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All stories written by Chris Halton
The Skull of William Corder`s Ghost
Gregory Aspach was a rather spoilt fellow. He had been fortunate many years back to be the only beneficiary of his father's will, and as a sole surviving member he lived in a large rambling Georgian townhouse on the edge of Bury St Edmunds, in Suffolk, England, with only his housekeeper Mrs Milne as company.
His drawing room served as his base for a lifetime pre-occupation of collecting anything connected with the paranormal. The room although spacious allowed little room to move as around his desk, the floor and shelves were piled high with esoteric oddities that he had collected his entire life. Access was such that between the groaning collection of books, manuscripts and object d`art, there was but a narrow corridor scarcely wide enough for one person to pass.
Despite his housekeeper's protestations, he had resisted any challenges to de-clutter that room, as his collection served as reference and study material for his career as a writer of paranormal books, and without it his work would be left in jeopardy. What made matters worse, Mrs Milne thought, was that there were a never-ending stream of callers to his house offering even more material as Aspach was known to be rather a soft touch and very generous.
It was during the afternoon of a wet mid April in 1957 that he was alone in the house when he received a visitor, a rather shifty looking type whose unkempt and scruffy appearance made him look more like a man of the road rather than as he claimed, which was as a gravedigger working for a local cemetery.
This man (who spoke in a rich Suffolk accent) was wearing a flat cap and holding with one hand the handle of a large battered and rusty japanned metal case. He removed his cap and said, “Forgive me sir, my name is Dan Sykes , and I recently discovered this box while working in the cemetery at St Giles. It be buried in a new grave space I was digging". He then offered Aspach the case and added, “There is something inside which I`m sure you might like. This case I can say was buried illegally, as there are no records that exist to explain it`s presence there.”
For fear of getting his hands dirty he reluctantly accepted it by holding the handle with a handkerchief before resting the box in the hallway. Having invited Sykes into his home, he opened the japanned case which was large enough to serve as a case for a top hat.
Inside he saw a rather large skull of a man which appeared to have it`s lower jaw wired to the upper. He thought that to be very odd, as this is a method used by medical schools to display human skeletons anatomically.
The skull looked as though it had been buried for quite some years as the case around it was badly corroded. He also discovered a small handwritten note wrapped in greased paper which read, `Leave well be, it will summon the dead`.
The note immediately piqued his interest. At first he assumed the skull was probably removed during some recent building work to preserve St Giles church, which as he recalled, was an abandoned medieval country ruin still used for burials and located in West Suffolk.
He turned sternly towards Sykes, “Now listen here my good man. If this was stolen from a hospital or grave I will report this to the police and the county coroner. This is your last chance to walk away if it isn`t as you say”.
Sykes still holding his cap nervously in front of him implored “ I tells you the truth, I ain't no thief nor liar. I `eard about you from reading one of your books, and you asked in it for anyone to contact you here if they have something of interest. So that's why I came here right away in me work clothes".
(Pointing towards the paper in Aspach`s hand), he added, “That note was inside, and the case and skull were found in a spot not used for burials, so I thought I'd give you the first refusal. I only want £5 for it, and with that, I'll be gone.”
Having been satisfied by Syke`s earnest plea, he handed over £5 and a bonus of £1 as a show of good faith to keep quiet about this.
Sykes rolled the two notes excitedly and put them into his pocket. He put on his cap and said, “Thank you, sir, a true gentleman”. With a smile, he bade Aspach good day, and on leaving said, “My lips are sealed, trust me, I`d lose my job if this got out”.
After hurriedly leaving, Aspach closed the heavy front door, as he collected the encased skull from the hallway. He then put the skull into a cardboard box as he didn't want to frighten Mrs Milne any further than he has already done over the years, and then disposed of the case into the waste bin outside.
Aspach was very curious about the skull and it's ominous note which appeared to have been written in some haste by a trembling hand in pencil.
Still not fully convinced that this wasn't an elaborate trick being played on him, he left the note on his desk beneath a paperweight.
During the night, and around 1 am, he was roused from his sleep by an excited and frightened Mrs Milne who rapped his door repeatedly shouting, “Did you not hear a loud crash from the drawing room, sir?”
Aspach quickly put on his dressing gown after shouting to Mrs Milne that he was coming immediately. Grabbing a flashlight, he opened the door to find Mrs Milne in her nightie and dressing gown shaking quite noticeably. “Sir, you must call the police, I`m sure I heard someone walking around in there.”
Summoning the courage to walk down the sweeping brass-railed staircase that so adorns these large townhouses of the 18th century, he nervously stepped down the staircase shouting, “You'd better go, I have a gun.”
When he reached the bottom he could hear shuffling heavy feet and a mumbling sound coming from within the closed door of the drawing room.
He quickly flung the door open and aimed the lit flashlight into the shadows of this room. Knowing that physical access here was restricted, he flashed light along the narrow access way to his desk and was shocked to see a large grinning skull sat on it, and facing towards him.
He dropped the flashlight as on seeing it, as it's hollowed and gloomy eye sockets seemingly stared disdainfully towards this intrusion. Mrs Milne meanwhile entered the room and quickly turned on the lights.
Upon looking within, neither could see any other persons present and upon seeing the skull, she screamed, “That skull gave me a fright, where did that come from!?”
Aspach assured her, “I forgot I had left that skull out for examination in the morning as it is part of a research project I`m working on, so Mrs Milne, there is no need to worry”. He smiled and added, “I must admit, this skull gave me quite a jolt too.”
Mrs Milne, quite openly scornful of Aspach`s somewhat lame excuse, shook her head and replied, “Better tell that to the police I called, they will be here shortly. I`m off to bed with a stiff brandy.”
With that she shuffled into the gloom of the hallway and ascended the staircase.
After the police had called and checked the property, they left assured all was in order having advised Aspach to install an intruder alarm which would alert the police immediately to any intruders. It was something he had considered for some time, although now he questioned what he initially heard and saw.
Aspach returned to the skull which still rested on his desk, and decided to make enquiries in the morning by checking his files for any clue that might elicit the original source. The noises in the drawing-room he put down to his own imagination, and perhaps he genuinely had forgotten that he had left the skull on the desk in the first place?
Feeling too tired to think further, he returned to his bed for a somewhat restless night until the morning whereupon after breakfast he cleared another corridor to his bookcase in the drawing room.
He then recalled a story from a book written by a local author, a man by the name of Robert Thurston Hopkins, and entitled `Adventures with Phantoms` which gave actual reference to the case of a William Corder who was executed by public hanging at Old Bury Gaol.
According to an entry on page 15, there is a reference to Corder`s skull, (which if to be believed) was stolen by a respected local physician, a Dr Kilner who had surreptitiously exchanged the skull for another as it was left on display as a teaching aide for young doctors and nurses at a West Suffolk Hospital.
Kilner apparently crept into the hospital late one night and removed the skull while working under candlelight conditions. According to the book, a breeze from nowhere kept blowing out the candles making his task much more difficult. This initially played on his nerves, but he managed to brush it off as mild hysteria and was able to make the exchange.
Also according to the book, Corder later made a number of ghostly visits to Kilner`s home to demand the return of his skull and was once seen by a domestic maid to look like a real person although rather oddly dressed in old-fashioned clothes.
Kilner was not at first so willing to comply, and it was only through a run of bad luck and other events that he experienced which convinced him to dispose of the skull to appease Corder.
Realising that the hospital may ask questions, any notion of a return there was completely out of question. Instead, Kilner turned to his friend, the father of Thurston Hopkins who actually resided in the former governor's house which stands inside the walls of the now-defunct gaol.
He believed that by burying it near to the scene of his execution, Corder would leave both him and Thurston Hopkins in peace.
Thurston Hopkins (senior) at first agreed to help, but no sooner had he accepted it, then his fortunes too turned for the worst. In desperation to resolve this curse, he put the skull in a japanned metal case and paid a local gravedigger to dispose of it quietly by unofficially burying it in the sanctified grounds of an old churchyard known as St Giles. From that moment onwards, all hauntings had ceased, and the Thurston Hopkins family – as well as Dr Kilner, were able to live the rest of their lives in peace.
Aspach was well aware of the William Corder legend, having visited the museum at Moyse's Hall, where dried portions of the executed Corder`s scalp were on display here as with a book on the trial which was bound in Corder`s skin. He also recalled his death mask which portrayed the last throes of a condemned man.
All in all, the murder of Maria Marten and the execution of Corder on August 11, 1828, were big stories in this largely rural area, and as many as 12,000 people had flocked from far afield to watch his gruesome hanging, and apparently took over half an hour for him to die, as it necessitated the hangman Foxten to weigh down his body with his own to finish the life of Corder whose choking and screams were found unsettling to the ladies who had gathered at the execution scene.
Aspach then turned to the missing skull. He mused quietly, “So, is this undoubtedly Corder`s actual skull?”.
A cold chill ran down his spine like a shock of electricity. Warned about the possible repercussions of owning such a skull and it`s alleged dark powers quite simply terrified him, and yet he had to learn more. Perhaps this skull may be a key to revealing the afterlife?
For the next few days whilst Aspach was contemplating yet another visit from Corder, he received news that a small electrical company that he had shares in was struggling to survive following the loss of a contract in India, and it looked likely to fold with the loss of 20 local jobs which troubled him.
The potential loss of an investment was small compared to his fortune, but the thought that the skull may be responsible spurred him into action.
He contacted in London a physicist and fellow student of the paranormal, a Professor Wilkins who had spent years attempting unsuccessfully to form a psychic bridge between this world and next, and Aspach thought the potential offered by the skull may be the very portal to determine his theories on the afterlife. Wilkins, when contacted by telephone, was extremely excited by the events relayed to him by Aspach, and at his invitation, Wilkins agreed to spend some days at his home in Bury St Edmund's to assess the potential of what was believed to be Corder`s skull.
That night, Aspach and Mrs Milne retired to their respective bedrooms and settled down to sleep.
At 1am, Aspach was awoken from his sleep by the sound of someone pacing up and down in the corridor outside his room. He at first assumed it was Mrs Milne and called after her. The footsteps stopped immediately. He then opened his bedroom door with a flashlight in hand, and quickly scanned the light up and down the corridor. There was nobody to be seen.
He then sat up in bed with some nervous apprehension about what may happen next. Sleeping was now clearly out of the question, as there was something plainly amiss. Mrs Milne would not have acted in such a manner, and if she did then an explanation would have been forthcoming. He was fairly certain therefore that the noises were caused by Corder`s restless spirit, and was fearful as to what may happen next. Despite staying awake for a couple of hours he quickly succumbed to sleep and awoke at 9 am when a cheerful Mrs Milne called into his room with his breakfast and the morning newspapers.
As he accepted the breakfast tray from Mrs Milne he thanked her and added, “Did you hear any noises during the night?” She replied, “Only your snoring, but I soon fell to sleep”.
Without adding anything further, he told Mrs Milne to prepare a guest room as he was expecting Professor Wilkins over the next couple of days. “Will he be staying long sir?” she enquired. Not really sure at the moment Mrs Milne, we have a considerable amount of work to go through.”
Mrs Milne then reminded Aspach that she was away later in the day to travel to Diss, as she had plans to stay with her sister who was living in that Norfolk town. Aspach reassuringly replied, “As this was arranged some weeks ago I have to be honest with you Mrs Milne. I had forgotten. But no worries, I can survive a week without your company. Please do pass my felicitations to your sister.”
Later that day, Aspach was interrupted by an engineer from a local alarm company, who had called at his behest on police advice to install a complete burglar alarm system covering every external door and window.
The system took some hours to finish, and at the end of it, the engineer instructed Aspach how to turn on and off the alarm, and if necessary, how to reset it. He also reminded Aspach that the system was linked through to the local police station should it be activated.
Thanking the engineer as he left, Aspach turned on the system as it was quite late in the day, and wasn't expecting any visitors during the late hours. However, at 8pm that night, he heard a loud thud from the hallway. It was someone calling at the house.
Upon opening the door he was shocked to see Professor Wilkins, a diminutive figure of a man in his late 50`s. He noted that he was holding a battered brown leather luggage case and looking somewhat disheveled in a crumpled and wrinkled tweed suit, with his tie askew and slightly off dead center to reveal a row a half buttoned shirt.
Wilkins broke Aspach`s apparent trance by saying, “May I come in Mr Aspach. You are expecting me are you not?”
Aspach quickly recovered himself from looking at the scruffy and bespectacled professor, and helped him carry in his luggage. “Sorry professor, I wasn't expecting you so imminently, although my housekeeper Mrs Milne has provided you with a clean room to stay in”.
Mumbling under his breath, Professor Wilkins hauled his case up the stairs to his allotted room. Later, they met up in Aspach`s desk in the drawing room.
Aspach rather excitedly lifted a cardboard box from under his desk where he invited Wilkins to remove and inspect it. He also tried to show Wilkins the note that accompanied the skull, but that was found to be missing from beneath the paper weight.
“That`s very odd”, remarked Aspach. “I left that note under the paperweight from the day I took this relic in. But now it appears to be missing.”
Wilkins replied dismissively, “You shared the note with me on the telephone, perhaps it will show up somewhere else. These things often turn out like that.”
After examining the skull with a rather eccentric monocle, Wilkins concluded. “Well, it`s certainly that of a man in his 20`s, and it has a patina which suggests age. But I can't understand why it`s wired to the lower jaw. Are you sure it's conclusively the skull belonging to Corder?”
Aspach replied, “Well, my research points to a number of facts which can be read in Thurston Hopkins book. They are that it was stolen from an anatomical skeleton – hence the wire. It was recovered in a japanned metal box – also referred to in the book, and lastly, it matches by age and sex which could be attributed to Corder. “
Wilkins while scanning the skull commented with a smile, “I think you may well be right Mr Aspach, I really do.”
During dinner, both men discussed at length the legend of Corder and his hauntings, and particularly how the skull would benefit Wilkin`s own research.
It was clear that Aspach wanted the skull to go as he now perceived it to be a nuisance, but knowing Wilkins own interests he decided to offer a wager. If Wilkins was prepared to sit the night with the skull, it would be his by morning.
Wilkins face lit up and he quickly responded with an outstretched right hand, “ It is a deal, let`s shake on it.” He added, as they shook hands, “I was going to suggest this myself. I've read of Thurston Hopkins experiences, and this may open a portal that I can use in my research work. Absolutely capital, Mr Aspach. I will sit with it from 10pm tonight, and will report to you accordingly.”
Later that evening, Aspach retired to bed and left Professor Wilkins a cup of tea and sandwiches as he elected to sit with it in the drawing room.
Rather predictably perhaps, Aspach couldn't sleep and he was certain that the skull would once more play mayhem, but past 1am in the morning he heard only silence.
Curiously, and concerned for Professor Wilkins, he crept downstairs and entered the drawing room where he found the Professor sat staring almost hypnotically at the skull on the desk in front of him.
The skull bore a seeming luminosity as it stared through empty sockets at Wilkins.
The professor seemed completely transfixed, and the sandwiches Aspach had earlier prepared him sat untouched on the desk along with a now very cold cup of tea.
Just as he was about to shake Wilkins, a loud crash came from behind as a large column of books stacked up in the corner came tumbling down.
In the half light, he saw, or thought he saw a man wearing old fashioned clothing and a beaver skin hat walking out from the drawing room into the hallway.
He quickly regained hold of his senses and followed this misty like figure which stopped briefly, dipped his hat with a cruel smirk and disappeared.
He returned to Wilkins who appeared to be back to normal and staring at his pocket watch.
“Good god”, Wilkins exclaimed, “Look at the time!” and he continued, “I thought I had been here only 30 minutes. I was staring at the eye sockets which appeared to glow slightly, and now you are here, and a few hours appear to be missing too!”
He fell back into the chair and looked up at Aspach as he continued in a somber voice, “You really must get rid of this skull, it is pure evil. I can remember” …. he momentarily hesitated and appearing confused said, “I saw an execution, with a young man swinging from a suspended rope …. Yes, I DO remember!"
"I saw in graphic detail Corder`s execution and a tremendous rage and anger .....”
He paused as Aspach noted a faint reddening mark around Wilkins neck, and exclaimed, “Are you sure it was Corder, Professor Wilkins? Look at your neck!”
Wilkins stood up staring directly into a mirror, and was rubbing the reddening mark around his neck. “Oh my god!” He exclaimed.
Aspach realising the enormity of power that the skull possessed replied, “We must get rid of this skull. Will you help me?”
Wilkins stilled briefly in contemplation, responded. “Let's remove it back to where it was originally located. I feel only harm will come from owning this. You do know where it came from, don't you?”
Aspach replied, “Yes, I know the cemetery very well. We can go there before dark and put it into a hole to be rid of it.”
Wilkins retorted, “But if we do, nobody must know, I have been engaged in paranormal research now for the better part of 30 years, and never have I occasioned to come across something as palpably evil as this.”
After both retired to their respective beds for a sleepless night's sleep, they met later in the day in drawing room where Aspach had re-boxed the skull into a war time munitions box leaving within a salutary warning note to whomever finds the box which simply read, `If you find me, please leave alone, or I will make your life a misery`.
Having placed both the skull and note within, he welded the box permanently sealed within a workshop in the old stable block, and transferred the box into the trunk of his 1951 Citroen saloon which was parked outside with the engine running. He also included two spades to bury the box and it`s unholy contents.
By now he was joined by Wilkins as they set off to the ruins of old St Giles churchyard, which lay a few miles distant.
Having arrived some 20 minutes later, they ensured there were no other visitors while the box and skull were taken to a quiet corner where both men proceeded to dig a very deep hole just wide enough to hide the skull.
After a few minutes toil with the box safely deposited they filled the hole as it was starting to turn dark.
Feeling relieved and pleased, both men failed to observe the presence of a solitary figure silhouetted in the gloom of a gathering fog and perhaps aided to secrecy by the failing light. The misty figure had a menacing aura of a luminescent glow, but both men were two busy to note it`s presence, nor indeed the fact that it was slowly moving towards them.
Two days later, Mrs Milne returned back to the house to discover it seemingly empty. Despite frantic calling and checking each room there were no other persons in the property and Aspach`s car was missing.
She noted that in the drawing room it was left in somewhat of a disarray, with a pile of books lying in a fallen heap, and a desk with some uneaten sandwiches and a very cold cup of tea lay on top.
After a few hours, she decided to call the local police to report her employer missing. But before she could lift the heavy bakelite telephone a knock was heard at the door.
Upon answering she was met by a man dressed in a casual suit who identified himself as Detective Inspector Dryden from Bury St Edmund's police.
Having made a formal introduction, Mrs Milne ushered the police officer inside who informed her in somewhat somber tones that her employer was discovered that morning hanging from a tree in the ruins of St Giles churchyard with another man.
He appeared to have died by hanging and as he was but a few short feet from the ground the process of dying from strangulation and asphyxiation must have taken some time to effect. In short, a very unpleasant death.
He then reached into his pocket and pulled out a handwritten note which Mrs Milne identified as the writing of Aspach. Inspector Dryden then read the note which he assumed was some form of suicide note which read, `If you find me, please leave well alone, or I will make your life a misery`.
Mrs Milne stated to the officer that her employers business interests had of late fallen into hard times, and that he may well have committed suicide because of it. Although she was aware that he had a guest, a Professor Wilkins staying with him at the time.
Detective Inspector Dryden added, “Well”, he intoned, “the strangest of the strange is that Professor Wilkins who we believe was an acquaintance of his was found dead hugging the hanging body of Mr Aspach from his waist. We think he assisted in his suicide and died from a heart attack as his face was stricken with a terror I have never seen on a corpse.”
He concluded, “We aren't looking for anyone else ma`m, as we believe this to be an assisted suicide and death by natural causes although the coroner will have the last word to say on this. But the note he left is odd to say the least.”
A few days later after all police enquiries were completed, the Coroner's verdict recorded a suicide and death by heart attack. The case was now closed.
It is said that in later years nobody would enter St Giles churchyard after dark, as it was claimed to be haunted by Aspach and Wilkins, and it is legend that should anyone feast their eyes upon a third ghost in an old fashioned beaver skin hat that they would be immediately struck dead. It is believed that this phantom protects an unmarked grave in one corner of the churchyard, although the burial register claims there are no recorded burials there.
Quite how or where this legend came from nobody knows, but following two further apparent suicides from ghost hunters in the churchyard, nobody is prepared to find out for themselves.
(c) 2017 Christopher Halton
The Treasure of Bishop Bonner
As a serious collector of old photographs, etchings, and prints, Alex Smith was well known to many dealers in the antiquarian book trade, and especially those who auction or sell by approval to those with a registered interest through the post.
One such dealer, for whom we will refer to here as `Banhams of Oxbridge`, sent him in the post their latest catalogue of `Objects D`art and other Antiquarian Oddities`, which was a 10-page booklet listing prints, original photographs, and some etchings dating back some 150 years or more.
Having sat down at his leisure on a quiet, wet, February afternoon, he glanced at the many items listed and was immediately struck by an odd and somewhat faded photograph of a woodland setting which featured a rather square and rather obtuse looking stone building surrounded by heath.
The sepia daguerreotype photograph measured around 12" x 6", and bore (according to the accompanying description) on the reverse in pencil, `Bishop Bonner`s Treasure House, Norfolk.` It was unsigned and undated.
As the imagery in the catalogue photograph was rather small and devoid of such detail that would allow a more intimate examination, he decided to call Banham`s by telephone to ask for the print to be sent on two week`s approval.
The price struck him as rather exorbitant for the subject matter offered, as at 4 guineas, the image could not be attributed to any well known or famous photographer or studio.
When he raised this issue with Banham`s, his contact there, a Mr Cecil Byers a director of the said establishment, assured him that it would pique his interest and that he would soon appreciate it`s value as it was shot some 100 years earlier.
Still not particularly convinced by his rather mediocre explanation, he placed his order with him as at the end of the day if I didn't want or need it, it would only cost him the return postage fee.
Within a few days, the print arrived rolled neatly in a cardboard tube, and with a small note thanking him for his interest.
Having carefully rolled it flat on a table with two paperweights to prevent it returning to it`s coiled form, he looked through a handheld magnifying glass and noticed something a little odd.
The door appeared to be partially open, although he was certain in the rather small catalogue image that it was closed.
His confusion could simply be attributed to a printing error in the catalogue, and so rather than dwell on such irrelevant concerns, he proceeded to examine the reverse, where as described in a hastily written hand, were the words, `Bishop Bonner`s Treasure House, Norfolk`. Unsigned and undated.
Now from his education, he knew Bishop Bonner was a recalcitrant priest to Elizabeth I, and under the rule of her sister, Mary, he was a well-known burner and persecutor of alleged Protestant heretics.
Bonner lived in an age where the Catholicism of old (which had been earlier rejected by King Henry VIII and his son, Edward VII) was forcibly re-enacted as the state religion by Mary following the death of Edward. With Bonner, `Bloody` Queen Mary found a natural ally and approved somewhat of Bonner`s cruel atrocities against her adversaries - whether real or perceived.
He also recalled that he too earned the nickname of `Bloody Bonner` because of his pleasure with torture and murder.
As a result, he acquired great personal wealth and was promoted to Bishop of London with a palace (now gone) at Copford in Essex.
In short, he was a cruel, merciless, greedy man who later met his end in Marshalsea Prison on 5 September 1569 - having been jailed unrepentant for his many sins by Elizabeth I.
So, Alex mused, how is this photograph connected or even relevant to `Bloody Bonner?After an hour spent working through his Gazetteer of Norfolk, and a number of historical reference books at his command, he found that the `Treasure House`, was, in fact, a medieval `warrener's cottage`, within Thetford Forest.
In the old days, it belonged to the church and was a source of fresh rabbit meat for the tables of the Priors of Thetford, and the cottage or lodge was built to protect the warreners from attacks by brigands, and as a place to safely store the freshly killed rabbits before transporting to Thetford Priory.
Although there was a connection to the church of the day, there was nothing that he could read or discern that linked Bonner and his treasure to this lodge, although legend dictated that Bonner had, in fact, buried his treasure in the grounds of present-day Copford Hall, a house built later upon the foundation of his palace after it was destroyed and following his death.
Folklore in the locality apparently gave reason to believe that Bonner haunts the land around the hall, and at times his ghost had been spotted in search of his lost treasure.
But like all good tales, nobody had ever in fact reported seeing this manifestation, and despite efforts of past owners at Copford Hall, nobody had ever found any trace of it.
Yet here perhaps erroneously, this ancient photograph gives claim to the real location of his wealth which if to be believed, was a remote building many miles from his former possessions in Copford.
Giving no further thought to this story, he retired to bed to ponder on whether to buy this old photograph and follow through the story, or merely to simply return it at the modest cost of return postage.
On the morning of the following day, his thoughts once more returned to the old photograph which still lay where he left it on the table the night before.
Still somewhat `blurry eyed` from his recent sleep he at first thought that his eyes were deceiving him when he had occasion to glance at the image as he proceeded to read the morning newspaper.
Here he could now see a rather short and rotund figure of a man walking away just a short distance from the doorway. Clearly, he was certain that he hadn`t seen this previously, and despite the faded quality of the photograph and foxing around the print, there was clearly something amiss.
He returned to the catalogue image and considered whether he had taken leave of his senses.
And yet here before him was the greatest shock and surprise. It too correlated with the image he had in my possession. A short rotund man in dark clothing in exactly the same position as in the photograph.
Trying desperately to resolve this mystery, or perhaps some unknown mental malady which had apparently seized possession of his mind, he looked more closely through his magnifying glass at the depiction of this previously unseen man.
He was clearly dressed in a dark monk like habit with the hood obscuring his face from being gazed upon. In one hand he could see a small square box upon which his hand was holding a carrying handle. His head was slightly stooped forward, almost as though he was focused upon some intent, or perhaps with a deed or act to perform.
He decided, therefore, to note down in writing what he had seen, which was timed and dated. He would return later to note any changes in the image, or perhaps hoping deep down it would remain the same as if to reassure him that he had not taken leave completely of his senses.
Having spent a few hours that day away from home on business in the ancient town of Colchester, he found himself the vicinity of Copford Church - close to the said ancient Copford Hall, where he came across the local church verger, an elderly man.
Upon enquiring on the history of the village, he told him that he had lived in the village all of his life, and by some fortune was also a local historian who had collected his own reliquary of the area. Without discussing the photograph in his possession, he enquired about Bishop Bonner`s legend.
He at first noticeably grimaced at the mere mention of his name, as even to this day, Bonner`s reputation had brought some undeserved shame upon those that lived in the area.
Looking at Alex with wizened powder blue eyes set rather narrowly on a long sharp face, he responded rather agitated, “You are not after his treasure I suppose?”
Alex retorted, (and perhaps through some shallow guilt of what he had already presumed to know), “Of course not, but more about the man when he lived here as Bishop of London”.
Shaking his head dismissively, he replied, “Well, what can I tell you that history doesn`t already know, he had other properties and possessions across the region, stretching from London to Norfolk, yet here his name has indelibly stained more so than in any other area, which was due to his cruel and harsh treatment of others, and not for any good works. And particularly so for the poor, or Protestants like myself whom he hated with mortal disdain”.
He then explained, “According to legend, the door of the church is studded with traces of human flesh which some believe was the work of the Danes”.
He continued, “I can say from folk I have spoken to, and whose family have lived here for centuries, the flesh belonged to a local man who rejected Bonner`s stance on Catholicism. Bonner offered him salvation by returning to the old ways and threatened him with death if he didn`t. The man chose the latter, and Bonner had him nailed to the door of the church to make an example, and where he so remained for days until he expired from loss of blood and exposure to the elements.
It was said that Bonner was so angry that he beat him with sticks and tree branches as he writhed in pain. He was such a cruel and sadistic man and without any shred of moral decency.”
Somewhat shocked by this tale, Alex was hesitant to follow through with his next question which vexed him so badly for an answer, but regardless he asked, “Did Bonner have a connection to the Priory at Thetford, and in particular it`s outlying properties as in the `Warreners Lodge` in Thetford Forest?”
The old man exclaimed, “What an odd question, but I can say that he owned a cottage next to the church in Dereham in Norfolk - as he was once rector there and that this is some 25 miles north of Thetford. Perhaps your questions should be directed there. Talk of Bonner leaves a rather bitter taste in my mouth as I am sure you can now appreciate. Good day sir”.
He then dipped his hat, turned away from me, and hobbled off towards the church barely supported by a hickory walking stick.
Alex decided to leave matters there, and not to antagonise him further. He returned home once more to that now beguiling image, as curiosity with what he might find had gotten the better of him. Yet he was also left feeling very uncomfortable and even more indisposed to the tenor of that insidious man in the photograph.
On arrival back home, he immediately went to the photograph on the table - And upon his approach to it, a gnawing sensation in his stomach prepared him for the worst he might find inside it.
Again using the magnifying glass he saw that the figure was now emerging from a line of trees next to the clearing. He or it, was no longer carrying the box as he had observed earlier, and the head in the hood was turned towards the camera in a manner that presupposed that he was alert to Alex`s intrusion. The face was without any discernible definition, but he was sure, well reasonably certain, he was actually smiling cynically at him.
He shuddered at this apparition and stepped back away from the table upon which the image rested. Now it becomes quite seemingly something very personal, and deeply worrying.
He again checked the catalogue photograph, but there was no image of the hooded man in view. He had gone as though in an instant! He surely must have imagined this.
Alex immediately placed down his glass and sat down relieved for he felt once more at ease, and was ready to discount all of this until he glanced nervously back at the original.
In the foreground and to the right-hand corner, he could see just a sliver of blackness, just enough to show that he had moved forward and towards to the right of him - as he had apparently slipped off the screened area.
The thought as to where he may have gone caused Alex to look closely around the room which was now falling into darkness as the sun had slipped from view outside.
He felt very cold as a shiver of fear shot down his spine, and his senses snapped into a defensive reaction. Was he with him in this room?; he shuddered and thought, Is he still somewhere in the confines of that image?
Every creak of every joist in that house became cruelly convincing in his mind, that the presence of this man who he was certain was Bonner, was now in hiding somewhere with a malicious intent within his home.
The old Verger`s words rang like an alarm bell in Alex`s mind. He mused that perhaps Bonner had reached out from beyond the grave to inflict some cruel and historic torture upon him?
He decided that the only way to end this nightmare was to venture out to rural Norfolk and to travel to the remote Warreners Lodge. Perhaps the answers to this strange set of circumstances lay there, but first, he had to find out more about the photograph from Banham`s. If they offered it for sale, they must surely have a record of where it came from?
After an unsettling night`s sleep, he welcomed the yawning light of the emerging sun the next day. Deep down he was hoping that he was suffering from an excitable over-imagination, and had even convinced himself that he had been under a lot of pressure from his work and that perhaps after ringing Banham`s, all will be resolved to his own personal satisfaction.
So many wishes and thoughts as he attempted to extract himself from a situation that some would deem as possibly paranormal, and yet logically, he knew that the paranormal was nothing more than fiction. No scientific mind of the modern day could ever accept anything less, as there was now an answer for everything, he assured himself.
After gulping down a strong coffee, he rang his contact Mr. Byers at Banham`s.
He decided to play it straight and not to share any of the experiences he now believed he mistakenly thought he had with this photograph.
Mr. Byers informed him that although the image is shown on their stock list, he was unable to source where it came from. He explained that sometimes image stock was bought in bulk from an estate, and later were separated into single lots for sale - which he was certain was the reason here. In any case, if Alex wasn`t happy with the item, he could simply return it.
For reasons that he could only describe as being motivated by curiosity, he decided to purchase the photograph but managed to get a bargain 50% reduction on the purchase price due to his preferred trading status with Banham`s.
Having sent the cheque in the post to close the deal, he thereupon packed an overnight case with the photograph inside and set off to Thetford where he acquired an overnight room at the ancient White Horse Coaching Inn, a large old timber-framed hotel with a centuries-old tradition.
After dinner, he retired to the residents bar where he struck up a brief conversation with the barman, a young local man who like many other locals of this area, spoke with a broad, rich, Norfolk accent, and who asked of Alex whether he was there on business - as agriculture was the main trade in the area.
Alex, having told him he was a historian, he then broached the subject of the Warreners Lodge in the forest.
The barman admitted he knew very little of it's history, but the night porter, a man named Jim Wright, was someone who had many connections within the farming community and was surely the very best person who could assist Alex in his quest. He added that Mr. Wright was a `bit of a gossip`, and that Alex should be prepared for a long discussion - such was the way of people in this locality.
Having returned to his room, he removed the photograph from his suitcase. To protect it whilst travelling he had earlier placed into a temporary frame of a stiffened card back and protected with cellophane.
Again Alex checked the image for any new detail, but everything appeared as it was when he first purchased it.
After 10pm when Jim Wright came on duty, a hot drink previously ordered for this time was dutifully delivered by him. And as the barman warned, Jim was indeed very talkative and knowledgeable of the area.
Jim would be described as being quite tall, and a rather wirey looking fellow in his late forties with a mass of grey hair and rather long old fashioned sideburns. He had a smile that stretched from ear to ear, and his old-fashioned button up waistcoat and collar studded white shirt with a narrow tie reminded me somewhat of a turn of the century railwayman. But his pleasing and laid back demeanour epitomised the local farming folk in this part of Norfolk.
Alex tentatively shared with him the unusual photograph which Jim immediately recognised from his childhood. He added it had been taken many years earlier by a local photographer, a man who was apparently one of the first in the district to own a camera.
Jim recalled that this photograph was of the lodge about the time of `that murder`, and ironically perhaps, the image had been shot a week before his death by the actual victim. The killer was never caught, and the photographer victim was believed to have been obsessed that the lodge was where Bishop Bonner hid his most precious treasure before being detained at the displeasure of `Queen Bess` (Elizabeth I).
The victim he knew was a man named Daniel Wilkerson, the son of a wealthy landowner who had spent much of his personal resources hunting for `Bloody Bonner's Baubles` as he used to refer to it. Everyone thought him to be mad because of this unfounded obsession.
In fact (and according to what Jim had learned as a child) Wilkerson was one night enraged over a disagreement with a member of the hotel staff who apparently was never seen again the following day. The argument lay around the legend of Bonner's treasure, and importantly the reason why he hid it either in, or near to the lodge.
Although suspected to have been involved, Wilkerson was never arrested or charged and claimed that he had witnessed a dark robed figure of a man follow the staff member from the hotel shortly after their dispute.
Alex quietly shuddered but managed to retain his quiet composure.
Jim added, that owing to Wilkerson`s social importance as that of a wealthy landowning Squire, the authorities were loathed to move against him, and particularly so as his uncle was the local Justice of the Peace. The disappearance, therefore, was ascribed to the actions of a homeless vagabond, a type that used to frequent the area in search of odd jobs and farm work. Neither the hotel worker or the `vagabond` were ever seen again.
Jim continued, “My late uncle knew of Wilkerson, and regarded him as rather unstable in character. Having been employed as a gamekeeper on the estate which covered the warrener`s lodge, he often saw him flitting around the building at all times of the day or night. He claimed he knew where the treasure was, and that Bonner hid it in the area as he knew the site so well from his tenure at Dereham”.
“And the strangest part is .....”, Jim paused and continued, “is that Wilkerson claimed he had captured Bonner in that very photograph that you now possess”.
Alex laughed as to mask his own fear of what I had already discerned, and exclaimed, “So Wilkerson claimed he captured a long-dead Bishop in a photograph that you and I cannot see!”
“Well”, replied Jim rather glumly, “He died a week to the day after he took it, so who knows what was going on in his mind”.
The story of his murder apparently raged for weeks. It was said that Jim`s uncle had found his body early one morning lying out in a shallow trench. His arms were stretched out in frozen fear, and there was a look of terror etched on his battered face.
There were multiple bruises on his body, and so beaten was he that it was only possible to identify him from a fob watch and his clothing. Whoever committed this crime was certainly more deranged than him.
And the oddest part of the whole episode was that both his jacket pockets were filled with sand and some natural debris.
Despite vigorous police enquiries at the time and a huge reward offered by the Wilkerson's, the killer was never found.
Alex enquired about the vagrant that Wilkerson claimed earlier to have followed the former staff member from the hotel. “Could he have been perhaps responsible as he bore witness to a supposed suspect in a disappearance?”
Assuredly, Jim replied rather oddly, “No, I don`t think it was him”..
Alex asked Jim whether he believed in the treasure legend, but he merely shrugged his shoulders and replied, “Who knows what to believe, but I never felt comfortable around that lodge as a child. And at night people have reported hearing or seeing strange things. It just doesn`t feel right... “
Thanking Jim for the background story he left Alex alone to ponder his own thoughts.
He pondered. “Is there such a hidden treasure, and if so, would it not be too dangerous to go there the following day after all that he has seen in that image?”
He thought nothing more about it as he was too tired after a long drive from Essex, and retired for the night.
The next thing he remembered from that night was arriving for the first time at the lodge the following day, which despite the passing years still remained, although in rather splendid isolation against a backdrop of forest which had hardly changed in centuries.
Strangely perhaps the building appeared to have been in some use as there were wooden staves and picket fences around the structure, and smoke curling into a wisp from a chimney fire.
As Alex drew closer to the door, he could hear someone, or something, shuffling around inside. He felt a tremendous fear or caution that something did not feel right, and stood away to the rear of the building. He then heard the door open and close, and to the side walking towards the forest, he saw the very same man from the photograph dressed in a habit with the hood up. He appeared to be carrying a box in one hand.
He followed, (or at least he felt driven to follow), and kept behind at a safe distance as the figure entered the forest. A short while later he could hear digging, and the grunting of a man not used to manual work from behind a small bush.
He crept cautiously and saw a deep hole with a small oak coffer padlocked in iron strapwork, which remained upright inside this pit. But the man had gone, he was nowhere to be seen or heard. He didn't know why, but he was urged to go inside the pit where he picked up the box by it's heavy handle and noticed it was very heavy, very heavy indeed...
As he was about to extract himself with the box from the pit he felt a tremendous blow to the back of his head and slumped forward and then onto his back.
He looked up, and there was the menacing face he had seen robed in the photograph.
All he remembered was an evil smile as again he struck him across the head with a wooden stave, and he lost consciousness ......
“It`s 7.30am sir, your early morning call you requested”... The voice was softer, that of a woman and Alex realised that I was actually sat upright in his hotel bed with somewhat of a terrible headache. The caller was a maid outside the room, and he thanked her, as he heard her footsteps trail away outside.
He realised that his imagination had got the better of him, and no doubt aided by the tales shared to him the night before by the porter.
And now he had to make a decision as to whether to travel over to the old warrener`s lodge, or whether to return home none the worse for the weird experience.
He again referred to the photograph taken all those years before by Wilkerson. Now feeling as though he was fated to go there he looked at the image through his magnifying glass. And once more a cold tingling shock revived his senses when he saw standing clearly and faced towards him by the entrance to the lodge, the robed figure.
This time his hood was down, and he could plainly see a fat, balding face staring coldly at him with a grimacing smile. To him, this felt to be a challenge and one where science and logic could overrule primitive fears and superstition. There had, he concluded, to be a logical explanation.
He no longer cared who or what was in this photograph, he wanted to find out the truth of what was perhaps the greatest mystery he had ever encountered - as unsettling as it felt.
Having settled his hotel bill, he packed away his belongings into the boot of his car and drove for about 30 minutes before reaching a rather crude car parking area where he removed from the boot an old spade to check out whether the dream had any substance in the real world.
He remembered his route from the dream, and after a few minutes, he came across a rather square 14th century stone building that he immediately recognised as the lodge.
There were no doors or windows, as by now it had become a shell, but the forest and clearing looked very much the same from the photograph. As he walked towards the structure he could hear feet walking behind him. He stopped and turned – but there was nobody there, and he continued to the now barred entrance.
He looked around and saw a couple walking their dog, but they both stopped to look rather oddly at him. He waved back, but their faces turned towards the side of the building as though they had observed someone or something else. He looked in their direction and there certainly wasn't anyone else there, and if the truth would know it, he rather felt alone with himself and continued with his inspection of the empty shell of the lodge.
It was hard to imagine the history of this 600-year-old building, save the remains of two fireplaces and a medieval garderobe (toilet). There remained but a hollow and forlorn structure.
Following the trackway he recalled from the photograph and his dream, he walked into the forest, a dark almost impenetrable world of tall trunks and a dark menacingly quiet canopy which gave the air of some dark medieval cathedral.
He noticed that the bush in his dream was there, and upon stepping inside he saw a large hollow in the ground. Whether through fear or through a deep and driving curiosity, he dug deeper and deeper before the spade hit something hard.
He clambered down and scraped away the light sandy soil where he discovered to his shock and dismay, a heavy human skull much stained by the yellow impurities of the sand around it.
After a few seconds, he pulled the skull clear, and below was a dark cavity which he reached into. Out came a ruby pendant, then a gold cross, and countless rings and jewellery set with precious stones in gold. For here was a King`s ransom in real treasure, and Wilkerson had been proven right, Bonner's treasure was indeed here.
The excitement quickly diminished any fear I had, and he placed the precious artifacts into a canvas sack he was carrying.
Having satisfied the hole was now empty save for the ruins of a well rotted wooden box he quickly left, abandoning the spade in situ, for he no longer cared or worried. Excitedly he thought that he had beaten the curse of Bloody Bonner, and now his only thoughts were upon returning home and declaring this hoard to the appropriate authorities as treasure trove.
As he walked down the track-way back from where he had come, he met the couple I had seen earlier. Both appeared shocked and looked beyond me to my rear, but Alex remained silent as he smiled courteously, and hurriedly moved on to where he had parked his car.
Having looked around a few times, he felt personally assured that there was nobody following, although the couple's dog was snapping and snarling in the gathering distance as it strained on it`s leash towards him. but there was nobody he could see following him and felt quite safe if not a little apprehensive about what he had duly accomplished.
Returning to his car, he drove the 2-hour journey back to his home. He was finally safe to sort out the treasure and to make notes inside his diary. Tomorrow, he would declare the find to the Coroner`s Office and the world...
Inspector Frank Johnson of the Essex Police placed down the diary recovered from the car of the late Alex Smith, a former collector and dealer in antiquaries and object d`arts.
He had been reading passages aloud to colleagues gathered in his office and took a sip of office tea before looking around at the gathered police detectives.
Somewhat bemused by these entries, he placed the diary into an evidence bag and passed it over to Det Sgt Stanley Jones, the officer assisting in Smith's apparent murder.
He asked, “Have we recovered any of the items recorded in this diary, Stan?”
“No sir, the strangest part of all is that the canvas bag was filled with sand and debris, and we can find no trace of the photograph.”
“And what of the hotel, Stan, have we verified the stay and the meeting with the night porter. Has he anything to add?”
Jones rather formally replied while reading his notes, “Our enquiries confirm he stayed at the hotel, but there is no record of a night porter working there by the name of Jim Wright. Someone did once work there by that name, but that was a porter believed murdered some distance from the hotel many years ago allegedly by a Daniel Wilkerson - but nothing could be proven as the body was never recovered”.
He continued, “Thetford police have spoken to the barman referred to, but he states he left a message with a night porter to speak to him at 10 pm, but when the porter arrived with a hot nightcap, there was no reply. It was assumed that he had retired to bed. And he did check out normally the next day following an early morning call by staff”.
Inspector Johnson interjected, “This is all very odd. All we can say is that Smith visited Thetford two days ago, and was reportedly acting oddly despite having a reputation as a sober and respected collector of antiques with no known mental issues or drug problems. And now his battered body was found this morning in the driveway of his home by the milkman with no trace of any culprit. And in his jacket pocket a bag full of sand and debris. No neighbours saw or heard anything, although one recalled his car arriving late into the night. If I cannot find any fresh leads, this case will be left on file unsolved, as murdered by a person or persons unknown. None of this makes any sense at all”.
And resignedly he added, “And what of that dealer who sold him that damned photograph?” ..................
Three weeks later, Raymond Simonsen, a noted collector of antiquarian prints and objet d`art receives in the post a catalogue from a respected dealer in Oxbridge. Listed on page ten is a rather interesting photograph bearing a pencil inscription, `Bishop Bonner`s Treasure House, Norfolk`, Unsigned and undated ......
(C) 2015 Chris Halton
Having spent 30 years as a police officer, and dealing with situations that varied from serious crime such as murder to ordinary domestic-related incidents, I was well versed in all that was deemed bad or good in human character.
Indeed such was the temper and tone of my life I was perhaps entwined with the stress and the excitement that came part of that very existence which was what I perceived to be the pure essence of life and death.
And so retirement from all of this became a cut-off point from all that I knew to be normal to my life, and adopting a more sedentary lifestyle was something for which I was ill-accustomed for and wanted.
For some months I decided to follow the same well-beaten path of my colleagues in retirement by becoming a private detective, which I had hoped, would allow my well trained legal and investigative faculties to be put at least to some good use.
Despite advertisements in the back pages of local newspapers and circulars, the request for my services appeared more in the vein of following errant husbands or wives in domestic infidelity cases or chasing debtors for unpaid debts.
In the main these offered little chance for excitement or opportunity to perform a task that well suited my detective skills for which I may be boastful to say that on three past occasions I received a Chief Constables Commendation, and two commendations from judges at court for jobs well done.
This dissatisfaction of not having any real and tangible purpose often left me lingering for the earlier life I enjoyed, and the thought of spending the remainder of my days performing these very humdrum tasks left me feeling somewhat disconsolate with my very being and future.
However, that all was to change on the day of November 10th this year, when I received a telephone call request from a Lady Fitzwilliam, the wife of a businessman of note to call at her home to deal as she briefly said, `with a most pressing and urgent matter that required the greatest discretion.`
Following her instructions, I was directed to contact her personally at her home, Wellstead Hall, near the town of Sudbury in Suffolk.
Arriving at 2.30pm that day, and on a very dull and overcast afternoon, the weather cast a deep gloom over the hall having negotiated a mile long drive to get there.
The house appeared to be a very old timber framed property of great antiquity, with part of the house constructed of a soft mellow sandstone that appeared in part to be the remains of a former monastic building for which the timbered structure had been added later.
Standing a few yards east side of the house I noted the ruins of what appeared to be a chapel of some note which gave the whole site an eerie, if not sombre presence.
Indeed if the house was observed on a more agreeable day, it would look truly magnificent imbued with the history of years long lost in time, but here I digress.
Leaving my car in the curved carriage drive in front of the building, I gathered my case and hat and made my way quickly to a large oaken front door which was from memory painted black with a large brass lions head door knocker.
Lifting the heavy door ring I tapped twice against the back plate from which resonated a loud and almost thunderous echo into the property.
Presently I heard the shuffling of feet, and a voice of a man shout, “Be with you in a moment”.
Within seconds the door creaked open, and standing in front of me was a grey-haired, apron-wearing gentleman, who was resplendent in a shirt, collar, and tie, and who introduced himself as `her ladyship's valet`; and appeared to be cleaning the inside of the property judging by a rather grubby duster in his rubber-gloved hand.
Without further introduction from me, he ushered me into a large hall, which was framed by oil paintings and two fine mahogany hall porter chairs.
With a brief smile, he beckoned me to follow into an open door from the hallway into a large heavily beamed drawing room where a slim, well dressed middle-aged woman was sat in a large winged armchair by an open hearth log fire.
She stood to her feet, and smiled and said, “My name is June Fitzwilliam, and you must be the detective I asked to see, named Mr Alshott. Oh, and no formalities here, please call me June, and your first name is?”
“Oh, I`m Derek, pleased to make your acquaintance”, as I outstretched my hand and shook hers.
Having been requested to sit down in the opposite winged chair, Lady Fitzwilliam stared directly into the flames of a rather handsome stone fireplace which was suitably fitted with a large fire dog grate piled with burning logs. She seemed as though she was mesmerised by the flickering lights curling from the spitting, split wood, and after this momentary distraction she turned to me and said, “So pleased you got here, I`ve been at my wits end over this, let me explain”.
After having been offered and accepted the gentle comforts of an afternoon tea with June and served by her valet, she related to me the following story which I will share here in the main without the necessities of speech quotations.
Some twenty years earlier, June and her husband Sir Angus Fitzwilliam bought the rambling and run down hall from the estate of the former owner, a hereditary peer, Lord Wellstead who died without issue aged 92.
The Wellstead`s had owned the property since the dissolution of the Catholic church in the 16th century. The house was originally the property of a Cluniac order of monks who were forced off the estate in 1536, and much of the original buildings were demolished and sold for building material. By the time the Wellstead`s arrived, all that remained were the partial remains of the refectory and the adjacent ruined medieval chapel. The timber-framed extension was added by the Wellstead`s.
I interjected, “A fascinating history, but how is this relevant to my being here, June?”
Looking at me rather curtly she said, “Everything, Derek if you allow me to continue”.....
She then drew a deep breath and continued, “Do you believe in ghosts, Derek? I can understand completely if you don`t, but I really don`t know how to describe the events over the last few days.”
I replied that although I didn't personally believe, I was at least open-minded to the possibility and experience of such an event.
“Well” she added, looking somewhat relieved, “Three nights ago it started. That is to say, three nights ago at 11 pm I was sat in this room reading. I heard the door knocker, but as Charles had already retired for the night, I went alone to answer. Upon opening, there was no trace of anyone being there. As there was a breeze I assumed that perhaps it may have been that which caused it. But to be honest, in all the years I`ve lived there it has never happened before. But one has to be reasonable and logical about such matters, so I put it all down to that.”
Stopping briefly to sip her favourite Earl Grey tea from an elegant Minton breakfast cup and saucer, she added, “The following night, I was again here in this room at the same time when the door knocker went again. Just one loud rap. At this time Charles was in the kitchen and he went to answer the door. Again there was nobody there and no wind or breeze this time. Charles went outside with a torch and thought he saw someone walking into the church ruins next door. But again nobody was found. On both occasions, I informed the police, but by the time they arrived, whoever, or whatever called at my home had obviously long gone by then. Last night was, even more, stranger than the last. Charles was with me again in this room in case the mystery caller arrived at the same time.
Sure enough, the door knocker was rapped, and we rushed straight to the door. This time I too saw someone or something heading to the ruins, but as it was raining hard I wasn't able to see who it was. All I can say is that it looked by the size and height to be a man. Again the police were called and the grounds and ruins were searched, but nothing, nothing at all.”
She paused and then said, “And here is why it was even stranger still. When it rains, callers arriving on foot at the door leave wet footprints as the ground there is dry due to the porch. And yet there were none! And when the police called their footprints were quite self-evident in the rain after they had left.”
She then got up and took from the mantelpiece and said, “This morning in the post I received this card from my husband sent a few days ago stating that he was hopeful of returning tonight. The card was depicting Monaco in the south of the country, and I knew he would probably sail to return via Marseilles as he hates flying. But knowing the troubling weather we've been experiencing over the last few days I realise that there was no guarantee of him getting here in time. So I`ve called you in to help”.
And with a soft but hesitant smile, she continued; “Well if you could, and I will reward you handsomely for your trouble.”
“Well, I am more than happy to assist, but why not call in the police again?” I answered.
She pointed out that each time the police responded it was at least half an hour after the event, and so to resolve this, she wanted me to sit up outside in my car to catch the caller as he arrives. She added that should her husband return in time he would join me.
Having agreed a fee for my troubles, I arranged with her to return at 10 pm that evening and would remain hidden from view in my car on the driveway. Hopefully, then this mystery could be explained.
Later that evening I returned as agreed and parked my car to afford a discreet view of the front of the house which was poorly illuminated as there was no outside lighting, and just the minimal light from the corners of the curtains downstairs. Fortunately though it was close to a full moon and there were no clouds in the night sky.
After calling first at the house, I returned to my car and remained partially hidden from view in the back seat.
After what seemed an eternity, (but in fact was no more than an hour), I saw a solitary figure of a man walk to the front door and knock once. I immediately opened the rear door and clambered out, but the man had gone. The best I could describe as a short stockily built man wearing a raincoat with a belt.
I went to the spot where I saw him, and looked in either direction. He was nowhere in view that I could see, and so I stood quietly still hoping that I may hear something of his presence. In the far distance and towards the old chapel ruins I heard very faintly the sound of someone walking, but saw no light of a flashlight or similar.
Certain that this was indeed the mysterious caller, I quietly, but as quickly possible, walked to where he was heading and just barely discernible in the gloom I saw him enter the main chancel of the ruined building.
I headed over to him and nervously challenged him as he stood with his back to me and said, “What are you doing here may I ask, this is private property?”
He turned around slowly and stood facing towards me by a few feet as I shone the light into his face. He raised his arms and snapped, “You can put that light away from me, I'm the owner of this property, so who the hell do you think you are?”
I could see that the man was Sir Angus Fitzwilliam , judging by the large framed photograph I had seen inside the house. I quickly apologised, and feeling more relaxed I explained why I was here.
He smiled reassuringly and said, “Oh, I perfectly understand, poor June does get rather jittery when I am away.”
He explained he had just returned from his trip abroad, and thought he had seen someone among the ruins and went to investigate.
He added that he liked to wander on his own to the ruins to appreciate the quietness and tranquility, especially after being away on a hectic business schedule. He claimed the place was haunted and asked whether I believe in ghosts.
I told him what I told his wife, that I am open-minded on such matters although I personally have never seen a ghost. He laughed, and said, “Well sometimes we may meet a ghost and never know it”.
He struck me as a kindly and congenial character, and we sat down on a ruined stone wall where he spoke about his life and hopes for the future. He offered me a cigarette during our conversation from a silver cigarette case that his wife had bought him on their wedding anniversary, and told me how much comfort the case gave him when he was away from his beloved wife. He then strangely became quieter and more sullen at the mention of June, and said that he needed to be alone now for a short while, and asked that I go to the house to assure his wife that he was safe and had now returned.
Shaking hands with him, I went as requested to the house and explained to June that her husband had now returned home, and would be returning shortly after visiting the old ruins.
She was visibly quite excited and pleased that he had come back safely, and asked her valet to prepare some sandwiches for both him and myself.
We had both barely sat down when the door rapped again. She laughed and said, “Oh this time I know who that will be”, and rushed to open the door.
Instead of her husband, stood at the doorway was a rather glum-looking police officer who asked that he may be permitted to come inside.
Thinking that this had everything to do with her intruder, she beckoned him into the lounge and asked that he sit down.
Still looking very serious and perhaps embarrassed, the police officer said, “I think I had better stand Lady Fitzwilliam. I have been asked at this late hour to deliver a telegram to inform you that your husband had died in France four night's ago from a heart attack following a heavy business meeti....` Before he could finish, June frantically turned to me and said, “But you told me you have just spoken to him, what`s going on here, where is Angus?”
I was momentarily in a state of shock myself upon hearing the news, and mumbled briefly and incoherently before I could spit out the sentence that confirmed unequivocally that I had indeed just spoken to him inside the church ruins. I assured all parties present that this was the case and that he had said he would return shortly.
At June's insistence we left the house with the officer and went to the ruins where I had last seen him. And indeed he was nowhere to be found. But resting on the wall where we were both earlier sat was a silver cigarette case, the very case from which Sir Angus had earlier offered me a cigarette.
I picked this up and gave it to June as she seemed visibly shocked to see it. Very nervously she fumbled to open the lid clasp which revealed within an engraving bearing the words, `To my dearest Angus, love June`.
She then burst into tears and was inconsolable with grief, but found the strength to ask the police officer, "Please tell me, what time did Angus die, does it say?"
Looking somberly back at the telegram the officer replied, “Why, it says, 11 pm”.
I realised that I had shared the late hour of the night alone in an old church ruin with what I could sanely describe as a ghost and a ghost of a man who had desperately tried to return to his own home for four nights. And sadly perhaps for June, she never saw him again except at his funeral a few days later.
He never called again at the house, although immediately after the funeral I did share with her the conversation I had shared with him, and for that at least she was at peace again.
Even to this day, I often query with myself all of the events that happened, yet I still find it difficult to believe a person could exist in spirit and still be able to return in solid form. I guess that's why people call this the paranormal, and more importantly, the power of love.
(c) Chris Halton 2017