Date Of Execution: 16 Nov 1915
Crime Location: 8 Plantation Road, Leighton Buzzard
Execution Place: Bedford
Executioner: John Ellis
William Benjamin Reeve was convicted of the murder of his wife Harriett Reeve 40 and sentenced to death.
He shot her at their home at 8 Plantation Road, Leighton Buzzard on 5 July 1915 while she sat in a chair and then attempted to commit suicide.
The doctor was called to 84 Church Street first at about 7pm on 5 July 1915 where he saw William Reeve lying on the floor with a severe wound to his throat such that might have been caused by a razor.
The doctor said that he then went on to 8 Plantation Road with a policeman where he saw Harriett Reeve upon a chair to the right of the doorway to the cottage. He said that her left leg was crossed over her right leg and that her left hand was in her lap. He said that her right elbow was resting on a table and that her hand was hanging down. He said that she was dead and that he found that a large portion of her right lower jaw had been blown away.
He said that the large blood vessels in her neck had been destroyed, the cardiol artery and the jugular vein, and that there was blackening of the wound.
He said that there was also another wound just over her collar bone.
He said that the knuckle of her left hand was also injured as though she had used it to protect herself.
The doctor said that after carrying out a post-mortem on her body he came to the conclusion that her death was due to shock from loss of blood due to the injuries she had received.
He said that her injuries could have been caused by the shot-gun that was later produced and that from the blackness around her injuries that the shot had been fired at close quarters, although added that he could not say whether more than one shot had been fired.
Earlier on in the day, a man who lived Leyton Buzzard said that he was taking a dog to Hockcliffe at about 8.45am and that on the way he met William Reeve and that William Reeve went with him to Hockcliffe. He said that on the way, William Reeve told him, 'I've got my double-barrelled gun loaded and it stands in the corner of the house'.
The man said that he then said to William Reeve, 'You B---- fool why don't you go back and empty it or do something else with it', and said that William Reeve then replied, 'That's all right, I have got that for something else'.
The man said that he then called William Reeve a fool again.
The man said that they then went to the White Hart in Hockcliffe where they each had a pint of beer given to them by the landlord and then another pint each given to them by the landlady, as well as some meat and potatoes, after which they went on to the Plough in Eggington where they each had a pint, by which time it was about 11am.
The man said that they then went on to the Falcon Inn in Leyton Buzzard where they stopped until 2pm, having two pints of beer each and then went on to the Roebuck where they stayed until about 3pm. having half-a-pint each and then having two pints between them.
The man said that he then went home to Ruth Street and that William Reeve went off towards High Street.
William Reeve's father, who lived at 84 Church Street in Leighton Buzzard, said that on 5 July 1915, at about 6.30pm, he went to the Stag Inn where he saw William Reeve. He said that William Reeve asked him for half-a-pint but said that he refused him saying that he had had more than he himself had had. He said that William Reeve had had a drink, but that he had seen him a deal worse before. William Reeve's father said that William Reeve then left to go home.
William Reeve's father said that at about 7pm he was by his gate when he saw William Reeve come round the corner, noting that his hands were covered in blood. He said that a police constable then went up to William Reeve and that he then went off to get a paper and then returned to his house. He said that when he got back to his house, William Reeve was inside and that there were a lot of people there.
William Reeve's father later identified the gun that William Reeve shot his wife with as his property but said that William Reeve had had it for years at his house. He said that he had seen it at William Reeve's house and said that he used to keep it in the corner by the fireplace.
A woman who lived on Heath Road in Leighton said that on 5 July 1915, between 6pm and 6.30pm, whilst her husband was there, that William Reeve came by. She said that he was drunk and that he said that he loved his wife. She said that she had heard William Reeve say that before when he was drunk. She said that William Reeve then asked her small brother to his house to see if his wife was there and said that her small brother went off and then returned shortly after and said that he was. The woman said that she then went out into her garden for a few minutes and said that when she came back, William Reeve had gone.
The woman said that she later went out into Ashweel Street and that when she was coming back, she saw William Reeve in Plantation Road at about 7pm, saying that he was coming back from the direction of his house and was by her gate. She said that his hands were red and that she thought that it was paint and that he also had it about his neck.
The woman said that she didn't speak to William Reeve but went up a passage leading to William Reeve's house and saw that the door of the house was open. She said that she then saw Harriett Reeve sitting on a chair by the side of the door and said that when she called to her she got no answer. She said that when she went nearer to her she saw that her head was hanging to one side and that she then called a neighbour and then went back home.
The woman's husband said that he was at home at Heath Road on 5 July 1915 at about 6.20pm when William Reeve came in under the influence of drink. He said that that William Reeve started talking about fighting him and so he agreed to fight him at 5.30am the next morning. He said that William Reeve then said, 'I shall shoot my old girl tonight', and the man said that he told him that he should not do that if he were him and said that after a time William Reeve said, 'I love my old girl'. He said that soon after that William Reeve sent the boy off to see if his wife was at home and that after the boy returned, William Reeve went out and off in the direction of his home at about 6.30pm. The man noted that when William Reeve told him that he would shoot his wife, William Reeve also said that he had had no money from her.
Harriett Reeve's son said that he was at home at 8 Plantation Road with a friend when at about 6.30pm, a boy came in and spoke to Harriett Reeve and then went out again and that shortly after his father, William Reeve, came in, sometime between 6.30pm and 6.45pm, and sat down. He said that William Reeve said something to Harriett Reeve', but that he didn't catch it, and that shortly after William Reeve gave him and his friend some money to go to the picture palace, which was at about 6.50pm, leaving William Reeve and Harriett Reeve alone together in the house.
He said that when he later got home at 7.30pm, his mother was dead.
A woman who lived about three houses away on Plantation Road said that on 5 July 1915, she heard a noise at about 6.45pm like a gun going off, saying that there were two shots. She said that she then went out and about ten minutes after she had heard the shots, she saw William Reeve come out of his house and go down an alley, noting that his hands were covered in blood and that he was groaning.
Shortly after, a police constable who was on duty in Church Street near the Stag public house, said that he saw William Reeve staggering away from the direction of Plantation Road with his hands and arms covered in blood and with his throat cut, and so he took him to his father's house, delivered first aid, and then called for a doctor. The police constable said that he then went to William Reeve's house and saw that Harriett Reeve's was dead in the chair and that he then went out into the yard where he saw the gun standing against a fence with both barrels discharged with a razor lying close by covered in blood.
Another police constable said that on 7 July 1915 at the workhouse infirmary he heard William Reeve's father say to William Reeve, 'Bill, do you wish to tell us anything', and that William Reeve replied, 'No', and that when he asked him 'Bill, do you know what you have done?', William Reeve said, 'Yes'.
The police constable said that when he later saw William Reeve on 20 July 1915 at workhouse infirmary, he charged him with the murder of Harriett Reeve.
William Reeve was convicted at the Bedford Assizes and sentenced to death. He appealed but his appeal was rejected, and he was executed at Bedford Jail at 8am on the morning of Tuesday 16 November 1915.
It was reported that a little over 100 people gathered outside the prison, eager to notice the slightest sign of the execution, even though there was a thin veneer of snow and a keen wind that came straight down from the hill which made everything very uncomfortable.
It was reported that shortly after 7.50am notice of the execution was put up on the wall and that a few moments after 8am the bell rang to announce that it was all over. The bell was said to have continued to toll for some minutes.
The newspaper account of the execution stated, 'The execution was very expeditiously carried out. The procession for the fifty yards or so from the cell to the scaffold was headed by a warder, who was followed by the Under-Sherriff. Then came the Chaplain, reading the burial service, and behind him walked the prisoner, between two warders. Reeve walked with a firm step, and needed no assistance, and in a few seconds all was over’.
William Reeve and Harriett Reeve had had six children.
see National Archives - ASSI 13/45, PCOM 9/736, HO 144/1440/301537
see Aberdeen Journal - Wednesday 20 October 1915
see Luton Times and Advertiser - Friday 09 July 1915
see Leicester Daily Post - Wednesday 17 November 1915
see Bedfordshire Times and Independent - Friday 19 November 1915