In Agatha Christie’s mystery novel Three Act Tragedy, the actress Angela Sutcliffe is being interviewed about the death of Stephen Babbington, vicar of St. Petroch’s church, Loomouth:

“Dear old man, did they think I’d had an affair with him? Archdeacons are sometimes very naughty, aren’t they? So why not vicars? There’s the man in the barrel, isn’t there? But I must clear the poor man’s memory. I’d never seen him before in my life.”

Agatha Christie (1934). Three Act Tragedy, chapter 20. London: Collins.

Who is ‘the man in the barrel’ here? The most well-known crime involving a barrel is the killing of Benedetto Madonia by a New York mafia gang in 1903, but this does not seem to have involved any members of the clergy.

1 Answer 1


I think you're barking up the wrong tree by looking for murders involving a barrel. In the passage you quote, the context is about the notion of clergymen being immoral, "naughty" as she puts it.

The reference then would be to Harold Davidson, also known as the "Rector of Stiffkey" or the "Prostitutes' Padre". He was a rector who was prosecuted in court for immorality, accused of associating with "women of loose character", and "accosting, molesting, and importuning young females for immoral purposes". After his conviction and defrocking, he paraded himself in a barrel on the Blackpool seafront in order to earn money for his defence campaign.

All of this happened in 1932, so it would have been in recent memory at the time Three Act Tragedy was written. (I found it by searching the web for "vicar in a barrel".)

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