Crime files: soldier sentenced to death after Herefordshire lover shot dead

A SOLDIER was sentenced to death after shooting his married lover in his billet in Herefordshire.

The trial of Sergeant Willie Bullock, which opened at the Hereford Assizes in June 1943 before Mr Justice Hilbery, saw his relationship with another soldier’s wife laid bare before the court after her death.

Sergeant Willie Bullock, 32, and a married father of two from Sheffield, denied murdering Ruth Reeves of No. 1 Hampton Gardens, Leominster, on the night of April 20.

The court heard from prosecutor Mr A. J. Long that 33-year-old Mrs Reeves’ husband was a serving solider based elsewhere, and that she lived alone with her five-year-old son and was engaged in war work.

She was shot a little before midnight in the accused’s billet with a bullet from a service rifle, and died from the injury within hours at Leominster Cottage Hospital.

The prosecution alleged Bullock, who was said to be well acquainted with a service rifle, but was at the time in the Army Catering Corps, had shot her with the intention of killing her.

Mr Long said he and Mrs Reeves had developed ‘a certain type of affection’ for each other, but that he was overcome with a dreadful jealousy when he received orders moving him from Leominster, and so from Mrs Reeves.

On the night she died, Mrs Reeves and Bullock had spent the evening in the Black Swan pub in Leominster with three other soldiers and a Mrs Olive Pinches, before leaving at around 10.15pm to head to Mrs Reeves’ house.

But while there, the accused had appeared to become annoyed by a letter from Mrs Reeves’ husband, tearing it up and promising her that he would not leave her to anybody else.


One of the soldiers accompanying the couple that evening, reported that Bullock had told her: “I am going to do you in,” before tackling her, grabbing her by the throat and choking her.

Bullock was pulled from her by the other soldiers, and the group then left her home for a dance.

Hereford Times: Mrs Reeves lived with her five-year-old son at No. 1 Hampton Gardens in Leominster. Picture: Google MapsMrs Reeves lived with her five-year-old son at No. 1 Hampton Gardens in Leominster. Picture: Google Maps

But, it was reported, further peculiar exchanges were overheard that night.

Mrs Pinches said she had heard Mrs Reeves, who had a shopping bag in her hand, say to Bullock: “It is no use my taking this bag if you are going to shoot me.”

And one of the soldiers, named only as Stocks, reported hearing Mrs Reeves saying: “You are not going to shoot me, Bill?” to which Bullock replied: “Certainly not.”

Mrs Reeves was mortally wounded by a shot just two hours later.

The couple had returned to Bullock’s billet after the dance, where a man named Eccles reported hearing the sound of a rifle bolt being opened and closed and then a shot fired soon after.

He jumped out of bed and found Mrs Reeves lying with her head under the table and saying: “He has shot me”.

Bullock reportedly admitted shooting her to Eccles and another man at the billet, telling them he was going to the police station to give himself up.

But despite telling acquaintances that he had no intention of leaving her and that he had done the best thing by shooting her, Bullock later said they had been messing about with rifles when one had gone off in his hands, and that he was not guilty of murder.

Bullock told the court he had been on very intimate terms with Mrs Reeves, and that they had drunk some seven pints of beer and four or five glasses of whisky at the Black Swan on the night of her death.

Hereford Times: The couple had spent the evening at the Black Swan pub in Leominster, where they had been drinking whisky and beer. Picture: Google MapsThe couple had spent the evening at the Black Swan pub in Leominster, where they had been drinking whisky and beer. Picture: Google Maps

He said Mrs Reeves had told him it would be better for them both to commit suicide instead of parting, but that it had been a joke and that he had no intention of killing her, and that he had believed the rifle to be empty and had no idea how a live round had got into it.

The jury, made up of 12 men, returned a guilty verdict, and Bullock was sentenced to death.

However, that was not the end of the story for Bullock, whose conviction was later quashed by the Court of Criminal Appeal in London.

He was handed a sentence of seven years’ penal servitude for manslaughter after the Lord Chief Justice determined a mistaken emphasis had been put on the statements alleged to have been made by Bullock two hours before Mrs Reeves’ death during the summing-up at his trial. and that the jury would have returned a not guilty verdict had the statements been dealt with differently.

Hereford Times | News