Charles Walton (murder victim)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Charles Walton (12 May 1870 – 14 February 1945), a native of Lower Quinton in Warwickshire, England, was found murdered on the night of 14 February 1945 at a farm known as The Firs, situated on the slopes of Meon Hill. Chief Inspector Robert Fabian was asked to lead the investigation into Walton's death but failed to gather sufficient evidence to charge anyone with his murder. The case has earned considerable notoriety because some believe Walton was killed as a blood sacrifice or as part of a witchcraft ceremony or, indeed, because he was suspected of being a witch himself. However, it is known that the chief suspect was the manager of The Firs, a man named Alfred John Potter, for whom Walton was working on the day he died. It is the oldest unsolved murder on the Warwickshire Constabulary records.[1]

Background[edit]

Charles Walton was a 74-year-old agricultural worker who had lived in and around Lower Quinton all his life. He was a widower who shared a small cottage, known as 15 Lower Quinton, with his thirty-three-year-old niece, Edith Isabel Walton, whom he had adopted thirty years previously upon the death of her mother.[2] He was something of a loner who, as a young man, had earned a reputation as a trainer of horses. It is said that he did not socialise to any great extent with his neighbours but that he was far from being disliked.

On 14 February 1945 he left home with a pitchfork and a slash hook – a double-edged pruning implement with a sharpened straight edge on one side and concave cutting edge on the other. He was seen by two witnesses to have passed through the churchyard between 9 am and 9.30 am.[2] Charles walked with a stick because of his rheumatic joints. However, he sought casual farm work wherever he could find it and, for the previous nine months, had been working for a local farmer, Alfred Potter, whose farm was known as The Firs. On this particular day, he was slashing hedges in a field known as Hillground on the slopes of Meon Hill.[3]

Edith Walton, meanwhile, was working as a Printer's Assembler at the Royal Society of Arts which had relocated to Lower Quinton for the duration of the War.[2] Charles was expected to be home by 4 pm. Edith returned home at about 6 pm and was worried to find that Charles was not there. His solitary nature and regular habits gave her no solace that he might be in the local pub or visiting a friend.[3]

Edith went to see her neighbour, an agricultural worker by the name of Harry Beasley who lived at 16 Lower Quinton. Together they made their way to The Firs to alert Alfred Potter. Potter claimed to have last seen Charles earlier in the day, slashing hedges in Hillground. The three of them set out in the direction of the spot where Charles had last been seen and eventually found his body near a hedgerow.

The scene was a shocking one because the murderer had beaten Walton over the head with his own stick, had cut his neck open with the slash hook, and driven the prongs of the pitchfork either side of his neck, pinning him to the ground. The handle of the pitchfork had then been wedged under a cross member of the hedge and the slash hook had been buried in his neck.

Edith was overcome with grief and began to scream loudly: Beasley tried to pacify her and to make sure that she did not venture too close to the scene. At that moment a man named Harry Peachey happened to be passing on the other side of the hedge. Potter called to him and directed his attention to the body. He told Peachey to go and alert the police.[2]

It was quickly decided that Potter should stand guard over the murder site until the police arrived, while Beasley took Edith back down the hill. The first policeman on the scene was PC Michael James Lomasney who arrived at 7.05 pm. Members of Stratford-upon-Avon CID arrived later in the evening, while Professor James M. Webster, of the West Midlands Forensic Laboratory, arrived at 11.30 pm. The body was removed at 1.30 am.[2]

The early investigation[edit]

At 11 pm on 14 February, Detective Inspector Tombs took a statement from Alfred Potter. Potter said he had been at the farm for about five years and had known Walton for all that time. He had employed Walton casually for the last nine months: Walton worked when he could, that is, when the weather was good. Walton had been engaged on hedging for the last few months and Hillground was the last field needing attention.[2]

Potter said he had been in the College Arms with Joseph Stanley, a farmer of White Cross Farm, until noon that day: he had noticed the time as he left the pub. He had gone straight across to a small field adjoining Hillground and saw Walton working about 500–600 yards away. He said he noticed that Walton had about 6–10 yards of hedge to cut and that, when he found his body later that day, about four additional yards of hedge had been slashed, which would be about half-an-hour's work.[2]

Potter said he knew it was Walton's habit to stop for lunch at around 11 am and that he would then would work continuously until about 4 pm. He described Walton as an "inoffensive type of man but one who would speak his mind if necessary".[2]

The decision to bring in assistance from Scotland Yard was made at an early stage. The Deputy Chief Constable of Warwickshire sent a message on 15 February which stated that:

The Chief Constable has asked me to get the assistance of Scotland Yard to assist in a brutal case of murder that took place yesterday. The deceased is a man named CHARLES WALTON, age 75, and he was killed with an instrument known as a slash hook. The murder was either committed by a madman or one of the Italian prisoners who are in a camp nearby. The assistance of an Italian interpreter would be necessary, I think. Dr Webster states deceased was killed between 1 and 2 pm yesterday. A metal watch is missing from the body. It is being circulated.[2]

The details of the watch that were passed to pawnbrokers and jewellers described it as:

Gents plain white metal pocket watch, snap case at back, white enamel face, with "Edgar Jones, Stratford on Avon" thereon. Second hand. English numerals. Valued at 25/- about ten years ago.[2]

On 16 February, assistance arrived in the shape of Chief Inspector Robert Fabian, the foremost police detective of the era, and his partner, Detective Sergeant Albert Webb. Later that day, Detective Sergeant Saunders of Special Branch, who was a fluent Italian speaker, also arrived.

It has been consistently claimed that, at an early stage of the investigation, Fabian was acquainted with two pieces of local history. The first related to the murder of eighty-year-old Ann Tennant, a resident of Long Compton, some fifteen miles from Lower Quinton. Seventy years previously, in 1875, Ann had been killed with a pitchfork by one James Heywood, on the grounds that she was a witch. In many accounts it has been said that Ann was pinned to the ground with a pitchfork and slashed with a bill-hook.[4]

In the second instance, Detective Superintendent Alex Spooner, Head of Warwickshire C.I.D., is said to have drawn Fabian’s attention to a 1929 book entitled Folklore, Old Customs and Superstitions in Shakespeare Land, written by the Rev. James Harvey Bloom, Rector of Whitchurch, and father of author Ursula Bloom. This included the story of how, in 1885, a young plough boy named Charles Walton had met a phantom black dog on his way home from work on several nights in succession. On the last occasion the dog had been accompanied by a headless woman. That night Walton had heard that his sister had died.[5]

It seems that Alfred Potter quickly came under suspicion. PC Lomasney, the local policeman who knew Alfred and his wife, Lillian Elizabeth Potter, was asked to stay close to them to see what they might unwittingly reveal.[2]

Meanwhile, Detective Sergeant Saunders began what were to be scores of interviews with the Italian World War II prisoners of war held at Long Marston. The picture that emerges is of a prison camp regime that was entirely laissez faire. Prisoners seemed able to roam the area at will, on foot or on bicycle, and although, officially, there were days on which they were supposed to work in camp and days on which they were free, in practice, no record was kept of who was and was not in camp. On the afternoon concerned (Professor Webster had determined that Walton died between 1 and 2 pm) some prisoners had gone into Stratford to see a play, while others had visited the cinema. However, it does not appear that any of the Italians was ever seriously considered to have killed Walton.[2]

Autopsy[edit]

Professor Webster's autopsy on Walton found grave injuries to Walton's neck – the fact that his trachea had been cut was plainly evident – and to his chest, including bruising and several broken ribs. However, Webster's report makes no specific mention of the cross supposedly carved on Walton's chest which has figured in so many later accounts.[4] However, his shirt had been opened, his trousers had been unfastened at the top and his fly was unbuttoned. He also bore some defensive wounds: a cut on his left hand and bruises on the back of his right hand and forearm. Webster concluded that Walton's wounds had been caused by a stabbing weapon and a cutting weapon, presumably the pitchfork and the slash hook. He had also been hit over the head with his own walking stick which was found three-and-a-half yards from his body with blood and hair adhering to it.[2]

Alfred Potter's evidence[edit]

On 17 February, Potter was interviewed for a second time, on this occasion by Detective Sergeant Webb. Potter stated that he was forty years old, managed The Firs for L. L. Potter & Co., of which his father was proprietor, and that Walton had usually worked on about four days each week, but never in wet weather. Potter said he paid him eighteen pence per hour and usually at the end of each fortnight, although sometimes by the week. He said that he left it to Walton to say how many hours he had completed and implied that Walton was sometimes paid for hours he had not actually worked. He had last paid Walton for the fortnight ending 10 February when he had given him £2.15s.0.[2]

Potter said that, on 14 February, he had left the College Arms and gone across to a field known as Cacks Leys to see to some sheep and to feed some calves. When he reached the field it was 12.20 pm and he then saw Walton, working in his shirtsleeves. He was sure of this because it was the first time he had seen him so dressed and had said to himself, 'He's getting on with it today'. Potter added that he would have gone over to see Walton were it not for the fact that he had a heifer in a ditch nearby that he needed to attend to. He went straight home and arrived there at about 12.40 pm. He then went to attend to the heifer.[2]

On 20 February, PC Lomasney was at The Firs and mentioned the fact that the police were still hoping to take fingerprints from the murder weapons. At this, Alfred Potter said that he had touched the handle of the slash hook, and possibly the pitchfork, when he first came across the body, although he claimed he had already mentioned this to the police. He said he had handled the weapons in response to a comment from Harry Beasley that "You'd better have a look to make sure he is gone". Mrs. Potter had displayed considerable annoyance at this revelation, stating that the police were bound to suspect him if his prints were on the murder weapon. Potter, meanwhile, told Lomasney that the murder was "the work of a fascist from the camp". A short time later, a serviceman came to the door and asked for Potter who was in the yard. Lomasney recorded that, when Potter came in he said, "That soldier has just told me that the Military Police at the Camp have caught an Italian coming out with a suit of clothes and detained him and sent for the Civil Police who came dashing out. They have taken him away with them." At this, "Potter affected great glee and his wife became almost hysterical with delight".[2]

Fabian recorded in his initial report on the crime that, on 23 February, Potter stated that he had come home on 14 February, following his visit to Cacks Ley, read the paper for five minutes, and had then gone to help one of his workers, Charles Henry "Happy" Batchelor, to pulp some mangolds for a few minutes. Subsequently, both men had gone to look at the church clock and seen that it was 1 pm. This account was confirmed by Mrs. Potter who stated that Alfred Potter had arrived home soon after 12.30 pm and had read the paper for a few minutes. He had then asked how long dinner would be and she had replied "Not long". On hearing this, Potter had gone to help Batchelor at about 12.40 pm and returned at 1.05 pm. Batchelor also confirmed that Potter had come to help him at around 12.40 pm.[2]

On 27 February, Fabian asked that enquiries be made of Stubbs & Bradstreet about any debts recorded against Alfred Potter or L. L. Potter & Co., Farmers of Campden, Gloucestershire. (Alfred Potter's father, Levi Potter, was the licensee of the Lygon Arms in Chipping Campden.) Subsequently it was confirmed that there were no such debts. Fabian also asked for enquiries to be made at the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries about the result of a "test wages investigation made on 12 January 1945 at Firs Farm by Inspector R. G. Elliott" who was apparently reluctant to reveal the information to Fabian without authority from his Headquarters.[2]

Again, in his initial crime report, Fabian recorded that, at the inquest on Charles Walton on 20 March, Potter had told the Coroner that he had seen someone in shirtsleeves in his field at 12.30 pm and that they were stationary.

Other enquiries[edit]

When Edith Walton was interviewed she told the police that she had lived with Charles Walton since she was three years old, although her father was still alive and lived at 30 Henley Street, Stratford. Walton had occupied his cottage since the Great War and his wife had died on 9 December 1927. Walton had given Edith £1 per week housekeeping, but also paid the 3s. per week rent on the cottage, as well as buying their coal and meat. In addition to his casual earnings, Walton received 10s. a week old age pension. Edith stated that Charles had left his purse at home on 14 February.[2]

Edith quoted Potter as saying, as they made their way to Hillground with Harry Beasley on the night of the murder, that, 'I have to do the milking on a Wednesday. I came to the field to cut some hay at 12 o'clock and saw your uncle at his work'. Finally, she said she had never heard Charles Walton say he had lent anyone any money and she had not seen any IOUs. Subsequent enquiries of the Midland Bank revealed that Charles Walton had deposited £227.10s.0 in June 1930 but that by 1939 this had dwindled to £11.11s.9d. Walton had made numerous withdrawals during the intervening years, but never more than £10 or so at a time.[2]

Fabian's investigations also revealed that Charles Walton's best friend was seventy-two-year-old George Higgins of Fairview, Lower Quinton, although the pair had not seen each other since the previous Christmas. Higgins was employed by a Mr. Valender of Upper Quinton and at the time of the murder had been working in a barn just 300 yards from Walton. Fabian speculated that Higgins might have made his way across the fields, unseen, and killed Walton. However, he doubted that the old man would have had the strength to mount such an attack, far less sufficient motive.[2]

When Harry Beasley was interviewed he told the police that he was employed by Harry Ball of Henney's Farm in the village. He said that "Potter had a reputation as a decent man to work for". On the night of 14 February he recalled Potter saying of Walton, "I saw him at work at 12.15". Beasley also confirmed that Edith Walton had been going out with one Edgar Goode for some years, although Goode was later eliminated from the police enquiries. Beasley said he was confident that Potter realised Walton was dead from the moment he saw Walton's body.[2]

The police took statements from two former employees of Potter's – William George Dyde and George Purnell. Both confirmed that, from time to time, Potter had experienced difficulties in paying their wages.[2]

Joseph Stanley confirmed that Potter had assisted him with the castration of two calves on the morning of 14 February and that they had subsequently visited the College Arms where Potter had drunk two glasses of Guinness between 11.45 am and noon.[2]

Statements were also taken from 500 or so residents of Lower Quinton, some as young as eleven years old, as well as other individuals who were in and around the area on 14 February. A detailed search of the entire area surrounding the murder scene was undertaken, with the help of the Royal Engineers using mine detectors, in an attempt to find Walton’s pocket watch or some other clue, but to no avail.[3]

Eventually Fabian and Webb returned to London while, it is said, Detective Superintendent Alex Spooner continued to search for the murderer. Indeed, the murder so fascinated him that it is claimed he continued to return to the village long after the rest of the world had concluded that the perpetrator would never be found. It is also said that, in 1960, Charles Walton’s pocket watch turned up in the outhouse of his cottage, despite an extensive search by the police at the time of the murder.[6] However, to this day the murder is still unsolved.

Myths[edit]

1. Ann Tennant was murdered in exactly the same way as Charles Walton[3]

On 15 September 1875, at about 8 o'clock in the evening, Ann Tennant left her house in Long Compton to buy a loaf of bread. On her way back, she met some farm workers returning home from harvesting in the fields. One of the group was a local man, James Heywood, who had known Ann's family for many years. Heywood was simple-minded and was seen as something akin to a village idiot. It is known that he had also been drinking cider. Without warning he attacked Ann Tennant with a pitchfork, stabbing her in the legs and head.

A local farmer named Taylor heard the commotion and ran to Ann's aid. He restrained Heywood until a constable arrived. Ann was taken to her daughter's house but died of her injuries at around 11.15 that night. Heywood claimed that Ann was a witch and that there were other witches in the village whom he intended to deal with in the same way. Although committed to trial for murder, he was found not guilty on the grounds of insanity and spent the rest of his life in Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum. He is recorded as dying there, at the age of 59, in the first half of 1890.[7]

Any suggestion that Ann was pinned to the ground with a pitchfork or slashed with a bill-hook is pure invention. She was killed in the view of several witnesses and practically the only similarities with Walton's murder are the facts that a pitchfork was used in both instances and that Heywood believed Ann to be a witch and some of Walton's neighbours apparently had the same view of him.

2. Walton was the boy mentioned in the Reverend James Harvey Bloom's book

There is no evidence that the Charles Walton mentioned in Bloom’s book was one and the same as the murdered Charles Walton. The latter had three older sisters and two younger brothers. If the Charles Walton in the story was subsequently the murder victim, he would need to have had a sister who died during 1885. However, his sisters Mary Ann and Martha Walton both married in 1891 and lived for some years thereafter, while Harriett – in reality Charles’s half-sister – was still alive in 1901. Consequently, the story must have related to another Charles Walton unless Emma, his mother, gave birth to a fourth daughter between the April 1881 Census and the end of 1885.

The 1841 Census, taken on 7 June 1841, conveniently records Charles’s mother as being just 9 months old, implying that she was born around August or September 1840. In April 1881 she would have been almost 41 years old, without having given birth – at least to a living child – for some five or six years. It is highly unlikely that she did so during the next five years, especially since a detailed study of the birth, marriage and death records held by the Office for National Statistics has failed to produce any likely Walton births or deaths being registered in the Shipston or Stratford-upon-Avon areas during that period.

3. Walton was murdered close to a Druid stone circle in a Druidical ceremony

Many supporters of this myth quote Robert Fabian himself who said in Fabian of the Yard that:

One of my most memorable murder cases was at the village of Lower Quinton, near the stone Druid circle of the Whispering Knights. There a man had been killed by a reproduction of a Druidical ceremony on St. Valentine's Eve.[8]

As Gerald B. Gardner said in his book, The Meaning of Witchcraft:

... the Whispering Knights are not a circle; they are not Druidical, and they are about twelve miles away, as the crow flies, from Lower Quinton. Nor was Charles Walton killed on St. Valentine's Eve; and as no one knows for certain just what the Druid's ceremonies were, it is impossible to say that his death was a reproduction of one. Apart from these details, the description is accurate.[9]

4. Fabian met a wall of silence over the crime

As evidenced above, the police took numerous statements from individuals and while Fabian was happy in later years to suggest that he had met 'a wall of silence', the most he would say in 1945 was that "The natives of Upper and Lower Quinton and the surrounding district are of a secretive disposition and they do not take easily to strangers".[2] However, the truth may be that no one had seen anything and therefore had nothing to tell. After all, given that Fabian spent several weeks on the case and yet could not solve it, it clearly helps his case to suggest that he was faced with a wall of silence – a whole community bent on frustrating him because of its allegiance to pagan ways or fear of retribution if they told him the truth.

Case against Potter[edit]

There are a number of reasons why Robert Fabian concluded that Alfred Potter was the likely killer of Charles Walton.

  • Potter's behaviour on the night of the murder did not seem to be that of an innocent man. When Constable Lomasney arrived at 7.05 pm he noted that "Potter seemed very upset. He was shivering and complained of being cold. Looking back I think that Potter appeared more worried than one would have expected him to be." After all, Lomasney reasoned, Potter was used to slaughtering animals and might have been less moved by the murder scene than other men. Lomasney was also surprised when Potter said he was going home before the Stratford police turned up. He said, "His complaint of feeling cold I considered a strange excuse from one who was used to attending to animals at all hours and in all kinds of weather, especially as the murdered man was his own employee and had been murdered on his own land."[2] In fact, the Stratford police turned up just as Potter was leaving.
  • On 17 February, Potter said he would have gone over to see Walton at Hillground on 14 February were it not for the fact that he had a heifer in a ditch nearby that he needed to attend to. He claimed he had gone straight home, arriving there at about 12.40 pm, and then went to attend to the heifer. However, the heifer was found to have drowned in Doomsday Ditch on 13 February and was not removed from The Firs until 3.30 pm on 14 February – almost three hours after Potter claimed to have gone to attend to it.[2]
  • Potter's statement about the heifer was contradicted by his statement on 23 February that he had gone home, read the paper and then helped Charles Batchelor to pulp mangolds. Fabian's comment was that "Potter is undoubtedly lying about his actions at this critical time but the reason for these lies can, for the present, only be a matter for conjecture".[2]
  • Fabian's cynicism about Potter's activities between noon and 12.40 pm was increased by the fact that he variously stated he had seen Walton working in the distance at 12.10 pm, 12.15 pm and 12.20 pm, ultimately telling the inquest that he had seen 'someone' stationary at 12.30 pm. Fabian commented that "Thus we have Potter's story gradually changing from seeing Charles Walton working at hedgecutting at 12.10 pm to seeing a man standing stationary in the field at 12.30 pm".[2]
  • Potter's statements about seeing Walton at work invariably said that he was in his shirtsleeves. However, when his body was found, he was wearing a jacket. Underneath this jacket he was wearing a shirt, but the sleeves were cut off above the elbow. Thus Potter could not have seen Walton in his shirtsleeves. In Fabian's view, even if Potter had merely seen Walton with his jacket off, "it seems improbable he would have worked in shirt sleeves at 12.20 and then put his jacket on, unless he had decided to go home".[2]
  • On 20 February, Potter said he had previously mentioned to the police that he had touched the murder weapons and that this had been at Harry Beasley's instigation. However, this was the first time he had made such a claim to the police, and Beasley strongly refuted any question that he had asked Potter to make sure Walton was dead: Beasley said it was patently obvious that he was dead and that Potter did not touch the weapons in his presence. Fabian's comment was that Potter produced this explanation only when Lomasney broached the question of fingerprints on 20 February; he considered that Potter had "gone to great pains to explain away any of his fingerprints which might be found upon the weapons ...".[2] In the event, no prints were found.
  • Potter's suggestion that he might occasionally pay Walton for hours he had not worked was disproved by an examination of the sums he had indented for wages from L. L. Potter & Co. and those he had paid to Walton. What Potter was in reality doing was claiming more than he needed to pay his employee, and pocketing the difference. Fabian's comment was that "Potter, by his own admission, is guilty of claiming more wages than were due and there is no doubt that he was making a good thing out of Walton's employment by him".[2]
  • After Fabian and Webb had returned to London, the police constable who had relieved Lomasney and stood guard over the murder scene reported that Potter had returned to Hillground soon after first light on 15 February. The policeman had warned Potter away from the actual site of the murder. Potter had exchanged a few pleasantries about the coldness of the weather, given the constable a Player's cigarette and then left. This revelation brought Fabian and Webb back for another interview with Potter and some searching questions about why he had not told them earlier about visiting the scene. However, this interview does not seem to have advanced the case any further, although it was noted that "Happy" Batchelor and another employee of Potter's had both resigned since the murder. Fabian believed both had possibly realised the nature of the man for whom they were working. He also wondered if Batchelor had compromised himself by stating that he had seen Potter at 12.40 pm.[2]
  • The trousers that Potter had worn on 14 February were described as being made from Bedford cord. There were two marks on the front that Professor Webster believed were blood stains; however, he reported that they had been cleaned too thoroughly for a positive analysis.[2]

The key question for the police was "What were Potter's movements between 12 noon, when he parted company from Joseph Stanley at the College Arms, and 12.40 pm when Charles Batchelor said he saw him at The Firs?" Despite Potter changing his story in various ways, Fabian concluded that there was "no real evidence to connect him with the murder itself, and no reasonable motive can be found for his committing it". He was also forced to concede that there was no evidence that Potter was violent or that he and Walton had ever quarrelled. He described Potter as morose and sullen at his interviews although, even when "closely interrogated", he "never lost his temper" and was civil. He wrote that Potter was "unkempt" and "on the surface dull witted" although "I am convinced he is far from that". Indeed, Fabian believed Potter to be a "man of considerable strength" and an "extremely cunning individual".[2]

Although a number of writers have suggested that Charles Walton had lent Potter money and its repayment was overdue, there is no proof that this was the case.[5] Edith clearly did not believe it and the £300 that Walton was said to have inherited from his wife, Isabella, in 1927, was all but gone by the time he and Potter first crossed paths.

Charles Walton's relationship with Ann Tennant[edit]

An article that appeared in the Daily Mirror on 13 February 1954, the eve of the ninth anniversary of Charles Walton’s murder, revisited the killing of Ann Tennant and the alleged similarity between it and Charles Walton's murder. The report contained one sentence that read: "The police have found one other link between the killings, but I am pledged not to reveal it."[10] One possible explanation is that the police had discovered that Charles Walton and Ann Tennant were related.

Their true relationship is admittedly remote: Charles Walton had a first cousin, twice removed, named John Haynes. In December 1867, John Haynes married Sarah Cook whose first cousin, once removed, was Elizabeth Clifton, the wife of Joseph Tennant, Ann Tennant's eldest son.

Alternatively, the police may have believed there was a closer connection: Charles Walton’s great-grandparents were Thomas Walton and Ann Smith. Ann Smith was Ann Tennant’s maiden name and she was born in 1794. It is feasible that it was she who married Thomas Walton on 2 January 1812 in Ebrington, Gloucestershire, when she would have been 17 or 18. She could then have given birth to William Walton, the victim’s grandfather, in 1814 and, assuming that her husband subsequently died, could have married John Tennant in April 1819 in Long Compton. If this tenuous possibility were to be proved true, Ann Tennant was Charles Walton’s great-grandmother.

The witchcraft diversion[edit]

Amongst the theories and rumours that surrounded this case in subsequent years are the following:

  • Charles Walton was a witch whose powers, such as his ability to cast the evil eye, were feared by some villagers. Moreover, it was claimed, he kept natterjack toads as pets and used these to "blast" the fields of local farmers, driving them across their land and blighting their crops and livestock: the failure of the 1944 harvest and the death of Potter's heifer on 13 February are just two examples. Because of this, it was decided that he had to die and he was the victim of a ritualistic murder, killed in such a way that his blood would soak into the ground and replenish the soil's fertility.[6]
  • Charles Walton was killed on Candlemas Day, under the old calendar, which also happened to be the pagan festival of Imbolc. The belief was that the weather on that day held the key to weather patterns over the months to come. There was, therefore, a perceived link between Candlemas / Imbolc and the success of the forthcoming harvest and, since Charles Walton was blamed for the failure of the previous harvest, there would be some logic in his murder occurring on that day.
  • Even in 1945, the inhabitants of the Quintons believed that phantom black dogs roamed the area and were a harbinger of death.[4] It is claimed that, soon after Walton's murder, a black dog was found hanging from a tree close to the murder scene, while Fabian himself wrote that he encountered a black dog while walking at dusk on Meon Hill. The dog ran past him and shortly afterwards he met a local boy walking in the same direction. He asked the boy if he was looking for his dog, but when Fabian mentioned the animal's colour, the boy turned a deathly pale and fled in the opposite direction.

One of the things that bedevils an objective view of this case is the fact that Robert Fabian was a considerable self-publicist. For instance, in 1946, the year after Charles Walton's murder, Fabian visited George Bernard Shaw on his ninetieth birthday and insisted on taking his fingerprints. When Fabian retired he began to write popular books based on his experiences, including Fabian of the Yard (1950), London After Dark (1954) and The Anatomy of Crime (1970), while the first British TV police procedural series, the BBC's Fabian of the Yard, which was broadcast between 1954 and 1956, was also based on the detective's memoirs.

The two reports that Fabian wrote on the case in 1945 and which are preserved on the police file make no mention of witchcraft, ritualistic killing, black dogs, natterjack toads or blood sacrifices. He may have been aware of some of the rumours and may even have had some personal experiences but, if so, cared too much about his reputation to include any references in official reports. However, twenty-five years later he felt able to write the following:

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.[11]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Dominic Casciani (2010-05-10). "When the murder trail goes cold". BBC News. Retrieved 2010-07-20. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai Metropolitan Police File MEPO 3/2290
  3. ^ a b c d Murder Casebook Issue 71 – Ritual Killings
  4. ^ a b c "Weird Warwickshire". BBC News. 2008-04-18. Retrieved 2015-10-22. 
  5. ^ a b The Who’s Who of Unsolved Murders by James Morton
  6. ^ a b Adrian Pengelly (1995). "Charles Walton – Fifty Years On". Retrieved 2008-06-05. 
  7. ^ Stratford upon Avon Herald – 17 December 1875
  8. ^ Fabian of the Yard by Robert Fabian
  9. ^ The Meaning of Witchcraft by Gerald B. Gardner
  10. ^ Daily Mirror – 13 February 1954
  11. ^ The Anatomy of Crime by Robert Fabian