The moon was full that night — which may have been no coincidence — and the November sky was unusually cloudless. So when the first horrific act was committed, the New Forest was bathed in a milky glow and you could see far across the frosty heathland.
Yet the possibility they might be spotted as they went about their grisly work didn’t deter the sadistic killer, or killers, who silently descended on the little village of Bramshaw.
Rounding up the hefty sheep that graze half-wild on this unfenced expanse is no easy task, even for an experienced shepherd. But somehow they managed to capture one: a pretty black-faced ewe.
Residents of the New Forest village of Bramshaw have found several sheep killed in a strange manner, with symbols of the occult painted onto their fleeces
The slaughter of several sheep has led to fears that there are occult members in the area
Locals fear there may be devil worshipers in the district (pictured a still image of the 1968 Hammer Horror movie Devil Rides Out
The ewe’s owners, Colin Barnes, 76, and his partner Heather Miles, 68 (so-called ‘commoners’ entitled to rear animals in the forest under an ancient law), called her ‘Fluffy’. She was kept for breeding and would have roamed contentedly for the rest of her days. Yet with one precise thrust of a long, very sharp knife, the couple’s sheep was callously dispatched.
As Fluffy bled slowly to death, the attacker used blue aerosol paint to defile her with satanic symbols. A pentagram (five-pointed star) was drawn on her thick fleece, and 666 — supposedly the Devil’s number — on her ear.
Ordinarily, the violent crime besetting much of Britain bypasses this timeless Hampshire village, whose 684 residents range from the rich and famous (Dame Esther Rantzen has a farmhouse here) to struggling smallholders.
So when Miss Miles first saw the dead sheep, she assumed she had been hit by a car — a reasonable assumption, as New Forest ponies and other animals wander freely and 50 have been killed on the roads this year.
‘I thought maybe it was a case of road rage — that the sheep had damaged someone’s car when they hit her, so they’d drawn all over her,’ she tells me, pointing through the window of her caravan home to the spot where the killing took place.
‘I don’t know anything about witchcraft or Devil-worship. It was only later, when I started thinking about the weird markings, that I became suspicious.
‘Now I reckon it might not have been coincidence that it happened on the night of a full moon. Those witches like that, don’t they? The sick b*****s.’
There are 684 residents living in the town of Bramshaw which is in the New Forest, Hampshire
Commoners have ancient rights to graze their animals in the New Forest
Drawing on a small cigar, Mr Barnes interjects: ‘Whether it’s Devil-worship or some nutcase with a big knife, it’s bloody worrying because where will it stop? It could be a dog-walker or a cyclist next. And what might they do if someone catches them at it?’
His concern is understandable, for Fluffy’s slaughter on November 12 was only the first in a series of six ghoulish incidents in Bramshaw and its environs over a nine-day period that sent a frisson of fear through the village.
The next morning, one of the cows that graze the bracken-covered fields and copses, a 250lb heifer, returned from its nightly wanderings with a deep gash in its neck.
Owner Kay Harrison believes it was wounded by the same attacker.
That same day, eight miles away in Linwood, commoner Mark Deacon found two of his ‘stores’ — young male cattle — with deep wounds that a vet judged had probably been caused by a knife.
‘I was born on this farm and I’ve been running it since 1982,’ Mr Deacon told me. ‘You just don’t get two animals with vertical cuts like that in one night.
‘They were clean, precise cuts and it’s not easy to cut through a cow’s hide. But I’m keeping an open mind. Either the person who attacked those sheep has become more ambitious, or the injury is nothing to do with that.’
Locals fear there are a group of people who are going out and torturing animals in the New Forest. Several sheep have been killed an a cow has been attacked.
The most recent animal victim was discovered by a woman walking her dog at 7.30am on Tuesday, November 19. As she made her way up a lane she saw a dead sheep, lying strangely with its legs splayed, on a grass verge.
Again, it had been fatally stabbed with one accurate thrust of a blade. Again, it had been daubed with a pentagram and other occult signs. And again it belonged to Colin Barnes and Heather Miles.
The previous Saturday, November 16, there had been another disquieting discovery.
Making his way towards St Peter’s, the quaint medieval church on a promontory overlooking Bramshaw, verger John Nash saw to his disgust that nearby road signs and a noticeboard in the churchyard had been defaced with occult insignia, including the number 666.
He cleaned the paint off, only to find, when he returned four days later, that the 13th-century church itself had been desecrated.
Occult signs were drawn upon the door of St Peter's Church in Bramshaw, Hampshire
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