Village of the cursed (1/4)

castles08a

Our story begins in Barrisgough, a former Saxon village, consisting of a single road, with a circular green midway, once the site of a Saxon styled fortress.

The Eastern Times headline read:

GUNNED DOWN IN THEIR HOME:  On Thursday 15th August 1991,  Mr Peter James (38), his wife of twenty years Samantha (37), and two of their three children; Michael (14), and Christina (15), were brutally murdered at their home, a former Victorian rectory, in the East Anglian village of Barrisgough.

The police had quickly dispensed with the possibility of an outside intruder carrying out the murders.  For it was the weight of overwhelming physical and circumstantial evidence, which pointed the police towards Benjamin James (14), the only family member, left alive.  It was considered Benjamin had the opportunity, but as yet the motive eluded them.

The James’ mystery is centred on suppositions, assumptions, and public opinion, all of which revolve around Benjamin’s blood stained clothes, and the shotgun he was holding.

Benjamin was a quiet boy with dusky coloured hair, and light brown eyes.  He had that baby face look about him, and a sickly complexion.  For his age he was fairly broad shouldered, with a slim figure.  His manners were impeccable, but those who knew him well, stated he had an especially disagreeable temperament.

He refused, or couldn’t speak about the events.

The murder’s occurred at the James’ residence on a cool and wet summer morning, which suddenly turned wet and dry.  By mid-morning, the family were about the house; Benjamin was tidying his room, Michael readied his bike to go riding, and Christina was helping her mother in the kitchen.

Confusion reigned.  Police and doctors were summoned.

Peter James, had been shot once in the chest, and another had sliced his spinal cord.  He died almost immediately, much like his wife Samantha, whose face had been partly blown away.  Her body had been thrust clear across the room, crashing into the far wall by the sheer force of the second shot to her chest.  Their daughter Christina was drenched in blood, from her chest wounds, and their son Michael, had been shot in the back, and the leg, bursting an artery, and bled to death in minutes.

Perhaps it was inevitable that Benjamin would become the prime suspect, for he had been found in his room covered in blood, holding the murder weapon in his lap; a double barrelled shotgun, which felt warm to the touch.

A four-man team of police officer’s searched the house from top to bottom.  They found nothing to indicate the presence of an intruder, enhancing Benjamin’s guilt.

Benjamin had been convicted of the murders by the press; before the trial had even started . . . he had no chance!

Trinity House, perched high upon a treacherous wall of granite, with its jagged outcrops, formed the outline of the northern face of Saint Unix Island, split into two parts by a causeway running between them.

The dark tower, part of the former 18th century manor house, located on the northern island, overlooked the sea below, with four floors around an inner courtyard of cobbled stones.

Three sides are surrounded by sloping greens, with guard towers, and an electrified fence.  The fourth side, protected by the treacherous rocks far below, in the wake of the oncoming storm.

The southern island consists of a rural settlement, and farm land, as it has been, for the past hundred years or more.

A single light glowed, from behind the moving clouds, as a lonely taxi, struggled up the steep cliff road.  Inside two gentlemen sat deep in conversation, oblivious to their surroundings; one of swarthy complexion with ebony eyes, and an air of competence, whilst the other, fairly short and stocky, expressionless, dressed all in black; the clothes the trademark, of a priest.

Gerald Carter peered out of the taxi, at Trinity House looming overhead.  “Why on earth did I let you talk me into coming with you to this awful place?”

Curiosity got the better of you, as to what, or should I say who, have drawn me to this place every month?” stated Father Baines.

Carter gazed over at his life long friend.  “You are right as always.”

“Behind these walls, I believe one patient, could be innocent of his crimes,” Baines started with conviction in his voice.

“He wouldn’t be here, unless they believed he was a threat to society,” suggested Carter.

“The evidence was stacked against him, before the trial, and it is my belief, he was still in shock.  I doubt he was capable of committing the crime . . . yet he was found guilty.”  Baines put forward his personal beliefs.  “All I ask of you is to meet him, with an open mind.  You will see why I question his guilt.”

The taxi came to an abrupt halt, and Father Baines, retrieved his briefcase that, had tumbled to the floor; black and old with a metal buckle.  Then he sat back for a moment gazing at the building, which stood before him, saying nothing as thoughts washed over him.

They got out, “thanks very much,” Baines said to the driver.

“I didn’t expect to see you today, Governor Calahan stated, watching his visitors walk up the path, through the large wrought iron gates, to the large foreboding oak doors with iron studs, where he stood.  “The clouds have turned black . . . a warning that rain was on the way.”

“When we left the weather wasn’t so bad, but in the last half hour or so, it has steadily got worse,” commented Father Baines, looking up at the darkening sky.  “We may be forced to say overnight at the Inn, if the ferry doesn’t come back.”

“Forgive my manners, I would like to introduce you to Dr Gerald Carter,” who was standing in the shadows.  “Long time friend and psychiatrist, who I have mentioned on previous visits.”

“Good of you to come to this hell hole of a place in the middle of nowhere,” replied Calahan.

“The good Father here can be very persuasive, when he’s got the bit between his teeth,” replied Carter with a broad grin across his face.  “I always wondered what drew him here all these years.”

“You will find Benjamin in the tower as usual, you know the way Father.  I’ll leave you to it,” stated Mr Calahan in a calm and softening voice, with a hint of an Irish accent.  “When you’ve finished come and find me, I will be in my office.”

“Thank you,” replied the Father.

Father Baines, led the way and Gerald Carter fell in by his side, as they walked across the courtyard towards the narrow stone staircase.  At the bottom, sat a swallow skinned warder, with blonde hair, and pain in his eyes.  He nodded in acknowledgement of the visitors.

“Is he there for our benefit, or the patients?” asked Carter.

Father Baines looked in his direction, smiled, but did not speak.

Carter scuttled after Baines, mounting the steep and winding steps.  At the second level, he was forced to take a break, and rest against the balcony to catch his breath. Upon reaching the top, he found his old friend, sitting on the top steps, awaiting his arrival.

“You’re a bit out of condition these days, too much time spent behind a desk,” exclaimed Baines with a cheeky grin across his face.

“Hmm,” grunted the breathless doctor.

The pair entered the top room of the tower, and there sitting by the window was a young man drawing away upon an easel.  “Take a seat Father; I have been expecting you, ever since the ferry docked, and who have you brought with you?”

“Doctor Carter, an old friend of mine.  I mentioned him before on my previous visits.  I just want you to talk to him,” asked the Father.

“So what type of doctor are you,” as he swung himself round to face his visitors.

“I am a Psychiatrist,” replied Carter.

“Don’t you think we see enough shrinks in this place, so what’s different about you?” asked Benjamin.

Father Baines jumped in with a reply, before Carter had a chance to answer.  “Benjamin, I want you to talk to my friend on your own as a personal favour to me, and there are no catches, just be honest with him … that’s all I ask of you.”

“Okay. Okay.” Benjamin raised his hands in defence.  “I will talk to him, but I think it’s a waste of time,” replied Benjamin with a disinterested tone in his voice.

“I will leave you two alone for a while.  I will take a walk in the gardens,” stated Father Baines, as he headed towards the door.

As Father Baines left the cell, Carter removed his notebook from his pocket.  “Do you mind if I take notes?”

“It’s your choice,” replied Benjamin, shrugging his shoulders.

“Benjamin, tell me about yourself, and your life please?” asked Carter, trying to break the ice.

“First, tell me what year is it?” asked Benjamin.

“Why, it’s 2001 of course,” replied Carter.

“For theses past ten years, I have been excluded from the outside world.  The bars on my window are here to keep me from escaping.  I have only one visitor from outside this place; Father Baines.  My time is spent drawing in this octagonal cell; 15 paces from east to west and from north to the south wall.  I have come to terms with the fact, that I will live out the rest of my days in this place,” Benjamin stated with sadness in his voice.

“What about friends in this place?” asked Carter.

Benjamin laughed at the suggestion.  “My only comfort and friend is provided in the form of a cactus plant, which I have studied in every intimate detail, watching it grow inch by inch, and drawing its every change.”

Beyond these two luxuries, everything else is so flat and featureless, even the walls look so clinical.

In my most desperate times, I yearn to escape the confines of this place, to make a move to the freedom of the outside world; but I would surely die, I would not get far, that much I know, as one gazes out at the rough and choppy sea yonder.  It feels so unfair to be constrained to this life when I have done nothing wrong.

I am innocent of all crimes and guilty of none.  What gave them the right to take me from a life that seems so far away now, and could have been mine to enjoy.

I look at my warders sometimes and wonder; do they feel sorry for me?  I am sure they must know that I am without blame.  They feed me three times a day, knowing that to eat it is a highlight to my daily routine …although the food itself remains the same.

Once Benjamin had finished talking, Carter gazed into his light-brown eyes, with a wondering.  “For all his years in captivity he was quite eloquent for someone of his age; that he put down to his early years of schooling,” he said quietly to himself, more in thought than actual words.

Benjamin looked lost in his own thoughts, turning round to gaze upon the rough and stormy seas, crashing against the rocks below.

The dream … or rather, the nightmare … had begun many years ago.  It was short, but no less frightening for that.  In the dream, he remembered this woman dressed in a ‘Nun’s Habit’, although I never saw her face clearly in the dream, I knew with absolute certainty that she was there.  The exasperating part of it was that I always woke up, drenched in sweat, just before … I discovered … the reasons for my acts, that would make them appear perfectly rational in my mind.

I have had many nightmares that have haunted me over the years in captivity, but it was this one that carried a quality of reality that I did not sense in all other dreams, and that had remained unblemished for years.

Was she reaching out to me, if so why?

Was she asking to be released from this tormented life of hers?

An hour or so later Father Baines caught up with Carter, coming down the stone steps, from the tower.  The look upon his face was one of bemusement, leaving him in a puzzled state of mind.

“Well what do you make of Benjamin?” asked Baines.  “Was it worth the trip?”

“I believe so,” Carter answered.  He’s an interesting young man, with a pleasant manner about him.  These years of incarceration, have deprived him of intelligence, and I assume your visits keeps his mind active about the outside world.”

Baines smiled, knowing his friend had observed well.

“So what’s his crime, to be sent to a place like this?” asked Carter.

“Would you believe he murdered his own family,” Baines calmly replied, watching intently his friend’s face change with every thought.

“First impressions,” Carter considered Baines comments.  “I would find it hard to believe him capable of murder . . . I would need to know more!”

“Come, let’s go to the Governor’s Office, and with his help we will outline the events that led to Benjamin being sent here for life,” Baines watched his face change to one of surprise at the mention of the dreaded word; life.

“Life,” replied Carter, “It must have been serious, to impose such a harsh sentence on one so young?”

“Benjamin had been sentenced to life with no option for parole as laid down by the then Home Secretary, at the time of his trial,” Father Baines, even he thought the sentence harsh.  “The murders had been called horrific at the time, to have been committed by one so young.”

“Well, did you enjoy your talk with Benjamin?”  asked the Governor, as he showed them into his office.

“Let’s say it was interesting, but what I would like to know, is how he ended up here, serving a life sentence?” Carter eyed each man, waiting for a response.

“Baines is your man,” stated the Governor.  “While we talk, I have arranged for hot coffee and sandwiches,” which were placed before them.

Father Baines, released the old and rusting buckles on his briefcase, fumbling for a few moments, before bringing out a bundle of papers, some yellowing with age, held together with string.

To understand the events leading up to Benjamin’s incarceration for these murders, we have to go back to the year 1863.

It was one man’s dream: The Reverend Henry Markham to build a rectory, overlooking the village of Barrisgough, his parish, in East Anglia.

Edward Markham, son of Henry was appointed the new vicar in 1895, upon his father’s death, and held the position until his death in 1928.

Horse Drawn Carriage

Edward would wait at the rectory gate, close to mid-night, each and every Friday night, for the passing of the driver less ghostly coach.  The sound of rumbling wheels, clattering of horse’s hooves, would approach along the road, reaching a crescendo at the gate, and gradually fade into the distance.  This was one of many manifestations that would take place in the village.

The late John Brown, former groom to Edward Markham, for twenty-four years, described a blazing carriage with light careering through the rectory grounds.  A story he told his son, and his grandchildren, on more than one occasion.

16th c Nun

A more significant manifestation associated with the rectory, concerns that of a Nun.  According to many witness reports over the years, she walks across the terrace, reading a small book.  Historians and churchmen believe it to be a prayer book.

Then in 1939, lightning struck the rectory, destroying the west wing, and it was not re-built until the early 1950’s.

Summer 1955, Reverend James Patterson took the post of village vicar.  Poltergeist activities were ripe in the rectory. Black Magic rituals took place in the Old Manor House graveyard.  In 1972, Patterson was found hanging from the Church Bell Tower.  His death was declared as a suicide . . . but villager’s did not agree.

Winter 1972, Reverend Mathews appointed new vicar.  Never lived long enough to take his first Sunday service . . . died forty-eight hours, after stepping foot in the rectory.

“Has the practising of Black Magic continued within the village to this day?” Carter interrupted, unable to believe what he was hearing.

“Enquiries within the village, and recent animal blood splashes can be found on the Old Manor House grounds.  Based on those findings, I would have to say yes,” Father Baines shocked his friend.

The Church and Rectory were closed and boarded up.  Only the Church remains so, following the sale of the Rectory.

Over the next six years, villager’s beliefs that the building was haunted bore out by reports of James Patterson, in his study, and Edward Markham, walking the corridors, according to witnesses.

Some believed the occupation of the Old Rectory, would invoke historical events of the past.  Were they right?  Then in 1988, the James family took up residence with their three children; Michael 11, Benjamin 11, and Christina 12.

All the villager’s worst fears were to be proved right, for on 15th August 1991 gunshots were heard, from the former Rectory.  History had come back to haunt the village once again.

Bracks the churchwarden, and PC Roberts, were first on the scene, inside all was quiet, they found chaos, furniture flung about causing a scene of disaster . . . Peter James, wife Samantha, along with two of their children; Michael and Christina murdered.

Benjamin their other son was found, drenched in blood, holding the murder weapon; his father’s shotgun.  He never spoke; he appeared in a state of shock.

The police doctor, ordered him to be detained at the David Rice Mental Hospital, in Norwich.

During the course of three fifty minute video-taped interviews with D.I.Nelson and D.S.Weaver, Benjamin never spoke to confess his guilt, or proclaim his innocence.

Police evidence proved without doubt, that someone had killed them with Peter James’ shotgun . . . as no evidence of an intruder could be found.  Benjamin James was charged with four counts of murder in the first-degree.

The question which was on many peoples lips at the time; was he a murderer or an innocent victim?

According to villager’s, they believe there has to be a connection, with the Reverend James Patterson, who supposedly took his own life in 1972, and the village itself, as Baines finally closed the first of many folders.

“A very interesting story, one that warrants closer inspection,” Carter commented.  “The reason you asked me here, is to see if I would be interested in taking a look at this case.  Well, don’t worry old friend, this case merits closer scrutiny . . . and I would enjoy the challenge.”

Baines and Governor Calahan, smiled at each other with much satisfaction.

Don’t go getting any ideas, he may still be proved guilty,” Carter, stated wearing his serious facial expression.  “Do you have a copy of the trial transcripts?”

“Just a summary,” replied Baines, passing them over.

Carter, ignored Baines and Calahan, spending a few minutes reading through the summary, making a few notes in the margins, and the occasional smile.

TRIAL SUMMARY:

Benjamin James’ trial began on Monday 25th November 1991, at a closed session of the Norwich Juvenile Court, being that he was under 16 years-of-age at the time of the trial.  He was charged on four counts:  The murders of Peter James, Samantha James, Michael James, and Christina James.

The prosecution focused on four major points:

  • Benjamin covered in his victim’s blood.
  • Found holding the murder weapon, covered in his prints.
  • No sign of an intruder.
  • Benjamin’s refusal to speak, proving his guilt.

The defence was fighting a losing battle, with all the evidence stacked against their client; Benjamin James.  Their only hope was to put a question of doubt in the court’s mind.

The defence was convinced from the outset that Benjamin was incapable of murdering his own family . . . let alone man-handle a double-barrelled shotgun, firing it in quick succession.

Proving it would be difficult, for Benjamin’s refusal to speak; could be seen as an admission of guilt.

According to Police Constable Roberts testimony, he along with the churchwarden Mr Bracks, were first on the scene.  The house appeared in a state of utter chaos, furniture had been tossed across the house.

Doctor Mathew Hayden, the police doctor arrived on the scene a little after 11.30am.

Peter James, had been found in the living room, having been shot twice, once to the chest, and a second sliced through his spinal cord.

Samantha James, also found in the living room, her face had been partly blown away.  A second shot to her heart had thrust her body across the room crashing into the wall with sheer force . . . blood was congealing from her fatal chest wound.  Her heart would have stopped almost immediately, resulting in limited blood splatter on walls, floor, and furniture.

Christina James was drenched in blood, from her chest wounds, which would certainly have killed her, outright.

Michael had been shot in the back, and leg.  He may have seen his attacker?  From scratch marks on the floor, he appears to have tried to drag himself along the corridor, to the main part of the house; for help.

Following the horrific murders of the James family, police performed a detailed search of the house, from attic to the ground floor.  They discovered the house had a cellar, which was only accessible by means of the rear garden.  No evidence of an intruder could be found, and Benjamin became the prime suspect.  Physical and circumstantial evidence, pointed to him, without a doubt.

For the whole of the proceeding’s, he just sat in his chair and said nothing, only the occasional nod, acknowledge his name, and the odd shrug of the shoulders.  Day after day, police and medical experts gave their evidence, and he had a blank look on his face, which remained so, throughout the trial.

“Do you think he had any idea, what was going on, or where he was?” questioned Carter.

Bracks believed Benjamin was oblivious to the events, surrounding him, but I sense he must have had some idea, for he nodded and shrugged his shoulders in reply to some questions,” suggested Baines.

Benjamin’s sentence, based on psychiatric reports and the crime of multiple murders, led to him being detained for an indefinite period, and he eventually ended up here, in a mental institution for the criminally insane.

“So, how did you get involved, in such a complex case?” asked Carter.

It all started many years ago, when I visited another patient here, as a prison visitor, who has since died. It was at one of these visits, I was introduced to Mr Bracks, who told me of Barrisgough, its past history, and Benjamin’s conviction for murders.

Mr Bracks, died some seven years ago, leaving all his files on Benjamin to me, with a letter begging me to prove his innocence, and get him released from this awful place.”

From that day forth, I started visiting Benjamin once a month, initially he did not utter a word, that all changed on the 21st September 1998, but that’s another story.

Since then he has become more talkative, and spoken of his life, and belief in his innocence.

What I am about to tell you, could prove to be enough evidence to get you started on an appeal, as Baines opened another of his folders.

Life in Barrisgough took a surprising turn, when Archaeologists and Historians descended upon the village, seeking answers to its historical past, and the ghostly apparitions that have been reported.

Apparitions of a Nun, seen by many a visitor to the old rectory over the centuries, led to the possible connection of the so-called murdered maid theory, part of the village’s history.  They refer to a French Nun, who worked the area during the mid 16th century.  The Witch finder General; Mathew Hopkins worked this area 1645-1647, and local history states a maid was put on trial for being a witch.  Her crime was her association with animals, and it is believed she talked to them.  Her body was burnt as a witch, and then thrown down an old well.

Paranormal believers theorised, that the frequent materialisations, causing much agitation in the spirit world, could be that of a young woman.  Some had suggested that the murdered Nun, and the maid, come housekeeper who was employed by the Markhams, Patterson, then the James household, are all one of the same.  After each death, she mysteriously disappears leaving no trace . . . it is as though she never existed.

The police in their quest for answers were drawn to Christina James diary:  On the first day home from boarding school, Michael, Benjamin and myself, would ride through the village on our bicycles, waving to the villager’s as we passed by.  Our destination, the old cottage nestled down by the river; home of our housekeeper.  She would be waiting for us, with plates of freshly baked cakes and scones.

This being the former house-keeper, they were stunned to find a derelict cottage.  Windows were broken and only dust and cobwebs remained inside.  The door was gone, lost long ago.

This left the police perplexed, and inquiries about the house-keeper and her cottage, from the villager’s, brought replies that were to confuse the case further.  No one seemed surprised that the cottage was derelict, the rectory was empty, and so she had no need to stay around.

Female skull and bones were removed from the dis-used well, in the former rectory gardens, by archaeologists.  Her remains were taken to Cambridge University Museum, where extensive examinations, including carbon dating were carried out.

Over the next few weeks a series of unexplained incidents took place.  The skull broke in two, glass cases were cracked, and valuable works of art in the museum were damaged, all within close proximity to the skull.  Two of the original archaeology team, who went down the well to retrieve the remains, died within seven days.  Physically fit young men in their late twenties died of natural causes, but their bones were consistent with someone aged sixty or more.  No logical explanation could be put forward, so is it possible these bones were cursed?

As I previously mentioned, a Nun, employed as a maid come house-keeper was tried as a witch, burnt at the stake for her crime in 1645-1647, and her remains tossed down a well, and left their to rot.  Then in 1863, Reverend Henry Markham built a rectory, and the old well was situated in the grounds.  Something must have happened in the spirit world, because the Nun, became a ghostly presence of the rectory.

Then on the 20th September 1998, the Nun’s bones were buried on sacred ground at a local convent . . . at last she was at peace.  Then on the morning of the 21st September, Benjamin spoke his first words, since the horrific killings that robbed him of his family back in 1991.

“What about the memories of that day?” asked Carter.  “Has he any recollections?”

“So far his mind remains a blank for the day of the killings, but slowly with the help of psychiatrists here, they are piecing his world back together again,” Baines replied, ever hopeful they will succeed.

“Enough to throw doubt on the case?” asked Carter.

“I have made it my business, to ask whether he should be held accountable, in light of these and other discoveries.  The reply received from the authorities, was no more than expected.  They claim it was no more than a coincidence, and the sentence stands,” Baines stated.

“But the question still remains, is he innocent or guilty of the crime?” asked Carter.

“In my heart I believe him to be innocent, but my judgement is based on Bracks belief, his files, and discussions I have had with Benjamin, but hard evidence to put before a court; no.  So we have to prove doubt in the original prosecutions case,” replied Father Baines with a wishful smile.

“Let us look at the facts, at the time of the murders.  Benjamin aged 14, and some 4ft 8inches tall.  So how on earth did he lift a double-barrelled shotgun, fire, break and remove spent cartridges, reload fire in quick succession, as he walked from one room to the next?  Even I would find that hard to do,” stated Carter.  “How many spent cartridges were discovered at the scene?”

“According to the police report, a total of eight,” replied Baines.

“Four murders, two shots to each body,” Carter spoke out loud.

“At the original trial defence questioned Benjamin’s inability to lift, fire in quick succession, but prosecution evidence proved otherwise,” stated Baines.  “The village dressmaker, one Miss Mary Laidlaw, better known as the local busybody, claimed under oath, she had witnessed Benjamin holding his father’s shotgun, from some distance away, it was enough to get him convicted.”

The good doctor smiled, but said nothing.  It was obvious to those around the table; an idea was forming . . . could it be, had he found a flaw in the prosecution’s case?

(Image) Horse Drawn Carriage: Planet Mine Craft
(Image) Castle/House: Wallpaper Image
(Image) Nun: Wallpaper Image

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