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Post Info TOPIC: 'Man They Could Not Hang'

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'Man They Could Not Hang'

THROUGHOUT the past 100 years, the myths surrounding John 'Babbacombe' Lee's story have taken on a life of their own.

Urban legends, ghostly sightings and tales of supernatural intervention have grown far beyond what anybody in 19th century South Devon could have imagined for the lowly manservant.

Lee, nicknamed The Man They Could Not Hang, came to prominence when he was convicted of murdering his employer, Emma Keyse, and setting fire to her Babbacombe home, called The Glen.

Mike Holgate, of Torquay, an expert on John Lee, said: "During his trial, the prosecution portrayed Lee as a depraved lunatic capable of smashing an old lady's head with an axe, then slashing her throat with a knife.

"The judge, in passing sentence of death, remarked how calm Lee's demeanour had been throughout the trial.

"Lee is said to have leaned forward in the dock and replied firmly: 'The reason why I am so calm is that I trust in the Lord, and He knows I am innocent.'

"In the days leading up to the date of execution, Lee read the Bible prodigiously and proclaimed his innocence.

"It is said he told the prison chaplain the real culprit was the lover of his half-sister, Elizabeth Harris, who was cook at The Glen and expecting a child which was later delivered out of wedlock in Newton Abbot Workhouse."

The prison governor's logbook states on the morning of the execution, as Lee approached the gallows trapdoor, he told two prison guards he had dreamt 'three times the bolt was drawn, and three times the bolt failed to act'.

Lee was a lonely figure on the gallows but each time an attempt was made to open the trapdoor, it stuck. After each failed attempt the trapdoor was tested and it opened normally, but when Lee stood on it again the door would not open. Three times this happened, each with the same outcome. It is rumoured that throughout the ordeal on the scaffold, a white dove perched on the gallows until the condemned man was led safely back to his prison cell.



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