I spent my childhood and teens living in a village in central England called Pelsall. It’s a very old village, to say the least: its origins date back as far as 994 AD. But, there is something more important and relevant than that. Pelsall is located only approximately a ten-minute drive from the site of what ultimately became one of the most controversial, weird, and – some even said – paranormal-themed events of the early 20th Century. And it was all focused upon a man named George Edalji. He was an English solicitor and the son of a priest of Parsi descent. The family lived in the very nearby town of Great Wyrley, and was thrust into the limelight in 1903. Edalji was convicted, sentenced and imprisoned for maiming and mutilating horses in the area. Collectively, the horse-mutilations generated not only a great deal of concern at a local level, but also anger, fear, and a distinct distrust of the Edalji family. The locals had frowned upon them ever since they moved into the area years earlier. In other words, racism was rife in Great Wyrley. It was orchestrated by local lowlife who made things a nightmare for the Edalji family. And unfortunately, that prejudice showed no signs of going away.
Notably, however, such was the publicity given to the case of George Edalji, and his lengthy prison sentence, none other than the creator of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – sat up and took notice. Actually, Conan Doyle did far more than that. Believing that there had been a huge miscarriage of justice in the Edalji affair, he highlighted it, wrote about it, and even complained to the government of the day about it. They were events that, combined with the work of others, ultimately led to Edalji’s release from prison. History has shown that the evidence against Edalji was decidedly flimsy and controversial, to say the least. Also, there were the public statements of the local police. They too openly frowned upon the fact that George’s father, Shapurji, was from India. No wonder George didn’t stand much of a chance – at least, until the aforementioned Conan Doyle came on the scene.
The fact that anonymous letters were flying around, and there were other suspects under the microscope (such as a local butcher’s boy, Royden Sharp), ensured that more than a few people – whether they cared to publicly admit it or not – were of the opinion that Edalji was a convenient scapegoat and nothing else. Whatever the truth, Edalji found himself sentenced to seven years of hard labor. To his credit, Conan Doyle raised his doubts about the sentence given to Edalji, as his 1907 book, The Story of Mr. George Edalji, demonstrates. Given Conan Doyle’s fame and standing, the nation’s media took a great deal of interest in Doyle’s investigation – as did the British Government’s Home Office. The result: a committee was created that concluded Edalji was wrongly convicted, after all. There was not a bit of compensation forthcoming, however. There was barely an apology, either. Edalji was a free man after three years; but he lived under the specter of the attacks until his death in 1953. The whole situation was terrible and outrageous. And all because a bunch of racist scum didn’t like the color of a man. The story isn’t quite over, however.
Particularly intriguing is a story that I first got the snippets of in 2015. They were snippets that suggested neither George Edlaji nor Royden Sharpe were the culprits. Sam Bakewell is the author of a currently unpublished (and possibly unfinished) manuscript that offers evidence suggesting that the attacks on the poor horses were undertaken on behalf of a secret society of occultists known as the “Wyrley Gang.” They believed that sacrificial offerings – made to ancient deities – could provide them with power and influence on levels unparalleled. According to Sam, many of those same occultists had ties to the local police and, as a result, therefore had a vested interest in deflecting the press, and even Conan Doyle, away from their activities and in the direction of George Edlaji – who became nothing less than a scapegoat in someone’s infernal plot. I spoke with Sam on several occasions in 2015 and she shared with me some of her material, which was around forty pages of finished work and plenty more in notes. By March 2016, however, Sam had walked away from the project, explaining that she had received several “threats.” Those same threats alluded to the fact that this occult-driven group – the “Wyrley Gang” – is still around and secretly performing their rites in the nearby Cannock Chase woods. And, as a result, Sam was told it would be wise to drop her research. She did. In 2019, I reached out to Sam again – by email. She did not reply.