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The Clapham Wood Mystery

The world has a long history of forests with apparently supernatural qualities, from the legendary Black Forest of southwestern Germany, where every manner of creature, from werewolves to sorcerers, are said to originate.  To England’s haunted Wychwood Forest, possibly the most haunted forest in Britain.  To Japan’s Aokigahara Forest, also known as the Sea of Trees, where more than 500 suicides have been reported since the 1950’s.

There’s something vaguely romantic about a mysterious wood, like Sherwood Forest of Robin Hood fame, which was known as a haven for everything evil.  The idea that a forest holds wicked truths and supernatural power seems to speak to us in a primal way.  Ancient stories perpetuate the myths of such haunted places, and the anonymity of a ghost story involving such a vast area seems to give license to more than a few urban legends.


One such instance of high-strangeness is Clapham Wood, where the aptly named Clapham Wood Mystery has been confounding paranormal researchers for decades.  Located in West Sussex, England, Clapham Wood stands to the north of the small village of Clapham.  Historically, Clapham has been an archetypal English village, one that’s been around, likely, since Saxon times.  Over the last 300 years, it has remained largely hidden from the outside world, except, that is, for the last four decades.

Perhaps the most mundane feature of Clapham Wood is it’s abundance of UFO sightings.  Since the 1960’s there have been hundreds of strange sightings both in the woods and in the village itself.  Of course, to say that UFO sightings are mundane may give you the wrong impression.  The area has been the focus of a great deal of UFOlogical study, and has hosted a number of sky-watching vigils over the years.  In addition, people have reported unexplained nausea and the distinct feeling that they were being followed.  Reports of a strange grey mist appearing suddenly on pathways throughout the wood, and instances of ghostly forces pushing hikers and dog-walkers have been known for years.  And studies using a Geiger counter showed a slightly higher level of radiation in the area, although the measurements are fleeting and difficult to localise.

The reason for the moniker Clapham Wood Mystery though, is its ties to Satanic Cults.  In 1975, residents of Clapham were plagued by strange illnesses and the disappearances of beloved pets.

Three cases in particular – which were covered widely by the press – told of two dogs that went missing without a trace and a third that suffered a mysterious paralysation.  The son of Peter Love, while walking their family chow in the wood, watched as his dog ran amongst thicket of trees in the forest and disappeared, never to be seen again.  The following week, farmer John Cornford’s collie disappeared in the same place.  A third dog, a golden retriever owned by Mr E.F. Rawlins was found partially paralysed after running into the woods, the cause of which was never determined and which eventually led to its being euthanized.  This was only the tip of the iceberg however.

In April 1972, the body of an unidentified young woman was found in Clapham Woods.  The case was investigated by Police Constable Peter Goldsmith, among others at his detachment.  In June of the same year, Goldsmith himself disappeared.  Goldsmith, a former Royal Marine Commando had last been seen walking across the Rolling Downs (grassy chalk hills) near the town’s 13th century church.  Despite intense investigation and a wide search of the entire area, his body wasn’t found until six months later, on 13 December, amid a thick patch of bramble less than a half mile from the location where the girls body had been found.  No suspect was ever identified, nor was a cause of death.

Dutch visionary painter, Johfra Bosschart's, Hecate 1973.

Dutch visionary painter, Johfra Bosschart’s, Hecate 1973.

And it doesn’t end there…

In July 1975, pensioner Leon Foster disappeared and was subsequently found three weeks later, by a couple who were searching for a horse in the wood, a horse that had also gone missing under mysterious circumstances.  Next, on Halloween of 1978, the vicar of Clapham, the retired Reverend Harry Snelling went missing.  His body was found three years later, by a Canadian tourist.  Again, no cause of death could be identified.

And in 1981 a homeless schizophrenic named Jillian Mathews disappeared.  When her body was found in the forest police determined that she had been raped and strangled.[1]

While no culprit was ever brought to account for these heinous crimes, this doesn’t mean that there aren’t a few theories about who was responsible.  Paranormal investigator Charles Walker, who was looking into the strange goings-on in and around Clapham, received a telephone call from an unknown man.  Described as “well-spoken”, the man claimed to have inside knowledge of the cause of the strange happenings of Clapham Wood.  A very spooky late-night rendezvous was arranged inside Clapham Woods, at the “Cross-Roads”.  When Walker arrived at the agreed location, he could find no one there, until a voice called out from a nearby bramble claiming that it would be dangerous for both of them if Walker had seen the identity of the mysterious tipster.

The concealed informant explained that he was an initiate of a Satanist cult called The Friends of Hecate.  He claimed that the woods were used for their monthly meetings, and that the missing animals had been used as sacrifices to Hecate.  He made no mention of the deaths of the Constable, or the Reverend, or any of the others, but Walker drew a connection between all of the events just the same.  The mysterious man then issued a dire warning, saying:

“There are people in high places involved, holding positions of power and authority, who will tolerate no interference.  We will stop at nothing to ensure the safety of our cult.”[2]

This warning came close on the heels of Reverend Snelling’s disappearance, which occurred barely a week before.

The Friends of Hecate are reportedly an occult sect that worships Hecate, an ancient pagan goddess said to be associated with cross-roads, fire, light, the Moon, magic, witchcraft, knowledge of herbs and poisonous plants, necromancy, and sorcery.[3]

Typically, worship of Hecate finds it roots in a re-evaluation of ancient Greek mythology, and is not readily attributed to Satanism.  Nonetheless, The Friends of Hecate laid claim to the mysterious woods of Clapham for a period of at least 20 years, allegedly holding monthly ritualistic gatherings, at which a blood sacrifice was always required.  It is believed that the group used the Clapham Woods until they were forced to find an alternate location after the Great Storm of 1987 damaged large tracts of the forest.

Apparently as a result of all the suffering and death that have occurred in and around Clapham Woods, many paranormal investigators today believe the forest to be among the most haunted places in England.  When one considers the morbid history of the area accompanied by the reported UFO activity, one is hard pressed to retain skepticism of this assertion.

It seems clear though; something strange calls the woods of Clapham home.

[1] Mathew’s death is considered by some to be independent of the Clapham Wood Mystery.

[2] Cawthorn, Nigel. Satanic Murder.

[3] d’Este, Sorita & Rankine, David. Hekate Liminal Rites, Avalonia, 2009.

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  • tenebrisinfinite

    At the time, in a small town of west England, I’d imagine coppers were in short supply, and even one of their own was a victim eventually.

  • Kevin Hunter Tuck

    I’ve heard a lot about Clapham wood and have been meaning to check it out for a while. (I mean I live like 4hrs away by foot and have an intrest in ufo’s) so i’m going to do it this year

  • Ali

    I lived in Clapham woods for about a year back in 2015, and I have seen and experienced some truly terrifying and bizarre events. There are 3 which stand out and also follow what is said in the above article, I will list them in magnitude of weirdness as I cannot recall the chronological order. The first incident involves my then partners dog, a loveable loyal softie of an old Staffordshire terrior. Well behaved and obedient, she never roamed more than a few meters away from you when off the lead. On one of our many long walks through Clapham woods, and at this point I feel that I should mention that the dogs never really seemed spooked by anything. We were deep in the forest in the area near the locally named”pagan tree” as it is locally associated with pagan ritual and witchcraft, in a part of the forest not maintained by the local farmer. I noticed that my dog was nowhere to be seen, at the time I knew nothing of the strange disappearance of animals and people in the area. I spent a good 20 minutes calling whistling and searching for her, and when she did turn up she had blood all over her face. I could find no sign of injury to the dog and she has a habit of chasing wild animals, to my knowledge she has never killed one but this part of the story may well have a perfectly normal explanation. She may have just chased and killed a rabbit or pheasant but it is highly unlike her to ignore commands, especially for the length of time I was calling her. It wasn’t for some time after that I heard about the animal disappearing, and I thought more of it. The second incident involves a period of time in which I was experimenting with the spirit molecule DMT, those unfamiliar with this substance please do a little research on it it’s a fascinating subject on it’s own. DMT is used in many shamanic traditions and exists naturally within the human body, and is said to be mans connection with the spirit world as DMT is released naturally in the brain during dream state sleep and at the point of death. But back to the story. I spent many days and nights alone in Clapham woods, again at the time I hadn’t heard about it being haunted. I would seclude myself in the forest and perform shamanistic ritual and ingest powerful ayahhuasca brews to interact with the spirit world, I did this maybe 30 or so times and had the most beautiful experience of my life. As life changing events go DMT changed how I see the world as much as the birth of my son did. I only had one bad experience during this time, and it frightened me so much I stopped taking DMT in the woods and haven’t done since. I was sitting right under the oldest oak in the Forrest known locally as the pagan tree, and is rumoured to be the sight of pagan ritual and satanic rites. I was in the middle of a beautiful trip and out of the corner of my eye I saw movement which caught my attention, turning my head I was greeted by a dark apparition. From the base of the old oak slid a jet black torso of a man with the tail of a snake for legs, it uncoiled from under the tree sliding across the forest floor to the right of me. When it reached the end of the log I was sitting on about 5m away from where I sat. It reared up coiling around the log I sat on, fixing me with a gaze from it’s featureless jet black face. Turning it’s head at a slight angle, like a dog does when it’s curious. This thing was at least 10m long and was now at my head height staring straight at me, a menacing chill and silence emanated from the jet black man snake. You could feel this thing sucking in all the energy around it, and it had no features it was like a black silhouette hanging menacingly in front of me. I tried to be brave and a loud confident voice came out of me, “i have absolutely no fear of you” i bellowed. At that point it slowly began to make it’s way towards me, and when it was about 2m away i stood up. As i turned to walk away i said “well you can stay here and do what you want but I’m off”. I didn’t run but I was too scared to turn around to look back where i had left it, i spent the next 48 hours with my back still turned away from it’s direction. Saying prayers and casting protection spells. As much as I experiment with powerful mind altering substances, i am a logical man and have a degree in mechanical engineering. I always look for a rational explanation to things and am an open minded skeptic at heart, all possibilities are considered until the evidence shows the truth of things. That said I fully understand that this experience could all be the result of baseless hallucinations. The third incident is by far the strangest, and also happened to a group of 6 people not just myself. A friend of mine rents land from the farmer who owns Clapham woods, and over about 10 years has built a bmx track for his friends and himself. He and his friends regularly spend days at a time camped out on their land, because they’re always building new jumps ramps lines boxes and embankments for their bikes. We all stayed up there one night after spending all day making a mound about 15ft high, we built a fire and were sitting up on the mound we had built. One of our group noticed that at the edge of the fire light, at the other side of the fire from us which was about 20ft away from where we sat. Was a figure of someone, a silence fell over the group upon the figures discovery. As we fell silent we could hear the figure muttering in a language none of us could make out, stood maybe 40ft from us was a single robed figure muttering or chanting something making beckoning hand gestures towards us. You could hear the nervousness of our group, joking about it while trying to make sense of the scene in front of us. “you come over hear mate” one of us shouted back, and we then began to beckon him towards us. The robed figure just kept muttering and chanting trying to beckon us towards him, the fear amongst our group turned to aggression and we told him to do one. At that point we became aware that the figure was not alone, and that around us were at least 10 robed figures standing in the dark forest. Luckily we had hammers and various other tools that we used to build the bmx track. We stoop up and each picked up a weapon, we made our weapons and stance known to the unidentified chanting robed figures stood all around us beckoning us to follow them. The whole scene was like something from a horror film, i fully expected that I would have to fight for my very life in that moment. But luckily for us we were 6 young armed men who made it clear we would defend ourselves if approached, after maybe only a minute or two although it felt like much longer the figures disappeared into the forest. We were all very shaken and frightened by what had just happened, but as lads do we laughed it off and explained it away as assholes playing a prank on us. None of slept that night, or went to the toilet or anywhere alone and unarmed. To this day none of them go up there alone, and nobody stays the night.