Are there forces that link certain events through strange synchronicity? That probably largely depends on who one asks, but throughout history there have been seemingly unrelated events that have shared an unsettling amount of odd links and coincidences that seem to intertwine them beyond our current ability to comprehend. One such example of this is a series of strange murders separated by the better part of two centuries, which remain unsolved and share an eerie number of links through the ages.
The setting for one of history’s strangest series of murders is the quiet and quaint, rather unassuming leafy little suburb of Birmingham, England, called Erdington. With a history going back all the way to the 9th century it is certainly a place of cultural importance, but for the most part is a peaceful locale where nothing much happens, especially nothing violent. This reputation as a serene suburb was shattered on May 27, 1817, when a local young woman, 20-year-old Mary Ashford, went on what was supposed to be a fun evening out with her friend, Hannah Cox, with the two of them attending a gala dance event at the Tyburn House Inn. It was at this dance that Mary would meet a 25-year-old farmer and builder named Abraham Thornton, and the two of them seemed to really hit it off, spending most of the evening talking and dancing together.
In fact, at around midnight Mary was seen leaving the party with Thornton on their way to her Hannah’s home, where she had left her change of clothes earlier after getting ready for the dance. After picking up her clothes Mary was last seen at 4 AM walking home alone, and this would be the last time she was ever seen alive. Just a few hours later, a local factory worker named George Jackson was walking along through what is now called Pype Hayes Park when he noticed some unusual trampled down grass and some women’s belongings strewn about the ground. On closer inspection he was shocked to see what he took to be a pool of blood, and followed the spatters to a water-filled pit full of muck, which held Mary’s lifeless body. Authorities would arrive to find that the woman had been sexually assaulted, beaten senseless, and then tossed into the pit to drown, a crime that shocked the normally quiet community.
Considering that Thornton had been the last one to be seen with her he was immediately brought in for questioning, but he seemed just as shocked and bewildered by the killing as anyone else, and although he admitted that the two had had sex in a field, he adamantly insisted that the two had afterward parted ways to walk home that evening and that he had had nothing to do with the horrific crime. Nevertheless, further suspicion was cast upon him when it was found that his characteristic boot print, which held a nail jutting out from one of the soles, closely matched some prints found at the scene of the slaying, and so he was arrested for the murder of Mary Ashford and put on trial. However, a lack of any concrete evidence to convict him meant he was found to be not guilty and was free to go, despite locals convinced of his guilt. In a rather ominous detail, it would later be revealed that Ashford had told her friends the week before that she had had a premonition that something bad was going to happen to her
A retrial was eventually carried out, with the judge strangely invoking an archaic law stating that the case would be solved by a battle to the death with anyone who disagreed with the previous acquittal, but none came forward and so again he was acquitted of all charges. Yet regardless of this, the climate had become hostile for Thornton, with many calling out for his blood, forcing him to relocate to New York City in the United States to start a new life away from the scandal, accusations, and hostility that followed him around like a black cloud. He would live a normal life in his new home until his death in 1860, having never been proven responsible for Ashford’s death and leaving the mysterious death unsolved.
On the surface this might seem to be just another tragic unsolved crime involving a young woman who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, with nothing particularly strange about it except for the lack of any solution, and this was how it remained for over a hundred years. But then, exactly 157 years later, there would be another unsolved murder in the same area that would cast the case into bizarreness and the truly strange. On May 27, 1974, 20-year-old nurse named Barbara Forrest, from Birmingham, went out dancing with her boyfriend to celebrate Bank Holiday Monday, after which he dropped her off at the Colmore Circus bus stop in the city center at around 1 AM. This was the last time anyone would see her alive, and would be the beginning of a strange series of coincidences and synchronicity.
When Forrest failed to return home from her night out she was considered missing, and it would not be until three days later that her fate would be revealed. On June 4, 1974, her body was found half submerged and buried in a ditch in Pype Hayes Park, in Erdington, showing signs of having been beaten, strangled, and raped. Does any of this sound familiar yet? Police intensely questioned passengers on the bus and canvassed the neighborhood, but no one could even remember having seen the described woman at all, and it wasn’t even certain if she had ever even gotten on that bus home at all. It would not be until they had run into dead end after dead end that they would find a suspect. His name? Bizarrely, Michael Thornton, who was a co-worker of Forrest’s.
Thornton was brought to trial for the murder of Barbara Forrest after blood was found on his pants and his mother was discovered to have given false information to the police concerning his alibi. He was found not guilty due to a lack of evidence and set free, only to have the case reopened again in 2012 after the murdered woman’s family demanded a retrial using more advanced DNA evidence. However, the samples of blood found on the trousers were by that time long gone and the case was thrown out.
These two cases, separated by a full 157 years, have a spooky amount of similarities that at times seem to go beyond mere coincidence. There is the day that both women were 20 years old and disappeared on May 27, the fact that both of them were found dead, raped, and beaten in ditches in the same park, and that they had both gone out dancing before they were murdered, with the main suspect in both cases being a man named Thornton, who was later acquitted. Besides all of this both had the cases reopened only to have this fall through, and it turns out that both of the victims even shared the same birthday. It has even come out that Forrest also had had a strange premonition that something bad was going to happen a week before her death, eerily similar to what Ashford had said.
What is going on here? How can we explain the unusual number of similarities between these murdrs so far apart in time? Are these merely strange coincidences, random chance coming together to congeal into something that seems more mysterious than it is? Is it a copycat murder of some obscure crime from the early 19th century? Or maybe there are no coincidences, and all events are locked in a sort of dance, destiny married together in ways we may never understand or were never meant to? Whatever the answers may be, these two murders have never been solved, and certainly share an uncomfortable number of anomalous synchronicities that will keep people guessing for some time to come.