MAN THEY COULD NOT HANG
'Babbacombe' Lee, famously dubbed ‘the man they could not hang’, perhaps should
be renamed ‘The man they should not hang’.
Inside Out and Lee Archive
owner Ian Waugh, shed new light on the case to reveal a different suspect.
Miss Emma Anne Whitehead Keyse lived alone in 'The Glen', with her
servants Jane and Eliza Neck, Elizabeth Harris, the cook and her half brother
John Henry George Lee.
Glen, beach residence of Emma Keyse|
In the early hours of
November 15 1884 in the hamlet of Babbacombe, Devon, Emma Keyse was discovered
brutally murdered. Her throat was slit, she had three wounds to her head and the
murderer had also attempted to burn the body.
had been a servant at 'The Glen' since leaving school, and in 1879, left to join
the navy. After being invalided out, John returned to Torquay to work as a footman,
but was convicted of stealing from his employer.
John was released from
prison in 1884 and returned to work at 'The Glen'.
John Lee was the initial
suspect, being the only male in the house at the time of the murder and was found
with an inexplicable cut on his arm.
Although circumstantial, the evidence
was enough to try and convict him of a murder to which he would always claim his
"The reason I am so calm is that I trust in the
Lord and he knows I am innocent." John Lee to the judge at his trial
Indeed, there does appear to be divine intervention on the
day of John’s execution.
He was sentenced to be hanged at Exeter Prison
on 23 February 1885.
three failed attempts to hang Lee, his sentence was commuted to penal servitude|
Berry, the executioner tested the trap on the scaffold and verified that it opened
successfully each time. Yet John Lee became famous as ‘The man they couldn’t hang’.
Three times they tried to hang Lee and three times it failed.
The execution was postponed. Home Secretary, Sir William Harcourt
commuted the sentence to penal servitude for life stating that;
would shock the feeling of anyone if a man had twice to pay the pangs of imminent
death." Home Secretary, Sir William Harcourt
Lee was released
from prison after serving 22 years. Rumours are rife about his whereabouts after
release, rumours that Inside Out can shed light on.
But should Lee have
even stood trial for the murder of Emma Keyse, let alone serve life for it?
Out with the help of Ian Waugh reveals further evidence that brings a new suspect
into the frame.
Reginald Gwynne Templar was a frequent visitor to ‘The
Glen’ and represented Lee in court. Should he have been under suspicion of the
Templar wrote to John Lee the morning after the murder, offering
his services as a solicitor. This was unusual as Templer was a friend of the victim
and equally unusual that he had heard about the murder so quickly.
represented Lee for a time but then left, as he became ill. Suffering from insanity,
Templar died at an early age, allegedly babbling about murder on his death bed.
there is little evidence to prove that Templar was the murderer, there is equally
little evidence to prove that Lee was either. The evidence is purely circumstantial.
is claimed that Lee was the only man in the house. Yet it is alleged that Lee
told solicitors that Templar was in the house that night.
the Forensic Science laboratory not opened until 1935 and the first conviction
by fingerprint evidence not until 1902, it is doubtful that John Lee’s innocence
or indeed guilt, will ever be proven.
It is similarly uncertain as to
how John Lee spent his days after release, although rumours are rife.
were extensive newspaper reports |
Much speculation has surrounded
the movements of John Lee after his release from prison in 1907.
he began a new anonymous life abroad. Others have suggested he moved to London,
where he survived the blitz, his second escape from death.
is certainly possible that Lee spent some time out of the country. It is also
possible that he ended his days in a South West workhouse.
of a death certificate of a man name John Lee, states he was a painter/journeyman.
He died of ‘Myocardial Degeneration’.
An unmarked grave believed to be
that of John Lee, is all that remains to mark the rather sad existence of the
man who rightly or wrongly paid for the death of Emma Keyse in 1884.
grave may be unmarked and long forgotten, but the story of John Babbacombe Lee
will long live on as ‘the man they could not hang’.
Ian Waugh, owner of
the Lee Archive, is keen to get in contact with any of John Lee's relatives or
anyone who has more information about the case.
Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org