Unsolved Murders

Ida Mary Breton

Age: 33

Sex: female

Date: 19 May 1905

Place: River Lew, Strawbridge, Hatherleigh, Devon

Source: www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

Ida Mary Breton was killed in a meadow near the River Lew.

She had been to Hatherleigh to visit her uncle and had gone out into a meadow near the town in the evening to complete a sketch she was painting. She was a native of Southampton and was a specialist in animal life.

She was last seen at 6.30pm and within two hours she was found dead on the bank of the River Lew.

She had been to the fields before and had gone back for the same painting. When she was found she was lying dead near her easel and the picture she was painting. Her face was still warm.

There was no evidence of anything being taken from her pockets nor was her clothing disarranged or torn in any way. There were also no bruises on her body.

When the police arrived they found her arm soaked in blood and blood still flowing from her head. The body was about 15 feet from the river. Her dress was also saturated with water. When they examined the river bank and river bed they found an impression on the bank as if someone had sat there and in the front of the river bed there was the appearance of someone jumping down and forcing the shillet or gravel riverwards with their heels. There were traces of blood on the bank which when followed reached the spot where her body was found. There were no signs of stubble or sharp stones in the river that might have caused the injury and the police concluded that she had been attacked by a bull.

At first it was thought that she had been killed by a bullock as the only thing that had separated her from several animals was a river and there was a ford nearby. However, at the inquest it was found that no blood was found on any of the animals and her body showed the signs of a struggle and that she had been the victim of a foul outrage.

A doctor who examined her body said that there was a wound on her lower left jaw which he considered was produced with a blow from some blunt instrument and was probably an upward blow. He also said that a more severe blow must have been received near the temple. He said that there was considerable bleeding and the loss of blood would have been quite sufficient to have caused death.

A man who had been in serious trouble before who worked at a local quarry was arrested but whilst he was in the lock-up he died. He was found with his head laid open and a handkerchief tied to a choking point round his neck and said to have committed suicide. It was not known how he committed suicide but was said that he had tied the handkerchief around his throat with a knot and when he had fallen had struck his head on the floor of the cell, striking the stone slabs so forcibly that he fractured his skull, breaking a blood vessel and causing a profuse haemorrhage.

After the initial findings rumours began that a man had been seen returning in the night with an axe in his hands from the direction where Ida Breton was found and that he had reached the town with his legs and feet wet.

The man was identified and arrested. He said he had been rending, taking the bark off of wood, on the day and had passed the spot where Ida Breton was found. It appeared that several other men had been working with him but had returned prior to him leaving and that he had walked off home alone. It was noted that he would not have had to pass the spot where Ida Breton was painting to get home as the footpath ran along the head of the field on the opposite side of the river and so he must have deviated from his natural course to pass that spot.

It was noted that the man was aware that Ida Breton had been painting as he had seen her on previous evenings.

He was later known to have gone home and later gone out to the where it was noticed that his trousers were very wet and when questioned on it he had said that he had had a 'wet job' or words to that effect. He was also noted to be wearing his coat sleeves inwards whilst it was the normal custom of 'rippers', for which he was employed to wear their sleeves outwards. They later found small traces of blood on his sleeves.

The man was also noted as having a bad reputation and had previously completed a sentence of 9 months imprisonment for committing a criminal assault in Doddiscombeleigh. On the Monday he was paid off from his job as a ripper and the following morning went to work at the Hannaborough Quarries.

When he was seen in the London Hotel he observed by individuals to be in a very nervous condition and was described as being so 'knocked over' that he could barely drink.


*map pointers are rough estimates based on known location details as per Place field above.


see Western Times - Friday 19 May 1905