February 14, 1945
Lower Quinton, Warwickshire, England
Charles Walton (74) is killed in what some have described as a “witchcraft murder”
Walton kept to himself but was well known in his village. Local gossip about Walton included his apparent ability to communicate with animals, with tales claiming birds would flock to him and eat directly from his hands and wild dogs would become tame at the sound of his voice.
Walton also became synonymous with a local legend involving a child also named Charles Walton who, in 1885, had three consecutive nightly visits by a black dog, which are often considered to be a death omen. On the third night, the dog was accompanied by a headless woman who vanished as she passed by the frightened child. The following day, the boy’s sister died unexpectedly. It is unlikely this story involved the Charles Walton who was killed in 1945 as none of his three sisters died in their adolescence according to census records. In addition, as the source of the story itself is unclear it is entirely possible it is only a legend with no foundation in fact. Nevertheless, it has been eternally linked to Walton.
By the time of his death, Walton was a widower who shared his home with his niece Edie, whom he had adopted at the age of 3 after her mother passed. When Walton did not return home from his farmwork by the evening, Edie and a neighbor went in search of him. Walton’s body was found soon after the search began. The billhook and two-pronged pitchfork he had taken with him earlier in the day had been used to kill him: the billhook was left embedded in Walton’s neck while the pitchfork prongs straddled his neck, puncturing his skin and pinning him to the ground. The handle of the pitchfork was wedged against a hedge, seemingly to keep it in place. It was also found that Walton had been struck over his head repeatedly with his walking stick.
According to some earlier accounts, a cross had also been carved into Walton’s chest, a detail which has been dropped in most of the modern versions of his story, likely due to the official case file failing to note this mutilation. What the case file did note, however, was multiple bruises to Walton’s right hand and arm, abrasions and lacerations to a finger, elbow, and shoulder, and 7 lacerations to his scalp. Walton also had several broken ribs and his clavicle had been completely separated from the sternum. The fatal injury had been to Walton’s throat, caused by multiple slashes which had “grossly cut” the tissue.
Similarities were drawn between Waltson’s death and one that occurred nearly 70 years before in the same county. In September of 1875, Ann Tennant (80) was returning home from the baker in Long Compton, Warwickshire when she encountered James Heywood and a 15-year-old boy. Without provocation, Heywood attacked Tennant with a pitchfork, stabbing her two or three times in the leg. She died of her injuries that night. Heywood was arrested immediately after the attack, and claimed Tennant was one of approximately 15 witches living in the area who had “bewitched him, and prevented his doing his work, and that, being possessed of that delusion, it excited him to stab the old woman,” as the Reynold’s Newspaper reported. Heywood also explained his plan to kill all the witches in the area with the Anglo-Saxton custom of “stacung” (an Old English word which eventually became stakyng and later staking), the act of piercing a person with spikes or stakes. He was acquitted on the grounds of insanity.
Chief Inspector Robert Fabian of Scotland Yard was called in to investigate Walton’s case, and immediately declared the killing was occult in nature, saying it was “clearly the ghastly climax of a pagan rite.” He later embellished this point by writing, “It looked like the kind of killing the Druids might have done in a ghastly ceremony at full moon.” These speculations, as well as the aforementioned cross carving and comparison to Tennant’s murder, helped drive the supernatural sensationalism cloaking Walton’s murder. However, while Fabian spoke of the occult with reporters, he made no mention of witchcraft in his official reports to Scotland Yard.
Italian prisoners of war who were held in the area were questioned, as were British and American soldiers stationed nearby, with no success. Fabian attempted to interview locals, including Alfred Potter for whom Walton had been working the day of his death, but was met with “a wall of silence.” “The natives of Upper and Lower Quinton and the surrounding district are of a secretive disposition and they do not take easily to strangers,” Fabian commented.
Walton’s case remains unsolved. Councilor Mike Brain, a former police officer who lived in the area, said: “It was convenient to blame witchcraft but the locals knew who had committed the murder. Some will say it’s all to do with a domestic situation. A domestic that went wrong. People in the village knew what happened but decided they would not talk about it. The investigating officer came up against a brick wall.”
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