A metal detectorist unearthed a policeman’s helmet badge that fell off during a struggle with a notorious murderer who beheaded a man nearly 125 years ago.
Bob Bell, 72, a former police officer, decided to investigate after finding the rusty shield in an Essex field, learning it was the exact spot where PC Charles Cook had apprehended a deranged killer called Samuel Collis in 1896.
His investigations revealed how PC Cook had given chase after Collis walked through the streets of Halstead with the severed head of bailiff Robert Cockerill in a bowl. Collis went on a murderous rampage after discovering he had been cut out of his father’s will and the family farm had been given to his brother-in-law.
Collis then confronted Cockerill—who had been appointed to run the estate by the family—and shot him before chopping his head off.
It is believed that PC Cook lost the badge from his helmet during the struggle with Collis, which then remained in the field for the next 123 years.
Bell, who coincidently worked for the Essex Police, explained how the mystery unraveled after he was given permission to explore a farm near Pebmarsh in Essex.
He said: “We had checked out the same two-acre field previously but without great success.
“However this time we split up and started searching at opposite ends to each other, hoping to cover a wider area.
“After a couple of hours I got an interesting signal which resulted in the unearthing of what I knew to be a police issue helmet badge.
“Having retired from the Essex Police Force myself 17 years ago I was familiar with such things.
“I wasn’t aware of the story—it was only when I shared it on Facebook and posed the question about whether it was a coincidence and a former colleague told me about the murder.”
After doing some research, Bell learned all about the infamous tale of the murder in Halstead, when Collis beheaded Robert Cockerill. Collis had been snubbed in his father’s will, and control of the family farm had gone to his brother-in-law.
The brother-in-law appointed Cockerill as farm bailiff to run the estate in place of the family—much to Collis’s frustration. Collis became unhinged and attacked Cockerill, shooting him and cutting his head off, and he then paraded down the street in Halstead, Essex, with the head in the bowl.
It was then that he was stopped by PC Cook, who asked Collis what he was carrying. Collis lied and told him that it was sheep’s head, but PC Cook instantly recognized the item as a human head, and the deranged man fled.
PC Cook chased him into a nearby field, but Collis turned and pulled out a gun, pointing it at the chasing officer.
Recounting the story, Bell said: “The policeman drew his truncheon and told Collis to put the gun down or he would split his head open.
“Collis did so and there was a long struggle with Collis eventually being overpowered with assistance from farmworkers and taken to Halstead police station.”
The badge remained in the field until Bell came along and found it with his metal detector, a Rutus Alter 71, on Sept. 10, 2019.
Bell found the badge six inches below the field, which is regularly plowed, and to his surprise, it was completely undamaged. He said: “I later put a photo on a social media page for retired Essex officers, as well as conducting my own research into the age of the badge.
“Essex Constabulary, as it was called back then, only issued helmet badges in 1875, so my find was definitely Victorian.
“It’s unusual to find something so close to where something like that has happened.
“I was surprised, especially with it being in such good condition, being so old.
“I guess we’ll never know for sure if it’s connected to the story—but it’s the right age and in the right place—I’d say the chances are very high.
“I think I’ll donate it to the Essex Police Museum.”
As for Collis, he was found to be insane at trial and was committed to Broadmoor lunatic asylum. PC Cook was given a Certificate of Merit in recognition of his bravery, but he later developed insomnia, which Bell suspects is most likely PTSD.
Bell continued: “The guy was obviously deranged and had problems with his head.
“The poor farm bailiff got the blunt end of the resentment by being shot and having his head cut off.
“The bravery of the police officer if incredible, he was clearly quite a hard lad.
“His recognition and promotion is well deserved, it’s not nice to be on the wrong end of a barrel.”
Bell has been metal-detecting for three and a half years and said he isn’t interested in finding gold or other valuable items.
He concluded: “It’s the most interesting thing I’ve found, I’ve never dug up anything valuable.
“I found an 800-year-old paper seal in Essex—they are quite rare.
“We do find interesting stuff, I like the history of it more than anything else.”