A GUNMAN who sparked a countywide manhunt when he killed an off-duty policeman hid from officers for 17 hours before shooting himself in the head in a Writtle graveyard.
More than 100 police officers descended on to the streets of Essex in the search for Peter Reeve after he shot dead off-duty Pc Ian Dibell in Clacton on Monday evening.
PC Dibell had tried to intervene when Reeve, a 64-year-old mechanic born and raised in Chelmsford, chased his neighbours down the street before opening fire at them after a dispute over noise and parking.
All Saints Church's gardener David Colyer is believed to have seen the events unfold, before reporting it to the police. Reeve's body was discovered with a gunshot wound to the head and a handgun next to him in the church graveyard on Tuesday morning.
After abandoning his car in Clacton, Reeve travelled to Chelmsford where he was born and had lived with his estranged wife of 23 years, Susan Reeve.
Mrs Reeve, a catering assistant who works at Broomfield Hospital, still lives in the couple's marital home in West Avenue on the Melbourne estate in Chelmsford.
Sheila Reynolds, who has lived next door to Mrs Reeve in West Avenue for over 30 years, said: "It's all been such a shock."
Armed officers arrived at Mrs Reeve's home on Monday evening and advised the 59-year-old to go into a safe house after they feared her husband, who walked out on her ten years ago, may return to the area.
"When I got home at 8.30pm I saw two patrol cars and an officer standing outside Sue's house with a gun," said a 39-year-old neighbour.
Officers had blocked the road and police with machine guns positioned themselves in the alleyway to the left of Mrs Reeve's semi-detached home.
"They thought he would come back," added the neighbour. "At about 9 or 10 o'clock an armed officer came round to us and said 'can I have a word with you?' He then said he wanted to search the back garden."
At 1.45am neighbours reported hearing the Essex Police helicopter overhead.
Officers were also spotted searching through gardens in Savernake Road, Chelmsford, after police understood Reeve still had links to the street.
The street on the Westlands Estate was blocked at both ends by squad cars and armed police and plain clothes officers jumped over the back gardens near number 11 in an attempt to find Reeve, who is thought to have two children and three grand-children.
Mrs Reynolds, who hasn't seen Mrs Reeve since Monday, said: "The police arrived on Monday night. There seemed to be quite a lot of them and they took Susan off.
"We used to get a lot of trouble with the police in the past but I didn't know why they'd been here.
"It wasn't until my daughter rang me in the morning and said Peter Reeve had been on the TV that I realised why they'd been here.
"We all moved in within a fortnight of each other and Peter seemed fine at the start. He was nice enough.
"I haven't seen him for about ten years when he just upped and left.
"Before he left he just seemed to change – he began to think everyone was after him and was really paranoid. He fell out with his neighbours on the other side.
"They had a big dispute and he wanted me to lie to the police to say that they had been after him.
"When I refused he changed with me and was just a completely different man."
Another neighbour, who knew Reeve, said she had heard that he had bragged about owning a gun but police said he didn't have a licence.
Mrs Reeve married the 64-year-old former mechanic in 1972 and after divorcing in 1979 they remarried in 1988.
Mrs Reynolds added: "They did get married again after they divorced but I don't know why – Peter had strange ways.
"They've never divorced though but I'm not sure how much contact Susan still had with him."
The usually quiet village of Writtle became the focus of the country's media as details of the events began to unfold.
The Rev Michael Jones, who has been at All Saints' Church for 12 years, said: "The first thing I knew about anything was when I heard a helicopter buzzing at around 2am.
"I saw there was a police cordon and couldn't get into the church and so went into town and did some shopping.
"It was only when I returned that I found out what had happened and that our groundsman had witnessed the whole thing.
"He had been in a police station in Brentwood all day answering questions.
"Obviously he's had a very tough time and our thoughts are with him and the family of the victim in Clacton.
"There are a number of graves with the name Reeve in the graveyard but none near to where the body was found and they date quite far back.
"I'm not really sure there was any link to him and the graveyard."
Writtle parish chairman Chris Hibbitt was one of the last people to walk through the churchyard before "all hell let loose".
He was taking his grandson Bradley to Writtle School and walked through the churchyard less than 20 feet from where the killer was lying.
"We did not see a thing; it was as quiet as it always is, but just as we got to the top of Loves Walk literally it seemed dozens of police cars arrived.
"We were not allowed back the same way.
"I find it unbelievable we did not see him because we were showing some gravestones to our grandson as we walked past.
"As far as the village is concerned Mr Reeve was a mystery man. There are a lot of Reeves in the village now and in the past but nobody I have spoken to has any knowledge of this man, he appears not to have had a profile of any sort locally."
Mr Hibbitt, whose wife Wendy is the village historian, said: "There is no evidence his mother is buried there and certainly he did not die over her grave because stones in that part of the yard date around 1900. It remains a mystery to us why he should have chosen that spot to take his life."