I took a seat inside the quaint looking tea shop in Barisgough, as indicated by the waitress, with its white painted walls and old timbered beams.”What can I get you sir” the sweet young waitress asked, in her prim and proper voice.
“I’ll have a pot of tea and a slice of that thick chocolate cake in the window,” I replied.
Let me introduce myself, I am Richard Robinson English Historian, attached to Edinburgh University. I’m on holiday I told the waitress, looking at old churches, but according to this old guide book there should be a church in the area called St.Martin’s. But I see no signs directing me to it, could you tell me where it is?”
At that moment, the busy tea rooms went quiet, not a sound was uttered, I could have cut the atmosphere with a knife, and I wondered what was wrong?
An elderly woman sitting on the next table, looking rather distinguished, said, “the old church you are inquiring about has been the scene of many bad happening’s there, and is currently locked up,” she replied in a fearful voice.
“Is there anyone in the village who could tell me about the events that took place,” I asked quietly.
“Not here! But you could seek out the churchwarden he has been around during the good and bad times,” she replied in a quiet voice trying not to alarm others.
“Where would I find him,” I enquired quietly.
“You will find him in his house adjoining the new church, St.Mathews on the Green. Just down the road, take the left fork, but take heed the old Church and Vicarage should not be entered by any person who fears for their soul,” she stated in a meaningful manner.
Shortly afterwards, I paid for my tea and left the tea shop heading down the road to seek out the church warden, all the time wondering about the warning the old lady had given me and why the mention of the old church put fear in the locals.
As I rounded the corner, I observed an elderly gentleman with a grey beard, sitting in his garden drinking his tea. I slowly strode over to him. “Are you the church warden of this Parish?” I asked in an enquiring manner.
“Yes sir! I am the churchwarden Mr Bracks, how can I be of assistance,” he asked.
“Brack, my name is Richard Robinson and I am an Historian. I called in at the ‘Oaks’ Tea Shop, while there I was informed something awful happened at St.Martin’s Church many years ago, and if I wanted to know more I should seek you out,” I said in a thoughtful voice.
“You’re right about bad things taking place there,” he replied.
“Would you tell me about the events,” I asked.
He stood quietly for a moment in deep contemplation about what I had asked of him, rubbing his beard and then he slowly turned his head and said.
“Not out here, come on in and join me for a cup of tea while I tell you what happened there, which leaves a sour taste in the mouth, when you think of the events.” He said in a sorrowful voice.
From all the available information I have attained over the years, St.Martin’s Church has been closed these past twenty years or more. This followed the death of the last vicar who took his life by hanging himself from the rafters of the Bell Tower in 1972. The police could find no motive to explain why he took his own life. However, the local people said the vicar was bewitched of the devil and from that day forth the church has remained closed, and no one dared set forth within.
The events of 1972 forced the diocese into the building of a small church elsewhere in the village by popular demand. As the residents were travelling eight miles up the road to the village of Brexford to join with them, rather than set forth in St.Martin’s Church.
“Didn’t the diocese try to reopen the old church,” I asked.
“Yes they did but no one dared enter they just stood there, but would not walk onto church grounds, which resulted in the church being closed up for good. “The site is now overgrown,” stated Mr Bracks.
“To the surprise of the locals, the vicarage that had remained closed for the previous 10 years was sold off to a Broadmere Housing Association in 1982.”
“But why, taking into account the past events?” I asked.
“To offset the money spent in building a new church.” Bracks replied.
The new owners had the place renovated and made available for short or long stay renting. Over the next six years, it had many tenants, but no one stayed more than a few months. They reported they could see the late vicar preparing his sermons in his study, while others tell of ghosts who walk through walls, or items of furniture moving from one side of the room to another. This confirmed the suspicion of the locals that the building must surely be haunted just like the old church.
Things changed in 1988 when a Scottish family the James’s took up residence with their three children Michael 14, Benjamin 12, and Christina 15. The locals feared for their safety based on past events, but things seemed to be all right by all accounts. They were a quiet family who kept to themselves.
Very little was known about them except they both worked for the Civil Service and their children attended boarding school, and were seen walking around the village during the school holidays.
They seemed very happy at the old vicarage for the first few years. Then came that fateful day in 1991. The silence of the village was shocked by the sounds of gunshots coming from the old vicarage. I heard the sounds and immediately rang the police and gradually ventured over there to investigate, wondering all the time what I might find. The local constable PC Roberts met me at the door to the vicarage and we entered together to see what had been going on. When we saw signs of blood on the walls, I was informed I could not enter but to wait outside. PC Roberts entered the property and found that Elizabeth and William James had been shot where they slept. Michael was found in the hallway, lying in a pool of blood. While Christina was sprawled across her bed having been shot in the chest. Finally, the constable entered Benjamin’s room, only to find him holding a shotgun covered in blood. Young Benjamin sat on the side of his bed in a state of shock. When the officer asked what had been going on, Benjamin replied by saying the Ghost of the vicarage had told him to do this if he wanted to receive eternal life.
Slowly PC Roberts took the shotgun away from Benjamin and wrapped it in a sheet. I was asked to enter and stay with Benjamin while he contacted the C.I.D. at Norwich for assistance in this matter.
Within an hour officers arrived at the scene and the area was cordoned off, Forensic Teams and the Medical Examiner attended the site and collected data. Each body was photographed in the position they lay, also determining how and when they were killed approximately. Afterwards the bodies were removed to the local Hospital Morgue where the Autopsy would be performed on each of the bodies.
Over the next few weeks, the village became the hive of activity. If it wasn’t the police it was the press wanting to know what had happened in this peaceful rural village to turn a quiet boy into a murderer over night.
“What happened to Benjamin,” I asked.
The officers had him removed to the local Hospital for examination, but he was eventually detained at the David Rice Mental Hospital under police guard while the investigation was going on.
“Do you know he didn’t utter a single word all the time he was under police guard at the hospital,” he said in a surprising manner.
“I suppose it was the shock of what he had done.”
Following his release from Hospital, young Benjamin was taken to Markham Street Police Station in Norwich to be questioned about the events of the fateful shooting. Due to his age, he was represented by a Social Worker, but that didn’t really matter because he never uttered a word in response to their questions. Occasionally he shrugged his shoulders according to what I read in the papers at the time. The officers
questioning him new it was an open and shut case, and he was charged with four counts of first-degree murder.
The question is, was he a murderer or an innocent victim! The villagers couldn’t believe what had happened and questioned if this has anything to do with what happened in late 1972, when the late Rev James Patterson took his own life in the church many years ago. Benjamin was detained in police custody at Malen Juvenile Centre in Norwich.
From the day of the dreadful killings, journalists were hanging around the police station trying to get pictures of the murderer or victim!
During the days, leading up to his trial a large amount of information about the case was not released to the press for fear of the press swaying the verdict before the trial. Since the prosecution’s case against the boy was so overwhelmingly strong, they believed it would not be fair to all concerned.
But Benjamin was only 15 at the time, he was too young to be tried in an adult’s court; therefore, the magistrates had him brought before a juvenile court to answer the charges being laid against him. For the whole of the proceedings, he just sat in his chair and said nothing, one after one the police and medical experts were questioned and he had a blank look on his
“Had he any idea what was going on?” I asked.
“I don’t know.” Bracks replied.
It was hard to imagine this young innocent looking boy was responsible for the act of murder on four counts. What could have driven him to do it, or did he do it, if so why?
Finally, the Juvenile court had to decide what was to be done with young Benjamin?
“Benjamin do you have anything to say before I pass sentence on you?” he asked.
“Yes I do,” Benjamin replied speaking for the first time since that dreadful day. “The Ghost, the late Rev James Patterson, had told me to commit this act if I wanted to receive eternal life.”
The question left in the villager’s minds, was Benjamin guilty of this crime, or was he another victim? Only one person can tell us, but alas he has not spoken since the trial.
Benjamin James you are hereby sentenced to life in a Mental Institution with no option for parole.
When sentence was passed on Benjamin, he just smiled, which surprised most people at the proceedings.
“Have you seen him since the trial,” I asked in an inquiring manner.
“Yes, I have, I attend the Hospital once a month, but it is no use he just sits there, occasionally he smiles, but says nothing. It’s a sad sight to see a once happy boy turned murderer now condemned to a life in a mental institution!”