Escaped mental health patient battered church warden to death in her own home, police believe
Police believe that an escaped mental health patient battered an 86-year-old grandmother to death in her own home.
Church warden Beryl Purdy was found bludgeoned to death at her country home where police had been called to a burglary in progress.
Avon and Somerset Police confirmed the suspect was reported to them as a missing person before Mrs Purdy was found dead at her home in the small Somerset village of Broomfield, near Taunton.
A spokesman for the force said the arrested man in his 30s was missing from a mental health unit – but not a secure mental health unit.
Doctors ruled he was unfit to be interviewed over the murder or to be detained in police custody.
Beryl Purdy, a ‘highly respected’ church warden, was found bludgeoned to death at her country home where police had been called to a burglary in progress. She is pictured outside St. Mary & All Saints Church in Broomfield in 2020
A quaint village was sealed off by police investigating the ‘horrific’ murder of 86-year-old Beryl Purdy, a ‘highly respected’ church warden and grandmother. Pictured: Crime officers at the murder scene in Broomfield yesterday
He was sectioned under the Mental Health Act and transferred to a secure mental health unit.
The quaint village of Broomfield, near Taunton, Somerset was sealed off yesterday as police continue to investigate Mrs Purdy’s murder.
An eye witness said Mrs Purdy had ‘clearly been hit hard over the head’ and was found ‘slumped on the ground and not moving in a pool of blood.’
Mrs Purdy, known to everyone as Bez, is believed to have been attacked inside her farmhouse opposite a village church.
It is understood her assailant had attempted to break into a car outside and the sound alerted people living nearby.
One spotted a broken car window and noticed the house appeared to be unsecured.
The villager then summoned a neighbour and the pair decided to enter the property in the village of Broomfield, on Somerset’s Quantock Hills, where they found grandmother-of-two Mrs Purdy lying on the floor.
An eye witness, who asked not to be named, said: ‘She had clearly been hit hard over the head.
‘She was just slumped on the ground and not moving in a pool of blood. It was a shocking sight.
‘There is no doubt she was dead at that point. Paramedics did attend but I don’t know why it is being said she died later at the scene.’
Villagers say they felt ‘anger and disgust’ at the sudden death of the active pensioner who was at the heart of village life.
One resident described Mrs Purdy as ‘an absolute pillar of the community’.
The pensioner, who looked after bookings for the village hall, served for 20 years as churchwarden of St Mary and All Saints church. Parishioners staged a collection for her when she stepped down two years ago.
Now villagers claim they felt ‘anger and disgust’ at the sudden death of the active pensioner who was at the heart of village life. Pictured: Floral tributes placed at the murder scene yesterday
Police search teams and scenes of crime officers were in the couple’s garden (pictured) and a mobile police station was set up next to St Mary and all saints church where Mrs Purdy was church warden
Flowers were laid on the police cordon with a message saying: ‘Bez, there are no words…Our thoughts are with you and your family’
A third local resident said: ‘Bez was a stalwart of the local church where she had been a warden.
‘It is terrifying to think something like this could happen in such a beautiful out of the way spot.
‘You couldn’t imagine somewhere farther from crime ridden city streets. It is so idyllic and peaceful. Or at least it was. It will take us a long time to get over something like this.’
Locals said Mrs Purdy was also the main carer for her husband who has severe mobility problems. The couple also employ home helps to assist with their daily living.
One villager told MailOnline: ‘They are a well-loved and highly respected couple who have been the heart and soul of the village for some years.
‘Bez helped to run the village hall, you would never think she was in her mid-eighties.
‘We don’t know what happened but people are feeling angry and disgusted that a woman of Bez’s years has lost her life.’
Flowers were laid on the police cordon with a message saying: ‘Bez, there are no words…Our thoughts are with you and your family.’
The couple have a son Nick, 55, and daughter-in-law Teresa who are comforting Mr Purdy who was described by locals as ‘distraught’.
Mrs Purdy’s murder is the second tragedy to strike her family – the couple’s daughter, Alison, a constable with Avon and Somerset Police, died in 2012 at the age of 46 following a riding accident.
A local man was arrested in connection to the incident, sectioned and sent to a secure mental health unit. Pictured: Investigators at the scene yesterday
A huge police cordon has been thrown around the family’s redbrick country cottage in the village of Broomfield, near Taunton, Somerset yesterday.
Police search teams and scenes of crime officers were in the couple’s garden and a mobile police station was set up next to St Mary and all saints church where Mrs Purdy was church warden.
Roadblocks have been set up at the three entrances to the village which, is partly owned by the National Trust. Even the local postman had to hand his deliveries to officers stationed at the roadblocks.
Mrs Purdy was found seriously injured at her property in Broomfield near Taunton, Somerset, at 5.45pm on Monday.
Police called to the burglary tried to save her, but she could not be revived and died at the scene.
It is understood that the two men who found Mrs Purdy’s body on Monday afternoon called police. Her attacker had already left the scene on foot but was tracked by a police helicopter and a dog unit, and arrested three hours later in nearby woodland.
Rev Dr Mary Styles, who looks after four local churches, including St Mary and All Saints, said: ‘We are all quite sickened by what’s happened.
‘As a church, we are there for those who seek solace and we are trying to come together as a village as people work through their grief.’
A local resident, who lives about half a mile from the scene, said the last burglary he was aware of in the rural community, around five miles from Taunton, was two years ago.
Broomfield is a picture postcard location with a handful of period properties clustered around a church and village hall in an area of outstanding natural beauty.
Nearby is the historic National Trust property of Fyne Court thought to have been visited by poets William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
They were guests of Andrew Crosse, a scientist, whose experiments with electricity harnessed from thunderstorms brought rock mites to life and is believed to have inspired Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein.
Former Clash frontman Joe Strummer, who died in 2002 aged 50, also lived in the village. He was found dead at his farmhouse on the outskirts of Broomfield. Doctors later established he had an undiagnosed congenital defect in his heart.
In December 2020, she was pictured with Dr John Ogle receiving a cheque for a £2000 grant from the Allchurches Trust towards a £50,000 conservation and repair project on 800-year-old St Mary’s church in Broomfield.
A message on a bouquet of flowers left at the scene said: ‘Bez – there are no words. Our thoughts are with you, Peter and your family.’
Residents of a ‘usually quiet’ village are fearful of fresh attacks after the death of a pensioner who was seriously injured during a house burglary. Pictured: Flowers left near the scene
A woman in her 80s was tragically found dead following reports of a burglary in Somerset on Monday evening. A man in his 30s was arrested in connection to the incident. Pictured: Police at the scene in Broomfield, Bridgwater yesterday
Avon and Somerset police chief inspector Justin French said: ‘A cordon is in place while enquiries are carried out.
‘There will be increased police activity in the area while a full and thorough investigation is carried out by our Major Crimes Investigation Team.
‘We understand that events like this, while rare, may cause alarm and distress in the community.
‘We would encourage anyone with any concerns to speak to our officers who will be out on high-visibility patrols of the area.’
Avon and Somerset Police have referred the case to the Independent Office for Police Conduct. The mandatory conduct referral is concerning the action taken following a missing person report made earlier in the day.
An IOPC spokesperson told MailOnline: ‘We can confirm that we have received a referral from Avon and Somerset Police. We are now assessing the referral to determine what action may be needed by the IOPC.’
Mrs Purdy’s murder came on the same day another pensioner died following a burglary at her home on the other side of the country.
In an unconnected case, great-great-grandmother Joy Middleditch, 82, was robbed of her pension by masked intruders on Saturday in Lowestoft, Suffolk. The widow was able to give an account to police before passing away in hospital on Monday.
A local, who lives about half a mile from the scene, said the rural village hasn’t had a burglary for at least two years. Pictured: A police cordon on a road in Broomfield, Bridgwater
Neighbourhood Chief Inspector Justin French said there will be increased police activity in the area while a ‘full and thorough investigation’ is carried out. Pictured: An officer standing guard near a police cordon
A woman who lives about half a mile from the scene, speaking earlier today on the basis of anonymity, said the rural village hasn’t had a burglary for at least two years.
‘It’s such a lovely area, it’s normally so quiet and I don’t think we’ve seen a police car for months,’ she explained.
‘It’s really worrying what’s happened but I’m glad they have a suspect. I’m not sure who the woman was but it’s probably someone I know from around the village.’
‘It’s really worrying because if the suspect they have isn’t the suspect, he could still be out there,’ the woman added.
She claimed the last time the village experienced a burglary was ‘a couple of years ago and it was nothing like this.’
Ch Ins French said there will be increased police activity in the area while a ‘full and thorough investigation’ is carried out
‘Police came and took finger prints and that, but certainly nobody was hurt,’ she said.
Ch Ins French said there will be increased police activity in the area while a ‘full and thorough investigation’ is carried out.
He added: ‘We would encourage anyone with any concerns to speak to our officers, who will be out on high-visibility patrols of the area, with any concerns and questions they may have. Alternatively, you can contact your local Neighbourhood Policing Team.’
Anyone with information that could aid in the investigation is encouraged to call 101 and quote reference 5223071427.