Murder at Rifle Hill


Essex Weekly News - Friday 4th May 1900

Friday 4th May 1900




Early yesterday (Thursday) morning great excitement was caused at Braintree by a report that a painter named Frederick Pilgrim, living on Rifle-hill, had shot his father-in-law, Allen Last, and then shot himself through the head. The report had proved only too true.

It appears that Pilgrim, who was 33 years of age, turned his wife and children out of his house some time ago, and since then they had been dependent on the wife's family. About a fortnight ago, however, they went to the Workhouse, with a view to proceedings being taken against Pilgrim for their maintenance.

After turning his family out, Pilgrim lived alone in his cottage, which adjoins that of his father and mother; and only on the day preceding the tragedy he appeared at the Braintree Petty Session as the complainant in a case of alleged assault against George Turner, the engine driver at the Braintree Water Works, a report of which appears in another column. Pilgrim had cherished a grudge against Turner for years, suspecting him, as he said, of having been unduly intimate with his wife; but the allegation is believed to be quite groundless. He also appears to have entertained bad feelings against his wife's father, who is stated, however, to have always behaved towards him very leniently, considering the circumstances.

At about half-past five yesterday morning as his father-in-law, Last, who lived higher up the hill, was going past Pilgrim's cottage on his way to work *he is a carpenter at the Crittall Manufacturing Company's works - he was shot twice in the back with a saloon rifle by Pilgrim, who had concealed himself in a hedge. Pilgrim then ran across the garden to the back of a shed and immediately shot himself through the head. He was found there soon afterwards in a dying state, quite unconscious, and he died within half-an-hour.

Last managed to stagger to the Water Works, about 30 yards further on, and fell up against the door of Mr. Nankivell, the surveyor. Mr. Nankivell had heard three shots as he was dressing, but attached no great importance to them, as he had often heard Pilgrim shooting with his rifle before. On hearing a noise at his door, however, Mr. Nankivell went down and opened it and saw Last dying in the garden. He gave him some brandy, placed a pillow beneath his head, and sen for the police and a doctor. When medical assistance arrived, the wounded man, who had received both bullets in his back, was removed home; and his condition was considered to be critical.

Pilgrim was formerly a riveter at Mr. Fuller's boot manufactory, afterwards he worked at the Manor Works, but recently he had been in the employ of Mr. S. P. Day as a painter. Some years ago he was in the local Volunteer Company and was an excellent shot, winning a challenge cup and taking several of the best prizes for a year or two. Of late years he had been of a morose disposition, and was thought by some of his neighbours to be at times unaccountable for his actions. In the evidence at the Police-court on the previous day it was stated by turner, the defendant, that Pilgrim was frequently practising with a rifle, and that as he (Turner) was digging his garden, the bullets whistled over his head.

Pilgrim was seen about the town on Wednesday, and met his children on their way from Bocking School to the Workhouse. He kissed them and gave them some sweets. The eldest is about is years old and the youngest one year. He told his employer, Mr. Day, overnight, that he should be at work at seven yesterday morning.

Frederick Saunders, a dealer living close by, saw Pilgrim from his bedroom window, with the rifle in his hand. Pilgrim was crouching along the hedge in his garden; and on hearing the shots, Saunders called out to him to know what he was doing

The police are in possession a paper upon which Pilgrim had written what he intended to do.


Yesterday Mr. Coroner Harrison opened an inquest on Pilgrim's body at Braintree Police-station. Mr George Hicks was chosen foreman of the Jury.

The Coroner: You are here to inquire into the deal of Frederick Pilgrim, of Rifle-hill, Black Notley, who shot himself in his garden at about 5.50 this morning. Before he shot himself it appears that he shot Allen Last, who was going to his work. He deliberately fired at him, and Last fell down, and on his getting up again, Pilgrim shot him again, both shots entering his back. On examination of Last it appears that one of the bullets penetrated his liver and the other has gone into his abdomen. He lies in a very serious condition. He has been questioned about the occurrence. We don't know at present how he will go on. What I propose to do it to take evidence of identification of the deceased, and then adjourn this inquiry. In the meantime Last may get better and be able to attend and give evidence.

Maurice Pilgrim, a fitter, father of the deceased, identified the body. He last saw his son at about 10 o'clock the previous night.

The Coroner: What did he say to you?
Witness: He called on me and asked me if I knew anything about his wife's goings-on, and I told him I didn't know. I was not with him two minutes.

Is it a fact that he had been living unhappily with his wife for some time past? -I believe it was so.

-Have you noticed anything strange about the conduct of the deceased? -He has been very irritable at times, but otherwise I have not noticed any difference in him.

-Have you ever heard him threaten Allen Last?  -No.

The inquest was then adjourned till 11 a-m on Thursday next.


Writing later, our Braintree representative said:-

It seems that Pilgrim has never been quite the same man since he had two attacks of influenza a few years ago. When Mr. Sainders saw him fire at last, and afterwards creep back under the hedge, Saunders called out to him, "What are you doing you monkey?" Pilgrim replied, "I'll serve you the same if you come near." He then disappeared behind a shed in the garden and shot himself, the bullet entering his temples.

The house in which Pilgrim lived was one of two other cottages owned by his father, who, as stated, lived next door. The gardens extend all round the cottages, and a thick-set hedge runs along the front, next the road. It was in the corner of the garden nearest the Water Works that Pilgrim shot Last, either through or above the hedge. It seems that the first shot brought Last down, and that as he was getting up he received the second shot in the back, within an inch or two of the former.

The bad news was gradually broken to Pilgrim's wife, who was very much cut-up. The attitude deceased adopted recently towards her was undoubtedly based on an illusion.

On the previous day, after losing his case at the Petty Session and bidding good-bye to his two eldest children, Pilgrim wore a dejected look; and evidently he afterwards sat down and wrote two voluminous letters, which are in the hands of the police, and will not be disclosed till the adjourned inquest. It is understood, however, that the contents point to deceased's insanity, and refer to the differences he had with his wife and her relations.

It has transpired that Pilgrim had signed an agreement drawn up by his solicitor, to allow his wife ten shillings a-week, on her separation from him; but he had failed to carry it out. Hence the action of the woman in going into the Workhouse with her children. It is understood that the Braintree Board of Guardians were about to take out a summons against Pilgrim for his non-maintenance of his wife. the separation was not a judicial one.

Supt. Terry, P.s. Clift and P.c.'s Brunning, Pittock, Balls and Swain were soon in attendance when the tragedy became known; and P.c.'s Brunning and Swain conveyed Last on the ambulance to his home.

At the time of writing no change had taken place in Last's condition.


Essex County Standard 12 May 1900



On Friday, May 4, Allen Last, carpenter, of Braintree, who was shot twice in the back on the previous day, by his son-in-law, Frederick Pilgrim, succumbed to his injuries, as it was feared he would from the first. A post-mortem examination of on the body of Pilgrim, who shot himself in the head immediately on firing the second shot at his father-in-law, revealed the fact that the bullet had penetrated right through the skull, and lay flattened and embedded in the opposite side to which it entered.



The funeral of Frederick Pilgrim took place on March 7 at Black Notley churchyard. The body was conveyed from the deceased's cottage in a hearse, and was followed by two coaches containing the mourners, eight in number, and including the deceased man's father, mother, wife, and eldest sister. There was a considerable crowd gathered on Rifle-hill when the procession started, but no demonstration took place. The body was met at the churchyard gate by the Rev A. Shears, rector, who conducted the special burial service used under Clause 13 of the Burial Law Amendment Act, 1830. The body was not taken into the church. The coffin was mounted with black furniture.



The funeral of Allen Last, who died on Friday, May 4, from injuries inflicted the previous day by his son-in-law, Frederick Pilgrim, took place at Braintree Cemetery on Wednesday. The widow and all the deceased's family and several relatives followed. A number of deceased's fellow workmen also attended. The Vicar of Braintree (Rev. J. W. Kenworthy) read the Burial Service. About two hundred people assembled at the cemetery, principally women an children.