For it was in 1863, that the beauty of South Elmham located in the heart of rural Suffolk enchanted the Reverend Henry Markham. Here, he proceeded to erect a fine Victorian rectory overlooking the village. Markham having the wealth and support of his family, in his endeavours, rose to become the village squire. He died in 1895, and his son Edward followed in his footsteps becoming the new vicar of the village, and resided at the rectory until his death in 1928.
Rumours abounded that the rectory must have been haunted. If so, it says much about the character of the two rectors, when subsequent tenants found life unbearable through the relentless activities of poltergeists.
Edward Markham, made a habit of waiting at the rectory gate, for the passing of the ghostly coach. The sound of rumbling wheels, clattering of four horse’s hooves, would approach along the road, reach a crescendo at the gate, and gradually fade into the distance. The phantom coach was not only heard but also seen by the ex-groom of the rectory, who described a blazing carriage with lights careering through the rectory grounds.
A more significant manifestation was that of a Nun, confirmed by many witnesses, over the years, as she walked across the terrace. The presence of the Nun, added to the belief that the rectory must have been built on the site of a religious house.
In 1939, lightning struck the rectory, destroying the west wing, but it was not re-built until the early 1950’s. During the summer of 1955, Reverend James Patterson and his family took up residence, amidst much speculation and fear from the villagers, of the previous psychic manifestations as experienced in the old rectory.
There were few minor apparitions in the early years, but it was not until the latter months of 1972, nearly twenty years later, that their worst fears had come to bear. Poltergeist activities were ripe in the rectory, and experienced by many, for later that year, the Reverend James Patterson was found hanging from the rafters in the churches Bell Tower.
What had driven a man of God to take his own life, and in such a public way? This led to much uproar by the villager’s, claiming the vicar was bewitched, demanding the church and rectory should be shut.
For it was in the autumn of 1982, the rectory was sold and renovated, no longer a rectory, but a fine looking country farmhouse. Many villagers have feared for the sanity of those who resided in this dreadful building, with an unsavoury past.
Then in the spring of 1983, a Scottish family the James’s took up residence, with their three children; Michael 9, Benjamin 7, and Christina 8.
Very little was known about them, Peter James worked for the Civil Service, and in the early years, the children attended the local primary school, later they attended boarding school.
Michael, Benjamin and Christina always loved their holidays from boarding school. On their first day home, they would pump up their bicycle tyres, and ride quickly through the village waving here and there, to many of the villagers. Never stopping until they reached their destination, the last house at the end of the village, nestled down by the river. They would dash up the path to an ever-open door. There she would stand ‘Gran’ wearing a spotless apron; sleeves rolled up from her floury hands, ready to greet them. She was not their real grandmother, but she had come to be referred as ‘Gran’, ever since she used to help their mother run the house in the early years. She is like part of the family. Upon their arrival she would say “how lucky you are, I have just finished baking”, but they knew, she knew, when their school terms finished. No holiday would start right until the children had visited her, and tasted her home cooking.
Utter shock, rocked the heart of this peaceful village, on a sweltering summer morning in early August 1991. The ringing sound of gunshots, coming from within the old rectory.
I remember that day well; I had been pruning the roses in my front garden, when I heard shots. PC Roberts dashed passed minutes later, heading in the same direction, from which the sounds had come from. I instinctively grabbed my coat, and followed him, in case my services were required, in the capacity of a parish priest. We both knew where the shots had emanated from, the old rectory.
Inside all was quiet, but in the hall, on the stairs, there was chaos of objects flung about generally creating a scene of disaster. In the midst of similar destruction in the main room, was the body of Peter James, shot several times in the chest, close by his wife, Samantha, her face had partly been blown away? Upstairs in the rear bedroom, Christina sprawled across the bed still wearing a pair of earphones, body drenched in blood, from the chest wounds. Whilst Michael was found sprawled across the landing leading to the west wing, with two wounds in the back, and one in his left leg.
Finally, entering Benjamin’s room PC Roberts expecting to find another body discovered him, sitting on the side of his bed, in what appeared to be a state of shock, covered in blood and holding on his lap his father’s shotgun.
“Well, Benjamin what’s been going on here,” asked the Constable.
There was no reply from Benjamin.
Carefully, the shotgun was removed from Benjamin and wrapped in a sheet, he did not even flinch, just sat their still.
“Father McBride, could you stay with Benjamin while I call for assistance, and please don’t touch anything.”
The sight that greeted me was terrible, one I will never forget. I couldn’t believe at that time, Benjamin was responsible for the destruction of this family. Did he have no sympathy at all for the people who had brought him up, and given him everything a boy could desire? Apparently not!
Dr Mathew Hoyden, who arrived on the scene a little after 11.30am, was taken back by the scene, of so many bodies. The first body he examined was that of Samantha James’s lifeless body sprawled across the living room, blood was congealing from the wound, but there was little doubt she was dead. Because of the location of the wound, forensic experts summarised; her heart had stopped pumping blood, almost immediately, thereby resulting in very little blood splatter on nearby walls and furniture, for such horrific wounds.
Whilst the medical examination continued, and the crime scene photographers carried out their duties. The police carried out a detailed search of the house, from the attic to the cellar. Nothing was found to indicate the presence, of an intruder within.
Following the examinations, a senior officer allowed me to perform the ‘last rites ritual’ to each of the victims, before they were removed, from the house.
The horrific murders of Peter James, Samantha his wife, and children Christine and Michael, found murdered in their home, brought an onslaught of ever clambering press, to their doorsteps, in search of a story. They had convicted Benjamin, in the press as guilty, for he survived unscathed, holding the murder weapon.
“What happened to Benjamin.”
He appeared to be in a state of shock, and was removed firstly to the local hospital, and later to the David Rice Hospital, and remained there whilst police carried out their investigation.
“All the time he remained in hospital, he never uttered a single word, whether he was suffering from shock, no one knew.”
The police could find no evidence of an intruder, and their only suspect was Benjamin – despite overwhelming physical and circumstantial evidence pointing to him. Still the police found it hard to believe, as I do, that anyone as young as Benjamin, could cold bloodedly murder his own family.
A Social Worker, was present at police interviews of Benjamin, but still he did not utter a word of response to their questions, just shrugged his shoulders occasionally. As far as they were concerned, it was an open and shut case; and remained in custody at the Malen Secure Unit, until the trial.
The question which was on many peoples lips; was he a murder or an innocent victim?
I like so many of the villagers considered the events of 1972, when the Rev James Patterson took his life, could there be any connection?
Benjamin was brought before a closed session of the Juvenile Court to answer the charges laid upon him. For the whole of the proceedings, he sat and watched, showing no sign of emotion.
“Had he any idea what was going on Father.”
“I don’t know, but that was a different boy sitting in the courtroom, he had changed.”
Before the trial, Benjamin, had been remanded, to the Malen Secure Unit for assessment; based on their findings, the courts sent him to a Secure Unit on the Welsh Border, with no option of parole. That was the first time I saw any sort of reaction – he smiled.
“Have you seen him since the trial.”
“Yes, I have, I used to attend the Hospital. He hasn’t spoken since that day, just paints violent pictures of the victims, in lurid detail. It’s a sad sight, for one so young.”
Then events took a turn, a historian heard about the murders, turned up to study the site, which had undergone many strange events over the centuries.
The so-called Nun, was lured to England from France, in the 16th century, worked as a maid, murdered, and thrown down the old well, and left to rot. Believed to have been the apparition seen by many visitors over the years, whose frequent materialisation’s were the basic causes of so much agitation in the spirit world?
Believers in the paranormal believe the theory that in most cases of persistent disturbances, the cause is often a young female. From available evidence of poltergeist activity, it seems that a young girl, could be physically affected, attracting and energising forces beyond the normal. Support for this theory, held up at South Elmham, not only from the ghostly Nun but also from a young woman, who worked as a housemaid for the Rev James Patterson.
Violent activity seemed to accompany the skull, following its removal from the well. When taken to museum experts for detailed examination, a series of accidents took place in quick succession, the skull broke in two, and valuable works of art were damaged.
Paranormal activity once ripe in the area, ceased when the Nun’s skull, buried on holy ground at the local convent. At last, she was at peace!
Benjamin regained his speech, within days of the burial, but his mind remains a complete blank, since the day of the killings. Questions have been asked; whether he should be held accountable for these crimes, in light of the discoveries?
As far as our courts are concerned, this mumbo-jumbo evidence would not wash with them, Benjamin, was found guilty of the crimes, with no option of parole, and the sentence stands.
“But is he innocent Father?”
“I think so, but we will never know, unless he regains his memory. The mystery of the old rectory has been solved, and many lives destroyed in the process.”
“Father, don’t bore the young man with your memories, you’re supposed to rest, you know what the doctor said.”
“I may be old and retired, but let the boy here know all about the events of South Elmham, for next month, it will be his parish. Better to be forewarned of the events of the past, some villagers still remember, those awful times, no doubt!”
As the young priest left, gazing back at Father Bracks, sitting on the balcony of the retirement home. Thoughts raced through his mind, should I take on what he had started, visiting Benjamin, maybe one day he will answer that all-important question.
Who pulled the trigger, and why?