Even today at the village of Lower Quinton in Warwickshire they’ll tell you that Charles Walton, a 74-year-old local hedger, was killed by witchcraft. The year was 1945, when most people would think witches were long gone.

A search party went looking for Charles when he didn’t come home from a hedging job on Wednesday, February 14th. They found him on Meon Hill. He was pinned to the ground by his hay-fork, its prongs passing through each side of his neck. His throat and chest were slashed with his billhook, inflicting deep gashes in the form of a cross, and the murder weapon was embedded in one of the wounds. Cuts on his arms showed that he had tried to defend himself, and on his face was a haunting look of terror.

From local police, Detective Chief Inspector Robert Fabian, of Scotland Yard, learned that in 1875 at nearby Long Compton a young man killed an old woman who he believed had bewitched him, despatching her with a hayfork in a similar manner to the killing of Charles Walton.

The killer, John Haywood, had sworn he would destroy all 16 of Long Compton’s witches. His method was a survival of the Anglo-Saxon practice of dealing with witches by spiking them.

Fabian was also told about the unnerving experience of a ploughboy from Alveston, also close by, in 1885. On nine successive evenings the boy encountered a black dog – a witchcraft symbol – on Meon Hill. On the last occasion the dog turned into a headless woman who rustled past him in a black dress. Next day the boy’s sister died. Chillingly, the boy’s name was Charles Walton.

Suddenly, black dogs were being sighted all over Meon Hill. One was even found hanging by its collar from a tree.

The villagers clammed up. They didn’t want to talk to detectives from London. Pubs emptied when Fabian walked in.

A woman witchcraft expert told the detective: “There’s no surprise in any of this. Remember, February was always the sacrificial month. Charles Walton’s murder was just a Druidical sacrifice.”

Fabian, however, had already made up his mind that the murderer was Arthur Potter, the farmer who found Charles’ body. Potter, who was already in debt to the old hedger, was having a difficult time financially and a widespread rumour suggested that Charles Walton had money hidden away. Interviewed, Potter changed his story several times. Fabian was convinced he had set up the murder as “witchcraft.”

There wasn’t enough evidence to charge Potter, so Fabian waited until the farmer was dead before he named him as the probable murderer. But, without a trial – well, there is always a “but…”