History is rife with cases of unexplained deaths and baffling murders. In many of these cases the clues can further plunge the cases into darkness rather than dragging them out into the light, and this can be especially so with those that involve dark forces and the supernatural. In 1945, the sleepy, rural villages of Upper and Lower Quinton in Warwickshire, England, experienced a shockingly violent crime unprecedented for the locale, which also was permeated by the unexplained and which would launch itself into the pantheon of strange unsolved crimes.
The tale begins with a 74-year-old farm laborer by the name of Charles Walton, who had worked the area his entire life, managing to continue with his agricultural work even as his health ailed him and with the onset of severe arthritis. Walton already had a bit of the mysterious floating about him in life, as it was said that he had an almost supernatural affinity for bonding and communicating with animals. Some said that wild birds would flock to him, and he was said to not only be able to easily tame the wildest of horses, but to also have the ability to calm angry or even rabid dogs. Although Walton was a bit of a loner and recluse, rarely actively interacting with other people except his niece, Edith Isabel Walton, who he had adopted long ago and lived with, he was nevertheless cordial, and was by all accounts well-liked among his community. Despite his poor socializing skills, Walton was hard working and amiable enough that it would have seemed that he had no known enemies. Yet, on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 1945, things would take a turn for the sinister.
At the time Walton had spent the past 9 months working the farm of a local farmer named Alfred Potter, whose property was known as The Firs. On this day Walton had gone out to work just like any other, leaving home with his pitchfork and a pruning instrument called a slash hook to go off and do a bit of hedge trimming, and witnesses would later confirm that he had gone out there at around 9AM in the morning. Later that evening, Walton’s niece returned home at around 6 PM to find no one there, even though her uncle should have long been home by then, having never returned much after 4. Worried, she notified a neighbor named Harry Beasley and the two went off to the Firs to look for him. They ran into Alfred Potter, who acknowledged that Walton had indeed been working that day out by a place called Meon Hill, and he joined them to search for the missing man. What they found would shock and disgust the entire area.
There among the very hedges he had been working on was the dead body of Charles Walton, and it was in quite a state. His pitchfork, its handle broken off, had been stabbed down through his neck to pin him to the ground with great force, and the slash hook had been used to open up his throat, where it remained embedded among a sludge of blood. He also seemed to have been beaten about the head with his own walking stick, but most bizarre of all was an apparent crucifix that had been etched into the flesh of his chest. The only thing that seemed to be missing from Walton’s person was a small silver watch described as being of cheap quality and relatively worthless. The grisly scene had them contacting the police as soon as they could, and thus would unfold a truly strange mystery that has yet to be solved.
At first the investigation was handled by a local superintendent named Alec Spooner, who uncovered disturbing and very strange past murders of the area. For instance, there was a killing in 1875 of a young woman named Ann Tennant, who was killed with a pitchfork by a local dimwitted man named John Hayward because he had believed that she was a witch who had cursed him and the whole area. Tennant’s body had been pinned to the ground with the pitchfork and a cross had been cut into her chest, which turned out to be a traditional method of disposing of witches at the time. There was also supposedly uncovered by Spooner repeated sightings of a spectral black dog in the area made by a young boy named, of all things, Charles Watson, thought to be perhaps one and the same as who had died. The boy had apparently seen the dog several nights in a row, after which he saw an apparition of a headless woman that eerily coincided with the time of his sister’s death. It was even speculated that Tennant was actually related to Watson somehow.
Spooner also uncovered that the area of the murder, Meon Hill, was steeped in dark tales of witchcraft. The hill apparently had long been surrounded by tales of the occult and black magic rituals, going all the way back to the days of the Celts, and it seemed as if sightings of ghostly black dogs had long been common in the area. Spooner began to wonder if there was something more paranormal in nature going on, and if Walton had been murdered because someone had thought of him as a practitioner of witchcraft. This was all information that Spooner would pass onto a pair of detectives from Scotland Yard brought in to investigate the case, by the names of Robert Fabian and Albert Webb, giving them as evidence a book called Folklore, Old Customs and Superstitions in Shakespeareland, which held all of these outlandish tales, but the detectives tended to believe they were just dealing with a run-of-the-mill psychopath.
Fabian and Webb had the whole crime scene extensively searched, taking aerial photos and bringing in metal detectors to try and locate the missing watch, which they hoped would offer some clues but could not be located despite scouring the area. A look into Walton’s background turned up some interesting details, such as the fact that he had lost a large amount of wealth since 1927, when he had become a widower. During that time his savings had inexplicably plummeted from a healthy sum down to nearly nothing, and no one could figure out where all that money had gone or why.
The two detectives also questioned locals who, although wary and seemingly scared of something, nevertheless painted a very bizarre picture of what they believed to be going on. Some claimed that Walton’s preternatural ability with animals was due to a proficiency with witchcraft, and that there had been whispers of the elderly man walking about in the dead of night on mysterious errands. There were rumors that Walton was suspected of having carried out magic rituals to hex and blight the land to rob it of its fertility and to sicken livestock, with a crop failure in 1944 blamed on him by some, and two dead heifers had allegedly been found in the days before the murder. There were even rumors that some areas had been overrun with large natterjack toads, said to be a sure sign of hexing, integral to the spell, and which Walton was said to have kept as pets.
The bizarreness did not stop there. Talk of the enigmatic black dogs also came up again, with several locals claiming to have seen the creatures in the days surrounding Walton’s death. It was also found that the date of Walton’s death had fallen on a day of the Fabian calendar that was called Candlemas Day, and which was also the pagan festival of Imbolc, with the day supposedly considered to be the perfect time for performing a blood sacrifice. It was thought that Walton may have perhaps been killed to stop his witchcraft and to use his blood to replenish the earth. Indeed, even the method of death, with the throat slashed and the body pinned by a pitchfork, was considered a traditional way to kill a witch. To top it all off, a large black dog was purportedly found dead and strung up on a tree nearby the location where Walton’s body was found, although whether this is true or not isn’t clear.
Throughout the strange investigation rumors of witchcraft would persistently hang in the background, and some odd leads along these lines came in as well. One was a letter sent to police and the local paper by someone calling themselves “Mrs. Jones.” The mysterious author of the letter claimed that she was the former lover of the famous occultist Aleister Crowley and also a witch, and that her coven had been the one that had murdered Walton in a blood ritual, but this confession was largely dismissed and was not pursued to any appreciable degree. Although the letter added to the rumors of black magic surrounding the case, authorities were still largely skeptical of such superstitions claims of myth and magic, and ignored most leads concerning these things. This was all very spooky, but Fabian and Webb seemed to have had little interest in such superstitious angles to the murder, and went about trying to find suspects other than witches.
One of the main suspects at the time was the last man to have seen Walton alive, the farmer Albert Potter. Upon questioning about the day of the crime, Potter gave some rather contradictory information, saying that he had seen Walton out working with a sleeved shirt, even though the body had been dressed in a jacket and sleeveless work shirt when it had been found. Potter also claimed that his fingerprints had been on the murder weapons, and that this was because he had been with the first to come across the body and had inspected the scene before police arrived, yet no such fingerprints had been found because they had been thoroughly wiped off by someone. His time frame of events and amount paid to Walton for his work also did not really add up, but despite all of these inconsistencies there was no real motive that could be found other than a rumor that Potter had borrowed money from Walton, and with no concrete evidence to charge him with he was never arrested in connection with the murder, although Fabian seemingly highly suspected he was the killer.
Another possibility brought up was that Walton might have been killed by a crazed escaped prisoner. In fact, there was a camp for Italian prisoners of war in the area, and the prisoners apparently were shockingly free to roam as the war was coming to a close. These prisoners often worked on the farms of the area, and according to reports were relatively unsupervised on their way to and from work. It was thought that perhaps one or more of these prisoners had killed Walton, but this possibility was soon dropped due to a complete lack of motive or evidence. There was also considered as a possible suspect Walton’s friend, a George Higgins, who had been working close by the scene of the crime at the time of the murder. The two reportedly had had a major argument in the previous days, but again there was no evidence to support this and Higgins was considered too old and frail to have carried out such a vicious, barbaric attack.
In the end, the main investigator, Fabian, was unable to ever detain anyone for the murder, and in his obsession with solving it he would continually try to crack the case in his own time for years even after returning home. He apparently returned to the town on numerous occasions over the years trying to turn up anything new, but the case was ice cold. The only new development would be the discovery of the missing watch in 1960, which was supposedly found by a worker in an outhouse he was in the process of demolishing behind Walton’s cottage. Nobody could figure out how it had gotten there, and to make things weirder still the watch was found to contain a tiny shard of colored glass, which locals would claim was a witch’s ward against evil spells, adding to the whole layer of black magic that had pervaded the case since day one. Other than this, nothing else was ever found, and indeed the murder of Charles Walton remains unsolved to this day.
Considering all of the spooky tales and talk of witchcraft orbiting it, the Charles Walton case has gone on to be much discussed and debated all the way up to the present, with some details perhaps being embellished over the years. Although the original official reports filed by Fabian said nothing of witchcraft, hexes, or black dogs, in later years he would begin to write of these things, perhaps because he now felt his reputation was no longer on the line. He even wrote of seeing a black dog himself as he walked near the crime scene at Meon Hill at dusk. Fabian alleges that he saw the large black dog run past him, after which he asked a boy nearby if he had lost his dog, which he had not. According to Fabian, when the boy heard that it was a large black dog in the area he panicked and ran off without another word.
It also seems that, although he had been dismissive of the possibility that a witch’s blood ritual had taken place, over the years Fabian seems to have perhaps changed his mind to an extent. In addition to admitting to his own black dog experience he would later write of his suspicion that perhaps there was something to all of the superstitious tales. A full 25 years after he was off the case, Fabian would even cryptically write of the Walton murder in his book The Anatomy of Crime thus:
I advise anybody who is tempted at any time to venture into Black Magic, witchcraft, Shamanism–call it what you will–to remember Charles Walton and to think of his death, which was clearly the ghastly climax of a pagan rite. There is no stronger argument for keeping as far away as possible from the villains with their swords, incense and mumbo-jumbo. It is prudence on which your future peace of mind and even your life could depend.
The case of Charles Walton’s murder has become rather famous in paranormal circles, due to its imagery of arcane rituals, witches, and black magic, as well as the fact that it has never been solved. It is still unclear just how many details of the case have been exaggerated or played up for their spookiness factor over the years, nor how much of what the locals of the area said can be taken as fact or pertinent to the case. Did this brutal killing just attract superstition, legends, and talk of witchcraft in an area full of such folklore? Or was there something truly mysterious to it all? The only things we know for sure is that Walton died out in those hedges, that his body was in a strange state, and that the crime has never been solved. Other than that, we have only murky mysteries and questions without answers.