A farm worker with paranoid schizophrenia who strangled an animal-loving writer and left her body in a cattle pen on a Devon farm has been given a hospital order at Exeter crown court after admitting manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility.
Luigi Palmas, 27, waited in hiding at Combe Farm in Gittisham and attacked Katherine Bevan, 53, a veterinary pharmacist, as she tended the cows she adored and which she had written about.
At first, police and paramedics thought Bevan had been trampled by the animals, but a postmortem examination showed she had been strangled and Palmas, who had arrived from Italy to volunteer at the farm a month before the attack, admitted killing her.
Richard Smith QC, prosecuting, said Palmas, who watched proceedings via video link from Broadmoor secure hospital, had a history of mental illness and had spent time in psychiatric hospitals in Italy and Germany.
Smith said Bevan had volunteered at the Arabian horse stud farm for five years, and Palmas arrived to work there in December last year. The pair had a number of run-ins, with Bevan not liking how Palmas treated the cattle.
Bevan was last seen at 6.30pm on 3 January going out to tend her cows but failed to return for supper. At 11pm a search was started and her body was found in a cattle pen.
In the days after the killing, Palmas was seen acting erratically, including covering his body in manure, running around naked and talking incoherently. He was detained under the Mental Health Act and admitted he had killed Bevan.
The court was told that Palmas was born in Monza, northern Italy, and experienced mental health issues from an early age. He had attacked family members and had spells in psychiatric hospitals in Italy and Germany. He had paranoid delusions, periods of volatility and unpredictable moods.
The prosecutor said: “He waited in the shadows on the night he attacked Kate Bevan. Quite why he decided to do so we perhaps will never know.”
Bevan had worked at the Vale veterinary group in Honiton for more than 10 years and before that had worked in the retail industry. Shortly before her death, she released a book, Knowing Daisy: A True Story, chronicling her relationship with her calves Daisy and Dandelion.
She wrote that she was drawn to the farm by the horses, but stayed as she fell in love with a herd of cattle. She described the farm as “the most perfect location I have ever found. A stunning landscape, amazing views and a charm all its own.”
The senior investigating officer, Det Insp Rob Back, from Devon and Cornwall police’s major crime investigation team, said: “I’d like to personally thank Kate’s family and friends for the dignity and respect they’ve shown throughout the police investigation in what has been, I’m sure, an unimaginably heartbreaking period for them.
“The hospital order, and the public protection measures with it, is a welcome outcome, and means Palmas will not be released back into the community unless it is deemed safe.”
• The headline and introduction of this article were amended on 14 November 2020 to remove information that was not directly relevant to the story, in line with Guardian style guidance.