When Lane and I began researching unsolved British murders, we were not sure what to expect. We scrolled through the Wikipedia page aimlessly, glancing over each case for maybe 10 seconds each. We came across the case of Charles Walton and immediately knew it was the one we wanted to begin investigating. The factor that pulled us in was the way in which Walton was murdered. His body was found pinned to the ground in a field by his own pitchfork, a trouncing hook (also known as a slash hook) in his neck and a large cross carved into his chest. (The cross was believed to be the mark of witchcraft.)
Walton, a 74 year old farm laborer, was born and raised in Lower Quinton, Warwickshire, not far from Stratford Upon Avon where the great playwright William Shakespeare was from. He lived with his niece, Edith, whom he adopted as a child after her mother passed away. Walton was well-known and loved in the village although many thought he was rather strange because he was a bit of a loner who had what some would call an odd relationship with animals. He could get wild birds to eat out of the palm of his hand and had a strange bond with his horse.
On February 14, 1945, Walton set out to tend to a field at Firs Farm. This was a normal day for Walton, who often took odd jobs around town. When his niece arrived home that night, she knew something was wrong because he was not there to greet her. She ran to a neighbors house and the two set off for Firs Farm to find Walton. They searched the field where he had been working that day and came across his body, brutally murdered.
Superintendent Alec Spooner of the Warwickshire Criminal Investigation Department led the hunt for the murderer, but because word had spread about the peculiar death of Walton, Robert Fabian, a famous officer at Scotland Yard at the time, was called in to lend a hand. The detective crew searched for clues and questioned every townsperson about their whereabouts the day of the murder. An Italian POW was charged for the murder after he was found near the crime scene with blood on his hands. It is said that he had escaped his camp earlier that day and had been hunting for rabbits (oh please!). Soon, the POW was let go of the charges and returned to his camp.
Earlier in the investigation, a book called Folklore, Old Customs and Superstitions in Shakespeareland by J. Harvey Bloom had been brought in as evidence. In the book, Bloom outlines the strange incident of a plough boy named Charles Walton who was seen exiting the woods one day with a black dog and a woman’s headless body. Another account in the book describes “a weak minded young man killed a woman named Ann Turner with a hayfork because he believed she had bewitched him.” Are the two accounts connected? Is the Charles Walton described in the book the same man who was brutally murdered? These questions and more were taken into account when Fabian decided to turn to the witchcraft theory after a black dog was found hung next to the murder scene.
With no other lead in sight, Fabian returned to London and the murder investigation was put to rest. However Superintendent Spooner was not going to give up so easily. Spooner returned to the town every year on the anniversary of the murder to visit the crime scene and see if there was something he initially missed. Even after he retired from police work, Spooner continued his yearly visit, but still never got any closer to closing the case.
This is one of the most mysterious murders I have ever read about, and I cannot wait to begin writing my piece from the perspective of Robert Fabian interrogating the person I believe is the murderer.
Side note: This is a picture of the slash hook just in case you were wondering what it looked like. In several descriptions of Walton’s murder the weapon is referred to as a trouncing hook. I googled the phrase and could find no kind of picture to show me what the weapon looked like, but upon further research, I found articles that used “slash hook” or “bill hook” in replace of trouncing hook and I was finally able to put a picture with the word! Thank goodness!