Charles Walton (1871–1945) was a man with second sight who was renowned as a witch in his village of Lower Quinton, England. Charles Walton was brutally murdered in 1945 in what was labeled a ritual witch killing, despite the lack of evidence that witches or occultists were responsible. The murder was never solved, despite the efforts of Scotland Yard.
The village of Lower Quinton lies in Gloucestershire in the Cotswolds, an area of England with a long history of witches and Witchcraft. Nearby are the Rollright Stones, strange, ancient monoliths said to be a Danish king and his army that were stricken by a local witch. The area is rife with superstitions.
Walton was an odd, reclusive man who worked as a field laborer and lived in a thatched cottage with his niece, Edith Walton. He was widely known to have clairvoyant powers and claimed he could talk to birds and direct them to go wherever he wanted, simply by pointing. He also claimed to have a lesser control over animals, except dogs, which he feared. He bred large toads of a type called natterjack, which runs rather than hops.
Walton’s clairvoyancy began in his youth, and it changed his personality from extrovert to introvert. For three nights running, he saw a phantom black dog running on nearby Meon Hill, a particularly “witchy” site. On the third night, the dog changed into a headless woman, and the following day, his sister died.
For the remainder of his 74 years, Walton withdrew into himself. He worked for meager wages, seldom drank in public and was left alone by his neighbors. It was whispered by the villagers that he would steal out to the mysterious Rollright Stones nearby and watch witch Rituals.
On the morning of February 14, 1945, Walton arose early and set out into the fields with a stick, a pitchfork and a bill hook. He had been hired by a farmer whose land lay near Meon Hill. About midday, the farmer saw Walton at work, trimming hedges with the bill hook.
But Walton never returned home. His worried niece contacted her uncle, and the two of them, along with the farmer, set out to search for the old man. They found his body lying faceup beneath a willow tree on Meon Hill. A pitchfork had been driven through his throat with such force that it had nearly severed his head; the prongs were embedded about six inches into the earth. A cross-shaped wound had been slashed on his chest with the bill hook, which was stuck into his ribs. Walton’s face was contorted in terror. A few days later, a black dog was found hanged on Meon Hill.
Scotland Yard sent Detective Superintendent Robert Fabian to investigate. Fabian expected to solve the case quickly. However, he received little cooperation from the residents of Lower Quinton, who insisted Walton had been killed by some unknown person because he was a witch.
The witchcraft aspects of the case attracted a great deal of attention, including that of anthropologist Margaret A. Murray, who said she believed Walton had been killed in a blood-sacrifice ritual. The case also was investigated by a writer, Donald McCormick, who wrote a book on it, Murder by Witchcraft. Despite the lack of evidence, some odd facts and stories came to light.
The date of Walton’s murder, February 14, was the date that ancient Druids allegedly made blood-sacrifice rituals for good crops, in the belief that if life force is taken out of the earth, it must be returned. The crops of 1944 had been poor, and the spring of 1945 did not look promising, either. Walton was known to harness his huge toads to toy ploughs and send them running into the fields. In 1662 a Scottish witch, Isobel gowdIe, confessed to doing the same in order to blast the crops (see Blasting). Perhaps someone thought Walton was using witchcraft to blast his neighbor’s crops.
Significantly, Walton’s blood had been allowed to drain into the ground. According to old beliefs, a witch’s power could be neutralized by “blooding.” many accused witches bled to death from cutting and slashing, usually done to the forehead. The practice was done in certain parts of England from the 16th century up to the 19th century (see blood).
In 1875 a suspected witch in Long Compton, not far from Lower Quinton, was killed in almost the exact manner as was Walton. The murderer was the village idiot, John Haywood, who was convinced that 75-year-old Ann Turner was one of 16 witches in Long Compton, and had bewitched him. The local crops were poor as well. Haywood confessed to pinning the old woman to the ground with a pitchfork and, with a bill hook, slashing her throat and chest in the form of a cross.
For Fabian, the case grew even more mysterious. He saw a black dog run down Meon Hill, followed by a farmhand. The dog ran out of sight. Fabian asked the farmhand about the dog, but the terrified man claimed there had been no dog. Later the same day, a police car ran over a dog. The next day, a heifer died in a ditch.
Fabian and his men took 4,000 statements and 29 samples of hair, clothing and blood, and still came to a dead end. The murderer of Charles Walton was never discovered.
- Cavendish, Richard, ed. The Encyclopedia of the Unexplained. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1974.
- Wilson, Colin. The Occult. New York: Vintage Books, 1971.