Unsolved Murders

Hastings William Sackville Russell

Age: 64

Sex: male

Date: 9 Oct 1953

Place: Endsleigh, Devon

Hastings William Sackville Russell, the 12th Duke of Bedford was found shot dead on his 12,000 acre estate in Endsleigh, Devon on Sunday 11 October 1953.

He was found dead with severe head wounds. It was thought that his death would have been instantaneous.

A verdict of accidental death was recorded. However, his elder son suggested that he might have deliberately shot himself.

He had been missing for two days having gone out on the morning of 9 October 1953 at 7.30pm with his sporting gun and three cartridges to shoot hawks.

A search was made for him by about 200 police, soldiers and estate workers. It was said that Marine Commandos and men of the Royal Signals with walkie-talkie equipment had taken part in the search and that frogmen had started diving in the River Tamar which flowed within 100 yards of his home.

He was found by a woodsman down a steep slope covered with rhododendron bushes which was described as being almost as steep as a house roof with the muzzle of his 12-bore shotgun over his chest and with the safety catch in the firing position. The location was about 500 yards from his house near a path in the rhododendron bushes in a private drive. It was said that it was quite possible for the trigger to have been caught in some branches.

The Chief Constable said that his body was found in a manner consistent with him having fallen. He said, 'We feel we are extremely lucky to have found the Duke at all'.

It was said that his body was found following the hunch of the head gamekeeper who had worked on the estate for forty years.

A member of the staff said, 'The head gamekeeper has been ill and could not take part in the search. When told the hunt had been fruitless, he suggested a search of a patch of woodland known as 'Swiss Cottage', which is near Wrixhill. The search was made this afternoon and the body of the Duke was found near to the footpath'.

His body was found at 3.45pm by two estate workers in a spot that had been looked over three times already.

No note or anything was found to suggest suicide and it was said that there was nothing to indicate that it was anything other than an accident.

It was suggested that he might have gone into the rhododendron bushes to shoot something and slipped.

It was said that it was a frequent habit of his to go out before breakfast with a gun and to let his famous prized budgerigars out of the aviary.

Hastings Russell had only arrived at Endsleigh House four days earlier.

He was noted as being an ornithologist, zoologist and pacifist and to have had a big collection of parrots and budgerigars. In 1906 he arranged an expedition to Shaanxi in China to collect zoological specimens for the British Museum during which a new species of jerboa was discovered. He was the author of the book, Parrots and Parrot-like Birds.

He had estates at Endsleigh in Deon, Cairnsmore, Newton Stewart, Wigtownshire and Woburn Abbey in Bedfordshire.

It was said that during the war he had addressed a number of meetings advocating peace.

It was noted that Hastings Russell's father, the eleventh Duke of Bedford had died in 1940 leaving £4,500,000.

He had two sons and a daughter. His heir was the 36-year-old Marquis of Tavistock who lived in South Africa.

His estate was worth £5,792,252 and included 48,000 acres of agricultural land and 40 acres in the Bloomsbury area of London.

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

see www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

see Wikipedia

see Bedford, John Robert Russell, Duke of (1998), A silver-plated spoon, Library Services Branch, Province of British Columbia, OCLC 79239886

see Birmingham Daily Gazette - Wednesday 14 October 1953

see Dundee Courier - Monday 12 October 1953

see Northern Whig - Monday 12 October 1953

see Daily Mirror - Monday 12 October 1953

see Liverpool Echo - Friday 11 December 1953

see Lancashire Evening Post - Saturday 10 October 1953