The year was 1945. Lower Quinton is a small civil parish in the Stratford-on-Avon district of Warwickshire. It is largely untouched by the mores of modern life with a population of over two thousand and its thatched rooves capped with snow in winter. It was on the 14th of February that year, a day of love to some, but to the locals of Lower Quinton was the day a man laid dead at the hands of witchcraft.
It has been 77 years since the murder, and the case still remains unresolved. The body laid claim to, Charles Walton, who at 74-years-of-age lived a modest life working as a farm laborer, living out his final years in his Lower Quinton home. His death would have received a slender entry in the parish records had it not been for the grisly end he met that Valentine’s Day. It is a day that still shivers through the streets of Lower Quinton to this day. It remains the longest-standing unsolved murder in Warwickshire police archives.
Walton’s body lay on the slope of Meon Hill, a short way from the hedges he had been employed to trim in a field called Hillground at Firs Farm. Deep lacerations had severed his throat, slashes made by his own trouncing hook almost separating the neck from the head. A pitchfork protruded from his stomach, body pinned to the floor, with a cross carved into his chest.
The discovery of his mutilated body was made by his neighbor Harry Beasley, and farmer Alfred Potter. Edith Walton, Charles’s 33-year-old adopted niece the two men to help search for him after he had not returned home after 6 pm. Police from Stratford were quickly sent for. This included Detective Superintendent Alec Spooner of Warwickshire Constabulary. Spooner would go on to lead the investigation into Walton’s Death.
TThe account of the seemingly motiveless murder was well-documented by Dr AR McWhinny. His whose notes documented the brutal slaying:
“The body was lying on its left side with the knees and hips in a bent position. There was a gash on the right side of the neck involving the main structures of the neck, and the cut ends of the main vessels and the lacerated windpipe could be seen. The tip of a billhook [was] buried at least four inches in the tissue at the front of the neck… In addition, the face was impaled by a pitchfork, one prong entered on either side of the face just below and in front of the angle of the jaw. The handle of the fork had been pressed backward and the end of the handle was wedged under the cross member of the hedge behind the head, thus anchoring the head to the ground.”
ThThe Valentine’s Day murder was quickly picked up by daily newspapers. It was dubbed ‘Witchcraft Murder’ with no possible suspects, motivations, or witnesses to report. It became the subject of the now out-of-print 1971 BBC documentary, The Power of the Witch.
The murder garnered newfound media attention for Lower Quinton. Newspapers relished in turning the story of Walton’s death into an Agatha Christie-style murder mystery mixed with sun god-worshipping rural folk. But the murder has since become the fascination of filmmakers and storytellers in the decades succeeding it. For instance, David Pinner’s 1967 novel Ritual was loosely based on the Walton murder which was later adapted into the 1973 cult classic The Wicker Man. Whatever the case may be, Walton’s death remains a folkloric oddity and curiosity.