Langore Murder

The Victorian small shopkeeper Roger Drew, was always vulnerable to a hard-up predator, especially as so often rumour’s circulated that he had wealth hidden somewhere on his premises. Roger Drew, 57, was a quiet, self-effacing grocer who lived alone in Langore near Launceston, where local gossip had it that he had a hoard of money at the back of the shop. On the night of Saturday the 7th of June 1862, he had walked up to his local pub (Smiths Arms) for a drink after work and the landlord recalled that 30 year old John Doidge, an ex-Marine had also been there and was showing off a billhook. Roger Drew was found dead in his shop on Sunday the 8th of June 1862 in what the ‘Launceston Weekly News’ reported ‘Weltering in his blood’ and it was established that money had been taken. He had suffered repeated blows to the head and his living quarters above the shop had been ransacked. Unemployed Doidge who lived just a few houses from Drew was questioned and the billhook found to have blood stains on it as did his clothes and boots. As a result he was charged with the crime and came to trial where he was convicted after a two day hearing.

He was hanged by William Calcraft at noon on Monday the 18th of August 1862, before a crowd estimated to be 10,000 strong, in what would be the last public execution at Bodmin, the practice being outlawed by the Capital Punishment (amendment) Act of 1868. Although he was never tried for it, rumour was strong that he had also murdered a woman named Mary White at Milton Abbot in 1852.

The details of the preparations for this execution were described in detail in ‘The West Briton newspaper’, dated 22nd of August: as follows :
About half-past eight on Monday morning, the carpenters commenced the erection, on the principal floor of the female department of the gaol, steps and a platform inside the southern wall of the prison, the platform being on a level with the grating floor of the drop on the exterior; and at ten o’clock these preparations were completed. The drop has the same southern aspect, and is nearly over the same site as that of the old gaol: and, consequently, the fields sloping down from the northern side of the street at the western part of the town, the “Bodmin highlands” afford the same facilities for view of the dread spectacle that have been available to so many thousands at previous executions. We understand that it had been intended, in the building of the new gaol, to erect the drop at the northern part; but this purpose was abandoned because of the comparatively small assemblage of the public to whom the execution of a capital sentence could be made visible.(The female department was the building later known as the Naval Prison.)

As a footnote, it was reported that two women came to the gaol early on the Monday to ask to be allowed, as a cure for sore necks, to be touched by the convict’s hand after his death by hanging. It was not recorded whether their request was granted.