The Mysterious Murder of Charles Walton
Updated: Jul 17
Valentines Day is usually a time for candlelit dinners, cards, heart shaped cushions but in many cases - stand up rows. The latter activity may have had a role to play in the case of Charles Walton on February 14th 1945 when he was found savagely murdered on a slope of Meon Hill in Warwickshire. Known ever since as the “witchcraft murder”, the case has never been solved.
Meon Hill stands above the village of Lower Quinton where Walton lived and worked. It has a reputation for occult activity and the paranormal but all we can say for certain is that it features a large “multivallate” fort from the Iron Age, probably built by the Romans as 394 iron javelin heads were found neatly stacked there in 1824. In that respect it is very similar to the relatively nearby Bredon Hill, a regular subject of my posts.
Charles Walton lived in a timbered cottage with his adopted niece. He was well known for being “connected” with nature, able to calm mad dogs, spooked horses and wild animals alike with a whistle. When his cottage was searched after his death the garden was found to be teeming with natterjack toads and locals claimed one bloated specimen was his favourite. It is certainly safe to say that Walton, while not a “warlock” as some claimed, was very well versed in the old ways and lore of the countryside and it's nature. As such he was seen as a strange throwback to a different time, harmless but distrusted by some. In earlier centuries he might have been known as a “cunning man”.
Walton set to work on that Valentines morning, cutting hedges for the farm owner Alfred Potter. He took with him a pitchfork, a hand sickle and his walking stick. When his niece returned home from work herself and found the cottage empty she immediately raised the alarm as the 75 year old man was usually always home before her and she was afraid he may have fallen in the dark. Together with Potter and another labourer they began to search for Charles in the dark. It didn't take long. Charles Walton was found dead – he had been clubbed repeatedly over the head with his walking stick, his throat slashed open with the sickle then as he lay on the ground the pitchfork rammed straight through his neck into the earth. As a final act the murderer hurled the sickle at his head, leaving it sticking into what was left of his neck.. Some accounts say a cross was carved into his chest, but we do know for sure that his clothes had been ripped completely open from collar to crotch, for whatever reason.
As the police arrived and cordoned the scene off initial enquiries were made, and suspicion quickly fell on Alfred Potter. His manner was not that of a man who had just found his long term employee hacked to death and impaled on his land and his accounts of his movements that day were inconsistent. Although investigations did lead the police to a nearby camp for Italian POWs - “it were either a madman or a fascist as done it” was the local opinion – and a man was questioned after being found hiding in a field with bloody hands, he was quickly ruled out as the blood was a rabbit's. Strangely the prisoners were allowed to come and go during the day and often poached for extra meat. After a policeman mentioned that fingerprints were being taken from Walton's tools Potter blurted out that he had handled them at the crime scene to “have a look to make sure he's gone”. It also emerged that Potter had been claiming inflated amounts from his family business to pay Walton's wages, exaggerating his hours and keeping the difference.
Chief Inspector Robert Fabian of London's Metropolitan Police was sent up to Warwickshire to lead the investigation and break the deadlock, as the circumstantial evidence pointing to Potter was not enough. The self styled “Fabian of the Yard” was a famous detective of the day and published a best selling book of his memoirs on his retirement – the murder of Charles Walton featured extensively and it was here that the occult aspect of his death really came into being. Fabian claimed that the whole village regarded Walton as a warlock, that he was blamed for blighting wheat fields, killing livestock and even spoiling the beer at the local pub. He went on to say that while walking around Meon Hill he was assailed by a large black dog which he believed to be a phantom, and that the murder may have been connected somehow to a similar case some seventy years earlier.
Anne Tennant, a woman from the neighbouring village of Long Compton, was killed by a drunk local youth. He stabbed her repeatedly with a pitchfork, claiming she was a witch, that there were fifty others in the area all guilty of evil, and he would deal with them all in the same way. The young man was considered insane and escaped the noose but was committed to an asylum where he died – but his claims were corroborated by others through the following decades. Stories still persist today of covens, occult groups and rituals...the area is close to the Rollright Stones and it's neighbouring megaliths and it was even claimed that as a boy Charles Walton himself had witnessed witchcraft carried out there. Was he ritually murdered, his blood drained from his body to break a curse or a spell? Was the pitchfork pinning him to the spot symbolic, along with the cross allegedly carved on him? Was the killing a conspiracy that involved the village?
Fabian said he got only a wall of silence from the 400 odd locals he interviewed, but to be fair this could just mean that nobody but the killer knew anything at all that was helpful. In any case Alfred Potter was never charged, the Italian POW's were never put under further suspicion and the murder stands unsolved to this day. While Lower Quinton has changed somewhat over the years, Meon Hill stands much as it did in 1945. I have only driven through the village but I have been told by a friend who visited the College Arms before it became a gastropub that mentioning Charles Walton got very short shrift from the old locals! While further facts have come to light regarding Walton's finances and a possible case of somebody stealing his strangely very large savings, nothing will ever change his death forever being known as “the witchcraft murder” and the mark it has left on the strange lore of Warwickshire.
A typical thatched cottage in Lower Quinton