Anomalies Exclusive: The Key Witness

"About the year of our Lord 1632" -- as begins the earliest account of the matter I can find -- a miller named James Graham (or Grime) who worked near the small town of 'Chester in the Street' in England (now known as 'Chester-le-Street')  found himself confronted one winter night around twelve or one o'clock  in his mill by the gory form of a young woman with five large wounds on  her head. Graham was walking down the stairs from putting corn in the  mill's hopper; the doors were shut; and the woman was standing in the  middle of the floor. He was horrified by the vision, and began to bless  himself; but eventually Graham asked who she was and why she was there.

        The spectre answered that she had been the kinswoman and housekeeper to a local widower named Walker, "a Yeoman-man of good Estate." She had become pregnant with Walker's child, and Walker "promised  me to send me to a private place, where I should be well lookt to until  I was brought in bed, and well again, and then I should come again, and  keep his house." So Walker had sent her away one evening with a 'collier' [coal miner] named Mark Sharp to go to a private place to stay until the child was born.

         Instead, Sharp murdered her in the moors near the town with a pick,  threw her body in a coal pit, and hid the pick, as well as his shoes and  stockings -- as he couldn't wash the blood out of them -- in a bank.  The spectre further told Graham that "he was the Man to reveal it, or else that she must still appear, and haunt him."

         It's not said if Graham knew Walker, but Walker lived only two miles  away from the mill so it was possible he did. It is stated that the  place in the moors the ghost described as the crime scene was a spot  that Graham was aware of and familiar with, so he could quite likely  have gone to check the truth of the matter if he chose to. Yet Graham  hesitated to talk about the matter; instead, he endeavored to avoid  being in the mill alone at night, thinking that he could escape the  spirit in that way. Nonetheless, the angry ghost appeared to him again  one night just as it grew dark, and threatened harm upon him if he did  not reveal the murder.

        Still Graham kept quiet about the  haunting, perhaps for the practical reason that he himself might be  accused of committing the crime... but on St. Thomas' Eve -- the night  before St. Thomas' feast on December 21 each year -- shortly after  sunset the grisly apparition appeared to him again while he was walking  in his garden. The ghost's threats on this occasion frightened Graham so  much that, on the following morning, he finally went to see the local  magistrate and tell him the whole story.

        The matter was  quickly investigated. The body of the young woman, with five wounds in  her head, was found in the designated coal pit; and the pick, shoes, and  stockings were found hidden in the bank, as described. Given the  evidence as it stood, Walker and Sharp were both imprisoned, though they  would confess nothing of the matter. At the very next assizes for the  county (a designated time when court cases were examined for the area),  the two men were arraigned and found guilty of the woman's murder, and  they were sentenced to death and executed; though they never actually  confessed to the crime.

        Some people reported that the gory  spectre had appeared to either the Judge or the Foreman of the Jury,  and that was why the men were sentenced so quickly and severely, but  this was not a certain thing and so could have been mere rumor.

The Earliest Source

         The details above were first published in 1677, forty-three years after  the event is said to have happened, in John Webster's The Displaying of Supposed Witchcraft.  Though the lateness of this reporting is a problem, Webster claims to  have read and possessed for some time a letter written by the judge at  the trial explaining the particulars of the case which had been sent to a  Serjeant Hutton in Goldsbrugh at the time. Webster had lost this letter  in 1658 when he was arrested and a number of his books and papers were  confiscated (I don't know what he was arrested for). Webster  further stated that -- at the time, mind you -- there were yet many  people alive in the area that remembered the murder, and the story  itself was often related and discussed in the "North Countrey." So, though he was relating the tale from memory, he felt he had a pretty good grasp of the facts of the matter.

        As the title of Webster's book implies -- The Displaying of Supposed Witchcraft  --Webster didn't believe in witches; the volume is largely a skeptical  critique of proposed evidence of witchcraft, a fact that created  animosity between Webster and another author, Henry More, who fully  believed that witches were an existent threat to humanity. Despite the  disagreement -- more of a personal war between them, really -- both men  agreed on one thing... that the account of Graham's haunting was an  important event to document.

        In fact, Henry More was so  intrigued by the matter that he discussed it with a number of his  friends, and one in particular -- whom More only referred to as "Dr.  J.D." -- offered to send a friend of his own, a Mr. Shepherdson, to the  area of Chester-in-the-Street and see if he could find out more from the  residents there, an offer More jumped at.

Strange New Facts Emerge

         Shepherdson sought out people who were old enough to be present for the  event in 1632, focusing most of his efforts on two men in particular  who were not only alive at the time of the incident, but who also served  on the jury for the trial. One of the men, William Lumley, had lived  next door to Walker!

        Lumley and Walker lived in the town  of Lumley, which is about two-and-a-half miles from Chester-le-Street  where Graham lived. Lumley said he personally remembered the kinswoman  who worked for Walker; her name was Anne Walker. Towards the time of her  murder it had become obvious she was with child, but she would not tell  anyone who the father was. Anne left Walker's house to stay with her  aunt who lived in the same town, a Dame Caire, and told her aunt that  the father of the child "would take Care both for her and it, and bid her not trouble her self."  One night sometime after Anne moved in with her Aunt, Mark Sharp was  seen coming to town to visit his friend, Walker; then the two men went  to visit Dame Caire's house, and Walker sent Anne off with Sharp... and  that was the night she was murdered.

        Two weeks later, Anne  Walker's apparition appeared to James 'Graime,' whom Lumley described  as a 'fuller' rather than a miller -- a fuller was a person who cleaned  and fluffed sheep's wool, in this case at a mill. Lumley characterized  Graime's hesitation to report the matter as a fear of disclosing "a Thing of that Nature against a Person of Credit as Walker was."  The ghost continued to annoy Graime -- More claimed Lumley stated the  apparition would pull the sheets off of Graime's bed each night -- so  Graime did eventually report the matter and, upon investigation, both  Wallker and Sharp were imprisoned to eventually face trial and  execution.

         The second testimony came from a Mr. James  Smart of the city of Durham, about seven miles away from Lumley. Smart  said the trial of Walker and Sharp was before Judge Davenport in August  of 1631 -- which implies the crime happened a year earlier than Webster  claimed, 1632. One of the witnesses at the trial, a Mr. Fairhair, stated  under oath that he saw the figure of a child standing upon Walker's  shoulders during the trial itself, a statement that appeared to bother  Judge Davenport quite a bit. Sentence was passed on Walker and Sharp  that same night, which was not a normal thing at all.

        More  compared his new testimonies to what had been previously reported by  Webster, and felt that Webster's doubtful report of hearing that the  spectre of Anne Walker had appeared to either the foreman of the jury or  judge was likely a confused accounting of Mr. Fairhair's statement  about the seeing the figure of a child on Walker's shoulders. Since it  was possible that Mr. Fairhair might have been the foreman of the jury,  this would be a very close match for this part of the story that Webster  doubted.

        More is also suspicious of Webster's statement  that Walker and Sharp were apprehended around St. Thomas' Day, in  December, as it would be very strange for them to wait until the  following August for their trial. More supposes the two men must have  been taken into custody sometime much closer to August, never proposing  the possibility that his own informant might be wrong about the date of  the trial.

        More chose to include the story of Anne Walker's apparition in a later edition of his 1659 book, The Immortality of the Soul.  This edition had to have been published after Webster's death in 1682,  for More mentions his source for the account is deceased... but this  publication also does not include the new information from Shepherdson's  inquiries. Shepherdson's information is first presented by More in a  letter to Joseph Glanvil, who included it in his 1700 edition of his  book Saducismus Triumphatus. So Shepherdson's inquiry had to have happened sometime between 1682 and 1700.

Confusions and Changes

        So... remember me saying that Webster and More didn't actually like each other? As in 'at all'?  And that More included the account of Anne Walker's apparition in his  own book after getting it from Webster's book? Well, about that...

        In 1659, Henry More published his book The Immortality of the Soul,  which argued that the human soul was a provable matter and survived  death to act on its own in the living world... which Webster didn't  agree with. In fact, part of the reason John Webster wrote his 1677  book, The Displaying of Supposed Witchcraft -- the very book that Anne Walker's story first appeared in -- was to argue against More's points in Immortality of the Soul...  which is why it's ironic that More then included the story of Anne  Walker's apparition in a later edition of the book that Webster hated  after Webster died!

        How much did More hate Webster? Oh, a whole lot. In More's presentation of the story in the new edition of Immortality of the Soul,  More does not mention Webster's name at all, only stating that the  source's author was now deceased and that he didn't personally like him  very much at all (frankly, More goes into great detail on that second point). As a result, many researchers now credit Henry More's account of the story in the later editions of The Immortality of the Soul  as being the first publication of the event, because they assume it was  also in the 1659 printing of the book, making it earlier than Webster's  mention of event in 1677... but the story wasn't in the earliest printing of More's book. Oy.

         Though More and Webster wrote a great deal about this matter, about 200  years later in the 19th Century their works were largely forgotten...  but Anne Walker's ghost appeared once again. In his 1852 book Dream Land and Ghost Land,  Edwin Paxton Hood once again presented the story. Hood's intention with  the book was to try to demonstrate that many ghost stories were based  on credible reports and facts, and so, therefore, ghosts as a general  topic could not simply be scoffed at. Unfortunately, in his attempt to  merge all the details of Webster's account and the new details turned up  by Shepherdson's investigation, Hood created a fairly confusing version  of the story, in which he claimed the event happened in 1680 (rather than 1632).

        In 1973, Reader's Digest's book Folklore, Myths and Legends of Britain  presented a simplified version of Hood's account of the story... and  this was simplified even more in 1982 when it was presented again in  Reader's Digest's book Mysteries of the Unexplained; they  brought everything down to just two paragraphs! Most modern recountings  of the event are based on one or the other of Reader's Digest's versions  of the story, and therefore get the year wrong, reporting the event  happening in 1680, as Hood did.

Some Thoughts...

         First, a skeptical observation: Suppose Graham discovered the murder  evidence on his own, but didn't  feel he could successfully accuse Walker and make it stick because  Walker was better respected, so people would take his word over  Graham's. In this case, the 'spectral evidence' may have been created in  order to put a more divine feel on the evidence, adding weight to it  and separating the accusers from the accusations.

        This of  course assumes that either there was a coordination between Graham and  Fairhair for the presentation of their two separate ghostly sightings to  get the maximum effect, or Fairhair got caught up in the spirit of  things (so to speak).

        Second, a believer's  observation: I've seen this turn up before, so let me tease your brains  for a moment. If we assume the event actually happened as reported, then  why did Anne Walker appear to James Graham? Think about it: if Anne  Walker had appeared to the local magistrate directly, the matter would  have been handled faster... so why did that not happen?

         Since it has been noted for at least three hundred years that, generally  speaking, not everyone can see a fairy or a ghost when these beings  appear in front of a group of people, this account seems to imply there  is an actual limit to the number of people who can see and interact with  these beings. So Anne Walker might have been haunting James Graham  simply because he was the person she found that could see and hear her.  Perhaps her ghost spent the two weeks after her murder trying to find  someone that could see her... just a thought.


Sources: 

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