The New Law Journal/1990 Volume 140/Issue 6445, March/Articles/The secret of Bredon Hill - 140 NLJ 306
NEW LAW JOURNAL
140 NLJ 306
02 March 1990
The secret of Bredon Hill
COPYRIGHT (c) 1990 BUTTERWORTH & CO (PUBLISHERS) LTD
The shock of non-recognition of plain murder by medical men at GP level, and its alarmingly wide incidence, brought a shock of recognition to the readers of J D J Harvard’s Cambridge monograph, The Detection of Secret Homicide.
For the doctor who, failing to lift the bed sheet, certifies as due to natural causes the death of a patient whose throat is cut from ear to ear, there is small exoneration, but consider the perplexing case of the death in summertime on Bredon …
Not quite summertime, actually, for it was at 5.30 pm on May 9, 1939, that Harry Francis Dean, a solicitor’s clerk, aged 49, recently promoted Borough Accountant in the Town Clerk’s Department at Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire, laid down his pen, got up from his desk, and strode happily out into the old Tudor-timbered town.
Instead of going home, he boarded a bas. It put him down at the long, straggling village of Kemerton, Worcestershire. The silence and the dusk closing in about him, he made his way through the ver-deepening lanes, up a rough cart-track leading to the 1,000-foot summit of Bredon Hill.
For many years Dean had been weirdly fascinated by the looming hill, a kind of mini Ayers Rock - scene of the Australian dingo baby case - and, like it, surrounded by a menacing aura of ancient mysteries. In fact, he and his wife, Janet, were planning to put up a tent on the slopes of lonely Bredon and spend their next summer holiday there.
Oblivious of time and the shadows moving swiftly over the foot-lands, Harry Dean slogged his way up over a treacherous terrain of loose screes, towards where, on the hill’s brow, stood the old Iron Age camp.
He was never seen alive again.
When, by midnight, her husband had not returned home, Janet Dean, frantic with worry, called the police. No, she did not know where her husband was - but she suspected. “He’ll be somewhere on Bredon,” she told them.
At 10.30 am on the following morning - Wednesday, May 10, 1939 - the village constable, PC Maund, of Bredon, accompanied by a search-party of Dean’s friends, found his body. It was lying huddled at the foot of a boulder in an eerie hill-top quarry. They thought he must have falled to his death off the boulder. But it was only 2 feet 6 inches high. And Harry Dean had been strangled.
There was an inquest in Bredon Village Hall. Dr Margaret Wilkinson, of Kemerton, who had examined the body in situ and later conducted a post-mortem, came up with a very odd finding. She said that in her opinion Dean had climbed on to the boulder to look around him in the quarry, slipped off it, and, in the course of falling -less than three feet - had been choked to death by his own collar and tie!
It was a theory as full of holes as a colander. To start with, the quarry floor, where medicinal herbs and wild flowers grew in profusion, was deadflat, and the quarry was bounded on all sides by stone cliffs from 30 to 60 feet high. Dean had not reason to clamber on to a boulder. There was nothing to see.
Mr H J H Saunders, coroner for South Worcestershire, recorded a verdict of death by misadventure. It was a finding that begged too many questions. The accidental death solution assumed the validity of suggestions which seem so very far-fetched.
Suicide? There was no evidence to support it. Dean was in good health, had no financial or other anxieties and no known enemies.
Murder? Again, no evidence. But … All of this area around Bredon has a long history of magic and witchcraft. Until quite recently corn-dollies - symbols of human sacrifice fertility rites - were carried on the harvest wains in the Vale of Bredon. And the strange hill forms one side of a four-sided figure of magical significance. Due East, 13 miles away, is Long Compton Hill, with its sinister circle of Rollright Stones, the centre of black magic in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Away in another angle is Meon Hill, where on St Valentine’s night 1945, an old hedger and ditcher, Charles Walton, of Lower Quinton, was found murdered. To this day there are those who will swear that it was a ritual killing - a cross cut on his chest, a pitchfork through his throat, his blood fertilising the earth. And they tell of the black dog, the hound of death, said to be encountered by those marked down by the dark forces. Charles Walton saw it as a boy.
The entrance to the quarry where Harry Dean.s body was found is flanked by an ancient, grass-banked causeway, the sides and top of which are hummocked with still unopened barrows of the Stone Age. Not many yards away, across turf deep and immemorial, there stand, close to a copse of tall trees, two “magic” sentinels, the King and Queen Stones. Prehistoric in origin, they are said to have been the focus of ritual for thousands of years - and they still are. On the floor of the quarry of death, four lesser sentinels mark the cardinal points of the compass. It was at the base of the south-guarding one of these, a curiously sculpted, weathered and fissured boulder, that Dean’s corpse was found.
The whisper - and, remember, it is only a primitive, rural whisper, coming on wings of superstitution down the long flight of centuries - is that by pure misfortunate chance Harry Dean strayed into the age-old magic killing ground on a very special night in the black calender Walpurgis month of May …
Or would you be happier with the coroner’s more conventional collar and tie solution?
With a parodist’s apology to A E Housman:
The bells they sound on Bredon,
Tolling his passing knell,
Those modus moribundi
No living man can tell.