Today, it’s time to take a look at a mysterious matter involving werewolves invading bedrooms in the dead of night, human sacrifice, and – at the heart of it all – two young boys who may have inadvertently unleashed something ancient and abominable. Despite its exterior veneer of pleasant old villages, historic castles, and rolling green fields, England is an absolute beacon for monstrous activity. And that includes shapeshifters - and in relatively recent times, too. Our story begins in a northeastern England town called Hexham. Situated in the county of Northumberland, the small town’s origins go back to the 7th century. Today, less than 12,000 people call Hexham their home, which is dominated by the centuries-old Hexham Abbey. Back in the early 1970s, however, it was dominated by something else: werewolves. Not unlike the story played out in Silver Bullet – a 1985 movie of wolfman-proportions based on Stephen King’s Cycle of the Werewolf starring Gary Busey, Megan Follows and Corey Haim – the story revolves around a pair of youngsters who find themselves up to their necks in monstrous matters. Although, by the time the whole thing was over, they surely wished they had stayed away from it. Let’s take a trip back to February 1972, and the home of Colin Robson and his brother, Leslie; two young, pre-teen boys who were about to unearth something…well…unearthly! And I do mean that literally.
In his Quest for the Hexham Heads book, Paul Screeton tells of how, as young and adventurous boys are wont to do, the brothers spent one particular morning playing and digging in the backyard of the family home. As they did so, they uncovered not too far below the surface of the yard a pair of strange-looking heads; they were made out of stone, about the size of a baseball, and had been carved in a decidedly primitive fashion. Nevertheless, it was pretty clear that one was intended to represent a female and the other a male. Both looked slightly ominous – creepy even. But, for young Colin and Leslie, they were downright exciting. They played with them for a while, and then took them into the house. And what a mistake that proved to be. No sooner had the weird heads been taken into the house when all hell broke loose. Some might say, after reading this, that the hell parallels are all too appropriate. Placed on a shelf, the heads were seen to shuffle along, slowly yet creepily, of course. Ornaments in the house inexplicably shattered. And Colin and Leslie’s sister suffered an explosion of glass from a window as she slept. It was a collective and ominous state of affairs that soon spilled over into the house next door. A few strange events were about to be replaced by absolute monster-mayhem.
Barely forty-eight hours after the heads of Hexham were dug up and taken into the Robson home, the Dodd family suffered a series of what can only be described as paranormal assaults. It was late at night when Ellen Dodd and her daughter had a frightening encounter with a beast that materialized in their home. It was a bipedal monster with the head of a wolf. For a second or two, it stared malevolently at both mother and daughter, then raced out of the room. The unmistaken sound of something large and heavy running down the staircase immediately followed, as did the sound of the front-door being opened. The werewolf-like thing had come and gone in an instant. It wasn’t long before word got around that the diabolical heads had somehow provoked – or invoked – the man-monster to manifest. And it wasn’t long before the Robson family wanted the heads gone.
It turns out that those sinister heads reached the eager hands of Dr. Anne Ross, as Paul Screeton reveals in Tales of the Hexham Heads; she someone who was an expert in the field of Celtic history and who strongly suspected the heads uncovered by the boys were Celtic in origin. Not only that, Dr. Ross had written a number of relevant books, including Pagan Celtic Britain, and was someone who had seen very similarly fashioned, old heads on various, previous occasions. Incredibly, she suspected they were created around 2,000 years ago and may have been used in fertility and / or sacrificial rites to ancient Earth gods. Maybe even more than that. It was when she took the Hexham heads into her Southampton home – which was close to 150 miles from where the Robson family lived - that the crazed activity began again. On one particular night, she was suddenly woken from her sleep by the presence of a hideous monster looming over the bed in menacing fashion.
Dr. Ross described the manimal as being roughly two meters in height, with a stopped stance, and which was completely black in color. Practically frozen in the bed, she saw the beast long enough to see that the upper portion of its body was all wolf. Whereas the lower part of its torso and its legs were definitively human-like, albeit covered in hair or fur. As was the case at the Robson home, the man-thing suddenly leapt out of the bedroom. And, so did Dr. Ross: she jumped out of the bed and raced out of the room. She heard its heavy padding, which placed it, by now, somewhere towards the rear of her property. It was soon gone, engulfed by the darkness of the early hours. Then, not long afterwards, Dr. Ross’ daughter, Berenice, caught sight of the monster, too – she also described it as something half-human and half-wolf. Then, in no time, the entire family developed a sense of profound unease and malevolence in the house – almost as if it had somehow been supernaturally infected or paranormally polluted. As for the heads, well, they just had to go. Dr. Ross was done with them.
Hardly surprisingly, among the archaeological community – and also within the paranormal research community of that time – the Hexham heads very quickly became as notorious as they were feared. They were soon handed over to an expert on ancient mysteries, Don Robins. But not for long. Then, they landed on the doorstep of an expert in the field of dowsing – also known as water-divining – named Frank Hyde. Having dowsed the heads very carefully, Hyde was deeply troubled by what he found; namely, a sense of menace that seemed to surround him whenever he got too close to the horrific heads. They changed hands again, and again, and…again. Today, their exact location is a matter of great debate within the field of supernatural anomalies: some say they were destroyed. Others claim to have them in their possession – although widespread suspicions exist that, if anything, they are nothing more than carbon-copies of the originals, made in very recent times. The mystery remains appropriately that: a mystery.
There is a very weird afterword to the affair of Hexham’s weird, carved heads. When those in the paranormal research community began to look into the mysterious matter, several people decided to take a look into the local library’s newspaper archives – chiefly to determine if anything of a similar, sinister nature had ever occurred in and around town. Incredibly, it had. Way back in 1904 – specifically on December 10 – the local newspaper, the Hexham Courant, reported on a strange and potentially dangerous development in and around Hexham. Newspaper staff came straight to the point with their eye-catching headline: “Wolf at Large in Allendale,” a reference to a nearby, small village that was experiencing a series of mutilations and deaths of farm animals.
It is important to note why, specifically, this story attracted so much attention: the wolf is extinct in the United Kingdom, and has been for several centuries. In other words, not only was it worrying that a wolf – and a very large one, too – was on the loose. It was also deeply baffling: where did it come from? Why was it targeting the Hexham region? Local villagers and farmers wanted answers. For a while, there were none. All there was, was complete and utter carnage: the first attack resulted in one sheep having its stomach torn open and its entrails ripped, wrenched and dangling from the body of the poor animal. Another sheep was so savagely attacked that all that remained was its skull – which had been chewed clean of meat – and its horns. It’s safe to say that widespread fear gripped both Hexham and Allendale, and to a huge degree. In scenes that predated – but eerily paralleled – those old 1930s/1940s Universal Studios monster movies starring the likes of Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff, the local folk took to the streets, to the hills, and to the surrounding woods, and armed with flaming torches, as they sought to find and kill the deadly thing that was now roaming and rampaging among them.
The Hexham Courant, in its “Wolf at Large in Allendale” article, continued that children had been told to stay clear of the moors and the woods and to keep to the roads and the busy pathways. The local police were doubling up their presence in the area. And what was termed the Hexham Wolf Committee was hastily created to deal with the monstrous menace. Rather oddly, although team of hunting dogs were brought in from a nearby town, and despite their skills, they were unable to catch even a smidgen of the mysterious wolf’s scent. It remained wholly, and frustratingly, elusive.That is, however, until the body of a wolf was found on January 7, 1905, on railroad tracks at the village of Cumwhinton, Cumbria, as Stuart Ferol noted in his 2005 article for Fortean Times magazine, “The Hexham Wolf.” There were, however, problems with the theory that this particular wolf was the culprit. Of course, the fact that a wolf was found strongly suggested that it was the culprit. But, more than a few people had doubts that it could have carried out such ferocious attacks, and to never have left any kind of scent, whatsoever. The matter was hailed as an end to the tumultuous time, but for more than a few months the people of Hexham and Ennerdale remained distinctly uneasy – and particularly so late at night.
And, still the story is not over. Persistent digging revealed that way back in 1810 the people of the very same area became gripped with fear when, across a six month period, close to 400 sheep were savaged and killed by a mysterious beast that – just like its 1904 counterpart – remained elusive in the extreme. When one of the sheep was found to have been drained of blood, the hysteria levels practically went through the roof. It was this case, along with several other, similar ones, that led to the suspicion that the wolf-like monster had paranormal, rather than physical, origins. Ingenious attempts to kill the beast by placing dead sheep – laced with poison – on the hills at night completely failed: the creature was way too cunning to fall for that ruse. On a couple of occasions the animal was seen by handfuls of local folk; they were all sure that what they had seen was an animal that seemed to be part-cat and part-dog, but which had noticeable stripes running down its body. This has given rise to the intriguing and amazing theory that the creature night have been a Thylacine; a large Tasmanian marsupial which is said to have become extinct in the 1930s – but which is still occasionally reported in Tasmania to this very day. How such an animal might have found its way to Hexham and Ennerdale is anyone’s guess.
In this case, however, there was a solution: the animal was finally shot and killed by a man named John Steel, as it sought to escape along the River Ehen. Incredibly, when it was examined, the mysterious and still-unidentified beast was found to weigh – in modern terms – a hefty fifty-one kilograms. No-one was sure of its identity and, although it apparently went on public display for a while, its remains were finally tossed out with the garbage. Regardless of what the beasts of 1810 and 1904 really were – wolves, supernatural monsters, thylacines or something else entirely – it’s decidedly intriguing that they should have surfaced in the very same area where, years later, in 1972, paranormal man-beasts of a werewolf-like nature and appearance were manifesting, and specifically in the wake of the discovery of the Hexham heads. Should the Hexham heads ever get circulated again, we may once more see rampaging man-wolves in our midst.