In the dark annals of England’s history, one of the earliest recorded serial killers emerges from the shadows of the 14th century—a malevolent monk named Robert de Middlecote, whose heinous exploits unfolded in the secluded Lidwell Chapel located in Devon. Nearly seven hundred years have dimmed the memory of his crimes, yet the sinister nature of his acts aligns with the savagery of contemporary murderers.
By day, de Middlecote would piously absorb the confessions of the faithful, while under the cloak of night, he would cast the lifeless bodies of his victims into the depths of wells. His method of murder was chillingly calculated; he lured travelers with the light of his chapel, only to poison and rob them, sealing their fate with a blade before disposing of them in his grim watery graves.
Although the precise count of de Middlecote’s victims is lost to time, certain macabre details endure. Historical accounts accuse him of “mistreating” a woman named Agnes within the hallowed walls of the chapel—committing rape, murdering her unborn child, and attempting to end her life as well.
The notorious monk’s rap sheet extended beyond murder. He infamously burglarized the home of a man named Robert Rossel in Wonford, pilfering money, bread, a horn of some value, and a few keys. While detailed medieval records are scarce, the references to Middlecote in historical texts paint a vivid portrait of a man who was not only a thief and a rapist but also, perhaps, one of England’s first serial killers.
Documented evidence of his criminality is found in Bishop Grandisson’s register dated May 15, 1329, which speaks to the ‘purgation of Robert de Middlecote’—a church-led murder investigation. This account attests to his nefarious nature, confirming his status as a figure of infamy and peril.
Middlecote’s downfall was as dramatic as his crimes. His capture was the result of an ill-fated attempt at murder turned on its head. Records from Devon Live recount an encounter with a sailor who, wary of the monk’s intentions, feigned sleep during a supper invitation. As Middlecote poised to strike, the sailor took him by surprise, overpowered the would-be killer, and plunged him into the very well where he had discarded so many.
The dilapidated remains of Lidwell Chapel, once known as Lady Well, stand desolate on a somber hill between Exeter and Teignmouth—a grim monument to the cruelty of Robert de Middlecote, whose brutal legacy positions him among England’s original harbingers of death.