On September 23, 1975, the bodies of three siblings were found dead at their Mid Devon farm.
Frances, Robert and Alan Luxton had suffered massive head wounds from a shotgun lying nearby.
The bizarre case shocked Devon: Was it murder? Suicide? What exactly had happened to them?
Murkier rumours also lurked just beneath the service, with jealousy, insanity and suicide pacts being mentioned.
Even now, the story continues to haunt the area – literally – with stories of the siblings’ ghosts persisting in the nearby countryside.
The Luxtons: Who were they?
Siblings Frances, Robert and Alan came from the Luxton family, one of the oldest farming families in the area. The family line could be traced back to the 14th Century.
They lived and worked at West Chapple Farm, Winkleigh.
After the death of their father, Robert, in 1939 the three Luxton children – all of whom inherited a third of it – ran the farm. Although Frances was the oldest, Robbie – who was three years younger – was in charge.
It was said that their farming methods were backwards and stuck in the past, but contemporary reports denied this.
Farming was not dominated by the huge and technologically advanced machinery we see nowadays, and it was not unusual for families to work the land with occasional help from farm labourers – as was the case with the Luxtons.
They did apparently have a radio, a car and a tractor, along with electricity, a telephone and mains water, although no television.
There were also reports of the families being recluses, but again this has largely been dismissed now. Reports from Winkleigh residents after their deaths said that, although they kept themselves to themselves, it was not unusual to see them around town.
The beginning of the end
Cracks in their seemingly close started to appear when Alan, who was the youngest by 10 years, attempted to marry a girl and move away.
Robbie and Frances did not approve and refused to allow him to sell his share of the farm. They put pressure on him to call it off, which he eventually did.
Alan soon started suffering from ill health, reducing the amount of work he could do on the farm and forcing him to spend time in hospital.
Stories spread of Alan barely leaving the farm for the remaining 20 years of his life.
With Alan doing less and less, gradually Frances and Robbie realised that they could not keep it afloat, so they started searching for a buyer.
Eventually one was found: they were due to move out on Michaelmas Day.
Robbie had become ill with worry, and Frances was apparently depressed. The thought of having to give up the farm that had been in the family for centuries weighed heavily on them, especially as they had no family to pass it down to.
After decades of security and seclusion on their farm, they faced an uncertain future.
On On September 23, 1975, a local grocer’s roundsman drove up to the farm. Apparently the gate was shut and all was quiet in the yard.
Sensing something was amiss he cautiously entered and, beneath an elder tree a short distance away, he spotted what he took to be a scarecrow on the ground. A closer inspection revealed it to be a blood-soaked human torso, with pyjama bottoms and unlaced boots.
It was Alan, who had apparently left the house and, fearful of what the future might bring, he had chosen to shoot himself.
He was 54 years old.
The bodies of Robbie and Frances were found nearby.
The news shocked not just Devon but the whole country, a gruesome and bloody act of violence in the quiet, unspoiled countryside of Mid Devon.
The inquest concluded that Robbie had shot his sister before ending his own life moments later. Frances was reportedly found on all fours in a position suggesting she was praying.
Rumours suggested that they had spent hours deliberating what to do after discovering Alan’s body before agreeing on their final, tragic course of action.
That did not stop speculation suggesting that Robbie had actually killed both of them before turning the gun on himself in a double-murder suicide.
The shocking tale continues to mystify the area to this day. Were they truly recluses, or simply a family frightened of their future away from the family home?
Rumours of their ghosts haunting the area also surface from time to time.
A woman who looks like Frances has been reported sitting on a bench at nearby Brushford churchyard, while others say the three siblings have also been seen around Winkleigh at nighttime.
The incident inspired the 1981 film The Recluse and at least one book on the topic.
Rumours continue to swirl around the exact nature of the relationship between the three siblings, and quite how much power Robbie exercised as head of the family following the death of his father.
Money from their deaths went to All Saints Church in Winkleigh, where both Robbie and his father had worshiped. Frances’ church at Brushford also received money, and both buildings underwent significant restoration.
Still, despite some positives coming from the grisly incident, it remains a bloody and brutal chapter in the area’s history.
Hauntingly, Frances had once said: “We should die on the farm.”
Her words were to prove tragically prophetic.