at Coombe, near Netheravon, on April 1st 1913.

The victim of the murder was Sergeant William Crouch, who joined Wiltshire Constabulary in 1900. He was first stationed at Bradford-upon-Avon, moving from there to Swindon, Chilton Foliat and Ludgershall, from where he was posted to Netheravon.

A married man, Crouch lived with his wife and two children at the police station. He was a strict man who nevertheless was reasonable in his attitude towards those serving below him.

Police Constable Ernest Pike had joined the Force in 1895 and was very experienced. He had served at Swindon, Burbage, Bottlesford and Enford. While he was at Bottlesford he was promoted to Sergeant and posted to Swindon. Pike, however, had a quick temper, and at Swindon he ran into difficulties.

Before long he was brought before the Chief Constable, Höel Llewellyn, accused of a serious breach of discipline. He was found guilty, demoted to Second Class Constable and sent to Enford.

Pike settled down well to his new posting. Compared with Swindon, Enford was a pleasant district on the banks of the Salisbury Avon and he got to know the small valley community very well.

He became a popular local policeman and it wasn’t long before he won back a stripe – being promoted to Merit Class Constable. But despite his new found happiness, Pike was soon in trouble again. This time it was more serious than before.

He was reported for being in a public house while on duty and for lying to a superior officer. The evidence was submitted to Divisional Headquarters by Sergeant Crouch. On 31st March 1913, Police Constable Pike made the trip to Amesbury Police Station to appear before the Chief Constable.

As the hearing wore on, Pike got quite angry and eventually accused Sergeant Crouch of telling lies. Despite his protestations of innocence, Pike was demoted and told that he would be removed from his new found home in Enford and posted to Colerne on the Somerset border.

Pike was incensed and as he cycled back to Enford with his neighbouring colleague, Police Constable Slade, he talked about the injustice of his predicament and blamed Sergeant Crouch bitterly. As the two officers reached the police house at Enford, Pike dismounted.

Slade, who still had a few miles to go, bade him goodbye. As he cycled away, Pike shouted after him: ‘That’s it, I’ve done with the Force. I’ll make this County ring.’

That evening, while no-one was looking, Pike smuggled a shotgun out of his cottage. Then he returned to the family home and kissed his wife goodnight. He left the house at about 9pm taking the gun with him. He intended to meet Crouch at their usual meeting place near Coombe around 11pm that night.

As he patrolled his beat Pike dwelt on the day’s events. He was first to get to the regular meeting place at the road junction near Coombe. Evidence found later suggests that Pike hid behind a hedge until Crouch arrived. No one knows precisely what happened next – but when the shotgun was discharged Crouch died instantly from a head-wound.

Pike knew that he would certainly hang for the murder. He was in a hopeless position. What could have gone through his troubled mind as he made his way from the scene of the grisly murder? About five hundred yards from the meeting place was a little wooden footbridge across the River Avon. There he placed the gun’s muzzle in his mouth and pulled the trigger.

Sergeant Crouch’s corpse was found by farm workers at 6am the following morning. Mrs.Pike had already reported her husband missing the night before but no one could find Pike. Slade was called from the station at Upavon. He arrived with the Chief Constable’s bloodhounds, Moonlight and Flair, and a search was initiated.

This is the story on the Wiltshire Police website today.  After more than a century it does not go unchallenged. The Enford village newsletter in 2013 has this to say.

A little over a hundred years ago an event took place at Coombe, on the night of Monday 31st March 1913 which had repercussions far beyond this parish. It went as far as Parliament: on 16 June 1913 Mr Thomas Wing MP, National Liberal member for a Durham constituency asked a stunning question in the House of Commons. Was the Home Secretary aware, he asked, that the police disciplinary system (which Wing referred to as “this evil”) had resulted in the deaths of two Wiltshire policemen?

He was referring to the killing of Netheravon Sergeant Frank Crouch and the suicide of his assailant, Constable Ernest Pike of Enford.

In those less tolerant times it may have been expected that the murder of a policeman followed by the dismal offence of suicide (it was to remain a crime – though obviously one which could not be prosecuted – until 1961) could conceivably elicit any sympathy for the perpetrator. So why did Wing seek to apportion blame to a police procedure rather than the trigger man ?

For nearly 90 years the popular belief was that Pike committed his acts as retaliation for being disciplined by Crouch, and this belief still lingers. It was a belief that was created, fostered and maintained by the Wiltshire Constabulary. Even today their official history pays scant regard to modern research which indicates that Pike was the victim of harassment by senior police officers of the time, manipulating Sergeant Crouch to do their loathsome bidding, which pushed the Enford constable beyond the limits of sanity.

Pike had certainly been a “bit of a lad” during his police career and had come to Enford in 1909 under a cloud having been demoted from sergeant. Over the years of his service, though, he had also shown himself to be capable of acts of considerable initiative and personal courage. He was due to leave the village on posting to Colerne in mid-1913, and having redeemed himself, and working his way back to “Merit Class” constable he was expecting an early promotion back to Sergeant. Everything appeared to be promising for Ernest Pike, his wife Amelia (“Millie) and their six young children.

Unfortunately, from November 1912, just a few months before he was due to move from the village a reorganisation of police divisional areas brought him under the command of a Superintendent with a longstanding grudge against him. All the factors interlink to suggest, with little room for doubt, that this officer contrived a false charge against Pike which despite a complete lack of evidence, was upheld by the Chief Constable, Captain Hoël Llewellyn DSO. The effect of this injustice was magnified out of all proportion in Pike’s mind when malicious and unfounded suggestions were made by the Chief about Millie Pike’s relationship with a local clergyman.

The existence of the new blue plaque suggests that to this day local people believe that Constable Ernest Pike was not treated fairly by the police force.

7 thoughts on “Double Death on the Avon”

  1. The mind of man is a funny thing. The other day, researching the Carmelite Convent of Hunston, nr Chichester, I came across an item in the West Sussex Gazette for some time in Spring 1872. It concerned the murder by stabbing of a child – if I recall, he or she was about 7. The child was the offspring of an NCO in a West Sussex barracks (I think in Littlehampton) who had offended one of his men. The Private or Trooper or whatever was well known to the NCO’s children who were not surprised when he encountered them all in a playground and wandered off hand in hand with the 7 year old. The man took the child out of sight and stabbed the youngster to death. He then went quietly to a pub and nursed a pint until the police came. He offered no explanation for his behaviour.

    I will try to get the details properly right soon. Meantime, it seemed sort of relevant to your Wiltshire crime.

  2. My name is Glyn Jones. I had the memorial plaque made and erected some years ago after an earlier brass plaque (also erected by me) had been stolen. I also wrote the article in the Enford newsletter at the request of a member of the committee.

    Writing under the nom de plume “Edwin Williamson” I wrote a book called “Murder for the Truth ?” about the case of Crouch and Pike. I originally published privately in 2000, and was encouraged to republish in 2013. The book is available in paperback form and Kindle via the Amazon website. The decision to use a nom de plume arose from a need to avoid confusion with another similarly named person.

    I hope this doesn’t sound like a “plug” for the book – I make very little from sales. For years now, it has been “flying off the shelves” at the rate of about one copy every two months !
    My motive lies elsewhere: it is a desire to have all the astonishing facts of this case presented in a single volume so that the distortions of the truth which were encouraged in 1913 and afterwards might be challenged, and the significance of the events and the reputations of the various individuals involved can be fairly evaluated.

    1. Thank you for getting in touch. I have bought your paperback on Amazon (they say it is the last copy) and I apologise for not crediting you with authorship of the article in the Enford newsletter. As I recall I found it on the Internet without attribution.

  3. No apologies necessary, sir. I am not an ego tripper. As I recall, I was replacing the plaque when I was asked by a passing dog walker (could it be the same person ?) to write a brief summary for the Enford newsletter, and I did so, asking for no accreditation. Having met descendants who, I found, still suffered from a sense of shame, I just wanted the whole facts of the story to be recorded. If you reach a different conclusion to me, then I respect that, but I have found that most readers of my book have formed a sympathetic opinion of Police Constable Pike.

    It was the last copy, by the way – but I delivered a six more copies of the book to Devizes Books yesterday (31 August 2016). That should keep them going for another year or so !

  4. Glyn/Edwin
    I passed your plaque walking from Avebury to Stonehenge over Easter this year. I am ashamed that I didn’t research the extraordinary news (to me) that two members of the constabulary had died in such a quiet place. Even today it would be most unusual but in 1913 quite extraordinary. Thanks to Blogger Bellew, I am better informed and when the Devizes bookshop deliver I will be a near expert thanks to you!

    1. I’m glad to hear that there has been a run on Glyn’s book. I’m afraid it does not depict the train of events that you’d expect in respectable, pre-war, Edwardian England, so it is to his credit that he has lifted the lid on this nasty business.

  5. Ernest Pike is my Great Uncle, with his younger sister, Kate, being my paternal Grandmother, who I remember well from my childhood growing up in Keynsham. I also remember my parents telling the story that our Grandma Nicholls (Kitty Pike) had a brother who had committed murder. During the very recent funeral of an uncle (my late father’s youngest brother), I was reminiscing over childhood memories with with a long lost cousin when the story of the murder involving our Great Uncle came up. She mentioned that she had read the book “Murder for the Truth” and will forward me a copy as she said it is a fascinating read that puts A new completion on the story. I am waiting for the book to arrive but in the meantime have read accounts of the murder on the internet. It is a fascinating story and reassuring that the “truth” has at last been researched and shared with a wide audience. I don’t how much of the “truth” my Granny Nicholls knew, as she died approximately 50 years ago, but l feel compelled to learn as much as I can, and to visit the spot where my Great Uncle Earnest’s body was found, and imagine how his life may have been all those years as the village constable in Enford.

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