History: Rev. William Bell

This is a somewhat dark story from the history of Kilmeen and the union.

On the evening of Saturday 1st November 1902 the Rev William Bell was found – apparently burned to death in his hay-barn. The first thought was that his paraffin lantern exploded and set fire to the hay. But this supposition soon gave way to evident proofs that he was murdered, for, although his remains were much consumed, he was obviously murdered. His head had been cut off, and could nowhere be found. Suspicion pointed to the sexton called Andrew Moore who thought Bell was having an affair with his wife.

The story made national and international news. The Belfast Evening Telegraph reported (23-Dec-1902):

CORK CLERGYMAN’S DEATH. — Andrew Moore was yesterday brought before Mr. B.R. Burdon, R.M., and charged with the murder of the Rev. William Bell, Kilmeen, Co. Cork. The charred remains of the deceased, with the exception of the head, which has not been discovered, were found in a hayshed at the rectory, and it was first thought he had been accidentally burnt to death, but subsequently the authorities ordered the exhumation of the body. On the application of the Crown solicitor, the proceedings were conducted in private.

In Kentucky, the Kentucky Irish American reported that:kentucky_kilmeen

Owing to persistent rumours of foul play concerning the death a month ago of Rev. William Bell, rector of Kilmeen, who was found fatally burned in his hayshed, the body was exhumed. A strange feature of the case was that the head of the unfortunate gentleman was not found after the fire, only the charred trunk remaining.

The Advertiser newspaper in Adelaide, Australia picked up the story on the 25th March 1903:

Report from The Advertiser, Adelaide

“A farmer named Andrew Moore, living at Kilmeen, Ballineen, County Cork, was yesterday sentenced to death for the murder of the Rev. William Bell, the local Protestant rector.After shooting his victim Moore placed the body in a barn, to which he set fire. The corpse was cremated, but sufficient evidence of the crime remained to lead to the murderer’s conviction. The motive was jealousy inspired by Mr. Bell’s attentions to Mrs. Moore.”

A further grisly episode was added when Henry A. Pierrepoint – a member of Britain's most famous family of executioners – offered his services in a letter to the Under Sheriff of Cork to hang Andrew Moore. The letter, which was recently sold at auction, read:

“To the Under Sheriff Cork
Re Andrew Moore

Dear Sir,
I beg to offer you my services as executioner in this case. I have acted as principle executioner at Shrewsbury, also at Wandsworth London. And has acted
[sic] as Assistant at Newgate, Manchester, Derby, Warwick, Pentonville, Holloway and Wandsworth on several occasions. Governor of HM Prison Manchester will be pleased to recommend me.”

Henry A. Pierrepoint was the first executioner in his family. Henry, his brother Thomas and son Albert took part in an estimated 800 executions. He became an executioner in 1901 but was sacked in 1910 due to concerns about the impact of drinking on his work. He became an executioner at the age of 27 after writing numerous letters to the home secretary expressing his ambition. Pierrepoint was trained at London's Newgate Prison and eventually became principal executioner.

However, fate decreed that Andrew Moore was not to become one of his victims and another statistic on the lengthy list of Pierrepoint family executions.

Moore was tried and convicted at the Cork assizes in 1903 and was then sent abroad for “penal servitude for life.” He was originally sentenced to be hanged. However, as doctors could not say whether Bell's wounds were inflicted before death, Moore escaped the hands of Pierrepoint and had his sentence commuted to penal servitude for life.

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