It starts with a cold-blooded murder.

It’s followed by bizarre and conflicting confessions.

Then a mother is betrayed by her son, and another man loses his life because of his own brother, both of them executed for a crime they didn’t commit.

It all ends with a final, unbelievable twist.

The latest bestseller from the New York Times top 10 list?

No, this all happened over 300 years ago in a quaint and sleepy English village in the Cotswolds. Criminologists still do not know what to make of it.

It remains, to this day, one of the most tragic and baffling stories in criminal history.

baffling crimes

On a bright summer’s day in 1660, a 70-year-old steward named William Harrison set out from the village of Chipping Camden to collect some rent money owed to his employer, the Viscountess of Campden. He was headed towards Charingworth, about two miles away.

When he had not returned by the end of the day, his wife became worried and sent his servant, John Perry, to search for him.

Next morning, neither man had returned. So then Harrison’s son, Edward, set out himself. He finally found Perry and then, soon afterwards, the two of them came across Harrison’s hat and collar-band on the road. They were torn and blood-stained.

They assumed Harrison had been robbed, and murdered.

A wholesale search was instigated, but there was no further sign of him.

Perry soon came under suspicion. Why did he stay out all night, rather than coming back to Campden when he couldn’t find Harrison?

He knew his employer would be carrying a large sum of rent money. Was he the one who robbed him?

When questioned, Perry said he hadn’t returned to the village because he got lost in the dark and decided to sleep the night under a bridge. At dawn, he had continued his search, without success, and was on his way back to Camden when he met Edward.

No one believed him. He was arrested. A week later, Perry asked to see the local magistrate. He confessed to being party to Harrison’s murder, naming his mother, Joan Perry, and his brother Richard as the instigators of the crime.

He said he’d seen Richard strangle Harrison to death with his own eyes. He said his mother and brother then took the rent money and dumped Harrison’s body in a pond.

The pond was searched, but no body was found.

When Joan and Richard were taken into custody, they vehemently denied any knowledge of the murder, but still John stuck to his story. When the three came to trial, John changed his story again, but by now things had gone too far.

John Perry, his brother and his mother were hanged, still professing their innocence.

Justice had been served.

Or had it?

Two years later, William Harrison came home.

Where had he been? Well, simple: while returning from collecting the rent, two men on horseback waylaid him with swords and kidnapped him. Although he was severely wounded, they put him on a boat and sold him to slavers. These kind slavers nursed him back to health, but their ship was then attacked by Turks. The Turkish pirates in turn sold him to a physician in Izmir. After a year, the physician died, so he made his way to the docks, and sold a silver bowl from his ex-master’s house to buy passage on a ship for Lisbon. There he met a complete stranger who gave him some money and put him on a boat back to England.

Right, that sounds plausible enough. Doesn’t it?

No, you’re right. It sounds like an elaborate practical joke – except that three people died. Where was he – now, come on, really – for two years?

Had he absconded with the rent money? Hardly. Harrison was already a wealthy man in his profession.

And why did John Perry put his own head in the noose for a murder that never happened – and condemn his mother and brother as well?

No one has ever, to this day, come up with a plausible answer.

I’ll leave it with you.

Get back to me, if you ever figure it out.

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Colin Falconer

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