Owen Parfitt was a teller of tall tales... Then one day, he simply disappeared.


In his day, he’d sailed the seven seas. Been a pirate and a smuggler.

‘And a bandit!’ he’d tell anyone who’d listen.

Owen Parfitt was in his 70s, and his had been a life of adventure, perilous exploits and escapades.

He loved telling people about it.

At the turn of the 18th century, he’d been a young sailor. Then he’d become an outlaw, plundering and robbing his way across the oceans.

He’d been to Africa and America. And in the West Indies he’d practised black magic.

Pirate Captain on the Romeny Marsh coast

Pirate Captain on the Romeny Marsh coast (Photo: iStockphoto)

He’d even seduced his much younger, and very beautiful cousin Dorothy.

But all he had left of those days were memories and stories.

Old age hadn’t been kind to Owen. By 1763, he was unable to take care of himself.

An illness had left him paralysed and unable to walk.

He’d bid farewell to his life of danger and philandering, and agreed to come home to Shepton Mallet, Somerset, where his sister Susannah would look after him.

The two of them lived together in a cottage on the outskirts of the small town.

Unable to do much for himself, Owen spent his days in bed or, if the weather was good, he’d sit on a bench by the front door.

That’s where he’d been when he disappeared.

It was June 1763. A warm, close day.

With help from their neighbour, Susannah had carried Owen out of the cottage and settled him onto the bench, using his coat to prop him up and make him comfortable.

She nodded at the farm workers forking the hay in a field opposite, then went inside again to get on with her chores.

Only a few minutes later, Susannah came out again to speak to Owen.

But he wasn’t there.

The coat he’d been using as a cushion was the only trace of him.

It was impossible.

Owen was so frail. How could he have disappeared?

Susannah ran next door.

‘Owen’s gone!’ she cried.

The neighbour dropped everything to help search for him.

Susannah also ran over to the farm workers.

Did they know where Owen had gone?

They all shook their heads.

Which only served to deepen the mystery.

Owen couldn’t move – so somebody must have taken him.

But how had a man been carried off by one or by several people without the farm workers seeing anything?

And if Owen had been carted off against his will, why hadn’t he called out?

After that day, Owen Parfitt was never seen again.

Superstitious locals believed Owen had got what was coming to him. He’d spent so much time bragging about his wicked past that the Devil had spirited him away to Hell.

Payment for his misspent youth.

Or perhaps, the dark spirits invoked while Owen had been practising black magic had dragged him off to another world.

Other town gossips pointed their fingers at Susannah.

Tired of Owen’s stories and caring for him…could she have snapped and killed him? Perhaps burying his body, and paying off her neighbour or the farm workers to help her?

It seemed hard to believe.

Susannah had lived with Owen for years. And her only income was the small amount of money she received from the local parish for looking after him.

Others thought he’d been snatched by a gang hoping to extract the secrets of buried pirate treasure.

And there are those who believed he’d been silenced to stop him revealing someone’s involvement in piracy or smuggling.

But none of the theories explain how Owen had disappeared so quickly, so silently, and in front of a field full of men.

Fifty years later, in 1813, work was carried out around the cottage where Owen had lived.

A skeleton was found buried in the garden, not 100 yards from the cottage.

It was the skeleton of a young woman. And immediately, people thought of Dorothy, the woman Owen Parfitt had seduced decades before.

No-one had seen her since Owen Parfitt had cast her aside. No one knew what had become of her.

To this day, no-one even knows if the skeleton in the garden was hers. Or if, somehow, it might explain the strange vanishing of Owen Parfitt.

He was there one minute. Gone the next.

But still talked about today.


The victim of witches?

Witch Burning. Burning a witch effigy is a Danish midsummer traditionWitch Burning. Burning a witch effigy is a Danish midsummer tradition


By the 1760s, there was already a long history of witchcraft in Shepton Mallet. In 1657, Jane Brooks was burned to death for witchcraft in the market place. There were similar cases in the nearby villages of Stoke Trister and Brewham. And, in November 1703, Nancy Camel, said to be a witch, disappeared during a violent storm. Scorch marks and hoof prints were found around the hut where she lived…the townsfolk believed Satan had come for his own. Could Owen Parfitt have met a similar fate?